Chris Schwarz's Blog

On Storing Handsaws and Backsaws

Recently I’ve become somewhat obsessed by the puzzle of storing saws.

During my years as a woodworker, I’ve been admonished many times for how I handle this tool. Here are a few choice ones to chew on:

1. With handsaws, you should never lay the entire tool on a flat surface. This will cause the weight of the blade to bend its sawplate. Instead, set the blade alone on the benchtop – let the tote hang off the bench.

2. Never store or set down a saw with the handle on the floor and the blade against the wall. Again, the angle and the gravity will cause the sawplate to bend.

3. Saws should be stored only by hanging them from their handles (centering their chi with the molten core of the earth) or by storing them on their teeth as long as they are fully supported.

And on and on.

This got me thinking about sawtills. You know, those cool cabinets that woodworkers build that store the saws vertically. The saw totes rest on a base. The blades are held in blocks that are kerfed. I’ve actually seen some sawtills that were the size of a small car.

The first time I saw a sawtill was when Sam Peterson, a denizen of the oldtools listserv, contacted me in 2000 to see if I’d be interested in publishing plans for one of the listserv’s “group projects,” where a bunch of their members made a project together.

I convinced the other editors that a two-page article wouldn’t hurt anything, and we put the plans in the October 2000 issue of Popular Woodworking.

Since that time, I’ve seen lots of sawtills that improved upon this design, but I was curious: Where did this design come from? I spent a day in my library digging through all my books, both real and electronic. But I couldn’t find anything that looked like the sawtill from the oldtools list.

I’m still looking.

What I did find was interesting, however. Most references to storing saws in old books get into how you do it in a tool chest. A few sources had special open racks for storing saws, or they had a wall shelf that would hold the handles and let the sawplate hang down.

But I didn’t find anything old in print that looked like an open-front cabinet.

The only thing that was close was a very intoxicating book on how to design your hardware store that was published in the 19th century. This book had several solutions for storing handsaws, but none of them looked like the oldtools cabinet. They hung handsaws by the handles for the most part.

But when I turned to the section on two-man crosscut saws I raised my eyebrows. There the book showed open cabinets – some with shaped sides – that looked every bit like the oldtools sawtill.

I’m not saying that this book is the source. But it is interesting. And I think there has to be a source out there that shows a cabinet like the oldtools sawtill.

If you have the Holy Grail or the Ark of the Covenant, I’d really appreciate you sharing it with me. I know I have seen this design somewhere in some old book.

— Christopher Schwarz

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33 thoughts on “On Storing Handsaws and Backsaws

  1. javisser

    Hi Chris! How do I get a copy of the October 2000 issue of PW, or at least the plans for building a saw till? I can’t seem to find it at the site.


  2. handymandan

    I didn’t have room for a “rack” and I like to view the entire saw to determine which saw to use for particular projects. So, I made a wood hanging devise out of 1X2x30″ pine with five 3/4″ wood dowels (pegs) 2 inches in length and glued them into the 30″ horozontal piece thus resembeling a “coat rack”.I put the wood pegs in on a slight angle so to prevent the saws from accidently slidding off. I taught 4-H woodworking for several years and those youth had no problem in learning which saw to use on their project and properly replaced the saws when done using them.

  3. tyvekboy

    The saw till that I saw on got me thinking and lead me to develop my version of this saw till. The nice thing about this saw till is it does not discriminate. You can put any type of saw in it. Gravity does the rest.

    The following link will describe it better and show how it is built. Also see the original idea by following the link in the first sentence of the posting.

    Does this saw till win a prize?

  4. SamPeterson

    The sawtill was a group project of the OLDTOOLS group and I don’t remember any historical references, but do recall that there were several already built rough versions of the till. After much discussion about how to best store saws the group settled on vertical and from there the design was refined and finalized. I still have and use the till featured in Popular Woodworking and it holds 20-30 saws. It sits next to my Foley equipment(filer, toother and jointer) which allows me to take beater saws and bring them back to life.

    The jointry of the till could be better, and did have to be re-glued. The shelve at the bottom is very handy and the file storage at the top is unused since I have it french cleated to the wall above my main bench.

    To better understand my obsession with saws, see the Disston panther saw and flying eagle saw handles that I have carved.

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