In Chris Schwarz Blog, Personal Favorites, Sawing Techniques, Saws

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I swore a blood oath I would never write about the “nib” on a saw , the ornamental protrusion found at the toe of some old saws. And I won’t break that oath.

I will, however, attempt to amuse you with some scribbling about a saw’s “nipple.”

Now I’m not just using the word “nipple” to see what amusing advertisements Google will place around this blog entry. No, I would never use the word “nipple” that lightly. Instead, I will delve deeply into history and quote a 1933 children’s book that discusses “the little nipple that we see on top of our saws.”

Thomas Hibben gets into nipples in “The Carpenter’s Tool Chest” when he discusses Japanese tools in his chapter on tools of the Renaissance (page 202, for those who want to follow along). Tools in Japan, he explains, are used on the pull stroke instead of the push.

It may well be that the little nipple that we see on top of our saws has survived from the days when saws were pulled. Such a mark would serve to catch the carpenter’s eye as he pulled back on the saw so that he stopped his pull before the blade came out of the cut.

In short, stop your stroke when you see the nipple.

All puerile prose aside, I am charmed by this suggestion. Could the nib , I mean nipple , have been a visual cue to cease your return stroke and then engage the teeth of a Western saw in your cut? Dang, the little thing is in the right place to do just that. It could just be the greatest hair-brained explanation for the thing that I’ve heard.

Come morning, I’m going to make some cuts with my nippled saws and see if keeping a sharp eye out for the nipple really works.

– Christopher Schwarz, who is certain he will be hearing from the Human Resources department any minute now.

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Showing 12 comments
  • Bill T.

    Disston stated in its publications that the nib was purely decorative, and that makes the most sense to me. Just look at some of the old, old woodcuts, drawings and paintings depicting woodworkers and their tools, and you’ll see quite decorative tools, including saws with curvy ends (much like the curvy ends on your wooden squares). Over the years, this time-consuming decoration devolved, so that by the time saws were mass-produced in a factory, we ended up with the little bipple on the tipple.

    As far as starting a saw cut, it seems to me that nice sharp teeth that are expressly designed and sharpened for the purpose of cutting wood work pretty darn good, and a darn sight better than a lumpy little round nib that requires me to grip an upside-down saw handle to use. I’ve read many, many proposed explanations as to a "use" for the nib, and none have made any sense.

  • Stephen Shepherd

    I have used the nib [now nipple] on the back of the saw to start thousands of saw cuts, haven’t broken one off yet.


  • Mike Siemsen

    You would have to saw fairly slow for that to work. This same solution has been offered up in many blogs. Dean’s rubber band shooter is the best actual use for it. I have always liked, "They look nice in sweaters" myself and am firmly in the vestigial decoration catagory. You could also turn the saw over and break the nipple off trying to start a saw cut.

  • Dean Jansa


    After extensive and nearly exhaustive research I have finally figured out what that nib/nipple is for! It came to me one afternoon while filing saws with a group of guys… It turns out you can hook a rubber band over the nib and shoot your chosen victim in the back of the head with outstanding accuracy using the sawplate as a sight. Of course in the 18th C. they used catgut, but in these modern times a #64 rubber band from the post man is deadly accurate off a saw nib.

    That finally cleared it up for me, there is no question this is what the nib is designed to do, help keep your shop mates on their toes!


  • My wife and I were this very topic the other night. She asked with the nib, nipple, (nibble?) was for on one of my old Disstons and when I stammered something, trying to sound smart, she guessed it was for this exact purpose, to prevent one from pulling the saw too far out of the cut. Sharp eh?

  • When I bought my cross-cut saw with the nub from Lynn Dowd of Dowd’s tools, I asked him about it. Held the saw up in the light, then peered down over his reading glasses at it and pronounced it a "vestigial nub" and that’s what we’ve laughingly referred to it ever since.

    Jim Lancaster
    Dallas, TX

  • Casey Gooding

    Wow!!! More than anything, I’m thoroughly impressed that you were able to work the word "nipple" in a woodworking blog no less than 10 times without ever actually straying from writing about woodworking.

  • jacob

    The first time I used a saw with a nipple, on the very first pull up, I started to ask myself ‘how long is this saw’ – not wanting to pull too far. At the very same instant the nipple appeared with the answer.
    I’ve been convinced ever since that that is exactly what it is for; a tell tale to warn you to stop pulling up.
    Why not? This is quite a useful function and may have saved many saws from getting a kink in the hands of a first time user.

  • Randy R

    Well, this article should at least get your Google "hit" count up.

  • John Cashman

    Why? Why would you start something like this?

    OK, I admit I liked the "stop your stroke when you see the nipple" line. But apart from the irresistable urge for cheap humor, why would you start a nib post? Oh, the humanity.

    I fully expect to see the cartoon chef’s return.


    Could it be a definite answer to our most perplexing question?!?!? Could Christopher Schwarz be the Indiana Jones of woodworking?

  • "In short, stop your stroke when you see the nipple."

    Now it all makes sense. I’ve been doing it exactly backwards all these years!


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