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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