No, I’m not talking about that kind of table saw. I’m talking
about this kind of table saw…
That’s what a table saw was in the 19th century. Why is it called a
table saw? Because you cut out table tops with it, of course!
more specific, oval and round table tops… that’s why it has such a
narrow saw plate… narrow meaning a relatively shorter depth than a
Think of it a hybrid between a compass saw and a
full size hand saw.
The table saw is a strange little blip on the hand tool timeline in
the 19th and early 20th century… it only really appears for about 40
years or so. Disston started making theirs in about 1875, and other
makers also made similar table saws in their lines. But by the
1920s, the table saws are gone from manufacturers catalogs.
never found reference to a table saw in any inventories of old work
shops or tool chests, so it makes me wonder about the effectiveness
of their form. We see lots of keyhole and compass saws, along with
many bow saws, so it begs the question - were these saws useful? Did
craftsman find them useful for cutting gentle curves and such? Or
were they just an evolutionary dead-end for good reason?
I have a Brown’s #3 table saw, which was a common model made by
Disston with their Keystone mark.
It dates from about 1890 and has a 16 inch blade, though models were
available from 12 to 26 inches. I saw a 26 inch once and literally
almost fell over… it was an awesome saw! Sadly, it was not for sale.
I have always wanted a nice usable table saw, as I wanted to find
out for myself if they were a useful tool. Unfortunately, my Brown’s
has a nasty kink that I’d rather not tangle with. In use, table saws
experience a lot of stress along the saw plate due to their
shallowness and are invariably found kinked (just like compass and
If I were to hammer out the kink, it would probably
only be a matter of time before I kinked it again, as it doesn’t
have the tenacity of a full size hand saw.
So when I found a mint table saw blade from a Disston nest of saws
in the bottom of a rotted old tool chest in Rehoboth, MA, I figured
it was a sign to put it back to use. Because all I found was the saw
plate, I needed to make a handle for it. So let’s get to it…
A scrap of hard maple with some nice curl in it started things out…
here’s a pic of the handle blank roughed out next to the blade…
I found the basic pattern for the saw tote from a keyhole saw in Jay
Gaynor and Nancy Hegedorn seminal work, Working Wood In The 18th
Century (an awesome book that is a must for anyone interested in old
tools and woodworking).
I was so struck by the beautiful shape and
curves of the pattern…I knew I wanted to copy it the second I saw