Antique Crosscut Saws: Identifying Different Types and Determining Value

For antique tool collectors and woodworking enthusiasts, few items are as captivating as the antique crosscut saw. These elegant hand tools, with their sleek steel blades and intricately carved handles, offer a tangible connection to the skilled craftsmen of the past. Crosscut saws first emerged in the 15th century and remained the primary tool for cutting lumber until the early 20th century, when they were largely replaced by power saws. Today, collectors prize antique crosscut saws as beautiful examples of functional art that showcase the sawmakers‘ talents.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share my expertise as an antique tool collector and historian to help you identify different types of antique crosscut saws, evaluate their condition and value, and find them for sale. Whether you‘re a beginning collector or a long-time tool enthusiast, you‘ll find plenty of helpful tips for appreciating and acquiring these impressive saws. I‘ll also provide detailed advice on cleaning, restoring, and preserving your antique saws so they retain their beauty and value.

The Anatomy and History of Antique Crosscut Saws

To start, let‘s look at the key parts of a crosscut saw and how they‘ve evolved over the centuries. A crosscut saw consists of a long, straight steel blade with sharp teeth cut perpendicularly to the blade‘s length. The teeth are angled back towards the handle and have a beveled profile that allows them to cleanly slice through wood fibers across the grain, hence the name "crosscut."

Crosscut saw blades are relatively thin, typically 1/16" to 3/32" thick and up to 6 feet or more in length. This thinness reduces the amount of material removed with each cut, allowing for a narrow "kerf" (cut width). Larger crosscut saws, known as felling or bucking saws, were designed for cutting down trees and cutting logs to length, while smaller saws were used for fine carpentry.

The blade is attached to a wooden handle, historically made from dense hardwoods like applewood, beech, or rosewood. Fancier saws often featured intricately carved and shapely handles with decorative flourishes like brass nuts, medallions, and inlays. The handle is attached to the blade‘s narrow base, called the tang, either with a bolt or with the traditional method of a "split nut" screwed in place.

English and European sawmakers pioneered many of the innovations in crosscut saw design in the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, by the 1840s, enterprising American saw manufacturers had begun mass-producing high-quality crosscut saws that were thinner, lighter, and faster cutting than their English counterparts. Legendary American sawmakers like Henry Disston, Simons Saw, and E.C. Atkins came to dominate the global crosscut saw trade in the late 1800s.

Some key milestones in crosscut saw evolution:

  • 1750s: Saw teeth began to be cut by machine to uniform shapes
  • 1820s: Invention of spring steel allowed thinner saw blades
  • 1840s: Highly refined English sharpening techniques adopted by American sawmakers
  • 1870s: Disston‘s "skewback" saw with curved blade became industry standard
  • 1880s: Atkins perfected taper grinding to make thinner, lighter saw blades

Identifying Different Types of Antique Crosscut Saws

Within the broad category of crosscut saws, there are numerous subtypes varying in size, tooth pattern, and intended use. Here are some of the most common and collectible types of antique crosscut saws:

Felling Saws and Bucking Saws

The largest crosscut saws, often called felling saws or bucking saws, were 4 to 6 feet or more in length. These heavyweight saws were used in pairs by lumberjacks to cut down massive old-growth trees and buck the trunks into logs. Felling saws have the widest teeth spacing of crosscut saws, often around 1" apart, and can have either straight or curved blades. The handles are robust and utilitarian, as these saws needed to withstand tremendous stress.

Carpenter‘s Crosscut Saws

The classic carpenter‘s crosscut saw is a 5-12 point (teeth per inch) saw 18-28 inches long, used for cutting lumber to size. These versatile saws have finer teeth than felling saws for cleaner, more precise cuts. The blade may be straight or skewed back (slightly curved). Premium examples often have beautiful figured hardwood handles with decorative carving.

Panel Saws

Smaller 16-20 inch crosscut saws, known as panel saws, were used for cutting panels and fine trim. They typically have finer 10-15 point teeth for ultra-clean cuts. Many have intricate handles with carved beads and wheat-ear patterns.

Tenon Saws and Sash Saws

Tenon saws and sash saws are petite crosscut saws designed for cutting precise joints, like the mortise and tenon joints used in window sashes and door frames. They have thin, stiff blades 10-16 inches long, extra fine 12-16 point teeth, and often ornate open-handled designs.

Here is a table summarizing the key characteristics of different types of antique crosscut saws:

Saw Type Length Tooth Count Tooth Spacing Typical Use Relative Value
Felling/Bucking Saw 48-72"+ 3-5 point 1" Felling trees, cutting logs High
Carpenter‘s Crosscut 18-28" 5-12 point 1/2" Cutting lumber and millwork Medium
Panel Saw 16-20" 10-15 point 1/4" Cutting panels, trim, miters Medium
Tenon/Sash Saw 10-16" 12-16 point 1/8" Cutting precise joints High

Note that these are approximate figures, and actual antique saws may vary. In general, larger saws and those with finer teeth are rarer and command higher values, although saw condition also plays a major role.

Evaluating an Antique Crosscut Saw‘s Condition and Value

An antique crosscut saw‘s value depends heavily on its condition. Here‘s how I recommend assessing a saw‘s condition on a 5-point scale:

5 – Excellent: A saw in pristine condition with minimal signs of age or use. The blade has over 95% of its original finish with no rust, pitting, or bends. The teeth are all intact and razor sharp. The handle is free of cracks, major scratches, or repairs.

4 – Very Good: A saw in lovely condition with only minor signs of wear. The blade has over 85% of its original finish with only light, cleansable surface rust. No more than 10% of teeth are chipped or dull. The handle may have small dings but no structural damage.

3 – Good: A saw that‘s sound and complete but showing clear signs of age and use. The blade has at least 50% of its original finish with some dark patina and rust. Up to 30% of teeth may need sharpening or repair. The handle is still structurally sound but may have surface cracks or a replaced medallion.

2 – Fair: A saw with noticeable condition issues but still a good candidate for restoration. The blade is heavily rusted or partially pitted, with 50-70% of teeth needing attention. The handle may be loose, cracked, or missing chunks.

1 – Poor: A saw with severe damage or missing parts. The blade may be deeply pitted, cracked, or bent. More than 70% of teeth are missing or unusable. The handle is split, broken, or crudely replaced. Saw should only be bought for parts/repair.

Of course, a saw‘s value also depends on its age, maker, scarcity, and desirability among collectors. In general, here is what you can expect to pay for antique crosscut saws in different conditions:

  • Excellent condition saws by premium makers: $300-$1,000+
  • Very good condition saws by collectible makers: $150-$500
  • Good condition saws by lesser-known makers: $50-$150
  • Fair condition saws in need of restoration: $25-$100
  • Poor condition saws for parts/repair: under $50

That said, rare models like complete two-man saws can command thousands of dollars in top condition. Increasingly, collectors are seeking out higher quality restoration candidates, driving up prices for restorable saws.

Finding Antique Crosscut Saws for Sale

Ready to start shopping for a vintage crosscut saw? You have more options than ever in today‘s market:

Online Marketplaces: Websites like eBay and Etsy have made it effortless to browse antique saws from all over with just a few clicks. Check item descriptions and photos closely, and don‘t hesitate to ask questions. Be wary of sellers with minimal feedback or saws that seem underpriced.

Live Auctions: Both local and national auction houses regularly feature antique saws in their sales. Prices can be hit or miss depending on the audience. It‘s best to preview saws in person if possible or have a trusted buyer do so on your behalf. Factor in any buyer‘s premiums of 15-25% on top of the gavel price.

Flea Markets and Antique Shops: Hunting for saws in person allows you to inspect them closely before buying. Check flea markets, antique malls, and shops in your area, especially those known for tools. Prices are often lower than online, but selection may be limited. Go frequently and ask dealers to let you know when saws come in.

Direct from Collectors: Buying from established tool collectors offers access to top-notch saws and expert guidance. Attend regional tool meets hosted by collector clubs like Mid-West Tool Collectors Association and Early American Industries Association to network and find saws for sale. Join online forums and Facebook groups where collectors congregate.

Regardless of where you buy, carefully evaluate a saw‘s condition and fair value before making an offer. Don‘t be afraid to negotiate, especially with dealers and collectors who expect some back-and-forth. If a saw is overpriced or not as described, be ready to walk away.

Expert Tips for Cleaning and Restoring Antique Crosscut Saws

If you‘re fortunate to find an antique crosscut saw in great original shape, simply cleaning it and applying a protective finish will suffice. However, most old saws benefit from some level of restoration to bring out their full glory. Here‘s how I recommend proceeding:

  1. Disassemble the saw by removing the handle from the blade.

  2. Clean the blade with a soft brass brush and mineral spirits, then soak overnight in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water to dissolve rust. Scrub lightly with fine steel wool.

  3. For minor pitting, sand blade evenly with 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper until smooth. For heavy pitting, use a file or have blade professionally ground.

  4. Clean the handle with a mild dish soap solution, then lightly sand to remove grime. If refinishing, strip old finish and repair cracks with wood glue before sanding. Apply a fresh coat of boiled linseed oil or lacquer.

  5. Have missing or damaged teeth professionally re-cut, or replace the entire tooth line if more than 50% is missing. Sharpen teeth with slim taper saw files.

  6. Reattach the handle to the blade, reusing original hardware if possible. If split nuts are cracked, reproductions are available or nuts can be made from saw bolts.

  7. Apply a light coat of camellia oil or paste wax to the blade to prevent rust. Store the saw in a dry place with low humidity.

Cleaning and restoration can be time consuming, but the results are well worth it. A lovingly restored crosscut saw makes a beautiful and functional addition to any collection or workshop.

Resources for Further Research

To learn more about antique crosscut saws, consult the following books and websites:

Books:

  • Handsaw Makers of North America by Erwin L. Schaffer
  • British Saws and Saw Makers from c. 1660 by Simon Barley
  • The Antique Tool Collector‘s Guide to Value by Ronald S. Barlow

Websites:

  • DisstonianInstitute.com – Extensive info on Disston saws
  • VintageSaws.com – Helpful articles and a user forum
  • JimbodeTools.com – Price guide to antique hand tools

Collector Associations:

  • Mid-West Tool Collectors Association (mwtca.org)
  • Early American Industries Association (eaiainfo.org)
  • Antique Tools and Trades in Connecticut (attict.org)

Price Guides:

  • Antique Trader Tools Price Guide by Clarence Blanchard
  • A Guide to the Makers of American Wooden Planes by Emil & Martyl Pollak

By consulting these resources and learning from other collectors, you can expand your appreciation for the incredible craftsmanship and heritage behind antique crosscut saws. No matter what type of saw you acquire, you‘ll be holding an important piece of woodworking and saw making history in your hands.

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