Antique Hand Saws: The Ultimate Collector‘s Guide

Hand saws are one of the most important tools in woodworking, with a history dating back thousands of years. For antique tool collectors, vintage hand saws from the 18th and 19th centuries are highly sought after for their craftsmanship, style, and history. Whether you‘re looking to start or expand your collection, or simply appreciate the beauty of these classic tools, this comprehensive guide will tell you everything you need to know about antique hand saws.

The Fascinating History of Hand Saws

The hand saw is one of the oldest tools used by humans, with origins stretching back to prehistoric times. Archaeologists have found evidence of notched flint blades used for cutting wood that date to the Neolithic period over 5,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptians and Romans used bronze and iron hand saws with wooden handles.

It wasn‘t until the Middle Ages that saw-making really advanced as a craft in Europe. Long pit saws allowed logs to be cut into lumber, while specialized saws were developed by joiners, cabinetmakers, and other woodworkers for finer work. By the 17th century, England and Germany were centers of high-quality hand saw manufacturing.

In colonial America, most hand saws were imported from England, with Sheffield emerging as the predominant saw-making city by the late 18th century. But a few innovative American toolmakers began developing their own saw designs. In the early 19th century, Henry Disston revolutionized the industry in Philadelphia by mechanizing the saw-making process and mass-producing interchangeable parts, allowing for the creation of superior, more affordable saws.

Over the course of the 1800s, dozens of American saw manufacturers sprung up as demand boomed with westward expansion. While most of these regional makers were small operations, companies like Disston, Simonds, Atkins, and Peace grew into large enterprises producing many styles and models of high-quality hand saws prized by craftsmen and collectors today.

Types of Antique Hand Saws

Antique hand saws came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes designed for specific woodworking tasks. Here are some of the most common types sought by collectors:

Panel Saw

Also known as a hand saw, this is the classic, general-purpose saw with large teeth for making straight cuts across the grain in boards and panels. It typically measures 14-28 inches long.

Rip Saw

Similar to a panel saw but with finer teeth filed straight across for cleanly cutting along the grain, a rip saw requires more effort but produces a smoother cut than a panel saw. Common lengths are 16-30 inches.

Tenon Saw

Sometimes called a back saw, a tenon saw has a rectangular blade reinforced along the top edge with a brass or steel back strip to keep it rigid for making precise, straight cuts. The thin 10-16 inch blade has fine rip-filed teeth for joinery work.

Compass Saw

The narrow, tapered 10-15 inch blade of the compass saw allows it to cut tight curves and circles with its fine, cross-cut teeth. Cabinetmakers and joiners used it for making patterned scrollwork.

Cross-Cut Saw

Designed for cutting across the grain of large timbers, a cross-cut saw has a long, tapering 24-36 inch blade with large, beveled teeth. It sometimes has a handle at both ends for use by two people.

Frame Saw

With its narrow blade 12-30 inches long attached to a rectangular wooden frame, a frame saw keeps the blade under tension for making rip cuts or intricate shapes. Fine-toothed versions called bow saws allowed thin, delicate cuts.

Notable Antique Hand Saw Brands

Among the hundreds of saw makers who plied their trade in the 19th century, a few stand out for their lasting quality, influence, and collectibility:

Disston & Sons

America‘s largest and most famous saw maker, the Disston company operated in Philadelphia from 1840 to the mid 20th century. Its many popular models like the #7, #12, and #D8 featured innovative designs and top-grade steel.

Simonds Saw

Founded in Massachusetts in 1832, Simonds grew into another leading American saw manufacturer. Models like the #4 and #10 were especially well-made.

E.C. Atkins & Co

The largest of the Midwestern saw companies, Atkins made high-quality tools in Indianapolis from 1855 until being purchased by Nicholson File in 1966. The #400 and #68 are among its most desirable models.

Harvey Peace

Known for its elegantly made backsaws and carcase saws, this top New York City maker of the late 1800s attracted a devoted following among the best joiners and cabinetmakers.

Valuing an Antique Hand Saw

So how much are antique hand saws worth to a collector? It depends on several key factors:

Brand Name and Model

Saws by historically important, top-tier makers like Disston or Peace generally command higher prices than more common, lower-quality brands. Rarer, specialty models can also carry a premium.


A saw in crisp, original condition with a clean, rust-free blade and a sound, intact handle is much more desirable than one that is heavily worn, damaged or missing parts. However, some signs of honest use are expected in an antique tool.


All else being equal, older saws tend to be more valuable than newer ones. The earliest known American-made saws date to the late 18th century, but most on the market are from the mid-late 1800s "golden age" of saw making.

Based on these and other factors, antique hand saw prices typically range from $25-$250, with rare models by elite makers sometimes fetching over $1,000. According to the 2015 Price Guide to Antique Tools, a common 26-inch Disston #7 panel saw in good condition is worth $70-$125.

Buying Antique Hand Saws

Antique hand saws are widely available if you know where to look. Here are some of the best places to find them:

Antique Tool Dealers

Reputable dealers who specialize in old tools can be an excellent source for high-quality, accurately described antique saws. While you‘ll likely pay top dollar, a knowledgeable dealer can help you find the perfect addition to your collection.

Live Auctions

Assembled collections of antique tools periodically come up for live auction, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, letting you examine the goods in person. Prices can be hit-or-miss depending on who else is bidding.

Online Auctions

eBay and other online auction sites have made antique hand saws more accessible to collectors around the world. Be sure to thoroughly examine photos, ask questions, and check seller feedback to avoid surprises.

Flea Markets and Estate Sales

You never know what you might come across at the local flea market or estate sale. With some patience and a sharp eye you can occasionally score great deals, though the selection is unpredictable.

Wherever you‘re shopping for an antique saw, be sure to educate yourself on the market, carefully evaluate the item‘s condition and originality, and don‘t be afraid to negotiate the price. It also doesn‘t hurt to get a second opinion from a trusted fellow collector or appraiser.

Caring for Your Antique Hand Saws

With proper care, your antique hand saws can remain in pristine condition for generations. Store them in a dry place safe from extremes of temperature, humidity and dust. To prevent rust, occasionally wipe the blade with light machine oil. Check that the handle is securely attached, the blade is straight, and the teeth are sharp. Antique saws can be professionally sharpened and tuned to work as well as the day they were made. Only apply gentle cleaning and polishing agents to the handle if needed to avoid damaging the patina.

Some collectors also enjoy finding creative new uses for their antique saws. Saw blades can be repurposed into knives, garden tools, or attractive decorations, while handles can become displays or attached to a new blade. The only limits are your craftsmanship and imagination!

Whether you use them or simply admire them, antique hand saws make wonderful, historic collectibles that will only become more treasured in the years ahead. By following this guide and developing your eye for quality, you‘ll soon be on your way to building a collection that shows your saw-vy!

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