Tools & Craft #51: A Blast from the Past, Reimagined and Made For the Future

Since founding Tools for Working Wood, it’s always been my philosophy to look to the past for direction, then push forward using the advantages we have today. When it comes to creating hand tools, 19th-Century manufacturers did a great job of industrializing the process to wring the most performance from human-powered machinery. We modern-day makers of tools, all of us, are using new materials and manufacturing techniques to advance tool performance and tool appearance. And innovation in hand tool design still exists, ranging from tweaks to completely new approaches.

Four years ago at a tool show, we got a chance to see a real Montague-Woodrough handsaw. The saw, made by a small competitor of the giant saw companies of the time (Disston, Atkins & Simmonds), had an innovative tooth design that ripped brilliantly, crosscut smoothly in hardwood, and while looking bizarre, was no more difficult to sharpen by hand than any other good saw.

Then it failed in the marketplace. Why? Probably due to its lack of distribution, and the difficulty of sharpening it using the machines available at the time.

That didn’t scare us off. After a lot of study, careful design, manufacturing trials and testing, two years later we released the Brooklyn Tool & Craft Hardware Store Saw with our own version of the Montague-Woodrough tooth pattern.

“Our own version” means it was inspired by but isn’t identical to the Montague-Woodrough tooth pattern. We have the benefit of studying what the previous manufacturer did, so we can evolve a step further. We did a lot of prototyping and we think our tooth pattern has some advantages over the original. We also added a few other 19th century innovations.

The result is that the saw cuts like a demon, and also functions as a pretty accurate square; ruler; protractor; layout guide for dovetails; and many other tools. The idea of using a saw for layout is of course a 19th-Century idea, but it never caught on much and was hard to manufacture reliably. The graphic details on the saw are inspired by the mid-20th-Century machine tools in our workshop and the background texture (you can’t really etch a flat surface evenly, and it would wear too fast too) takes its original design from an 18th-Century leather instrument case.

But this is a high tech 21st-Century saw. Really. The detailed etches on each side of the saw are accurate and clear to read. The black color of the etch is below the surface of the saw and will last for years. In the 19th century, makers could not effectively etch that amount of detail. In the 20th century, the shallow electro-etch that was popular rarely had the detail needed, and would wear off over time. In the 21st century, we use a state-of-the-art etching mask, lots of computer time and precision in punching to register the blade and pattern correctly from each side of the saw. Unlike the fancy square saws of the 1900’s, these saws can be made to a precise standard at reasonable, if not rock-bottom, price. And in the USA.

We feel we’ve created a saw that you would want around the house or shop. A saw that you might take with you on the road. A saw with a comfortable full sized wood handle, that cuts fast but is short enough (16″ cutting length) to carry around without damage. A toolbox kit, an all-around saw, a household saw. You know that saw your dad had, that he got from his dad, who got it at the local hardware store a long time ago. The saw that he used for everything. You just wish it was a better saw. This one is. We also wanted to make it versatile so you don’t have to go around with a kit of tools just to cut a square line or measure off a few inches on a board or cut at an angle.

(About the name: When we were first discussing the concept for this saw, we referred to it as “the hardware store saw” because that was our frame of reference: the useful saw you get at any hardware store. We figured we’d call it something different later on, but the name stuck, so Hardware Store Saw it is.)

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This “Tools & Craft” section is provided courtesy of Joel Moskowitz, founder of Tools for Working Wood, the Brooklyn-based catalog retailer of everything from hand tools to Festool; check out their online shop here. Joel also founded Gramercy Tools, the award-winning boutique manufacturer of hand tools made the old-fashioned way: Built to work and built to last.

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