Nickel-plated Backsaws

Figure 1. A circa-1873 Disston & Sons saw. The blotches appeared to the author to be the remnants of nickel plating. The author thought the blotches were an anomaly, but he soon discovered others in his collection.

Excerpted from The Chronicle Vol. 62 No. 2, June 2009

by Phil Baker

Many years ago a Disston & Sons, circa 1873, came my way (Figure 1). At first glance, this saw did not appear to be in particularly good condition but it was interesting and different. There were blotches over both sides of the blade, which seemed to look like remnants of nickel plating, but I thought, “Who would bother to do that?”

Figure 2. Removing the handle revealed the plating.

Then around five years ago, I found a Disston & Son halfback with a steel back. Upon removing the handle, the original nickel plating was visible where the wood had protected the surface (Figure 2). Taken together these two anomalies did not constitute enough information to warrant an article. I continued to collect backsaws, however, and now, not only have I found that there are four others in my collection, but have heard from two other collectors who also own examples.

Figure 3 (inset above). A 1867 E.M. Boynton 1867 with a 12-inch blade. Inset shows a detail of the blade that had been under the handle.

Figure 3 shows a 12-inch blade backsaw made by E. M. Boynton of New York. The saw is in great condition. Another example in my collection is from Cincinnati and is especially interesting (Figures 4 and 5). Made by George Bishop circa 1885, it has an 8-inch blade, and the back is tapered from 11/16 inch at the handle to 13/16  inch at the tip. The label screw on this saw is also plated.

Figure 4. The label screw on a circa 1885 George Bishop Cincinnati saw appears to have been plated.
Figure 5. A detail of the blade where the handle was attached to the Bishop saw.

A Wheeler, Madden & Clemson model, “The Standard,” is the only one of the group that had only had the blade plated (Figure 6). It has a 14-inch blade, and the original bluing on the saw back is found under the wood. The saw has an 1869 patent on the label screw.

Figure 6 (inset above). “The Standard,” a 1869, 14-inch, Wheeler, Madden & Clemson model, is the only one of the group that had only had the blade plated. The original bluing on the saw back was visible after the handle was removed (see inset).

The final example from my collection is a C.E. Jennings of New York saw with a 10-inch blade (Figures 7 and 8). An 1887 patent date is found on the label screw, on which there appears to be a trace of plating.

This past spring, I learned from Carl Bilderback that he had a “bright and shiny” nickel-plated Atkins hand saw. Shortly after, Mike Stemple sent me a Platt and Holroyd saw that he has had for a few years (Figure 9). It didn’t seem to have much to offer except for the dome-headed steel saw screws and a mahogany handle missing the lower portion. I pulled the handle and found bright nickel under it on both sides of the blades (Figure 10). But I was soon to learn that this saw was interesting in other ways.

Figure 7 (inset above). A C.E. Jennings backsaw with a 10-inch blade. The inset details where the handle was attached.

Next, I turned my attention to the screws. In my collection, I have five examples of this type of screw made by Courtland Wood, a firm active 1850–53. Several other makers used this type of screw. As I was cleaning the screws on this Platt and Holroyd saw, I realized that although the screws were blued steel, they had been capped with silver. Of special interest was that the silver cap was wrapped under the head of the screw (Figure 11). I began to think that this was a very special nickel-plated saw. After I had removed all five screws, I scraped the mahogany and found it to be rosewood. Silver, rosewood, and nickle plating—these are the ingredients of a special saw. (Mike’s wife, Sherri, has found some information that may connect this Platt & Holroyd saw to the 1853 World’s Fair in New York at the Crystal Palace as well as other information about Platt & Holroyd.)

Figure 8. Traces of plating appear on the label screw.

The one thing all the six saws presented here have in common is that their blades do not show the usual deterioration that is found on saws of similar age. Even on the “Standard” blade where considerable plating has been lost, the basic steel blade and etching are in fine condition. I am sure that I have seen evidence of nickel plating on more that one hand saw, but discounted it as not being the case. Perhaps there are others who have saws with plating evidence. Let me know.

Figure 9 (above) a Platt and Holroyd saw with nickel plating and very interesting screws.
Figure 10 (far left). The evidence of the nickel plating was visible when the handle was removed.
Figure 11 (left). The silver-capped screws used on the saw.

Phil Baker is a regular contributor to The Chronicle on the subject of saws.