From the Saw Shop, questions and answers: handsaw lamb’s tongues, cracked handsaw blades, and more!


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works restored antique tools

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers!

1. (question about when did Disston stop putting the lamb’s tongue on saw handles)

The gracefully curved and carved thin loop at the bottom of saw handles is a dead giveaway to a great old vintage handsaw. Even though Disston got away from carving the lamb’s tongue about 1900 to presumably make the handles less likely to be damaged and save money by making the handles simpler, the shape of the lamb’s tongue persisted on some saws such as the D-7 right up until Disston lost its identity as a separate company in the late 1950s.

2. (question about cracks on the tooth side of a handsaw)

Most handsaws, when abused by digging the teeth in and pushing, will bend the blade. Dig in hard enough and push hard and fast enough and, if the blade doesn’t simply snap, it will partially crack starting at the teeth. A cracked handsaw blade WILL eventually snap. If the crack is far enough toward the toe of the blade and you can deal with a bit shorter saw, it is possible to save a cracked saw by cutting it off at the point of the crack and reshaping the toe.

3. (how to tell if a handsaw needs straightening)

The easiest way to tell if a handsaw needs to be straightened is to watch the way it works. If the saw whips back and forth and vibrates when it’s pulled back through the kerf, the blade is objectionably bent.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

B&G Treasures, 11 Depot St, Norridgewock, ME (Mondays)

Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday)

Somerset Woods turnout, Canaan Rd (Rt 2), Skowhegan,ME (Wednesday)

Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Saturday)

Fryeburg Flea Market (Fryeburg Fairgrounds), Fryeburg, ME
(Sundays, Memorial Day thru end of September)

298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

In the Saw Shop, questions and answers: axe head pitting, bent blades, and more!


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers!

1. (question about pitting weakening an axe head)

Yes, excessive rust pitting can structurally weaken axe heads to the point that they are unsafe to use. As a rule, any pitting on an axe head that exceeds 10% of the steel thickness deep renders the axe unsafe to use. Weakened eyes can also be spotted by distortion. Any axe eye that is noticeably out of shape should be discarded.

Vintage poll axes are commonly abused by using the polls to drive splitting wedges and double bit axes are abused by pounding things with the flat of the axe. Combine this with rust pitting and you’re likely to have a dangerous tool.

2. (question about straightening bent axe blades and bent shears)

Most edge tools and knives that can bend rather than break are poorly tempered. Straightening these cold gives a 50/50 chance of breaking or cracking the blade, a dangerous situation with an axe. Unless you’re a blacksmith with the ability to hot forge and retemper, forget trying to straighten an axe bit.

3. (question about repairing a circular saw blade with a broken tooth)

For a steel circular saw blade, forget trying any repair of a broken tooth. Anything that could possibly reattach a broken tooth would hopelessly compromise the blade. For saws with carbide teeth, lost or damaged carbides can be replaced but few saws are worth it.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

B&G Treasures, 11 Depot St, Norridgewock, ME (Mondays)

Tractor Supply, Madison Ave, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday)

Somerset Woods turnout, Canaan Rd (Rt 2), Skowhegan,ME (Wednesday)

Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)

Fryeburg Flea Market (Fryeburg Fairgrounds), Fryeburg, ME
(Sundays, Memorial Day thru end of September)

298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

Saw Shop Tech, questions and answers: bent blades, retempering knives, chisel handles.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

It’s time to dip in to some of the questions asked via the blog and the service website and answer them!

1. (question about sharpening a bent blade)

Simply put, it all depends. Saws can reasonably be sharpened with bent blades, straight blade items such as knives can NOT be properly sharpened with any bend that involves the edge.

2. (question about straightening and retempering knives)

Simple answer, don’t even think of it unless you’re an accomplished smith with access to a forge. In most cases, bent knives don’t need to be untempered before straightening. The best quality knives are likely to break before they bend significantly in the first place so any bent knife is likely to be fairly soft and can be straightened cold with reasonable care.

3. (question about fitting handles to socket handle chisels)

Fitting a handle to a vintage socket handle chisel is a matter of lots of trial and error. I use sandpaper to shape the handle to the chisel’s socket, then I treat the handle with my boiled linseed oil formula, as well as putting a good slug of it in the socket before seating the handle. The linseed oil will swell the end of the handle, insuring a tight and long lasting fit.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Depot St, Norridgewock, ME (Mondays)

Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday)

Somerset Woods turnout, Canaan Rd (Rt 2), Skowhegan,ME (Wednesday)

Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)

Fryeburg Flea Market (Fryeburg Fairgrounds), Fryeburg, ME
(Sundays, Memorial Day thru end of September)

298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

Questions and answer from the saw shop: bent knives, axe handle length, wandering handsaws.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

It’s that time again! I’ve picked the best of the recent questions from visitors to the blog and the website, and now I’m answering!

1. (question about straightening bent knives)

I see it all the time. Every single batch of kitchen knives I get in to sharpen has at least one that someone has tried to use as a screwdriverand bent the dickens out of the point. Of course, a knife can’t be properly sharpened unless it’s straight.

Knives straighten on the anvil, the same way most bent tools I get do, just with a lot more finesse. Most knives that are bent can be straightened, since most knives that would break by being straightened would have broken when they bent. Very good quality stainless steel stand the biggest chance of breaking, since the qualities that make the steel stainless also tend to make it brittle.

2. (question about a 36″ axe handle being too long)

Back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon to see 3 1/2lb poll axes set up for splitting with 28″ long handles (I have one for sale on the website). These days, I’m unaware of anyone who makes replacement handles for the 3+ lb poll axe’s eye size, which is why I try to save these when I can find them. The only other option is to drop down to the 2 1/2lb boy’s axe with its standard 28″ length.

3.(question about a handsaw not cutting straight)

9 times out of 10, uneven set on the teeth is the culprit for a handsaw that pulls to one side. The side with more set in the teeth will be more aggressive than the other, so the saw will pull that way.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Elm Plaza, Waterville, ME (Mondays)
Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday and Wednesday)
Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)
298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

YouTube videos, the good, the bad, and the REALLY ugly: More axe mayhem.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

It seems like there’s a neverending stream of good videos on how to do bad things with tools on YouTube. Here’s some more good ones to avoid.

The first video is a tutorial on splitting logs with a hatchet or hand axe. This video does get props for a good demonstration of wedges. Unfortunately, that’s WAY too small an axe to be doing that sort of thing with. The short handle makes a “between the feet” swing dangerous, the awkward bent over swing while standing on the supporting log is an accident waiting to happen. Also, you should never pound on the poll of an axe to use it for a wedge (this is a clear sign the axe is too light). Figure a boy’s axe with a 26-28″ handle or a full sized poll axe with a 36″ handle to do this right.

The second video gets black flagged for blatant misuse of a knife. The knife and the hatchet may weigh roughly the same but the weight of the knife is distributed along the length of the blade where the hatchet’s weight is in the head. Forget chopping wood with a knife.

The last video is a GREAT example of why you don’t fool around beating on a knife to split wood (you end up with a bent knife). The poster’s answer to this is to try to claim warranty service on the abused knife and buy another knife. Sheesh.

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Elm Plaza, Waterville, ME (Mondays)
Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday and Wednesday)
Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)
298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

Saw shop tech: Selecting the hammers for your anvil.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

In a previous post, I wrote about how to choose an appropriate anvil for straightening saws and bent tools and setting saw teeth. In this post, I’m going to go over the different kinds of hammers used with the anvil and how to choose the right ones for saw work.

When people think of the anvil as a blacksmith tool, the image of a man pounding red hot iron into shape with heavy blows of a large hammer comes to mind. In the saw shop, since we’re working with thin steel saw blades and also working cold, a lot more finesse is called for.

The light hammers:

Handsaw blades are typically very thin and can be ruined easily by too aggressive hammering. Using a heavy hammer on these blades can stretch and untension the steel, leaving it floppy and useless as a saw.

Anvil and light hammers

The most common hammer I use is a light ball peen hammer (right). This one is a vintage hammer with a much smaller ball than modern ball peen hammers. The hammer to the left has rounded faces on both ends, the one in the middle is a cross peen hammer with one flat face and one flattened “blade” for working in narrow quarters. Other than the ball peen hammer, the choice of other hammer styles are a matter of personal preference as to what works the best, there are a LOT of different styles in light vintage hammers. The thing to remember is LIGHT!

I use these hammers for straightening bent handsaw blades and bent light tool blades such as chisels.

The heavy hammers:

Keep in mind, when I say heavy here, I’m not talking about hot forging iron. There shouldn’t be any need for hammers over 3 lbs in head weight and even those not frequently. I do have a 6lb vintage blacksmith’s sledge hammer but it NEVER sees use on the anvil.

Anvil and heavy hammers

The hammer to the left is a 3lb vintage blacksmith’s hammer (cross peen hammer). Like the light cross peen above, the blacksmith’s hammer has one flat face and one narrow flattened face. This particular hammer is a family heirloom, rescued from my great-grandfather’s blacksmith shop on the old family farm, cleaned, and rehandled. The middle hammer is a 3lb hand sledge with a flattened face at each end. This hammer is for the absolute heaviest jobs and consequently gets the least use of any.

These hammers are used for straightening heavy saw blades such as 1 man crosscut saws and for setting the teeth on thick cordwood saw (buzz saw) blades.

Specialty hammers:

The tool on the right in the above picture isn’t actually a hammer at all, even though it looks like one. This tool happens to be a blacksmith’s steel cutter, another vintage tool rescued from the old family blacksmith shop.

The steel cutter normally has a sharpened edge and is laid on the red hot steel and struck with another hammer to cut the steel. I’ve modified this one by grinding its edge flat. This allows me to place the modified steel cutter against the saw tooth that I’m setting (cordwood or crosscut) and strike it with the 3lb blacksmith hammer to set the tooth. This avoids damaging the tooth or the teeth around it by attempting to hit one tooth directly with the heavy hammer (and missing).

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Elm Plaza, Waterville, ME (Mondays)
Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday and Wednesday)
Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)
298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!

Saw shop tech: Selecting an anvil.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Skowhegan, ME

It’s true, anvils aren’t just for hot forging in blacksmith shops anymore! From tightening rivets to straightening blades to setting teeth, a good anvil is an indispensable part of the sharpening shop. In this post, I’ll touch on the uses of the anvil and how to choose the right one.

When most people think of anvils, they picture red hot bars of steel and showers of sparks from a brawny blacksmith wielding a heavy hammer. Most blacksmiths would be horrified at the though of striking a piece of cold steel on the anvil, but that’s precisely what we do. Some of the tasks I use my anvil for include tightening the rivets in knife handles, straightening bent knives, chisels, and saw blades, and setting the teeth on heavy crosscut saws (competition, 1 man) and cordwood (buzz) saws.

Almost any American or London pattern anvil (the classic anvil shape) that is not cast iron, is in good condition, and of suitable weight would be appropriate for the saw shop. I use a 196lb London pattern cast steel anvil in my shop. This anvil is a bit of overkill for the weight, but it happens to be a family heirloom (my great grandfather’s blacksmith anvil) so I keep it ringing :). Most saw shop work won’t require anything heavier than 100lbs. One advantage of the heavier anvil is that the face is long enough that I can lay a cordwood saw on it with the arbor hole over the anvil’s hardy hole and drop a hardy tool in to hold the blade in place while I set the teeth. If you’re just straightening chisels or tightening rivets, you can certainly do with a lot smaller anvil.

One of the important parts of choosing an anvil is that, unlike blacksmithing, you don’t want a perfectly flat face. Since bent blades need to be bent back beyond straight so they’ll spring back to straight, an anvil with slight negatives (dips) in the face is the ticket.

Finally, forget most modern anvils with the exception of some (expensive) European types made of forged steel (anything made in China is an immediate reject). As long as there aren’t any large chips missing or severe face damage, it’s hard to beat a vintage anvil!

Stay tuned, in one of my next posts, I’ll be talking about hammers and accessories for use with the anvil in the saw shop!

Visit me at any of the following locations:

Elm Plaza, Waterville, ME (Mondays)
Tractor Supply, Skowhegan, ME (Tuesday and Wednesday)
Arundel Flea Market, Rt 1 & Log Cabin Rd, Arundel, ME (Fridays)
298 W Front St, Skowhegan, ME (all other days)

If you’re looking for a special tool, please drop me an
email and let me know and I’ll restore one just for you!

SwiftWater Edge Tool Works provides mobile sharpening services across Maine and mail in services around the world for handsaws, carbide blades, planer knives, hand planes, chain saws, knives, scissors, hair clippers, router bits, and almost any blade!