Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 4, Issue 2
   November 2009
   From the Collection

Can Metal Cut Metal?
George H. Bishop Saws

At the turn of the century, any well-equipped carpenter probably had a minimum of five hand saws in his toolbox. These saws, along with all the associated sharpening tools, usually occupied a special drawer and a dedicated till. Cabinetmakers who worked only at the bench tended to have a larger selection, solely because they likely had larger storage facilities. At a minimum, all had at least a rip and crosscut at 26-28", a panel crosscut at 18-24", a keyhole or compass saw and either a tenon or dovetail saw, or perhaps both. These basic saws covered the majority of work encountered by the average woodworker of the time. Specialty saws were obtained as needed. The two saws shown here are examples of a specialty niche that was needed pre-electricity.

Can metal cut metal? The answer is yes, when the two materials are of different hardness. We all remember the TV ad of the scissors cutting the copper penny. Most hand saws and scrapers of a hundred years ago were made with a hardness of 38-42 on the Rockwell C scale. (Most modern saws have a hardness in the range of 48-52.) Non-ferrous metals such as brass and aluminum usually have a hardness too low to have much meaning on the Rockwell C scale. They are soft enough to be cut with a hand saw, though at a lower rate than cutting wood.

Close-up of tooth pattern   Close-up of worn teeth
Close-up of tooth pattern.   Close-up of worn teeth.

It is important to note that the tooth patterns to accomplish such a task are much different from those of the standard wood-cutting hand saw. These saws will have no set and have a much finer pitch configuration. In the case of one of the saws shown, please note the grouping of teeth followed by a large gullet. This saw has extraordinary wear in the center of its blade. Larger versions of these saws were used to cut rail and other larger sections of metal where mechanical or electric devices could not be used. It was thought that a hand saw of this type would make a straighter and cleaner cut than a conventional frame or hack saw. Their use in industry was slowly phased out with the introduction of carbides and tougher tool steels, coupled with improved manufacturing processes, giving the consumer better devices for cutting metal.
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