C. Nurse Dovetail Saw restoration

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Derek Cohen (Perth Oz)

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Any information on C. Nurse backsaws?

I am a sucker for dovetail saws as I enjoy the joinery area of woodworking the most. I visited the Perth Wood Show a few weeks back, where the Old Tools Society have a pretty decent range for sale. I always look out for something that may be a little special. The Show started on the Friday and I got there on Saturday. I was told that a bunch of brass backed dovetail saws had been snapped up the day before (isn't that always the case!), and there was this fledgling left. I was surprised because it looked the type of saw I search for - I suspected that this saw may be pre- or around 1900 owing to the split nuts and the details on the handle. The other sawmaker I usually look out for is Groves, and I consider that these two makes are on a par. Not many of each out there.

Anyway, the saw was left because it looked in a far worse state than my pictures below as it only occurred to me to take photos when I had it apart. The back was dinged and the teeth were crooked and misshapen. I think that the tapered plate also looks to some as it is worn out! So I got lucky.

What stood out about this saw was the handle. Beautifully shaped. One of the best I have seen.

From what I can gather C.Nurse & Co were a London-based firm that primarily made handplanes. From backsaw.net, "Nurse never made saws but sold saws of very high quality", and that "at least some Charles Nurse saws were made by Thomas Turner". Saws by Nurse & Co were "expensive and high end".

One piece of information I received came from a 1914 catalogue ...

No. 1268 Best cast steel Brass Back Saws, heavy backs 9in. 5/-.

I apologise for not having a photo of the saw as it came from the Show - it really only occurred to me to take photos after the saw was apart.

The plate was mildly pitted and the teeth misshapen.

5-unrestored1_zpsew1vtzfq.jpg


The handle was in decent condition. A bit rough here-and-there, but the only area I thought needed some work was the curve for the palm. The projection here extended too far and was painful to hold for long. I really wanted t preserve the patina as best as possible.

6-unrestored2_zpsb2ljubug.jpg


The nuts were buggered and needed replacing ..

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.. and the brass back looked like it had been hammered on ..

7-unrestored3_zpsm8y7hnxz.jpg


The restoration involved sanding the plate with 120/240/400 grit (sandpaper on a hard backing), sharpening the teeth (19 tpi at 5 degrees rake - my eyes hurt!), and replacing the saw nuts. The hump on the handle was reduced until the saw felt comfortable ..

1-Completed1_zps0is4f8ms.jpg


On reflection and in discussion with some others, the saw plate did not look right - the taper was exaggerated and this affected the hang.

I spend part of Sunday afternoon pulling apart the saw and completing the restoration. I had been reluctant to mess with the brass back at the start, since I did not wish to alter the vintage appearance of the saw. However, with their urging, I returned to deal with the curved and skewed back.

After wrestling the brass back off the plate, this is what was uncovered ...

1a_zpshdraynng.jpg


The back appeared to have dropped. However the bolt holes are original and, if the plate is pushed higher into the back, then the handle cannot be bolted back. There is an even line in the steel (seen in the photo) that appears to be where the brass held the plate. It looked like the plate was not originally tapered.

The brass back was straightened as much as possible by placing it curved side down, and wacking the centre with a hard rubber faced Thor hammer. The ends remained a touch high (less than 1mm), and I carefully sanded this down. A very slight sway remains.

The plate was returned to the back, and adjusted to match the hang of my IT dovetail saw ..

4a_zpsqj8gm2of.jpg


To facilitate this, a sliver of plate needed to be removed (on the diagonal), and then new holes drilled (use a carbide drill bit for this) ..

5a_zpsmcq19yp0.jpg


The plate was then re-jointed and re-filed (still 19 tpi, with 5 degrees rake), and all bolted up.

The rear of the saw plate has 1 1/4" to the back, and there is 1 1/8" at the front (i.e. a taper of 1/8" along the length). The plate measured as 0.02" thick.

9a_zpszonssh8s.jpg


6a_zpspinvxpgl.jpg


The handle is just gorgeous, and it is difficult to see the reduction I made to the "hump". It is really comfortable ...

7a_zpsdmndvsse.jpg


A few test cuts ..

11a_zpseksfj8lg.jpg


Something more meaningful ...

12a_zps76khdflp.jpg


It is cutting beautifully. This is now a go to dovetail saw.

Regards from Perth

Derek
 
You do know that the plate isn't supposed to sit right down into the back ? The folded back grips the top edge of the plate. The saw is tensioned / straightened by tapping the back at heel and toe with a hammer. Over time (and with clumsy hammer blows you saw the witness marks of) this results in the plate bottoming out in the fold of the back at the toe - the handle prevents it doing so at the heel. That produces the tapered effect, which was never intended.
 
Ah, the lure of the unloved old saw - I know how hard it is to resist and how satisfying it is to put a tool back into use - nice job.
Nurse were a big, successful retailer - this is one of their three London shops in 1905 - a good density of tools per cubic inch of space.

IMG_20160901_200504751_zpsa9uhmvcz.jpg
 
Very nice work completing what looks like a tricky job.

If only such tool shops remained today!
 
Sheffield Tony":3p1iiqsr said:
You do know that the plate isn't supposed to sit right down into the back ? The folded back grips the top edge of the plate. The saw is tensioned / straightened by tapping the back at heel and toe with a hammer. Over time (and with clumsy hammer blows you saw the witness marks of) this results in the plate bottoming out in the fold of the back at the toe - the handle prevents it doing so at the heel. That produces the tapered effect, which was never intended.

I wonder why there were hammer blows in the centre of the brass back? David (DW) has a very similar saw and his has a sway back. I wonder, as a result, whether the hammer blows created the sway, or whether that was built in and, if so, why?

The marks on the plate show where the brass back sat. I set it a little under that as it felt firmer (I suppose that may have been a reason it slipped down in the first place). The narrower plate does not bother me. I quite like this - it has a similar feel to the Gramercy dovetail saw.

Regards from Perth

Derek
 
Hi Derek,

nice saw and good work on it.

It looked like the plate was not originally tapered.

I've never found a tapered blade after removing the spine.

I wonder why there were hammer blows in the centre of the brass back? David (DW) has a very similar saw and his has a sway back. I wonder, as a result, whether the hammer blows created the sway, or whether that was built in and, if so, why?

Because on many saws around the stamp the spine holds the blade mos firmly.

Cheers
Pedder
 
I've never found a tapered blade after removing the spine.

Pedder, this is what Pete Taran mentioned the other day. He is adamant that all these tapered saws are driven by Internet misinformation; that tapered saws were never made in vintage times, and those found were the result of being dropped.

I would say that he has some authority, and has possibly more experience than anyone around today. (For those who are not familiar with his name, Pete started IT saws, which he then sold to LN. He started the company in 1985, and his dovetail saw was responsible for the emergence of boutique sawmakers worldwide, and the renaissance of quality backsaws).

Regards from Perth

Derek
 
I've never found a tapered blade after removing the spine.

Pedder, this is what Pete Tarran mentioned the other day. He is adamant that all these tapered saws are driven by Internet misinformation; that tapered saws were never made in vintage times, and those found were the result of being dropped.

I am pretty sure they weren't tapered, but as I said, the plate is only gripped by the folded spine and did not go down to the bottom of the fold. That was to allow for straightening by tensioning. After doing several times, the plate ends up as this one did - bottomed out at the toe. It is amusing to see modern sawmakers, using a glued in place slotted back that can't be tensioned in this way, reproducing the taper that was never intended in the first place. I can't think of a reason why it would be - surely it only hampers keeping the toothline horizontal in a tenon cut ? Can't really be for balance, the weight of the brass back would dominate.
 
This is what Pete had to say ..

"When a saw drops off the bench, 9 times out of 10 it lands spine down and the blade gets lifted out of the mortise in the back and pushed down in the front. This is how tapered blades are born. Harvey Peace of the Vulcan Saw Works sought to correct this by putting a bolt through the back, handle and blade to try to prevent this from happening. It was a good idea, but didn't go far enough. That is why I adopted the solid milled back when designing the original IT saws. The blade will never move in the spine, or otherwise come out. 20 years has proven it to be a valid approach."

Regards from Perth

Derek
 
While there are many backsaws which started out rectangular but became tapered, it is not accurate to say that deliberately tapered saws were never made.

Rather than taking this thread too far from Derek's enjoyable rescue job, I suggest that anyone who wants to read a bit more history should have a look at this article and the evidence used in it:

http://eaiainfo.org/2014/02/05/decoding-smiths-key/
 
AndyT":1efjwucy said:
While there are many backsaws which started out rectangular but became tapered, it is not accurate to say that deliberately tapered saws were never made.

Rather than taking this thread too far from Derek's enjoyable rescue job, I suggest that anyone who wants to read a bit more history should have a look at this article and the evidence used in it:

http://eaiainfo.org/2014/02/05/decoding-smiths-key/

That's a great link. The photos do not come up for me, however.

Regards from Perth

Derek
 
I said I never found a tapered blade. I've hade a few saws on wich the handle and
spine and hole position indicates that the taper was made by the maker. But they did it on a rectangular blade.

CHeers
Pedder
 

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