Number 88 ® ® ® A Journal of Tool Collecting published by CRAFTS of New Jersey ® ® ® February 1995

Collecting Saw Sets
By Todd Friberg

Several years ago, while doing my weekly flea market pilgrimage, I found a very unique item. A fine two-handled, cast
fig1 iron tool, the mechan-ics of which were a puzzle, peaked my curiosity. As I stood there studying the tool the dealer commented that it was a saw set and I was hooked. What I was looking at was a John Borthwick circular cam saw set patented June 23,1885 (Fig. 1). Standing there looking at this marvel of design I began my education in saw sets, an education whose central themes are: there is more than one way to skin a cat and there are many ways to build a better mouse trap. When you think of the function of a saw set you realize that it has one task to perform and one task only - to accurately bend (set) a saw tooth. As I've dug my way through the hundreds and hundreds of saw set patents I began to get a clear picture of the enormous range of designs and variations within this one tool type, a tool collector's dream. This realization brings me to the point of this article which is that, like most tool collectors, I thought all saw sets looked and worked some-thing like a Morrill #95 (Fig. 2). This is definitely not the case.
Saw Set Types
 Classifying saw sets is at best an imperfect undertaking. With a multitude of variations and characteristics that may appear on several types, it becomes very diffi-cult to draw definite boundaries be-tween saw set classifications. The following list of types overlooks the insignificant factors and classifies sets using their primary features.
          1. Spring saw sets
          2. Hammer saw sets
          3. Setting blocks
          4. Wheel saw sets
          5. Two-Handled saw sets
                  A. Compound-lever
                  B. Punch & anvil
          6. Automatic band saw sets
          7. Simple-lever saw sets
          8. Setting stakes
Spring Saw Sets
 One of the most basic yet functional of all the saw set types is the spring set, a very old type which has remained virtually unchanged in the many centuries that it has existed. Also known as a plate set, a saw wrist, or a saw wrench, this tool is very simple in both construction and use (Fig 3). The construction of these is really quite rudimentary, a metal plate (usually tool steel) with different size notches cut in the plate to accommodate different gauge saws. Using this saw set involves placing the proper notch over the saw tooth and bending (setting) it. Consistency tends to be a problem with this saw set as every tooth will have a different amount of set. This uneven set leads to "high" teeth which drag and "low" teeth which remove little material. To remedy this problem some of the larger saw makers offered spring sets with adjustable stops added to them. This provided a more consistent set which meant greater accuracy.fig3
 As far as collecting goes, spring saw sets run the full gamut of tool enthusiasts' tastes. For the collectors who like primitive tools this is the saw set for them. Actually, primitive does not describe some of the homespun examples I've seen, crude is a better word. On the other end of the spectrum there are examples of this saw set type that I would consider suitable for framing. Some of the most beautiful tools of any kind that I have had the privilege of viewing are spring saw sets. Ornate, highly polished spring plates along with finely detailed, brass ferrules make it easy to get the wallet out at tool shows. With the recent influx of British tools brought into this country by dealers we are seeing turning work on the handles of these imported spring sets that is outstanding. English spring sets with handles turned from exotic hardwoods and colorful fruitwoods are becoming highly prized, collectable tools. 
 Markings on spring saw sets tend to be done only by the major makers. Even on some of the inexpensive models known to be made by large manufacturers, the markings are sporadic and identification must be made by matching catalog diagrams. It is surprising to me that even most of the finely crafted British spring sets do not have maker marks.
Hammer Saw Sets
 A fascinating and collectable type of setting tool is the hammer saw set. Also known as the bench saw set, this type has a number of unique characteristics. The hammer set is almost always a stationary saw set. Most examples are designed to mount securely to a bench, stump, or whatever makes a solid surface. This is accomplished in a number of ways. One is by providing a threaded post on the bottom of the tool (usually tapered) to screw the set directly into the working surface. Another is by providing pre-drilled and counter-sunk holes for permanent bench mounting. 
 Hammer saw sets generally are made to be used in the vertical position meaning the saw lies flat in front of the operator while the setting device is activated. The actual setting mechanism usually is either a hammer-driven punch or some sort of punch and die arrangement tripped by a foot pedal. Adjusting the amount of set is normally done by having a movable stop which contacts the top of the saw teeth.
  Collecting hammer saw sets adds a few new twists to the average tool collection. To start with we are looking at a tool type which in most cases would be considered a fairly complex, maybe even a precision, tool. Add to this the fact that most of these saw sets needed to be hit with a hammer to function, not a good situation. Of the many examples of this tool I've seen, a good number look as though their owners took out life's frustrations on the equipment. One other feature that is associated with bench sets is some delightful casting work (Fig. 4). Being trained as a Pattern Maker means I tend to be a sucker for a nice casting.
Setting Blocks
 The setting block, also called a setting anvil or a bevel plate, is nothing more than a flat surface with a beveled edge on one side. Operation of this tool looks quite easy; it's not. The saw tooth is placed over the beveled edge with the saw lying on the flat portion of the plate, then the tooth is hit with a setting hammer. Needless to say it must take a lot of practice to become proficient at this skill, yet this was the primary setting tool used in the woods on crosscut saws. I am still baffled how any degree of accuracy was attainedfig5 without any depth gauging or stops. Most of the larger saw manufactures of-fered one or more variet-ies of these inexpensive saw sets. I'm sure most tool collectors have seen a cast iron setting block together with a spider set gauge and combination saw tool in crosscut saw sharpening kits (Fig. 5 shows a typical crosscut sharpening kit).
Wheel Saw Sets
 When thinking about setting saw teeth, one thinks of a device that uses a punch or some sort of hammer action perpendicular to the saw blade. There are exceptions which lead us to the wheel saw set. Not only is this the rarest fig6saw set type, but it's also unique in operating principle (Fig. 6 / Pat. Oct. 13, 1916 by H.B. Foley). The operating principle of the wheel saw set has been around in various forms since the mid-1800s (Fig. 7 / Pat. Aug. 31,1852 by Bradway & Valen-tine). The principle being to pass the saw between two opposing serrated wheels which alternately set saw teeth as they rotate down the saw blade. Mechanically this is accomplished by: 1. the serrated wheels must be mounted in a frame, 2. the setting wheels must be staggered the proper distance for correct timing, and 3. the setting wheels themselves must have the appropriate circular spacing for the saw tooth size. The frame on the hand held models would be similar to that of a hand saw joiner, as would the operation of running the saw set over the top of the saw teeth. Several other larger examples were patented (like the Bradway & Valentine patent mentioned) in which the saw was fed through the machine.fig7
 In the twenty or so years that I've been collecting tools I have not yet had the luck of snaring a wheel saw set. They are out there, but very difficult to find. I know that three or four patented wheel saw sets were produced, but certainly in small numbers as they never seemed popular.
Two - Handled Saw Sets
 They are often referred to as a plier-grip set. It may be simplistic to group such a large saw set type with a name like two-handled, but the handles are the only common factor which binds them together. From this point we can split the group into two subtypes: compound-lever and punch & anvil saw sets. Since most saw sets are of the two-handled variety splitting this group in two leaves both subtypes with many examples.
A. Compound-lever saw sets:
Within this subtype of saw sets we have an enormous range of styles for setting saw teeth. What I use as criteria for this subtype is a lever action, one handle serving as a base or pivot point while the other handle works as a lever to bend the saw tooth. There are plenty of good examples of this mechanical action, the 1869 Leach & Elder patent is just one classic example (Fig. 8). This is an area of saw set collecting where many very old examples can still be found without too much trouble. Several patents dating before 1870, such as Wm Nash's 1863 & 1867 models, are still abundant and inexpensive.
fig8B. Punch & Anvil saw sets:
The punch & anvil saw set is the type that most people relate to when I tell them I'm a saw set collector. I've had flea market dealers show me this type when asked about saw sets and leave beauties of another type lying on the table, not knowing what they had. The common features within this subtype are a stationary handle, a second movable handle that drives some sort of punch, and an adjustable anvil or die block (Fig. 9). Aside from these three common features, components like saw blade depth stops, anvil adjustments, and handle springs run the gamut of the imagination.
 In this saw set subtype there are literally hundreds of different examples out there to chase after. Charles Morrill. Steams, Stanley and several other major manufacturers all sold this saw set type. With the many examples to chose from, prices are generally very reasonable, making punch & anvil saw sets true tool bargainsfig9
Automatic Band Saw Sets
 For the past several years I have put a portion of my tool collection on display at steam shows, antique tool meets, and other history oriented events. By far the automatic band saw sets have drawn the most interest and questions of any saw set types. Fully automatic, hand-driven units, these little mechanical marvels never fail to draw a crowd when being demonstrated.
 Beginning in the late 1800s Henry Disston & Sons was the first to offer an automatic band saw set on a large scale (Fig. 10). By 1920 all of the major manufacturers had followed suit and offered their own versions. Virtually all of the examples accomplished the saw tooth setting operation in much the same way, advancing the band saw blade while setting the teeth from both sides. Adding to the complexity of these machines are a whole host of depth stops, feed adjustments, and other fine tuning apparatus.
 The most common of these band saw sets is the one offered by the Disston company and is most likely the Bugbee patents of 1873 and 1877. Being relatively easy to attain, the prices are still reasonable for this model, even cheap if bought away from the tool show.
Simple - Lever Saw Sets
Although spring saw sets use leverage in the purest sense, the simple-lever saw set elevates the use of force to a higher plateau. Where the saw wrest uses ordinary force with little refinement the simple-lever saw set utilizes features such as mechanical advantage, guides and stops, and varied yet well-thought-out features to aid the person setting the saw. A very early example of this set type that includes some of these features is the Seymour Smith patent of 1859 (Fig. 11). Note the advantage in leverage over a spring set. Also note the refinements of a depth adjustment, the regulating screw for the amount of set, and the adjustable opening for use on different gauge saws. For the most part, this type of saw set was used on heavier gauge material such as drag saws and large-diameter circular saws. As always, there are ex-ceptions.
 Finding simple-lever sets is a for-midable challenge to the tool collector. Most examples seen tend to be early, which means collectors on the East coast definitely have an ad-vantage in finding them. Examples like the Smith saw set mentioned above tended to have a lot of smaller parts on them, so it pays to really look them over before buying. The really old sets can loose all trace of things like set screws and spring mountings.fig11
Setting Stakes
This is an example of a saw set type that is used exclusively on one type of saw, the circular saw. It is comprised of an elongated frame which holds an adjustable arbor at one end and a beveled setting block at the other end (Fig 12). The adjustable arbor is usually cone shaped to accept different diameter mounting holes and can be moved the proper distance from the setting block depending on the radius of the saw blade. The setting block was normally made from hardened tool steel and was mounted in the heaviest part of the tool as this is where the saw was set with a hammer (from the condition of some of the examples I've seen, a very large hammer). The setting stake was operated by locating the circular saw in position on the arbor cone, and then placing the locating arbor at the proper distance so the saw teeth lay across the beveled portion of the setting block for the correct amount of set. Some variations seen in this saw set type are a mounted hammer which swings up and down on a pivot over the setting block, and a setting anvil which has an eccentric bevel that can be rotated for a finer setting adjustment. Another interesting variation is on an example in my collection. The locating cone is mounted on a double-jointed hinge which allows the saw to swing off center. This in turn positions the saw tooth, depending on the pitch of the tooth, tangent to the setting surface. The earlier cast iron versions of this type of saw set tended to be more eye appealing. Later models (after 1900) were generally fabricated from existing round or bar stock.
First remember that most saw sets are complex tools with several components: coil springs, thumb screws, flat J springs, and a boxcar load of cast wing-nuts are standard with most saw sets. If the set is common then of course you may find replacements for missing parts, but if the set is rare don't waste your money on an incomplete example. Be patient and wait for a better one. Watch out for a broken or welded casting as many of these tools are hammer operated. If you understand how a particular saw set works you will be less likely to miss a hidden defect or problem. Don't try to do a component check list before you buy, but do take the time to understand how the tool functions. Since I've started using this method the mis-takes made buying saw sets have been drastically reduced.
Todd Friberg has always lived in Rockford, Illinois where, for the past 17 years, he has worked as a journeyman patternmaker and plastic-injection moldmaker. For over 20 years he has been collecting machinist's tools and saw maintenance tools, of which saw sets is a subset. This article is a microcosm of one chapter of his book on saw sets which will be published soon, and reviewed by The Tool Shed. Todd is also writing a book on the Civil War.