So you do have the numbers! Makes your theory much more plausible then.
The early steel is all over the place. I can see no other possibility than this since the early tool makers had no effective controls over all the variables involved. Somedays they would be good and other days not so good and when the main guy who did the work was out sick or died and his replacement took over the recipe changed and the results showed it. This is the way ALL manufacturing was until the middle of the 20th century when things like process control and became accepted in the workplace. Back in the day they had no analytical tools to look at chemical percentage of carbon in their steel. They used simple methods to assess the steel - bend flex, try to break it, hit it and listen for a tone it gave off, etc.
Originally Posted by Pete Taran
I buy into the concept that the bad tools vanished - most likely given away to provide materials that could be melted down to make into useful instruments for war (tanks, ships, artillery castings, etc). I wasn't alive then but I hear the stories of collecting metal to support the American war effort - thats a fact.
All that doesn't change the fact that there are still loads and loads of very good tools from the early to late 19th century. They must have had some kind of a clue, also when you see what they made from wood with those "inconsistent" tools!
I have two Disston No. 4's, one is re-handled. I also have a 10" X 2 1/4" Hinsdale that thinks it is a LN dovetail saw. The sawplate is about the same size.
Originally Posted by steven c newman
I have re-toothed several of my saws, one is the the D-4. If you are timid about undertaking a re-tooth, don't be. Just file the old teeth off and get started.
It only takes a little determination. I can provide free tooth patterns for you to print if you need help. Just send me a private message.
Does this material control issue apply to both handsaws and backed saws?
This argument comes up all the time, in one disguise or another. It misses the point that is made by Pete. I do believe that tool steels would have been inconsistent. At the same time, it would not have prevented the poorer tools from being used - they would just have needed sharpening more frequently. The quality of furniture in the past was not evidence of better tools, but rather evidence that there were excellent woodworkers in that period.
Originally Posted by Kees Heiden
Regards from Perth
Sure many were inconsistant. But many who post here have said they find the 19th century PREMIUM brands to be consistently superior to modern stuff. The modern PM-11 seems to be consistently rated higher,but that has not made the old stuff undesirable in the market. Skill can make for consistency .
Steel quality is something I have spent a lot of time and money confirming via scientific methods over the years because lives were at stake.
These tests were performed by trained professionals, not me, and included methods such as microscopic grain analysis, hardness testing, strength (destructive) testing, impact testing, corrosion testing, magnaflux testing, dye testing, x-ray testing, ultrasound testing, and gas chromatography.
The items tested by volume were mostly structural steel, but also included tons of bolts and fasteners. The most informative was gas chromatography tests on investment-cast steel structural connectors made in China. China has lots of quality problems. GC lets you reliably and precisely know the chemical composition in advance, no guesswork, no intuition, no "master craftsman's experience" involved. We tested connectors with chemical composition that fell outside our established parameters, and confirmed that they always failed one or more of the later gauntlet of tests.
We know what chemical composition results in consistently high quality steel only through such trial and error, but those comparisons are only possible because we can have modern testing means and methods.
100 years ago, the only QC tests available were destructive testing, spark examination testing, and the Mark-1 eyeball, which methods are not a reliable means of confirming the quality of large quantities of steel in a production setting. They tell little about the chemical nature of the steel.
Henry Disston doesn't get the credit he deserves. He set up the very first large-scale industrial steel mill outside of Europe, not to make steel rails or boilers, but handsaws. The Brits and Birmingham forever lost their monopoly on tool steel in the Americas when it decided to support the Confederacy by boycotting steel sales to the North, and Henry consequently decided he would make his own steel dammit. He did the very best testing he could, but there is only so much you can learn from stretching, dimpling, breaking, bending, grinding, filing, hammering,and visual examination. Chemical problems remained in some of the tools he sold despite his best efforts.
Modern steel is generally of much more uniform quality than steel was even 70 years ago. Of course, this applies to the steel used to make sawblades. The pre-hardened Swedish steel sold in rolls which most quality saws today are made from is exquisitely high-quality steel. There has never been anything of higher quality and consistency available in large quantities in prior human history.
Where modern production saws fall short of the quality of older saws is craftsmanship. Modern saws are not truly taper ground. Few are hammer tensioned. But these techniques do not matter in the case of backsaws.
I have old backsaws that I love and prefer to use for some purposes. My little Jackson dovetail saw with its beechwood handle and folded steel back is not elegant, but it when I grip it, it is like my hand has turned into a saw, and without conscious thought, a straight kerf of the right depth and angle appears exactly where I want it. The results are consistently good. But much as I love my old Disston, Bishop, and Jackson saws, the Liberty and LN backsaws I own are of overall higher quality and craftsmanship.
Last edited by Stanley Covington; Yesterday at 10:50 PM.
Yes of course and I do agree in all respects. We have wonderfull materiology these days.
It is still remarkable though how good the old cast steel is (and similar variations from for example Germany). You can buy old tools pretty much sight unseen and easilly hit a 90% score of good solid stuff (if it hasn't rusted too much). Of course there is variation, some are softer, some even too brittle, but overall, pre 1900 stuff is pretty damned good. Did all the bad ones dissapear quickly in the scrapheaps? Maybe, we don't really know. You could also say that the really good ones were used up, nobody would dispose good tools!
So, how did they do that? Without knowledge about the chemistry of the steel? I think a big part of the answer is in the continuum of the process. No job hoppers, long apprentenships, sticking to what you know, not too many experiments with new fangled stuff, well known reputations of the suppliers and the validity of these reputations, intimate knowledge of the demands of the professional clients.
Stan, you mentioned the higher overall quality of the new top end saws like from LN. I think that has to do with the clients who buy these tools. When I look at vintage tools I also see small details that aren't as perfectly crafted. The overall design is great, but for example the polish isn't perfect, a bit of tearout in the corners of the wooden handles, a misstruck namestamp in the blade, etc. Todays clients are really gentleman woodworkers, used to machine perfection, with a lot of diposable income. Yesteryears clients were workman who needed good functional stuff, comfortable and looking nicely, but still as cheap as possible. Given that most of these tools were made by hand, they had to be made expediently, so no time to fret too much on the details.
Well said. I agree with all points.
Originally Posted by Kees Heiden