Disston No. 12 Handsaw with Cone Nuts and Washers

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Blog entry by summerfi posted 11-17-2017 04:38 AM 3617 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Disston No. 12 Handsaw with Cone Nuts and Washers

The No. 12 handsaw was one of Disston’s premium saws. They began producing the saw sometime in the 1860s and discontinued its production when the model D-12 was introduced in 1928. During this period the No. 12’s handle and fasteners went through several iterations. According to the Disstonian Institute (, the fasteners used during at least part of the 1860s and 1870s were brass truncated cone-shaped screw heads and nuts separated from the apple wood handle by blued steel washers. This type of fastener has come to be commonly called “cone nuts”.

I acquired such a saw recently in a trade with Lumberjock “theoldfart” (Kevin from Massachusetts). The etch on the saw plate shows it was made by Henry Disston and Sons. This dates the saw to sometime after 1871, since the saws made during the previous six years were marked Henry Disston and Son (singular). However, based on the shape of the handle, it is one of the earlier No. 12’s and was not made long after 1871. More on that later. Here is a picture of the saw as received.

I collect and restore vintage handsaws. When restoring old saws, it is always a dilemma as to just how far to take the restoration. Some people like restored saws to look as shiny and new as possible, while others want to retain the look of age and wear and just make the saw functional again. Due primarily to its condition, I chose to take the latter course with this saw. Trying to make this saw look new again would take significant work that, when done, probably wouldn’t be very appealing to the eye anyway. It may even detract from the saw’s value as a collectible item.

The work I did on the saw included the following. After disassembly, I scrubbed the handle with a mixture of Simple Green and Barkeeper’s Friend using fine steel wool. The intent was to remove some of the accumulated dirt and grime and brighten the apple wood up a bit. I then applied two coats of paste wax to the handle.

One of the cone nut screws was broken, and a cone nut and two washers were missing. I made a new screw and nut from brass rod. After using phosphoric acid to remove the galvanizing from two appropriately sized modern washers, I then cold blued those washers. I also used acid to remove rust from the old washers and then touched up the bluing on them. I attempted to clean the old brass screws and nuts while retaining some of their patina. That doesn’t show up well in the photos. They and the new screw will develop a consistent tarnish as time passes.

The toe of the plate apparently had a small piece broken off at some time in the past, and a previous owner had smoothed the break off in an odd shape. To remedy this, I trimmed about 1/4” off the toe and rounded the odd shape with a file. The plate is now about 25-1/2” in length rather than the standard 26”. I hated to lose any of the plate length, but the saw does look much better this way. I rubbed the plate with fine steel wool and then waxed it. The plate is not rusty, but it does have a blue oxidation that I didn’t try to remove.

Finally, I jointed and sharpened the saw to 8 ppi crosscut. Though it still looks like an old saw after this mild restoration, it is fully functional and could be put to use again. I doubt I will actually use it, though, because I have many other saws that are not as old or as collectable as this one. Here is a picture of the saw after this restoration.

I mentioned that the shape of the No. 12 handle changed over the years. Here is a picture that compares this saw (left) with another slightly newer No. 12 that I own (right). It is easy to see how the handles evolved over time. Note that the newer saw was in better condition and received a more thorough restoration.

While I am discussing No. 12 saws, let me add that there is an easy way to tell the older ones from the later ones. Note in the pictures above the fine detail of the wheat carving on both handles and how the wheat carving extends to the forward edges of the handles. Compare that to this No. 12 panel saw from the 1896 to 1917 period. The wheat carving is much coarser and is absent from the forward edge of the handle. This saw belonged to my wife’s grandfather and is in nearly mint condition.

Thanks for reading this blog. Any comments are welcome.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

7 comments so far

View terryR's profile


7650 posts in 3469 days

#1 posted 11-17-2017 09:36 AM

Outstanding work, Bob. The cleaned handle and hardware look fantastic together.

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View Don W's profile

Don W

20121 posts in 3728 days

#2 posted 11-17-2017 11:03 AM

Nice work Bob.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View theoldfart's profile


12740 posts in 3612 days

#3 posted 11-17-2017 11:40 AM

Bob, it came out really well. I’m pleased it’s in your collection,

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View onoitsmatt's profile


451 posts in 2337 days

#4 posted 11-17-2017 03:02 PM

Looks great, Bob! You always do such fine work on these saws.

-- Matt - Phoenix, AZ

View smitdog's profile


471 posts in 3266 days

#5 posted 11-17-2017 03:14 PM

Wow, awesome job as usual Bob! I actually prefer the patina look myself, looks absolutely beautiful. I found an oldish Diston up in the attic of the garage at the house I purchased 5 years ago. It is pretty rusty from water leaking through the roof. It has the wheat carved into the handle but I don’t think it’s all that old. I’d really like to try to clean it up, can you point me to a good reference for how to go about it?

-- Jarrett - Mount Vernon, Ohio

View summerfi's profile


4385 posts in 2848 days

#6 posted 11-17-2017 03:30 PM

Jarrett, here is one reference, but if you google “how to clean a saw” you’ll find many others. You can also look at some of my past blogs and Brit’s past blogs. Also feel free to PM me with questions at any time.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

View ralbuck's profile


6753 posts in 3427 days

#7 posted 11-17-2017 09:16 PM

Nice work. I think some of us “fossils” are worth preserving to!

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

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