Restoring an 1840s Conrad & Roberts Handsaw

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Blog entry by summerfi posted 01-18-2020 01:19 AM 1184 reads 2 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Conrad & Roberts was a mid-nineteenth century hardware store at 123 N. Third St., Philadelphia. They can be found in Philadelphia directories at least as early as 1840.

Based on the style of this Conrad & Roberts handsaw, and comparisons to other saws from the period, I believe it was made in the late-1840s or possibly the early 1850s. The following pictures show the saw as I received it.

The plate was rusted with some shallow pitting. There is no maker’s name stamped on the plate, but underneath the handle the words “CAST STEEL” are stamped. I have not seen the cast steel stamp in this location on any other saw.

The apple handle was cracked through the cheek on both sides. Both horns were damaged. The ogee return was cracked and the tip of the lamb’s tongue was broken off. The handle was attached to the plate with three rivets made of 16 penny nails. Originally, it would have had brass split-nut screws.

A medallion bearing the name and address of Conrad & Roberts was present, but it was broken off inside the saw handle. It is fortunate that it remained in place, as it would be nearly impossible to replace, and there was no other identification on the saw.

The upper and lower horns, as well as the hook area, had been chewed by rodents.

Who Made this Saw?
Hardware stores typically did not make their own saws, but rather had their names put on saws made for them by established saw makers. The handle on this saw bears a strong resemblance to the saw pictured below that was made by Henry Disston in the 1840s (credit Disstonian Institute).

The Disston saw has a blank medallion, which was a predecessor to fancier medallions, and the v-notch ahead of the upper horn is a little more incised. These are indications it may be a little earlier than the Conrad & Roberts. I don’t believe they are many years apart, however. The Conrad & Roberts may well have been made by Henry Disston, or it could have been made by one of his early Philadelphia competitors like Johnson & Conaway, Toland, Cresson, or others. In the 1840s, Disston was still working with only one apprentice in a small shop, making saws himself. If the Conrad & Roberts was made by Disston, it is likely it was made personally by Henry himself.

The Restoration
I removed the steel rivets with a small grinding wheel in a rotary tool. I was then able to de-rust and polish the plate. I grafted pieces of apple wood onto the rodent-damaged areas of the handle and tip of the lamb’s tongue and reshaped them back to contour. The cracks in the cheeks were glued with epoxy, but one side didn’t hold. I remedied this by making a thin cut in the edge of the cheek with a slitting saw and gluing in a piece of cherry veneer with the grain oriented perpendicular to the grain of the handle.

After dying the apple repairs to match the rest of the handle, I refinished the handle with satin polyurethane. I made three new brass split-nut screws and an extra nut for the medallion. I repaired the broken medallion using this method. After sharpening the plate at 8 ppi crosscut, I finally reassembled the saw. Below are pictures of the saw after the restoration was complete.

For comparison to an earlier photo, here is a picture of the rodent-chewed areas of the handle after repairs were made.

Restoring old saws can be a lot of work, but they are worth the effort. With a truly old or rare saw, consideration should be given to whether it should be restored at all or simply left as found. This saw was in poor condition, and I made the decision to restore it. I think it turned out well, and it will have a permanent home in my saw collection.

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

9 comments so far

View theoldfart's profile


12830 posts in 3665 days

#1 posted 01-18-2020 02:24 AM

Wow. Impressive save Bob.
Is this one for a client?

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

View summerfi's profile


4385 posts in 2901 days

#2 posted 01-18-2020 03:00 AM

Thanks Kevin. I’ll be holding onto this one, at least for now.

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

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

8283 posts in 1796 days

#3 posted 01-18-2020 03:31 AM

Nice, Bob!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Don2Laughs's profile


84 posts in 4648 days

#4 posted 01-18-2020 07:45 AM

I really appreciate your sharing the find and the restoration, Bob….it is inspirational. That is really interesting to be able to research & find the hardware store it was made for….had to be one of Henry’s early customers. Imagine the lives that saw touched….and now it will be touching many more generations.

-- Don in Mountain City. Texas

View Redoak49's profile


5366 posts in 3203 days

#5 posted 01-18-2020 12:00 PM

Amazing restoration!

View Don W's profile

Don W

20164 posts in 3782 days

#6 posted 01-18-2020 12:30 PM

Very nice save.

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

View onoitsmatt's profile


451 posts in 2390 days

#7 posted 01-18-2020 01:49 PM

Incredible work (as always), Bob! That’s a fine looking saw with a great history.

-- Matt - Phoenix, AZ

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


17506 posts in 3832 days

#8 posted 01-18-2020 02:49 PM

The story of the restore, and the backstory of the saw, are terrific. Thanks Bob. And the result is simply stunning… I mean, wow. Congrats, you’ve got a treasure there now. To think there’s even a possibility H. Disston himself may have made it is so cool.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View Tim Royal 's profile

Tim Royal

325 posts in 2701 days

#9 posted 06-30-2020 09:14 PM

Awesome work

-- -Tim Royal -"Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real." -Thomas Merton

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