Atkins Saws

Disston Saws USA, LLC

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Restoring Saws, Saw Tools, and Other Equipment

  Enhancing the Handsaw Etch by Bob Sturgeon  

For a long time now, I have been on a mission to discover the best way possible to enhance the etches on handsaws.  Several old saws I have cleaned up over the years have had some beautiful old scroll type etches, but they had lightened up to the point that they were very hard to read.  I have experimented with numerous ways of trying to achieve the seemingly impossible task of darkening these etches.  I have tried magic marker, shoe polish and several other chemical concoctions, but was never really satisfied with the results.

I have been communicating with a good friend of mine, Jim Brown of Keokuk, Iowa on his method of cleaning handsaws using electrolysis, which by the way does cut out a tremendous amount of hand cleaning and sanding and does not affect the base metal of the saw. 

While conversing on this subject, we got around to talking about etch enhancement.  Jim told me that he had tried several different things and then came upon a Brass Darkening Solution, normally used to put an antique patina on brass hinges.  Jim is semi-retired from his antique furniture restoration business.

Jim was nice enough to send me a sample bottle of the darkening solution for me to try.  I tried it on several saw etches and the results were quite remarkable as I think you will see in the following pictures. 

These pictures were taken by Jim and are of one of his Disston No. 7ís.  The first picture shows the saw just after cleaning in electrolysis.  The second picture is after one application of the darkening solution.  The third picture shows the result after a second application.  I will give a detailed description of this method following the pictures.

Etch just after cleaning with electrolysis.

After one application of Darkening Solution.

After second application of Darkening Solution.

Brass Darkening Solution, available in
2 oz., 8 oz., and 32 oz.


After final cleaning, whether by electrolysis or hand cleaning, just make sure there is no oil or grease on the blade.  If the solution doesnít seem to want to take, rub over the etch area with a little steel wool to break the tension.  Coat the etch and the entire side of the saw with the darkening solution until it is almost black.  Uniformity of the coat is not all that important except in the area of the etch.  By coating the entire side of the saw, no feathering is necessary around the etch.  It will blend in very well. 

Let the solution dry for a few minutes (It dries quickly), then sand the black off with 400 grit wet or dry sandpaper.  The sanding can be done dry, or a little water or mineral spirits as a lubricant, works equally well either way.  The black comes off easily.  Sand carefully over the area of the etch in order to leave the black down in the etch.  If the etch is not as dark as you wish, put on another coat and sand again.

Once you are satisfied, give the blade a wash with water or mineral spirits and let dry.  Then apply a good coat of paste wax to protect from rust.

This is the best product I have found, that can give the look I want.  I think if you will give this method a try, you will be very pleased with the results.

This Brass Darkening Solution can be found on the following web site:

Happy Rust Hunting,
Bob Sturgeon

April, 2007

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