The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Saw making

 

The making of hand saws for cutting wood, with metal blades and wooden handles.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category Metal
Historic area of significance Yorkshire (mainly Sheffield)
Area currently practised Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Origin in the UK Roman
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 1
Current no. of trainees 0 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current no. of skilled craftspeople 5
Current total no. of craftspeople 5

 

History

Saw makingAlong with the axe, the saw is one of the most ancient tools available (Moses had one). The fly press, a tool used in saw making, dates to Roman times, and therefore saws made in this way probably started then.

Handsaws were refined in the Georgian era as more refined furniture was created. Around this time, foreign woods, such as mahogany, were introduced and different saws were required for cutting different types of timber. The saws were made by hand from small workshops (usually only 2 people) up until the Victorian era, when saw making became more commercial with demand and industrialisation.

Saw making at Thomas Flinn, Sheffield. Photo: Robin Wood

 

Techniques

Techniques in order include: design, woodcarving, steel shaping, filing, rasping, sanding (by hand), machining (using a hand-driven fly press), and wood finishing.

 

Local forms

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Shortage of tools: The tools needed to make saws are very expensive and some are almost extinct themselves.
  • Market issues: Raw materials are expensive.
  • Challenge of learning: There are so many skills involved in the craft that you have to be a very skilled craftsman, designer and engineer.
  • Market issues: It is impossible to produce a saw cheaply without using machines, and the hours that go into each saw (between 20-30 hours) means than often you are working for minimum wage. It’s a labour of love than for financial gain. In order to charge more to cover the costs of the time going into making a saw, the quality has to be very high.
  • Market issues: Off-the-shelf products are cheaper and the country is becoming flooded with saws from the USA. We live in a ‘throw away’ society therefore it’s about changing attitudes.
  • Marketing issues: Marketing abroad is extremely expensive (£1000s for a small ad in premium woodworking magazine) and travel abroad to promote saws is expensive. The fall in the pound could hinder all this too.
  • Market issues: Very niche market and people buying in this sector only want the best. Conversely, people don’t always want to wait for a bespoke product.
  • Market issues: It takes a long time to establish yourself and gain a reputation.
  • Business issues: There are lots of issues which affect all small businesses, such as the inability to buy in bulk, and new legislation regarding pensions for all employees.
  • Market issues: In order to charge more to cover the costs of the time going into making a saw, the quality has to be very high.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Shane Skelton of Skelton Saws – based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Shane makes saws completely by hand in the same way that they were made centuries ago.
  • Thomas Flinn & Co. – based in Sheffield. There are four skilled makers in the saw department, making blades, toothing, sharpening and assembling, and one of whom specialises in handles, finishing, gold foil etc. but this is geared to industrial, factory-style production.

 

Other information

Number of trainees: Thomas Flinn & Co. has one trainee, although they are not currently specialising in saw making. Skelton Saws have no intention of training anyone at the moment as it draws on so many skills that most people today just don’t possess. However Skelton Saws does occasionally run 1-day saw sharpening courses (another skill which has been largely lost over time).

Historically, one manufacturer would make tools for many different brands.

 

References