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 Sheffield, South Yorkshire;
Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Origin in the UK Roman
Current no. of professionals (main income) 1-5
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 0 (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required



Along 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.



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



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 (£1,000s 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

Individual makers:

  • Shane Skelton (Skelton Saws), Scarborough, North Yorkshire – Shane makes saws completely by hand in the same way that they were made centuries ago.
  • Lui Rocca (Springwood Handsaws)

Businesses employing two or more people:

  • Thomas Flinn & Co, 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 one-day saw sharpening courses (another skill which has been largely lost over time).

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