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Keystone Saw Works - H. Disston & Sons, Inc. - Phila., PA


Disston Backsaw - Back and Handle Dating by P. W. Baker

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Caution: The dates proposed in this study are only estimated dates. It is important to understand that there is no documentation of any kind that support these dates. All these estimates are derived by Philip Baker based on observation of handle shapes, stamps used on saw backs and his personal assumptions. Keep this in mind when dating your saws.

This study of markings that have been used on the backs of backsaws and their handle design will begin with the Henry Disston Company ca 1840-1890. Other American saw companies in my collection, that were in business over a time period long enough to provide material for a study will be forthcoming.

The intent of this work is to share knowledge I have gained from the Disston backsaws in my custody. I encourage my readers to offer additional information that may fill holes or be of a contrary nature. This, I believe, is the opportunity for us to provide additional information on saw manufacture and dating which (as far as I know) has not been published to this date.

The next issue of a publication that bears a study of mine can add or subtract your responses.


Philip W. Baker


I find that dating the manufacture of a saw is best done by studying a sizable collection of saws produced by a single maker. This information can not be based on hard facts, especially for early saws, because, to my knowledge there are none.

This study has been aided by countless members of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, Irv Schaffer’s book on “Saw Makers of North America”, EAIA’s Directory of Tool Makers and Dr. Simon Barley of the United Kingdom, who received his doctorate on Sheffield Sawmaking c.1750 - c.1830.

Special thanks go to Wiktor Kuc, the editor and publisher of, for sharing his knowledge of saw manufacturing in America, his critical eye and uncompromised drive for accuracy.

It may be seen in this study that there is a progression of changes through the 50 years that it covers. It seems that Henry in the early years 1841-50 was inclined to “think outside the box”. After that period he still made repeated changes. He always seemed to be looking for a better or new product. All handles with one exception are of apple. The exception is a beech open handle 10” saw, c. 1860.

Saw #1

Saw #1 - this c. 1841 saw may be the 1st type backsaw Disston made. The letters of the stamp are larger. "PHILADELPHIA" - a complete spelling and only time I have seen it, is under the HENRY DISSTON arch. Warranted and cast steel are to the right of the arch. Saw screw heads are 9/16” in diameter. Note the early full cheeks with heavy chamfer and the stop at the hook. It appears from the time Henry began to make saws his handle design used the hook and carving at the base.

Saw #2

Saw #2 - type 2 has the "HENRY DISSTON" arch in smaller letters and not as steep. "PHILADA" is under the arch. "Cast Steel" is now to the left of the arch and "Warranted" on the right. Over "Cast Steel" is a ¼” high eagle. Is this his first use of the eagle? Did he mean to use just the single eagle? The handle cheeks are not as full as #1. The chamfer is still heavy but the stop at the hook is very plain. Saw screw heads are 9/16”. Manufactured c. 1842.

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