Manufacture of Saws in Sheffield

cast_steelAlthough some of our readers are doubtless well acquainted with the manufacture of the above-named articles we think that the greater part of them are ignorant of anything connected with the manufacture of saws, and that a few facts relative to this subject will be perused by them with interest.

We therefore propose giving an account of a visit we paid to one of the principal saw manufactories in Sheffield. On reaching the factory, we were shown into a comfortable office, and were told that one of the principals would wait upon us in a few minutes, and we were soon after introduced to the managing partner, who after receiving us with great politeness, told us that he would have great pleasure in sending the saw manager to show us over the works, and explain the various processes.

We were first taken into the rolling-mill, in order to witness the manufacturing process from its beginning, and we must confess we were at first rather startled by the sight which met our unaccustomed eyes, and by the sounds with which our ears were greeted. From every side, while red hot metal was being thrown about in every direction, sounded the loud whirring of rolls, creaking of engines, snicking of shears, rumbling of wheels, and roaring of furnaces.

Men stripped to their shirts, with persperation starting from every pore, were busily employed in rolling ingots of steel, which are cast on the premises, into sheets, bars, rods, etc.; but we at present have only to do with the sheets. Accordingly our conductor led us to a furnace of moderate dimensions, from which the furnace-man took a red or rather white-hot ingot.

We may here remark that the ingots which are used for sheet-rolling are of different shapes and dimensions, according to the size and description of saw they are intended to produce. The ingot having been taken from the furnace is handed to the roller, (we mean the man, not the rolling apparatus,) who passes it between the rolls, it being received on the opposite side by another workman, called the backer, and by him passed again to the roller.

After passing and repassing between the rolls several times, the ingot is transformed into a sheet of steel, the degree of thickness being determined by a gauge, which the roller carries with him. He, however, seldom uses the gauge, as long practice has enabled him to determine to a nicety the degree of thickness to which the ingot has to be rolled. We may here remark that the handling above spoken of is performed by tongs of a peculiar description, great dexterity being required in the use of these tongs, in order to prevent the sheet of steel slipping from the nippers.

The next operation which the sheet underwent was that of paring, which is simply the cutting, by means of a pair of shears worked by steam power, the sheet of steel into the shape and size required. In this case the sheet under operation was intended for an ordinary carpenter’s or hand saw.

We next accompanied our obliging guide to a workshop on the second floor of the building, where the toothing of the saws is performed. This operation is performed with more ease and celerity than would be imagined. The workman is seated on a high stool before a table or counter, and by means of a small fly strikes out the cogs or teeth of the saw with great rapidity.

The saw he acted upon for our information contained about 115 teeth, and it will scarcely be believed that this number of teeth were made in less than two minutes. The tooth-cutter informed us, in reply to a few questions which we put to him, that he could cut as many as twenty-four dozen of ordinary sized handsaws, say twenty-four inches long in a day, the day consisting of about eight hours.

We next went into the hardening shop, in which the hardening and tempering of the saw is performed. For this purpose a large oven is built over a furnace, which, being surrounded in every direction by fire, is continually in a state of red heat. Into this oven the saw is introduced, and when red hot is taken out and plunged into a tank or bath containing oil. After remaining in this bath for a few minutes, it is taken out, and we were informed that by this process the saw was made hard, or, we should say stiff.

The saw becoming very bent and out of shape by this process, it is necessary to smith it or reduce it to its proper shape. But as in the process of hardening the saw has become very brittle, it is necessary to reduce it to a slight degree of softness, in order to allow of its being smithed or straightened without danger of breaking. This process of softening is termed tempering; but our readers will, of course, understand that the saw, even after the softening process, is still very much harder than before undergoing the hardening operation.

The next process which the saw underwent was that of grinding. This is not, as might be supposed, for the purpose of sharpening the edge of the saw; it is done in order to take off the rough and dull-looking surface of the saw, the grinding operation having the effect of giving the surface of the saw a bright and highly polished appearance.

We were next taken into the grinding-wheel, which is simply the shed or building within which the grindstones are placed, and there witnessed the grinding of our saw, which was performed by a grinder standing or sitting upon a horse (the block of wood placed at the back of the grindstones, upon which the workman stands or sits) and pressing the saw with all his weight and strength upon the grindstone.

We must confess that we were agreeably surprised by the appearance of the saw-grinders, they being, we thought, remarkably mild and inoffensive looking men, and exhibiting none of those signs of brutal ferocity which we had almost expected to find among the associates of the notorious Broadhead and Crookes, of saw-grinders’ trade union celebrity.

We noticed one thing with reference to the vocation of the saw-grinders, which was that their work must, to say the least of it, be very disagreeable in cold weather, owing to the continuous stream of water that is pouring over their hands, our readers being no doubt aware that cold water is always flowing over the grindstone, in order to neutralize the friction proceeding from the contact of the steel with the stone.

The grinders, we are sorry to say, labor under the disadvantage of great danger in their work. Apart from the danger which is always threatening them, and which cannot always be effectually guarded against, of the grindstone’s flying or breaking, thereby perhaps killing or seriously injuring all or a great number of the men in the grinding wheel, or, as they term it, the grinding hull, the men know that they are inhaling poison and consequently death, with every breath they take, the particles of steel and of stone entering into their lungs and sending them off the face of the earth at, in many cases, a premature age.

This being the case with the wet grinders, how then must it be with the dry grinders, who have not the advantage which the others enjoy (?) of having many of the deadly particles taken off by the water? Besides this, in the case of the wet grinders the stone rotates from the workman; in the case of the dry grinders the stone rotates in the opposite direction, that is to say, full in their faces. We left the grinding wheel with feelings saddened by the reflection that the fine-looking young men we had just seen employed, in full vigor of their youth and strength, were dying by inches.

On reaching the outside of the grinding-wheel our guide, after consulting his watch, informed us that dinner time was at hand, and at the same moment a shrill whistle sounded from the mill, upon which, as if by magic, all sounds of work ceased, and nothing was heard save the trampling of the work-people to their respective homes.

The glazing or polishing-room was the department first visited by us after dinner: and our saw was handed to a workman, who immediately proceeded to glaze or polish it. This he did by passing the saw over a wheel, in the same manner as the grinder had done; but as this wheel was of a very different construction from the others we saw, we will endeavor to describe it to our readers.

The wheel is made of very hard wood, and is placed in front of a stand or horse, upon which the operator sits with his feet resting upon a description of sturrup, the workman being, in fact, in the same position as the wet grinder. The wooden wheel being painted with a glutiuous substance, is covered with emery, which, sticking to the wheel, has the effect of imparting a very bright polish to the saw. And now we approached the close of our visit, and witnessed the finishing touches being put to our saw.

We were taken into a room on the second floor (next to the toothing-room) of the building, which we must say appeared to be the most comfortable department of the establishment . At a long table sat two or three females at work, varnishing the saw-handles, while at different benches men were cutting the handles out of planks of wood.

We may as well remark here that the handles are made of several kinds of wood, common saws bearing beech-wood handles, and the best saws generally having handles made of ebony or mahogany. The saw-handle-maker, taking a plank of beech-wood, marked with a pencil six or eight handles upon the wood; then, with a small saw, divided the wood into as many blocks, and gradually, and with great care, cut these blocks by aid of the small saw into the shape of saw handles.

He then with a file filed every portion of the handle down to smoothness, and passed it over to a woman sitting at the varnish table, who covered it by means of a small brush with varnish. The handle being then placed on a rack with a number of others, was left to get dry.

The saw manager here informed us that this was all we could witness of the operation, as the handle would take twenty-four hours to dry. He also told us that all that remained to be done to complete the saw was to set and sharpen it, and then fasten the handle on by means of steel or brass screws, and to have the saw rubbed by hand with emery, in order to impart to it a superficial polish, and then to rub the saw with a cloth dipped in olive oil to prevent its getting rusty. We withdrew, very much pleased with our visit, after heartily thanking our kind conductor.

The Ironmonger – (London) 1871

- Jeff Burks

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One Response to Manufacture of Saws in Sheffield

  1. daltxguy says:

    “a grinder standing or sitting upon a horse” – a grindstone cowboy!

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