Spear & Jackson


The History of Industrial Development and Toolmaking in UK

  Story of the Saw by P. d' A. Jones and Eric N. Simons, 1961    

More than half a million years ago, man took a tremendous step.  That step helped to distinguish him forever from the less intelligent and unselfconscious animal world: he began to make hand tools.

Because they were of such great antiquity, many of our familiar hand tools had already attained a late stage of development in classical or medieval times.  The very thing that surprises people today when they first see four or five hundred years-old axes, planes, hammers, chisels and saws is that they all look so 'modern'.

The basic principle of sawing was first devised in the pre-metal age.  Neolithic man adapted as tool s the objects he found around him; he cut crude and uneven notches or serrations in the edges of flint flakes.  The principle of abrasion man understood from his fire-saw or sawing-thong. 

This was a system of rubbing one piece of wood, bamboo or thong (saw) against another (hearth) so that the sparks from the friction fell into the sawing dust and made fire.  It was a technique common all over Europe, India, Australia, South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Archaeological excavations in Southern France have provided some very early examples of flint saws from what pre-historians call the Magdalenian culture of the Upper Paleolithic period (reindeer period).  Many such saws were still being used countless years later in the so-called Bronze age, and were being copied in metal.

Saws six or seven thousand years old made from a black vitreous lava called obsidian were uncovered in the great excavations at the ancient Sumerian capital, Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia. These small , two inch-long blades (now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum at Philadelphia in the United States) were the tools of Sumerian craftsmen in the legendary lands of the Garden of Eden between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, two thousand years before the birth of Abraham.

Prehistoric saws which were found in the tumuli or burial mounds of Northern England, in French caves, in the stone-heaps or Kjokken-Moddings of Sweden and Denmark and in former lake-dwelling sites in Switzerland and Italy have an average length of about three inches and vary in length from one and a half inches to nine inches. Many flint artifacts were not true saws but sickles, and these very tiny saws were used to cut bone, wood and horn in the making of ornaments.

Flint was favored, being hard and chipping into a keen, straight cutting-edge.  It is even thought that the best kinds of flint for this purpose were used in prehistoric trade.  But the flint saw was thick and easily wedged in the cutting groove.

The problem was not solved at this stage of history, despite the more sophisticated models like those found at Palada, Northern Italy, and Vinelz, Switzerland, on which serrated flint flakes are mounted with natural asphalt in a grooved wooden or stag horn handle.


English Saws


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