How to Restore an Old Hand Saw, A Complete Guide

Restoring old tools to put back to use or decoration is a hobby of mine. I love seeing the transformation of a sad old rusted saw turning back into a sharp, usable hand saw that looks great. Whether you are cleaning up some of Grandpa’s tools or found a deal at the garage sale, this guide will help you to safely restore your hand saw.

My saw will be a Disston D23 made around 1955. I bought it for $2 at a garage sale.

Restore an old rusted handsaw by loosening and removing the saw nuts, and disassembling the handle and saw plate. The sawplate can have all the rust removed and polished in about 30 minutes. Old varnish on the handle can be sanded or stripped, and the saw nuts can be cleaned by soaking in soapy water.

There are four primary steps to restoring an old hand saw

Step 1 – Disassemble the handle and saw nuts from the saw plate

Step 2 – Clean and polish the saw nuts / hardware

Step 3 – Remove rust from the saw plate

Step 4 – Refinish the saw handle


The following materials will help you to restore an old saw. There are lots of substitutions that can be made based on your judgement and experience. The only thing I would caution you on is following the directions of any chemical stripper (if you choose to go that route).

Also, we have links to all of these tools available at our recommended products page.

Materials for cleaning the saw nuts

  • Laundry detergent
  • Brass Brush

Materials for cleaning the saw plate

  • Simple Green cleaner in a spray bottle
  • Razor Blade Scraper
  • Wet or dry sand paper, 400 & 600 grit
  • 3m Scotch Brite scouring pad
  • Metal polish
  • Paste Wax
  • Shop Towels or cotton rags

Materials for restoring the saw handle

  • Pocket knife
  • Plastic Scraper (so you don’t damage the wood)
  • Sand Paper: 120, 150, 220 grit
  • Citrus Strip chemical stripper (Optional)
  • Jasco low VOC mineral spirits
  • Steel wool #0000
  • Boiled Linseed Oil, or Tru Oil

Process to restore an old rusty hand saw

You should plan on doing most of this work in a well ventilated area that can get messy. Using a workbench in a garage or a portable workmate works great. I have an old scrap sheet of plywood that I perform all of my rust removal on, as that way I can keep work surfaces a bit cleaner.

Disassembling the saw handle and plate

1 – Loosen the saw nuts with a large flat-head screwdriver. If they are seized, spray a little WD-40 to loosen them and wait 5 minutes. Then try again.

2 – Use a punch and hammer, or a small screwdriver to gently tap out the saw nuts. Set the saw nuts and screws aside.

3 – Carefully slide the hand off the saw plate

How to clean Saw Nuts and Saw Screws

Soak the saw nuts in a 1:4 solution of laundry detergent and water over night. Soak them for at least 8 hours. This will loosen up most of the grime and dirt.

After soaking the nuts, scrub the saw nuts with a brass bristled brush. Then, polish with steel wool.

How to clean an remove rust from the saw plate

Note – I STRONGLY advise you not to use vinegar, citric acid, or Evapo-rust to remove the rust from the saw plate. Doing so can leave a dark finish, pits, or remove the etching. It takes about the same amount of time (or less) to manually remove rust, and you will be left with a nice looking saw.

1 – Use a razor blade scraper to remove large pieces of rust. This will save your sand paper for the smaller bits. File the corners of the razor blade so it doesn’t leave track marks on the saw plate.

Note the pile of rust-dust at the end of the saw plate

2 – Continue removing rust using 400 grit wet or dry sand paper. Use Simple Green cleaner to lubricate the plate as you go. This will help keep the sand paper from clogging. And the rust/water mixture can be wiped up with paper towels.

As an additional tip – using a hard rubber block to hold the sand paper makes this job much easier.

Be very careful with this step, as if there is an etch present on the saw, you will find it. If you aggressively sand the plate, you may lose the etching.

You can continue to 600 grit once the rust is mostly gone. The 600 grit is optional, based on how nice you want the saw to look.

3 – Use scotchbrite pad with simple green to further clean the saw plate. This will remove much dirt and grime from the grooves of the steel where the sand paper cannot go.

4 – Apply metal polish to the saw plate and buff with a shop towel, or cotton cloth. I used Flitz metal polish on this saw.

5 – Apply a coat of paste wax to the entire plate. This will help prevent future corrosion.

How to clean and refinish a wooden saw handle

Refinishing a saw handle can be done several ways. But each way has the same goal – to remove varnish. There are many ways to remove varnish, and I choose my method based on the type of handle.

1 – Remove old varnish. If the saw handle has ornate leaf carving, then you have to use chemical stripper to loosen the varnish. There isn’t another way to get varnish out of those small grooves. If that sort ot detail is not present, then you can just scrape it off with a pocket knife or by heating the handle and scraping it off.

I use a disposable foam paint brush to apply Citrus Strip to the handle. Then, I wait an hour or so before coming back to scrap off as much as I can remove.

Applying stripper to remove the varnish from the leaf detail
Scraping varnish. Fun stuff.

But if using a chemical stripper, make sure you are in a well ventilated area. Also, follow all instructions on the bottle. I use Citrus Strip because it is safer than others. To remove the varnish in the small leaf indentations, I use a tooth pick.

After you’ve removed the varnish, scrub with mineral spirits and steel wool. This will help remove all trace of the chemical stripper, which is pretty nasty stuff.

2 – Sand the saw handle smooth. Depending on how much varnish is still present, sand down the handle. If there is a thin coating of varnish left, or you didn’t use any stripper start with an aggressive grit such as 60 or 80. Then continue to higher grits such as 150 up to 220.

You need to have bare wood in order to have a new finish grip and protect the handle.

Clean and free of finish.

3 – Apply new finish to the handle. Old saw handles are generally made of fruit wood and look quite nice. Use boiled linseed oil for a natural finish. Or you can use Tru Oil or Danish Oil for a darker colored finish.

I’m using Tru Oil on this handle

Just wipe the finish on evenly using Shop Towels and let dry for about 24 hours. Make sure you either burn the towels or lay them out to dry. As many finishes can spontaneously combust if they are left crumpled up in a pile.

Reassemble the saw

To reassemble the saw, just reverse the steps you took to disassemble it. Take care when inserting the saw nuts. These are square, and have to fit in the hole properly.

Also, do not over-torque the saw nuts. Just get them snug. If they loosen up with use, just re-tighten them.

Sharpen the saw

You can now sharpen the saw if you intend to put it to use. Sharpening the saw is quite easy, as you can make your own saw chocks and just use a regular bench top vise.

Don’t use vinegar, citric acid, or Evoporust on hand saws!

Look, I like using chemicals to remove rust. It can be a great time saver and even Eco-friendly. Sometimes it is even necessary when the parts are intricate with small cavities, etc. But you should never use vinegar or acid on a hand saw. It will cause an ugly finish, and may cause pitting or dissolve the saw plate entirely.

How vinegar and acid damage old steel

Steel is just a mixture of iron and carbon. And while it should not be possible for vinegar or citric acid to damage the steel chemically, it often happens. Why is this?

Well, old steel isn’t as pure as we would like. There are many different impurities throughout the steel. And it is these impurities that will cause the ugly finish, pitting, and sometimes destruction of an old tool.

So – protect Grandpa’s tools! Use elbow grease to remove rust, not vinegar!

See more DIY projects……

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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