59. The Hacksaw: its inherent Futility?
22nd November 2013. Above you see my hacksaw. I have had it for at least 35 years. Truly, we have been companions together through thick & thin, &c. This common hacksaw has (metaphorically) seen my children born, live their childhoods, and grow up to be exceptionally fine examples of human beings, if I say it myself. So do we cherish it? Do we love this hacksaw as much as the legendary sweeper who had the same broom for 60 years, during which time it had only six or eight new heads, and four or five new staves? To be honest, the question only arose a few months ago. Before that, we cheerfully used it to cut through any & every type of material, too numerous to mention. Tree roots, steel, aluminium, ordinary wood – even, on one exhausting occasion, 2" angle-iron from an old bedstead. That was really difficult; the part at the corner was as tough as blazes. Work-hardening, I think it must have been. No; as we said, the problem has only recently arisen. Ever since we got our little model-maker’s lathe, actually. Obviously, one needs to saw off various lengths of brass, aluminium, even steel. We were taught to saw properly from an early age. At eleven or twelve years old, we had school woodwork lessons from Mr. Brown. One of his chief admonitions was ‘Always saw on the waste-wood side of the line!’ I have never forgotten this. What now happened was, however careful we were to saw our brass and aluminium just on the waste side of the line, we always ended up with a large excess of ‘running out’’ to the left of our saw cut. One the one hand, this was better that running in past our marked out line; but on the other, it was frustrating in continually illustrating our incompetence, besides creating waste; for in facing off our piece of metal, we always had to machine away quite a bit of the round or square bar that had a sloping end. A week or so ago, Inspiration struck us. If we were to incline the hacksaw to the left while sawing, that would compensate for the running out of our sloppy cut. Lo! This proved to be the case, and great was the rejoicing thereat. Only some time later, did the question occur to us: if we were able to maintain a constant deviation of angle in our cut – as was manifestly the case – how came it that we could not cut through a 0.75" square brass bar vertically in the first place? In a blinding flash of Cosmic Consciousness, we realized that the blade in the hacksaw was skewift. * Out of truth. Falsely aligned, &c., &c. In short, our hacksaw was – or had become, over the years – ruddy useless! Thus was born the quest for another, precision one.
So we searched on line. We were reassured to find the above, an amazingly traditional Polish hacksaw design. My grandfather (1882-1979) had more than one of this pattern, which has clearly existed from time immemorial. His weren’t in bright yellow frames, though, and I doubt that he would have approved of this gaudy appearance. But while we’re about it, we should explore the origin of ‘hacksaw’. Well, it’s obviously a saw; but what about the ‘hack’? The On-line Etymology Dictionary tells us:
hack (v.I) "to cut roughly, cut with chopping blows," c.1200, from verb found in stem of Old English tohaccian "hack to pieces," from West Germanic hakkon (cf. Old Frisian hackia "to chop or hack," Dutch hakken, Old High German hacchon, German hacken), from PIE keg- "hook, tooth." Perhaps influenced by Old Norse höggva "to hack, hew" (cf. hacksaw). (My emphasis on the last word. NF.)
So there we have it in a nutshell. The hacksaw was never intended to be a precision tool. Is our search, then, for a ‘precision hacksaw’ doomed from the outset? Well, ‘never say die’, so we persisted and found this:
Aha! Can this be the answer? It looks chunky, even sexy in a manner of speaking. Business-like, and brooking no argument with its stern, functional lines. This looks like a hacksaw that can cut vertically through pretty well anything – as long as the sawer can keep it upright. Well, if anybody, I ought to be able to do that. After all, I can keep my old hacksaw at a constant angle of ~5° left of vertical – so how much easier will it be to keep this one quite upright? We have in fact just ordered one on-line. They are not terribly expensive at about £15 plus postage. This is actually much less in real terms than we paid for our original hacksaw 35 years ago. If it turns out to be no good, we will update this page later.
But we cannot leave the subject of hacksaws without referring to the curious (and as far as I am concerned utterly obnoxious) sub-form of the hacksaw, viz. the ‘Junior Hacksaw’, which is, as its name implies, a miniature version of the same thing. Surely I cannot be alone in regarding this absurdly inefficient tool as fully deserving its place in the nethermost recesses our tool box? Above is an example. I have owned it for 15 years or so, and it has never been able to fulfil the slightest task I demanded of it! The blade bends; it will not ‘strike’ on the work-piece (unless it be a soft wood); it will not cut through 15mm copper central heating pipe; it looks askance at soft 0.25" brass rod; it will only cut through fibreglass printed circuit board as a series of jagged gashes. So I suppose it is only living up to its original name: ‘to cut roughly, to hack to pieces’ as defined above. There are many forms of it, and you can purchase one for as little as £1. Why then: what you pay for is what you get – and yet the Junior Hacksaw continues to flourish exceedingly. I suppose its Spiritual Home is cutting through undesired small branches of trees – though the resilience of a 2" diameter ash sapling would probably test it (and you) to the utmost.
So there you are. A hacksaw is a ‘hack saw’; and anyone looking for a ‘Precision Hacksaw’ is, theoretically, chasing an ignis fatuus. But I intend to keep looking, and may well report back later.
25th November 2013. The new hacksaw has arrived, and is very good. The old sort is still available in what appears to be a design unchanged for over 30 years. The best price I could find for one on-line was £11 plus postage; but the Irwin, at £15 plus postage seems superior, so far. Which I sort-of expected would be the case, actually.
* Skewift. English Midlands term meaning off-centre, not properly aligned, out of truth &c. Skewift is the Black Country pronunciation. In Birmingham, which is adjacent to but not in the Black Country, the word is pronounced ‘skewif’. I grew up in Wolverhampton, which is also adjacent to but not in the Black Country; and my grandfather always said ‘skewift’; therefore so do I.
Page written 22nd November 2013.
Revised 24th January 2014.