The Shorthand Saw

In the category of almost forgotten tools we present; The Shorthand Saw

A section of old shorthand saws.

A section of old shorthand saws.

The history of the shorthand saw is shrouded in a mist of myths. We find the first description in a short note of the Roman writer Plumbius the Smaller. He describes it as “a short saw with a double handle”.

Due to technical innovations of the early middle ages the shorthand saw lost its second handle. After a while the tool starts to get the form we all know and remains to this day.

After the 12th century the saw becomes a status symbol, in addition to the practical function. We find the shorthand saw on the portraits of the masters of the st. Jutte guild of short-cutters in Haarlem as early as 1495. The saw also was used as decoration in their coat of arms and ceremonial guild cup. On the day of their patron saint (Dutch; Sint-Juttemis) they went in procession trough the streets of the city, holding the shorthand saw in their hand, as a symbol of their craft. The compact size made the tool very popular among travelling journeyman.

In the renaissance and baroque the popularity of the shorthand saw increased even more. At its peak we even find extravagant shorthand saws with ivory handles and ebony inlays at the French court. In the Netherlands the shorthand saw found a new function. During the Dutch golden age they were mainly used to make the tiny furniture that decorated the doll houses of rich upperclass ladies in Amsterdam.

After the French revolution the use of the shorthand saw declined. The tool was seen as a symbol of the ancien régime. The budding industrial revolution brought  new machines that took over the tasks. The shorthand saw became a tool that was only used by specialists. Despite the fact that it became an obsolete tool some tool manufacturers kept producing small series of the saw (the Sandvik example in the lower right corner was made at the end of the 20th century).

Today the shorthand saw is a very rare, almost forgotten tool. Many ended up at the scrapyard. Most woodworkers don’t know how to work with it. A pity, because they can prove to be very useful tools. Ideal to take along on long outdoor hikes. Maybe we can revive the shorthand saw before it becomes obsolete?

This is just a hoax, there is no such thing as a shorthand saw. The handles in the picture are just what remains from some old saws I cut up to use as card scrapers.

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3 Responses to The Shorthand Saw

  1. darinmolnar says:

    Jan, you did it again – I have never, ever in my entire life heard of a shorthand saw. Amazing. I shall do my part to resurrect these symbols of artistry and craftwork!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Look like they’d work great on shortsticks

    Like

  3. amarlow says:

    Plumbius the Smaller. That’s great. I was sure the ol’ Plumbster, as we like to call him, was destined to fall into obscurity. Thanks for keeping his contributions to history alive.
    ~Allen

    Like

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