Heritage Crafts

Saw making

The making of hand saws for cutting wood, with metal blades and wooden handles.
Craft category
Metal, Wood
Historic area of significance
Yorkshire (mainly Sheffield)
Area practiced currently
Sheffield, South Yorkshire; Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Origin in the UK
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
Current No. of trainees


Along with the axe, the saw is one of the most ancient tools available (Moses had one). The fly press, a tool used in saw making, dates to Roman times, and therefore saws made in this way probably started then.

Handsaws were refined in the Georgian era as more refined furniture was created. Around this time, foreign woods, such as mahogany, were introduced and different saws were required for cutting different types of timber. The saws were made by hand from small workshops (usually only 2 people) up until the Victorian era, when saw making became more commercial with demand and industrialisation.


Techniques in order include: design, woodcarving, steel shaping, filing, rasping, sanding (by hand), machining (using a hand-driven fly press), and wood finishing.



Issues affecting the viability

  • Shortage of tools: The tools needed to make saws are very expensive and some are almost extinct themselves.
  • Cost of raw materials: the costs continue to rise and this is putting a lot of pressure on small businesses
  • Recruitment and retention of staff: the cost of living crisis has meant that small companies cannot compete on wages as people are forced into other higher waged occupations
  • Challenge of learning: There are so many skills involved in the craft that you have to be a very skilled craftsman, designer and engineer.
  • Market issues: It is impossible to produce a saw cheaply without using machines, and the hours that go into each saw (between 20-30 hours) means than often you are working for minimum wage. It’s a labour of love than for financial gain. In order to charge more to cover the costs of the time going into making a saw, the quality has to be very high.
  • Market issues: Off-the-shelf products are cheaper and the country is becoming flooded with saws from the USA.
  • Marketing issues: Marketing abroad is extremely expensive (£1,000s for a small ad in premium woodworking magazine) and travel abroad to promote saws is expensive. T
  • Market issues: Very niche market and people buying in this sector only want the best. Conversely, people don’t always want to wait for a bespoke product.
  • Market issues: It takes a long time to establish yourself and gain a reputation.
  • Business issues: There are lots of issues which affect all small businesses, such as the inability to buy in bulk, and new legislation regarding pensions for all employees.
  • Market issues: In order to charge more to cover the costs of the time going into making a saw, the quality has to be very high.

Craftspeople currently known

Individual makers:

  • Shane Skelton (Skelton Saws), Scarborough, North Yorkshire – Shane makes saws completely by hand in the same way that they were made centuries ago.

Businesses employing two or more people:

  • Thomas Flinn & Co, Sheffield – there are three saw makers in the saw department, making blades, toothing, sharpening and assembling, and two handle makers
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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