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Saw nibs have been present for hundreds of years. What is their purpose?

Old, heavily warn saw featuring a nib on the smooth edge

closed as primarily opinion-based by Matt, rob Nov 1 '15 at 5:24

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Sorry. I couldn't keep myself from posting such an awesomely trollsome question. – saltface Mar 27 '15 at 23:18
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    Now look what you did. – Daniel B. Mar 28 '15 at 4:12
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    I should add a bounty to this. :) – saltface Mar 30 '15 at 15:10
  • I'm not sure this is a good question for the new site. Many professionals are not sure and have different opinions. It seems like the only thing agreed upon is that no one knows for sure. For yet another take, Paul sellers uses it to draw parallel lines – user234 Mar 30 '15 at 22:29
  • Oh, it's definitely not a good question. What would I ever mark as the answer? Nonetheless, I have enjoyed the possible suggestions. However I'm not sure how good I would be at drawing parallel lines using Paul Sellers' method. – saltface Mar 31 '15 at 15:26
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well, there may be more to it that you'd think. And definitely an interesting piece of trivia.

There are 2 types of nibs, either as something sticking out like on the picture in the question, or as a little notch.

There are multiple answers, ranging from:

  • nothing, that's just for decoration
  • this can be used to attach a blade guard (so you tie the strings around it and it won't slip)
  • you can use it as a pivot point against a nail to draw a circle (you lock your pencil in between 2 teeth).
8

The explanation I'd always seen was that this "single tooth" could be used to create an initial nick in the wood to start the cut at a fairly precise place. Without that nick, the first cut has a tendency to slip sideways a bit, losing accuracy.

You could create the guide nick in other ways -- with a chisel, for example -- perhaps more accurately. But building it into the saw guarantees you'll have it when you need it.

I can't prove that was the original intent. But I can say that it seems to work when used that way. It's more a carpentry solution than a cabinetry solution, though, since it risks a bit more tear-out.

  • I had heard it was for the starting cut at a corner, it reduced tear outs of the grain on the side the saw was cutting towards, when used properly. – Jack Mar 28 '15 at 16:45
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A trollish question indeed ;) My favorite answer has been, "So you can recognize an old saw at garage sales," but the most well referenced sources I've found indicate that it was originally placed as a decoration and just stuck.

  • There's no concrete answer to the question but hey, posterity is a purpose, I want to see what happens. – Daniel B. Mar 27 '15 at 23:51
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    Lee Valley sells 3 Wenzloff Panel Saws which includes a nib, so maybe not just old saws :) – Pascal Belloncle Mar 28 '15 at 0:22
  • I should have thought about Lie-Nielsen too. They have saws with nibs as well. – Pascal Belloncle Mar 28 '15 at 0:29
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I wondered this for years and so I emailed Christopher Schwarz (former editor of Popular Woodworking magazine and now owner of Lost Art Press.

He seems to research historical things very well and he responded that neither he nor anyone else knows for sure. He said he had asked Roy Underhill (host of PBS's Woodwright's Shop) and a few others.

So, nobody knows for sure.

2

I always liked this answer

Some have said early handsaws had an auxiliary handle near the toe to guide the flexible saws and prevent them from bending. The nib is said by them to be a vestigial handle which had become ornamental.

from the Disstonian Institute

  • I'd like to see what that handle looks like. I've seen removable handles created for large saws that allow two men to use it, but those pinch the sawplate with a wooden wedge and could be used on any saw. – saltface Mar 31 '15 at 15:19

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