Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Mystery of the Nib is Solved!

When I got up this morning, I had no idea that in the course of my normal day I would stumble upon the definitive answer to one of woodworking's most puzzling conundrums. But that is exactly what happened!

That's right, without even meaning to, I have found the solution to the eternal question: "What is the purpose of the nib on old handsaws?"

Who knew that the solution was thoughtfully provided over 80 years ago by a helpful manufacturer of cigarettes? I didn't. And truthfully, I almost missed it today, all because of a slight linguistic twist (or Queen's English) that replaces the term "nib" with "notch".

Without further ado, I present to you now, THE ANSWER:

Messrs W.D. and H.O. Wills, of Bristol and London, we salute you! Now the collective mind of the hand tool world can focus anew on the remaining mysteries: bevel up, or bevel down; push or pull planes; Western or Japanese saws; planes resting sole down, or on their sides, or maybe with their toes upon little blocks of wood...


  1. Hi, Dan,

    I know you probably posted this tongue in cheek, but that last time this possible answer came up, the first question raised was: "how does a little rounded off single nib do a better job clearing sawdust from the kerf than all those sharp pointy teeth?"

    I enjoy the blog - keep up the good work.

  2. Cool information. I don't own an old saw yet but when I do I'll know more about it now.

  3. My wife ask about this the other day while I was sharpening my saw. I told her I didn't know, and she say what? some thing you don't about a tool and laugh at me. we'll see who's laughing


  4. OK, that's neat.

    Now, how many other mysteries can Will's Cigarettes solve for us? I see that this is #35 in the 2nd series of 50. So, there are at least 99 others, maybe more if there are more series.

    Please report on the others. :)

  5. Rob - Totally tongue in cheek! And your question applies to almost every theory on the use of the nib - except maybe the aid for holding a blade guard. Thanks, glad you enjoy the blog.

    Kari - Yeah!

    David - Or at least more about what a 1930's cigarette trading card says about it. ;) When you do get a saw, don't be intimidated by sharpening it - it's not that hard.

    Joey - Knowledge is power, and apparently W.D. and H.O. Wills were power brokers!

    Bob - If I only could! Much like an Egyptologist who finds only a shard of hieroglyphics and must spend the rest of his life cursing the lost knowledge beyond his grasp, the rest of the Wills series, their Rosetta Stone if you will, is lost to me. Oh, the humanity!

  6. Dan,

    With just a little bit of imagination... I can see using the nib to hold my Wills's cigarette whilst crosscutting.

    Eh, since I don't smoke anymore I'd still have to come up with a better use for it...



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