My Flea-Market Ohlen-Bishop Rip Saw


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The saw pictured below is my first De Anza flea market vintage tool score. It was sitting on a blanket surrounded by other dusty-and-rusty objects; I’d been on the lookout for a rip saw for ages, particularly one that could handle longish hardwood boards. Upon closer examination, it became apparent that it was indeed a rip saw, and a fairly large one at that. Perfect!


I asked the older gentleman manning the booth how much he wanted for it. The following exchange then ensued:

OG: “Five dollars. You’re not going to paint it, are you?”

Me: “Why would I paint it?”

OG: “Oh, some people buy these old saws and paint them and hang them on the wall.”

Me: “Ah. No, I’m not going to do that. It’s a rip saw. I’m going to use it. To rip wood.”

Needless to say, I bought the saw. And no, I won’t paint scenery on it and sell it on Etsy or hang it artfully over my stove. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that if that’s what you’re into, but in this case it would definitely have been a waste! Despite the rust and chipping finish on the handle, it was evident that the teeth were actually decently sharp and the blade was surprisingly straight with no obvious kinks to it.

I spent the rest of that afternoon cleaning, refinishing, and inspecting my new acquisition for any distinguishing marks indicating its age and/or maker. Matt (my dear SO) suggested it might be a Disston, but a dip in the electrolysis bucket (which merits its own post at some point) revealed that it was in fact an Ohlen-Bishop. Specifically, an Ohlen-Bishop “Mercury” Shock-Proof Saw. I’d never heard of the company, but a quick Googling revealed some interesting background, in particular the quoted bit below:

“In 1919 the George H. Bishop & Co. merged with James Ohlen & Sons. The following announcement was published in October 1919 by The Packages, a monthly magazine for Wooden Package and Package Stock Industries:

The James Ohlen & Sons Saw Mfg. Co., Columbus, O., and George H. Bishop & Co., Lawrenceburg, Ind., have merged and will continue under the name of the Ohlen-Bishop Mfg. Co.

The Ohlen plant at Columbus, and the Bishop plant at Lawrenceburg will each be immediately enlarged to meet the greatly increased foreign and domestic demand for Ohlen saws, Greyhound saws, Bishop saws and tools and Cincinnati trowels, while every effort will be made to provide the world-wide patrons of both companies with service of exceptional character.

More than 66 years’ continuous manufacturing experience on the part of the Ohlen company—plus 30 years successful history on the part of the Bishop company will be devoted to the production of a line of Master saws. The concern will operate plants at Columbus, O., and Lawrenceburg, Ind. Branch offices will be maintained at New York City, Atlanta, Ga., Cleveland, O., Chicago, 111., St. Louis, Mo., Portland, Ore., and San Francisco, Calif.”

Production of handsaws continued in Lawrenceburg, IN without visible changes until Bishop’s stock was exhausted.

In 1948, DELTA Machinery entered the radial saw market by acquiring Red Star Products of Norwalk, Ohio. A string of acquisitions followed including the purchase of the Ohlen-Bishop Company and a 7-inch shaper design from AMMCO Tools of Chicago.”

So, in short, my saw must have been produced sometime between 1919 and 1948. Making it older than my parents and older than my house. Fascinating and very cool. It amazes me sometimes just how well-made things from bygone days can be. Of course plenty of junk got produced too, but anything that managed to survive had to be pretty robust. Vintage tools are a wonderful example of this sort of thing; if you find an old thing that’s not actually falling apart, you may well find that after a bit of cleaning and honing and sharpening you’re left with a tool you’d pay hundreds of dollars for new today.

…which brings me to the “after” of my rip saw. The chipping old finish on the handle basically fell off with a light brush of sandpaper after a brief dip in mineral spirits. I didn’t spend a lot of time sanding the wood smooth underneath; it didn’t need much, and I got this saw to be a “workhorse” anyway. What really surprised me was how beautiful the wood was. No cracks at all, nice and heavy and attractively grained. I did not stain it but I did add a couple coats of polyurethane to protect it from moisture and whatnot. I also shined up the hardware and “Warranted Superior” medallion with a series of light abrasives and polished them with the same stuff I use on the strop leather. Behold the result below!

obsaw_after1I also got out the Good Camera (my Canon DSLR with the fancy macro lens) and took the best shots I could of the etching revealed by the electrolysis bath. Some gorgeous typography there for sure:


saw_etch2The first etch image reads: “Ohlen-Bishop (Companion To The Zephyr) Mercury Shock-Proof Saw – 22 – Smooth Speed and Easy Accuracy”. There’s a patent number in there too but I can’t quite make out all the numbers. The second etch image reads: “First great improvement in hand saws. Especially designed for the skilled mechanic. Fully Guaranteed. The Ohlen-Bishop Co.”

Oh and as for how it works? Pretty darn well! I tried it on some scrap maple and I barely needed to use any force. Haven’t even sharpened the teeth yet. Definitely up there on the list of “best things I’ve ever spent $5 on”.