The Millers Falls No.42 coping saw

Finding a good vintage coping saw can be challenging. A few years ago Christopher Schwarz wrote about the Millers Falls No.42 coping saw on his blog. Shortly afterwards trying to get ahold of a No.42 became very challenging. I searched for a few years, and as luck would have it ended up with three saws last year. What’s interesting is that the three don’t look the same – for quite a while I thought one of them was missing a part of the adjustment mechanism – but things aren’t always what they seem. This required further investigation. Fig.1 shows the catalog entry from 1938. This version of the No.42 is the one most often seen, and sports the adjustment knob at the end of the saw, which wasn’t specified in the original patent.


Fig 1: Millers Falls catalog entry for No.42 coping saw (1938)

The patent for the No.42 appeared in 1908 (No.903,495), specified for a “COPING SAW FRAME”. The original saw frame had six parts:

  • A wooden handle with a ferrule and a recess which contains a metal socket [10].
  • A back frame [23] with an outer [26] and an inner [22] head.
  • An outer draw-bolt [29] attached to the outer head.
  • An inner threaded draw-bolt [17], which has a locking nut [19], and key [20].

Note numbers in [ ] represent the associated part on the patent drawing in Fig.2.


Fig 2: Patent for the No.42 Coping Saw (1908)

Fig 3 illustrates the main components of the coping saw in addition to the two ends of the blade-holding mechanism. What is interesting about this coping saw is that the swivel head [22] has a series of notches in it, so that the blade can be locked in place. The inner draw bolt [17] contains a channel along which the key [20] containing a wing [21] moves when the nut [19] is rotated. This has the effect of locking the inner bolt relative to the metal socket attached to the handle [12].


Fig 3: Millers Falls No.42 coping saw

The blade is tensioned by turning the handle, which pulls the threaded inner draw-bolt into the metal socket in the handle. The locking-nut is then turned towards the handle until the key engages in one of the notches. The metal insert in the handle contains both deep recesses and shallow notches. When the key engages a notch it is locked into the handle, but not the frame, allowing the blade to turn with the handle. Engaging a deeper recess allows the key to lock into one of the frames four V-shaped locking notches –  the blade now forms a rigid structure with the frame.


Fig 4: Blade mechanism

In the earliest version of the saw, the outer draw bolt [29] sits inside the outer head [26], and is held in with a flange [32]. This differs from the later version of the saw in which the outer draw bolt can be adjusted, and is held in place in the saw by a tensioning nut on the outside of the outer head. The later model also has four V-shaped notches on the outer head to allow for the blade to be locked rigid in any of four directions. There was no means of locking the outer blade in the 1908 patent model.


Fig 5: Comparison of outer draw-bolts

In the three No.42’s I have all the handles are different – over time the handles seem to have increased in size, and material used in their construction changed. The earliest model touted a Cocobola handle, whilst the later model has a cheaper red-stained Mahogany handle.


Fig 6: Handles from three different No.42’s

The last noticeable change is in the mechanism used to hold the blade in the draw-bolt. The 1908 patent uses an eyelet-type socket whereas the newer coping saws all have pin-type socket. This makes it more challenging to retrofit a pinned blade in the eyelet-socket – but not impossible.


Fig 7: Different blade holding sockets

Two of the saw frames are slightly angled to accommodate a 6½” blade, the third (shown in Fig.3) only takes 6″ blades. I wasn’t able to find much of a timeline between the 1908 patent saw and the saw with the cheap mahogany handle – partially due to a lack of Millers Falls catalogs. The 1908 patent may have been adjusted to incorporate the outer adjustable draw-bolt somewhere around WW1. By the time WW2 had finished, the No.42 had disappeared from the catalog, in favour of the No.43/47, which were simpler from a construction standpoint, and likely cheaper to build.


Fig 8: Millers Falls No.43 coping saw with the cheaper (and now standard) blade holding/adjustment mechanism

Below is an picture of the two types of sockets.  As blades with eyelet are next to impossible to find anymore, it is possible to retrofit modern pin-type blades to fit the older sockets. The new blade just needs the pin trimmed on either side, and likely the end of the blade as well. It’s not that hard to do with a Dremel.

Example showing a pin-type blade in a eyelet socket.

9 thoughts on “The Millers Falls No.42 coping saw

  1. John Hough says:

    Nice job on a very useful type study. I recently found one of the early 1908-14 style saws and was confused by the lack of the outer draw bolt. Your effort cleared that up! Thank you for your detailed photos and descriptions.

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks for this post! I recently found one at a junk store, but it’s missing the key and the locking nut won’t budge. I may be able to make a key using the patent drawing as a template.

  3. kurtisjayjohnson says:

    Thanks! Good stuff.

    My just collected future worker is the “Type 2″, so-to-speak, with eyelets, double draw bolts and tensioning nuts, and with tropical wood handle. It seems to differ with yours in that it accomodates a 6 1/2” blade.

    The nut at the toe is an equally tarnished wingnut, perhaps a replacement long ago. I’m seriously considering machining pin-type sockets into both draw bolts, which, seen clearly in your images, is what Millers Falls did.

    • kurtisjayjohnson says:

      I revisited this subject today. My saw described above is certainly a fourth type. It’s a transition between the the oldest type, being the original patent date model, and your second oldest type. It has eyelets seats for blades, yet clearly designed for an adjustable outer draw bolt, which is in this case is a non original wingnut. (I was able to determine the wingnut is non original due to it’s fit and stripped threads.) The handle is of your second oldest type in shape size, and species (i.e., tropical hardwood). Hope someone finds this helpful.

  4. dacuslegend says:

    Good stuff man! Great write up and very useful information. I stumbled upon your post as I am currently searching for more info on the coping saw no 42 by Millers Falls. Just like you and many others while reading Christopher Scharwz book Anarchist tool chest he discusses coping saws mentioning the number 42. I thought I was the only one that thought modern versions of the saw suck…that is until reading Anarchist Tool Chest. I didn’t realize there were different versions of this particular model so thanks for shedding light on the subject for us.

  5. Dave Weisbord says:

    Just stumbled onto your fantastic description. Based on that I must have an early version since the blade uses eyelets not pins. Fortunately I have some old eyelet blades. But if I had to use pinned blades is there any trick to retrofit?

      • spqr says:

        Sorry for the delay in replying. The answer is yes, if just requires grinding the pin on either side shorter, and also the length of the blade projecting from the pin. I’ll post a picture of the pins at the end of the post. The one on the right has been cut to size.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.