The saw-manufacturing industry in Sheffield was of world-wide importance throughout the 19th century and until its decline late in the 20th century. Its origins have been little documented in a town well-known for its cutlery but lacking any saw industry until the 1750s. Analysis of contemporary business documents and of foreign travellers’ diaries shows that a combination of factors unique to Sheffield enabled the establishment of the industry by local entrepreneurs, at first using skilled labour imported from older centres of sawmaking in London and Birmingham. By about 1830 these centres were in steep decline, and by 1841 Sheffield contained almost 80% of the nation’s sawmakers. This paper provides quantitative data on the use of local crucible cast steel in saws and other tools, emphasising the close relationship of the saw industry with the manufacture of this early form of special steel. The changing methods of producing saw plate by forging and rolling are compared.
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