Purity ≠ Perfection: Restoring A Rusty Old Saw

Many times when wood working I find myself reaching for a hand tool instead of a power tool because my children are literally playing at my feet in the garage. Avoiding the mess, noise, and danger by working with tools that demand a bit more effort and skill allows my children to be present in my work; we get to talk and learn together while I try to get a little work done at the bench. But, surprisingly, a hand tool that functions as well as power tools (and in some cases, much better) is often easier to find in a junk heap than the brightly lit isles of the Big Box tool stores.

I recently found an old, rusted Diston hand saw with a broken handle in the trash pile as my neighbors cleaned out their grandfather’s garage. A saw which was highly functional 120 years ago had been left out in the rain waiting for the next dump run. And it was a vivid example of purity.

Purity is often defined as the absence of imperfection or blemish. This can make sense academically, but it’s rarely seen in nature. We don’t ever find pure gold; there are always tiny traces of another element mixed in. In addition, this view of purity can infer an unreachable standard where the minimization of impurity becomes central. Conventional wisdom would say that this saw was the furthest thing from pure - neglect had rendered it ugly, useless and broken.

For us, purity is more an issue of sight, than composition. 

Purity is a Godly discipline, that of not seeing things as the world does, but as He sees them. We are to see others and ourselves “rightly”, as the image-bearers of the Most High; marred yes, but image bearers all the same. If we view the world and ourselves correctly, as miraculous, exquisite creations, our actions will naturally fall in line with our perspectives. We will view and treat our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and those of all the people around us differently. This way of viewing things is definitely not limited to people. 

I knew by the shape of the handle and the brass bolts that this was an old saw, one made in a time when a craftsman’s income and reputation depended directly on the work of his hands and the tools in them. A quick look down the tooth-line showed me that the blade had remained straight, despite its age and neglect. I knew there must be a few more lifetimes of work left in this old saw if I could restore it.

Purity is seeing ourselves, others, and all creation through the lens of hope and memory, seeing them in the way that God intended and is actively working to bring about. Our sight must be illuminated by His ever redemptive plan as we pray and work alongside Him, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Washington rain had done a number on the precision-ground tempered steel of the saw plate. The thick rust had to come off first using rust remover and steel wool. After a good sharpening and a coat of paste wax the blade was smooth and gleaming again.  A quick shine of the brass bolts. Then I needed to glue a new piece of beech wood to fix the broken handle. As I shaped and sanded it to match the beautiful curves of the original, I realized I had made a mistake - the handle was not made of the traditional beech of most 1900’s saws. It was darker and harder - Rosewood. An exotic wood reserved for only the absolute highest quality and most expensive saws. This saw was built for a master craftsman. It looks a little funny now with a two-tone handle, but it cuts beautifully. It’s a good reminder to look closer, hold out hope.

In the age of laser guided power saws, my hope is to show my children that tools like this can not only cut wood well still, but also reminds us of restoration, promote conservation, facilitate time spent together, and challenge us to purity - to see inherent value in the people we encounter each day, no matter how much rust is present. This would be a redeemed tool, that reminds us of God’s redemptive plan and continued work in each one of us and all creation.

I’d love to say that I’ve figured out this right way of seeing. But that’s not even close to true. Just the ability to recognize value in an old tool has been hard-won - stemming more from years of necessity due to lack of disposable income rather than hours of wise reflection. I find it a daily struggle to not approach purity with the goal of sin-management or, at the very least, image management. In moments when I am brutally honest with myself, and others, I know this legalistic approach to purity is far beyond me. In those moments, I find myself clinging desperately to the words of Christ as he calls me a beloved son and invites me into his redemptive work.

As you think about your own life, what has been a reminder to see the value in that which has not yet been fully restored?

Justin Koehn 
Restoration Project Advocate
Olympia, Washington