Now known as the United Kingdom's largest producer of playground and outdoor fitness equipment, Wicksteed were once a leading maker of mechanical hacksaws. Begun by one Charles Wicksteed (1847-1931) who was born Leeds, educated at Lancaster and then apprenticed to Kitson and Co., Ltd. a locomotive manufacturer of Airedale Foundry, Leeds, where he received the traditional grounding in locomotive and general engineering. His first business - started at the age of 21 - was as the owner of steam ploughing tackle - this leading to his most successful venture and the building of a new factory in Kettering during 1876. Invented by the owner, a multitude of diverse items were to be manufactured there including (an unsuccessful) automatic gearbox, sawing machinery, workshop drills, limit gauges, gears, munitions, wooden toys, playground equipment, a machine for the mass slicing and buttering of bread - and the first hydraulically-controlled hacksaw. Early into the refinement of the mechanical hacksaw, in 1911 Wicksteed presented a paper to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers on the subject
Having made his fortune, Wicksteed planned and opened the now famous Wicksteed Park, which a Grandson currently helps to run. .
All Wicksteed saws were heavily built (though in later years a simpler, lighter version, the "Econicut", was also offered) and equipped with sophisticated hydraulic control systems, one of which had a pump with two pistons, one large, one small, controlled by two eccentrics and a large rotary valve block fitted with calibrated-bleed relief valves - the design providing the means to lift the bow on its return stroke and generate the motion necessary to raise it after the cut was finished. Importantly, the system also permitted the cutting pressure to be instantly regulated and so, the makers claimed, allowed the majority of material to be cut with just one pitch of blade. The makers noted that: "The success of the machines lies in the method of eliminating the influences of any dead weight of moving parts by means of the hydraulic balancing device and then applying an accurately controllable pressure to the blade by hydraulic resistance actuated by blade movement against the work." The feed resulting from this design was a combination of a shear cut (what might be termed a positive feed) and weight. The feed was not obtained by pressure applied to the blade by a weight or screw but, as the makers explained more fully: "...by the blade itself which, by our patented method, is set at an angle to the slides so that as it moves through its cutting stroke it raises the saw frame against an oil resistance which can be varied by a simple control valve ….. A balancing device is incorporated in the hydraulic unit which counterbalances the weight of the saw frame and swing bracket in such a way that although the rate of cut is in no way impeded, the blade mat be allowed to "fall" onto its thin edge without fear of injuring the teeth.." A point emphasised was that, for maximum output, the exclusive use of blades in high-speed steel was recommended.
On some models, for example the two and four-speed "Hydramatic" type, control was by a unit with a central push-button and a single lever, this being mounted either on the front face or side of the base. The lever had four working positions: 'UP', 'DOWN', 'IDLE' and 'WORK' and, independent of the cutting pressure control, regulated the rise and fall of the blade, set the drive to idle or stationary at any desired position and apply the cutting action. In the 'WORK' position a graduated scale was provided that indicated the pressure range, the setting being dependent upon the type of material being cut - the first movement of the frame being at lighter pressure to save blade wear. On completion of the cut, the bow was lifted automatically to the 'UP' position and the machine stopped at a predetermined point - the latter setting fixed by adjusting the stricker arm on the swing-arm pivot shaft. The earlier 2-speed "Hydraulic Resistance" models used a similar, 4-position lever but with a separate dial control (engraved with the work diameter) to set the cutting pressure - while the 2-speed "Econicut" machines used a similar but less expensive design with the controls combined neatly with the hydraulic cylinder itself. While a wonderfully effective, reliable and efficient system, to get the best from any of the Wicksteed hydraulic controls, and maintain them properly, reference to the Instruction and Maintenance Manual is essential. Another maker who used an almost identical hydraulic-control system was the long-established German company Orion-Hacko - their saws being very similar in appearance to those from Wicksteed
From the 1950s until the 1970s the Wicksteed hacksaw range consisted of: early and late models of the Econocut in 6-inch, 8-inch and 12-inch; a group of machines, otherwise identical, that were made in 6-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch, 16-inch and girder-cuttings models and called variously in different catalogues as the "Hydraulic", "Heavy Hydraulic", "Hydraulic Resistance", "Hydro-Resistance" and finally, from the early 1970s, as the "Hydrosaw". The final group, the massive 8-inch, 12-inch and 16-inch machines, were listed as the " Hydramatic". Some of the larger models were able to be fitted with automatic, pneumatically powered bar-feed system for production work and branded, appropriately as the "Automatic". Late in manufacture was a 3-inch pull-down saw and the "Hyradband 10", a horizontal bandsawing model. An entertaining video about the Wicksteed Company can be found on youtube and, if you can find a copy, Wicksteed's book "Bygone Days and Now; A plea for co-operation between labour , brains & capital" is an interesting read..