Saw (מַגֵרָה, megerah, 2Sa 13:31; 1Ki 7:9; 1Ch 20:3; מִשּׂוֹר, massor, Isa 10:15; elsewhere גָּרִר, garar, in the Pual; πρίων and πρίζω). The Hebrews knew and used not only wood saws, but stone saws also (1Ki 7:9; comp. Pliny, 36, 29; 44, 48), both being of great antiquity (Rosellini, Monum. 2, 35). Prisoners of war, especially leaders and princes, were sometimes executed with iron saws (2Sa 12:31; 1Ch 20:3; comp. Heb 11:37; and Sept. in Am 1:3), and according to a tradition in the Anabaticon Jes. (ed. Lawrence, 5, 11-14), and in the Church fathers (Justin Martyr, Origen, Epiphanius, Lactantius), this fate befell the prophet Isaiah also, under King Manasseh (comp. Gesen. Jesa. 1, 12 sq.). This terrible punishment was also known in other ancient nations, e.g. the Egyptians (Herod. 2, 139), the Persians (Ctesias, Pers. 54; Rosenmüller, Morgenl. 5, 96), the Thracians (Val. Max. 9:2, extr. 4). There were even some instances of it under the Roman emperors (Sueton. Calig. 27), inflicted on Jews (Dio Cass. 68, 32). SEE CARPENTER.
Ancient Egyptian saws, so far as has yet been discovered, were single handed, though Jerome has been thought to allude to circular saws. As is the case in modern Oriental saws, the teeth usually incline towards the handle instead of away from it, like ours. They have, in most cases, bronze blades apparently attached to the handles by leathern thongs, but some of those in the British Museum have their blades let into them like our knives. A double-handed iron saw has been found at Nimrûd; and double saws strained with a cord, such as modern carpenters use, were in use among the Romans. In sawing wood, the Egyptians placed the wood perpendicularly in a sort of frame and cut it downwards. No evidence exists of the use of the saw applied to stone in Egypt, nor without the double-handed saw does it seem likely that this should be the case; but we read of sawn stones used in the Temple (1Ki 7:9; Gesen. Thesaur. p. 305; Wilkinson, Anc. Egyp. 2, 114, 119; Brit. Mus. Egyp. Room, No. 6046; Layard, Nin. and Bab. p. 195; Jerome, Comm. in Is. 28, 27). The saws "under" or "in" which David is said to have placed his captives were of iron. The expression in 2Sa 12:31 does not necessarily imply torture, but the word "cut" in 1Ch 20:3 can hardly be understood otherwise (Gesen. Thesaur. p. 1326; Thenius on 2 Sans. xii and 1 Chronicles xx). A case of sawing asunder, by placing the criminal between boards and then beginning at the head, is mentioned by Shaw, Trav. p. 254. SEE HANDICRAFT.
However simple the idea of such an instrument, it was not among the most ancient of inventions, doubtless because it was one of the few which required from the very first to be constructed with iron. For this reason it is not known among savages; nor were even the comparatively cultivated nations of South America, being without iron, acquainted with its use. Beckmann states that, "In early periods, the trunks of trees were split with wedges into as many and as thin pieces as possible; and if it was found necessary to have them still thinner, they were hewn on both sides to the proper size." This simple but wasteful process has continued in use down to a rather recent period, even where the saw has been known, in countries (Norway and Northern Russia, for instance) where wood is abundant, under the correct impression that boards thus hewn are much more durable, from having greater cohesion and solidity, than those which have had their fibers separated by the saw. Probably the jawbone of a fish suggested the first idea of a saw. So the Grecian fable states, in which the process of this invention is described. This fable, in its various versions, assigns the invention to the famous artist Daedalus, or rather to his nephew (called Talus by some, by others Perdix, while others leave him unnamed), who, having found the jawbone of a fish (or of a serpent according to others), was led to imitate it by filing teeth in iron, and thus forming a saw. The process is very probable; but there is nothing to say for the claim which the Greeks make to the honor of this invention. It does not appear to have been known to them in the time of Homer; for in the minute account of the proceedings of Ulysses in building his boat, there is not the least mention of a saw, although, if such an instrument had been then known, Calypso could as easily have supplied it as she did the axe, the adze, the augers, and whatever else he required. The Greeks, probably, in common with other neighboring nations, borrowed the saw from the Egyptians, to whom it was known at a very early period, as is proved by its appearance on their ancient sculptures. The ultimate improvement which the saw received in ancient times approximates it very nearly to the state in which we continue to use it. In the Antiquites d'Herculanum, 1, pl. 100, there is an engraving, after an ancient painting, which shows this in a very interesting manner. Beckmann (Inventions, 1, 366) has very accurately described it (see the cut): "Two genii (or winged Cupids) are represented at the end of a bench, which consists of a long table that rests upon two legs, like a stool." Montfaucon gives, from Gruter, representations of two kinds of saws: one of them is without a frame, but has a handle of a round form; and the other has that high frame of wood which we see in the saws of our stone sawyers. This reminds us to observe that Beckmann, following Pliny, cannot find an instance of cutting stone with saws earlier than the 4th century B.C.; overlooking the text 1Ki 7:9, where it is said that some parts of Solomon's palace were constructed with "costly stones, according to the measure of hewed stones, sawed with a saw." SEE MECHANIC.