The clockwork saw is a fascinating, yet little-known invention that never made it past the prototype phase. Developed by WHB Winchester (1816-1901), the clockwork saw was a hand-wound amputation device. The surgeon would crank the handle tight and then let go, causing the blade to spin rapidly. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the saw was not precise, making it incredibly burdensome to use. Not only were patients at risk of getting their limbs hacked at by an unpredictable saw blade, but the surgeon’s assistants also had to worry about their own fingers getting amputated by mistake.


(Image credit: Londonist)

WHB Winchester was an Orthopaedic surgeon during a time where speed was one of the major factors in a successful surgery. He hoped that the clockwork saw would shorten the period of time it took to perform an amputation. For all of the above reasons, the clockwork saw (luckily) never became a common tool found in the surgeon’s kit. The prototype of the clockwork saw can be found at the Hunterian Museum in London.

The Liston Knife:

Named after the famous Scottish surgeon, Robert Liston, the Liston knife became one of the most popular amputation tools of all time. The blade was typically between 6 to 8 inches long and made from high-quality metal. Throughout the decades, it took on many forms, but speed remained the central focus. Robert Liston was considered one of the fasted surgeons of his time. Record has it that he was able to amputate a leg in a mere 30 seconds. And no…he did not attribute his speed to the rather questionable clockwork saw.

If that didn’t make you thankful for modern medicine then I don’t know what will!

Until Next Time



Fitzharris, Lindsey. “The Chirurgeon’s Box: The Clockwork Saw.” DrLINDSEYFITZHARRIS.COM. 23 September, 2010. Accessed 31 August, 2020.

“From the Hunterian: A Clockwork Saw.” Londonist. 29 September, 2009. Accessed 31 August, 2020.

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