My First Hand Saw Overhaul #3: Picking my Teeth (or Selecting a Tooth Geometry) and File Types

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Blog entry by DylanC posted 02-14-2016 05:13 AM 967 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Breakdown Continued... Part 3 of My First Hand Saw Overhaul series no next part

I thought I might share how I decided on the tooth geometry and file type for this overhaul. One of the reasons I’m getting into hand tools is because of Paul Sellers and his videos. In one of those videos (see it here), Paul recommends that beginners with only a single saw choose a 12 or 14-inch saw set up with a rip-type tooth shape, a progressive rake angle starting at 15 degrees and progressing to 0 degrees, and roughly 11-12 ppi.

Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker) takes a bit different approach in his video here. He proposes that a carcass saw filed with a crosscut tooth geometry is the best option for your first, and maybe only, handsaw.

If you watch both of their videos, you can get a sense of why each makes the recommendation that they do. PS is a strong advocate for buying vintage tools that might have been neglected and use your own skills to get them back into working order. This is a low-cost option for beginners and builds the basic skills needed for keeping your saws sharp in the long term. Although the progressive rake complicates things, the lack of fleam keeps the geometry relatively simple. The potential downside is a bit rougher cut while crosscutting. SR, on the other hand, is more concerned about the finish of the cut, which is where the fleam of the crosscut geometry wins out. He demonstrates several newer saws with 13-14 ppi and 12” saw plates. The potential compromise of this tooth shape is a bit slower cutting while ripping. Although SR introduces the video with some tips for beginners, the three saws he focuses on range in cost from $140 to $250 each (with a mention of the Veritas saw being “dirt cheap” at $80). That seems like a lot of money for this beginner, but I see the logic of choosing the crosscut geometry.

So which do I choose? If I had to pick one, I would probably go crosscut. But I have 5 saws to overhaul so I’ll probably make one of each. I’ve used Brit's Tooth Geometry Charts (look near the end of the comments for the link to the actual charts) to settle in on 15 degree rake and fleam angles for the crosscut, with 13 or 14 ppi. The rip saw will be 11 or 12 ppi and 10 degree rake angle. These also are quite close to the geometries listed for the rip and crosscut carcass saws made by Veritas.

So what will I use to shape these teeth? Saw file opinions seem to be all over the map. Everyone seems to agree that Bahco files are generally good, but as far as I can see, they are only (easily) available from Lee Valley. Their prices seem reasonable, but shipping charges can quickly make these files quite expensive. Grobet also have a good reputation, but I could only find them available in bulk through sites like amazon. I don’t really need ten 5-inch extra slim files for my first go-round. So, I checked my local big-box home improvement store and found a Stanley (made in China) 6” X Slim file for $6 or $7. Too bad this size is best for 8-9 tpi. Amazon did a bit better with 6 and 5-in XX Slim Nicholsons for for around $5 and $9 respectively, with free shipping on orders over $35. The 6-inch XX Slim files are also available on-line from Ace Hardware with free store pickup, but at ~$8 each. I have read many bad reviews on Nicholson files, but also some good ones ( for example) that lead me to want to give them a shot and see how they hold up. They appear to be the most widely available, so I’m hoping they meet my modest needs. Oh, and I am choosing the size of file based on the sizes listed at 6-inch XX Slim for anything with 11-15 ppi. If necessary I can use the 5-inch XX Slim to deepen the gullets on the finer teeth, but use the 6-inch for initial shaping. I may also try Paul Sellers’ method of setting the initial spacing with a hacksaw to make the process easier and help the file edges last a bit longer.

That’s it for now…hopefully I can get to the shop sometime soon to get the second part of this project started.

-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

2 comments so far

View summerfi's profile


3266 posts in 1111 days

#1 posted 02-14-2016 05:30 AM

Dylan, congrats on jumping in to learn saw filing. You’ll never regret it. My advise to those learning to sharpen saws is always to start with a rip saw of around 8 ppi. Rip is FAR easier to learn than crosscut. 8 ppi is a good compromise between large teeth (e.g. 4 ppi) that will wear your arms out and fine teeth (>11 ppi) that are hard to see. As for files, I’ve had better than expected results with new Nicholsons. They aren’t as good as the old USA made ones by a long stretch, but they’ll get you through a couple of saws if they aren’t abused by applying too much pressure. Keep us posted on your progress.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works

View DylanC's profile


191 posts in 2098 days

#2 posted 02-14-2016 06:09 AM

Thanks, Bob. I appreciate the advice and encouragement.

-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

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