First Backsaw Restoration #1: Derusting and sharpening

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Blog entry by Brian S posted 10-12-2011 05:36 AM 7199 reads 1 time favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of First Backsaw Restoration series Part 2: New Handle »

This summer, I picked up several saws at garage sales around town, with plans to restore them. I have no experience restoring saws, but this must be the best way to learn. Well, after spending several months refinishing my shop (more on that later – I have a lot of pictures, etc. to collect before I can post about it), I finally got some time to work on one of them.

I decided to start with the backsaw, since I haven’t got a decent one as of yet. Here’s the saw, in it’s original state (except I had already removed the nuts). The saw is a Warranted Superior, a 14” blade and 12 TPI, but other than that I don’t know much about it.

Here’s a close up of some of the rust on it. It looks like it was maybe sitting in the bottom of a drawer full of metal bits, based on the way the rust is clustered on the blade. But all of it is surface rust, there doesn’t appear to be any major pitting, really.

I took the saw apart, and soaked it in a little bit of Evapo-rust overnight.

After the night, and a rinse-off, this is the result.

You can see that there is a spot of stubborn rust that just wouldn’t come off.

Another 8 hours in the tub took care of that spot, and left the saw looking pretty good, with the exception that it is covered in some black gunk. Anybody familiar with Evapo-rust knows what I’m talking about. It’s kind of like the black powder you get from sanding metal – not really a problem, it just uglies up the metal.

The blade is good to go now, I think, but I really wanted it to look nice. If I’m going through this trouble, I might as well keep it up. A quick sanding up to 400 grit and an application of paste wax later, and the blade looks pretty good. Not new, of course, but very usable.

On to the sharpening! I don’t have a saw vise yet. I plan on building one in the future, but for now, I just wanted to see how sharpening was without worrying about adding more projects to the queue. I’ve got enough on my plate right now.

Anyway, instead of using a saw vise, I followed some advice I found somewhere and just clamped the blade in a workmate-type thing. I can’t say whether or not it worked as well as a saw vise (aside from the obvious problems with hunching over), but it certainly seemed to work to my expectations. I didn’t take any pictures of sharpening the saw, since you’ve all seen that before.

The sharpening required quite a bit of work. The saw was severely out of joint, so I filed down the teeth. Then I shaped the teeth so that they were all even. Then I set the teeth, put a small flat on them, and filed them to the proper shape and sharpness. All in all it took about an hour, which I was pleasantly surprised about.

Here is the newly sharpened saw, now reassembled.

A picture may be nice, but that doesn’t really tell you how the sharpening went. So here’s a video of me doing some test cuts on a mystery piece of wood I got from a pallet. Be warned, I have very little practice with a western backsaw – I’ve been using Japanese-style pullsaws so far – so my technique may need some work. None the less, the saw seems to work well. At least, it cuts better than any of my pullsaws do.

The next step is to replace the awful handle. It’s ugly and uncomfortable – that’s two for two strikes. I think I’ll do an open handle, styled like the beautiful Lie-Nielsen dovetail saws. My only concern is that this backsaw is a bit bigger than the usual saws you see with the open pattern handle – the blade length is 14”. Does anybody have any experience with this? Would you recommend I use a closed handle pattern instead, or will an open handle hold up fine? I’d love to hear your comments.

Thanks for looking. I should have the next part, with the new handle, some time in the next couple of weeks.

-- Brian

15 comments so far

View ShopTinker's profile


884 posts in 2765 days

#1 posted 10-12-2011 06:36 AM

Nice job on the restoration. I’m impressed with your description of the sharpening process you went through. I’ve never tried to sharpen a saw. I would have guessed it would take much longer.

-- Dan - Valparaiso, Indiana, "A smart man changes his mind, a fool never does."

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 3098 days

#2 posted 10-12-2011 06:41 AM

Nice blog…..........

-- mike...............

View Tootles's profile


808 posts in 2498 days

#3 posted 10-12-2011 12:46 PM

When you say that the handle is uncomfortable, do you mean that the hole is too small for your hand?

I came across a woodwork teacher recently who teaches his students to hold saws with the three-one-thumb grip – i.e. three fingers in the hole of the handle, your index finger straight and pointing along the blade, and your thumb wrapped around the handle. When I looked at my tenon saw today, I found that the hole in the handle is really only big enough for three fingers and there is a curve in the handle that allows the index finger to quite comfortably point down along the blade and grip the handle on the outside. Looking at the picture above, the handle on your saw might be much the same. Perhaps that is why you find it uncomfortable to hold.

-- I may have lost my marbles, but I still have my love of woodworking

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 2590 days

#4 posted 10-12-2011 01:06 PM

Dan, I sure thought that it would take longer, too. I was pleasantly surprised.

Tootles, thanks for the advice. I actually am already holding the saw like you describe – I think some folks call that the “pistol grip”, right? Holding the saw like this leaves enough room for my hand, but the reason it isn’t comfortable is because the saw and my hand just aren’t quite the same shape. Square block round hole sort of thing.

To be honest, it isn’t that bad. I really just want to try to see if I can improve it. That, and get some practice for the next one!

-- Brian

View SamuelP's profile


793 posts in 2642 days

#5 posted 10-12-2011 01:09 PM


What type of files did you use? Did you like them?

Great job. Just need to find the time now.

Thank you,

-- -Sam - FL- "A man who carries a cat by the tail learns somthing he can in no other way" -Mark Twain

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 2777 days

#6 posted 10-12-2011 02:00 PM

Brian, before you toss the orriginal handle try softening the edges around the hand hole and along the back of the grip. I’ve done that to many of my saws, just making it less of an edge can make a huge difference.
Sandpaper, files, whatever works for you, then a touch of oil or shelac to preserve it.
Makes all the difference in the world, just compare with a realy old saw and you’ll see what i mean.

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View Don W's profile

Don W

18711 posts in 2564 days

#7 posted 10-12-2011 03:36 PM

I did exactley what Glen described on my last back saw for a Millers falls miter box saw. It came out well enough I decided to leave the original.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 2590 days

#8 posted 10-12-2011 05:42 PM

Sam, I’m not sure on the brand of file I used. I was lucky enough to pick up a half-dozen saw files of various sizes from a different garage sale. The size I used was a 6” 2X-slim, which is supposedly slightly too big according to this chart, but which seemed to work well. I am very happy with the results.

Glen and Don, thanks for the advice, I’ll be sure to try that before I toss the old handle.

-- Brian

View Don W's profile

Don W

18711 posts in 2564 days

#9 posted 10-12-2011 07:13 PM

Also take a look at Mads blog He did some pretty impressive work to make an ordinary handle extraordinary.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 2590 days

#10 posted 10-12-2011 07:32 PM

Wow Don, thanks a lot for that link. I’ve seen lots of Mads stuff before (he really does some fantastic work), but I’ve never seen this. Very inspiring stuff.

-- Brian

View Niko's profile


4 posts in 2419 days

#11 posted 10-12-2011 09:14 PM

Were the teeth of that blade tempered? They seem quite dark, like tempered, on that video

View Brian S's profile

Brian S

108 posts in 2590 days

#12 posted 10-12-2011 10:05 PM

Niko, the reason (I think) that the teeth look dark in the video is because of the cleaning process. The whole blade was pretty dark after I took it out of the Evapo-Rust, but some light sanding brought out some shine. Since the teeth were already set while I was sanding, it was difficult to sand very close to the teeth. I could have used a heavier grit sandpaper to basically remove the set, then cleaned up close to the teeth – I think this wouldn’t have affected the rest of the process since I ended up reshaping the teeth so heavily anyway – but it didn’t seem like a big deal to me. The result is the darker band right next to the teeth.

It isn’t as pronounced as it appears in the video.

-- Brian

View rustfever's profile


752 posts in 3306 days

#13 posted 10-13-2011 05:05 AM

I like it when a plan comes together!

-- Rustfever, Central California

View Skylark53's profile


2669 posts in 3056 days

#14 posted 10-13-2011 02:45 PM

Great job on the restoration Brian and very well documented. Thanks for sharing.

-- Rick, Tennessee, John 3:16

View ksSlim's profile


1275 posts in 2886 days

#15 posted 10-15-2011 06:14 AM

Nice job on the restore! You might like to try the “non-woven” abrasives for cleaning off the “gunk”.
I usually find abrasive (non-woven) with automovitve finish products. Hate to use brand names, but Scotch comes to mind. Different colors=different grit or coarseness.

-- Sawdust and shavings are therapeutic

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