Sharpening a Disston Back Saw

  • Advertise with us

« back to Power Tools, Hardware and Accessories forum

Forum topic by woodgu posted 11-11-2010 01:47 AM 4253 views 2 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View woodgu's profile


63 posts in 2800 days

11-11-2010 01:47 AM

Topic tags/keywords: sharpening

I recently picked up an old Disston back saw for $16. It kind of looks like a dovetail saw. It is straight and solid. The teeth have no set at all and they are dull. I have never sharpened a saw myself and I figured this would be a great opportunity to work on learning.

Anyone have any tips? Someone once told me to “sharpen into the saw.” I don’t have any idea what that means. I thought I saw a LN video about sharpening saws, but wanted to gain some insight from the practical folks that have made some errors. And how do I correct any errors I could make?


-- Phil G

9 replies so far

View swirt's profile


2782 posts in 2997 days

#1 posted 11-11-2010 04:41 AM

If it is going to be used for dovetails then filing it rip would be good and little to no set would also be good. Filing a saw for rip is the easiest of sharpening so it is a good place to start.

You need only a saw vice, a file (size depends on the number of teeth per inch) and guide block, a file in a jointer block, and maybe a bevel gauge.

Here is a great source of info
Bob Smalser has a good simpler version here

The biggest mistake I made on my first one was not realizing that I needed to pay close attention to the jointed flats in terms of whether to apply force toward the larger flat … so my first run through I had BIG tooth little tooth Big tooth little tooth…. There really are two separate steps, shaping and then sharpening. Trying to do both at the same time is not a great idea. The good news is it is fixeable.

Good light and reading glasses or some other magnifier helps a lot.

I think Joel at Tools for Working Wood summed it up best. A poorly sharpened saw will still cut better than a dull saw.

I don’t really know what “sharpen into the saw means.” Sounds a bit like telling a golfer to “hit into the ball.” ;)

-- Galootish log blog,

View swirt's profile


2782 posts in 2997 days

#2 posted 11-11-2010 04:45 AM

also if the saw plate is grungy as they usually are, here is a great explanation of how to clean a saw.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3847 days

#3 posted 11-11-2010 04:45 AM

Here is a blog that Dorje posted. In it he details the processes he uses to sharpen hand saws.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View FredG's profile


139 posts in 3723 days

#4 posted 11-11-2010 04:53 AM

A rather new saw blog.

-- Fred

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3084 days

#5 posted 11-11-2010 05:03 AM

That Vintage Saws website also has the easiest to follow instructions that I have ever seen on saw sharpening. It is very simple in it’s explanation of the theory behind all of the angles involved. As Swirt has mentioned, you will probably want to file it rip for dovetails. How about posting some pictures of the saw and it’s dimensions. I have a weakness for old Disstons of all types. I think that I have 12 so far ranging from a 27” rip, 28” miter box saw, down to a 12” carcass saw with several in between. If the blade is in good shape and then properly sharpened, you can’t buy a finer saw anywhere. They just used good steel in those saws. Also, what kind of condition is the handle? I much prefer the more sculpted handles found on the pre-world war II saws. If you are concerned about doing it yourself, contact MIke Wenzloff at Wenzloff and Sons ( and he can rehab that old saw for you ad you will have one fine saw. I understand the BadAxe Tool works also does saw rehab work as well, but I am not as familiar with them (

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2802 days

#6 posted 12-07-2010 03:34 PM

Most of the handsaws that I have are ones that I picked up at flea markets for next to nothing – $10 – $15. I take them home, clean them up and sharpen them. When I work on my daughter’s house I don’t take the power saws with me, I take the handsaws. One of my dovetail saws that I bought was a mess – bent blade, teeth not straight, etc… I have it almost where I want it, blade is straight and it cuts smooth.

It really is a pleasure using handsaws when they are tuned up and sharp – no power cord or setup required, draw the line, pick the side of the line you want to cut and do it. When I cut down my counter (made it longer than required) I used a handsaw. I decided that if I used a power saw and twisted a little, it would burn the wood. When this happens it is more work to remove the burn than using a hand plane to smooth the roughness from a handsaw.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18290 posts in 3701 days

#7 posted 12-07-2010 08:48 PM

dbray45 How do you straighten a saw blade? Sounds like an adventure in frustration :-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2802 days

#8 posted 12-07-2010 09:01 PM

If it is crimped, it is an issue. The saws that I have were not crimped but had a ‘wave’ from flexing. I jointed down to where the teeth were almost gone, filed new teeth, and sharpened. When I was done the wave was gone. The idea is to remove the stress.

If there is a real crease, it requires heating the crease and adjacent area to a cherry red hot, pounding the crease and blade flat, re-hardening and tempering the blade’s edge. Unless you have a forge and anvil, this is difficult. If you try to pound out the crease without heating it, you will work harden the steel and it will break in half.

-- David in Damascus, MD

View swirt's profile


2782 posts in 2997 days

#9 posted 12-07-2010 10:10 PM

Small bends can be removed without use of fire. Bob Smalser has a nice how-to here
I’ve been able to detention some just by pouring a pot of boiling water on it and bending it too and fro once in each direction before it cools.

-- Galootish log blog,

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics