Hand Saw Sharpening Demystified (for me at least!)

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Forum topic by paratrooper34 posted 01-21-2013 04:54 PM 8539 views 8 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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915 posts in 2916 days

01-21-2013 04:54 PM

Hi All, so after a crushing Patriots loss and a bad first foray into commenting on a non-woodworking topic, I needed to unwind and work in my favorite de-stressing lab; my shop.

I tried, for the first time, sharpening a saw last week after 12strings and Don motivated me to do so. I sharpened an old rip saw I had to see if I could do it. It worked out very well, that saw works nicely now. However, I have an old Disston saw vise that leaves a lot to be desired. I purchased it awhile ago and it has been hanging around just waiting to be used. Well, it is not a good vise and after sharpening that first saw, I needed to get or make another vise. I chose to make one. One of the reasons why the Disston vise was frustrating was because it is short and while it holds a small dovetail saw without repositioning, I had to reposition the big crosscut saw twice per side to sharpen the length of the saw. So I decided to build a big saw vise. For the big rip saw (the first one I did in this vise), I only had to reposition the saw once per side. The pictures below show the vise I made. Simply made with two pieces of plywood and some thin scraps I had hanging around.

This is how I accomplished sharpening using my new vise. I first sharpened a big rip saw that I knew needed to be sharpened. I have had it for a while and I got it used, so no telling the last time it was sharpened. Plus, when working on another project using reclaimed lumber, I hit a cut nail with it. The same thing happened with my LN rip panel saw. Here is the sharpening of the LN saw.

To get set up, I put the saw in the vise. This vise holds the entire panel saw, which is nice, because I can sharpen the entire length without repositioning it.

All that is needed now is a triangle file, sized so that the teeth go to about the midway point of one of the faces of the file. I bought this file a long time ago and cannot remember what size it is. It only has “Slim” marked on it. Also I used a black marker to mark the teeth of the saw. This helps to keep track of progress and the cut made by the file.

It is a little hard to see, but here it is with the teeth marked.

Once the saw is marked, start sharpening. I started at the heel and worked my way down. Alternate teeth when you do this. Teeth facing toward me were to the right of the file. Here is how the marked teeth help you keep this straight. Here is a picture of the first few teeth sharpened. You can see how I skipped a tooth as I worked down the blade.

After I sharpened alternating teeth on this side, I took the saw out of the vise and flipped it over (handle on the other side of the vise). Now sharpen the teeth you skipped. My sharpening method was to make three strokes and follow with a fourth “smoothing” or “polishing” stroke. That fourth stroke was light and made the cut smooth. Check your progress by running a finger or thumb down the blade. The newly sharpened teeth should grab your skin (don’t do it too hard!). Here is the entire length sharpened.

The last step in sharpening is to run a diamond stone down the length of the teeth on the sides to remove burrs and refine the teeth to cut smoother.

After all that, I put a coat of paste wax on the saw.

So, how does it perform? In a word, awesome!

I bought this saw about four years or so ago. During that time, it has seen a lot of use. I forgot how well it cut when it was new. Now it cuts fast, almost effortlessly. And it left a pretty smooth surface. It is nice to have this saw cutting at its potential again.

Since some others motivated me to start sharpening my saws, I want to repay the favor and hopefully those of you still on the fence will give it a shot. It is nowhere near as difficult as I believed it would be. Also, it is not necessary to have fancy jigs and angle markers and whatever else. This saw is a rip saw and the teeth are cut at 90 degrees to the blade. I had no guides or jigs, just kept the file straight. It was very easy. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Enjoy, and thanks again, Don and 12strings!

-- Mike

16 replies so far

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2452 days

#1 posted 01-21-2013 05:31 PM

Paratrooper, That is a great educational tool.

My grandfather used the same method with most of his saws, including the wood saw vice.

The only thing I can say about your method is that grampa only used what was on hand. I even saw him use the old fish hook sharpener to flatten the tips of the teeth. Normally he would just use a flat fine or XF file to flatten the tips, but in any case, that leaves the curl whether with the diamond cut, file or fish hook.

I have one of his old saws and have been looking at it for years to figure out how he did it, and even though it cuts nicely, it could probably cut better.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Tedstor's profile


1643 posts in 2597 days

#2 posted 01-21-2013 05:37 PM

Nice post. Beautiful saw. Its rare that I get around to sharpening my saws, but when I do, I kick myself for not doing it sooner.
Oh- and don’t feel bad about the Patriots. They had a tough year against the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins :) With such a challenging schedule, in such a competitive division, no group of humans could have made it to the Super Bowl.

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2916 days

#3 posted 01-22-2013 12:16 AM

Aww Ted, don’t kick a man when he is down!

-- Mike

View MrRon's profile


4714 posts in 3208 days

#4 posted 01-22-2013 12:29 AM

Here is a suggestion: Place a strip of white tape on each side of the blade attached to the wood. This will give you a good indication of the effectiveness of the filing as you will be able to see a trail of metal dust on the white background. That will tell you that you are removing the correct amount of metal with each stroke of the file. Remember slim taper and taper files wear out quickly, so keep a good supply of files handy. As a former saw sharpener, I bought files by the box of a dozen. You go through a lot quickly and you can’t find them locally at Lowes or HD. Anyway, it looks like you got it down.

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2916 days

#5 posted 01-22-2013 12:42 AM

MrRon, that’s a great idea, thank you!

-- Mike

View mandatory66's profile


202 posts in 2095 days

#6 posted 01-22-2013 03:27 AM

Nice post,
About a year ago I built a saw vice exactly like yours, my first attempt was to sharpen a Canadian Disston D8 5ppi rip. I did it just like you 90 deg. straight across and the saw already had about a 10 deg. rake which I did my best to maintain. When I finished & tried to saw I was amazed, It just ripped with an aggression I never experienced in a saw. I was hooked. MY next attempt was a 14inch cheap back saw 11 ppi xcut. It cut better but I had a lot of tear out on the back of the cut. Back to the drawing board and re reading all that I could get my hands on. My next victim was a Sears saw I bought new in 1984, their best saw filed 10ppi. I took my time and watched out for the big tooth little tooth issue filed it 12deg. rake & 25 deg. fleam. I now have a nice cutting Sears saw along with Atkins, Disston & Lakeside saws all filed by me except for the lakeside. The xcut is much harder to conquer but well worth the effort. My next adventure will be into vintage miter saws, can’t wait. I hope your post will convince others to give it a try.

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2442 days

#7 posted 01-22-2013 03:35 AM

Rip saws are a great place to start as I find them the easiest to sharpen. Also want to point out diston made several different vises and i have several they all do what they should for me so they are not all bad i do recomend if you can buy these in person. After your all warm and fuzy is a good time to try out a sash saw the combonation file job is a bit tougher but it is also more rewarding

-- Please check out my new stores and

View 12strings's profile


434 posts in 2349 days

#8 posted 01-23-2013 02:46 AM

Glad I could kick you in the right direction…You’ve already built a better saw vise than mine…and you are obviously a better photographer.

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View Don W's profile

Don W

18685 posts in 2532 days

#9 posted 01-23-2013 02:54 AM

There is nothing like a sharp saw. I need a longer vice as well. It’s getting time to build one I guess.

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

View BTKS's profile


1986 posts in 3429 days

#10 posted 01-24-2013 04:58 AM

Thanks for the kick in the pants. I’m ready to go out and try again. I have a little back saw I messed around with some but it needs more. I still need to figure out rake and fleam. I also need to find a good cross cut and a large rip saw. Just to say, I can!

-- "Man's ingenuity has outrun his intelligence" (Joseph Wood Krutch)

View 12strings's profile


434 posts in 2349 days

#11 posted 01-25-2013 03:30 AM

Rake: the closer you get to 90 degrees, the harder the saw is to start, but the faster it cuts…Rip saws generally are closer to 90 degrees, crosscuts are farther away, maybe 60.

Fleam: the angle of the “knife” edges on a crosscut saw (a rip saw has zero fleam). More fleam slices better, but too much makes a flimsy tooth.

BTW, I’m still scared of saw sets, don’t know what to buy…luckily I haven’t needed one yet.

-- I'm strictly hand-tool only...unless the power tool is faster and easier!

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3116 days

#12 posted 01-25-2013 08:53 PM

Great blog man, that saw is nice. Thanks for sharing!

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View thedude50's profile


3603 posts in 2442 days

#13 posted 01-25-2013 11:30 PM

According to Matt Cianci the saw wright I recommend his blog the best saw set is the Stanley 42x they are very nice I have a dozen of them I hoard them you can find them all the time on ebay make sure your not missing the anvil as many of them are missing that part.

-- Please check out my new stores and

View OldSneelock's profile


8 posts in 2281 days

#14 posted 01-27-2013 04:37 AM

Great explanation of the basics of sharpening a rip saw.
The vise you’ve built is a good one for rip saws and has the advantage of being easily constructed.
I think the cast iron saw vises that are sitting under the bench at the flea market were made to fit in a toolbox and go to the job. You can clamp them on pretty much anything from a kitchen table to a porch rail and sharpen your saw. Yes it is a little time consuming to move the blade 3 times on a 28” rip saw but if I was only working to get done I’d be with the power boys and their 14” chop saws.
Most of the better cast iron vises also allow you to tilt the saw so you can increase the depth of the gullet. When I first started sharpening saws it looked to be more trouble than it’s worth but over time I’ve found it to help especially with the finer 12 and 14 tooth saws.
Everyone has to find the method that works for them. Like you I wanted to share my methods so I put them on display on YouTube. One thing about posting your methods is that everyone is willing to help set you straight.

As always YMMV but it is a fun and easy way to practice and learn new skills while getting the benefit of a sharp tool to use.

-- Old Sneelock, Michigan,

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2916 days

#15 posted 01-30-2013 01:14 AM

Oldsneelock, is the purpose of increasing the gullets to help with sawing green wood or soft woods?

Also, today, I sharpened my Goodell Pratt miter box saw and WOW, what a difference! I bought the miter box and saw about two years ago and I thought the saw was in pretty good shape. After sharpening five saws, I figured I was ready to give this one a try. I have been very hesitant to sharpen this saw As I mentioned, I was scared to give any saw a sharpening. With some new found confidence, I tackled this one. It is amazing how this saw, after being sharpened, performs completely different. It is really, really sharp. I put a piece of QS red oak in the miter box and the saw flew through it very easily, the cut was smooth, and the typical blowout I had on the backside was not there. And it was easy to do. No guides, no jigs, no angle markers. Just a file and my vise.

Really, if you are hesitant, like I was, get some files and have it. Sharpening a saw is not difficult.

-- Mike

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