Episode #7: Sharpening – Part 3

Well, summer is coming to an end, vacations are all but over and school is back in session. In this episode I attempt to take some of the mystique out of sharpening your own hand saws. I don’t completely understand all of the hesitation that a lot of folks have learning to sharpen their own saws. Really, it’s no more difficult than learning to sharpen a plane iron or a chisel. All it takes is a small investment in some simple tools and a few minutes of practice. Hopefully, this episode will convince more folks to go ahead and try it. Oh, and don’t worry about giving it a try on one of your high priced premium saws either. In fact, it’s probably better to learn on one of these saws than on an old beater. Watch the episode to find out why.

Also, here’s a .PDF file with some pages from the video. Feel free to download, print and make notes on them if you like.


If you are not familiar with saw terminology, they may be helpful to you as you watch the episode. I also apologize for the vibration in a couple of filing clips. I tried to get a bird’s eye view of filing the teeth by putting the tripod on top of the bench but in my infinite wisdom, the tripod absorbed some of the vibration and of course it shows bad in the video. The vibration looks a lot worse than it is and in fact there was very little vibration in the saw and vise but the tripod vibration makes it look bad. Sorry.



15 thoughts on “Episode #7: Sharpening – Part 3

  1. Yet another great podcast, Bob. So clear, so to the point(s).

    Any chance you’ll be telling us about drawknives anytime soon? I need one and wonder what size is best for general use.

    • Larry,
      Keep an eye out for the next (and last) sharpening episode. I’ll be talking about the drawknife in it as well as some of the other more obscure tools to sharpen. But in the mean time, I like a drawknife with an 8-10″ blade for general purpose work. It’s long enough to be able to take a slicing cut but not so wide as to feel like you are rowing a boat when you are using it.

  2. A fine tutorial, Bob! It covers all the basics needed to develop the skill.

    I agree completely that anyone (who wants to) can learn saw sharpening skills. Once learned, doing the job will take far less time than it takes to send or drive the saw to someone else, let alone the time of waiting for it to get done and come back.

  3. Sharpening saws, like other sharpening endeavors, is a very personal thing. There are almost as many ways to do it as there are guys who do it. Your podcast was full of good, agreeable information. The only things I’d like to mention on the topic are the following:

    -I noticed you carefully mentioning maintaining fleam and rake angles, but I didn’t notice anything about trying to keep the file level across the plate. I know it’s a very basic thing, but it might be worth a mention.

    -Using a marker of some sort (layout fluid, or just a Sharpie marker) to mark the teeth before sharpening can be a sanity saver because it lets you see positively which teeth you’ve already done, which is important when you have to stop for some reason. The file removes the ink so you know you’ve filed that tooth.

    -Not everyone files alternate teeth from opposite sides. Some just file rip-saws from one side, and set after filing.

    -You mentioned testing for sharpness but I didn’t see anything about what to do if the saw tracks wrong after sharpening (i.e. nothing about stoning the side it favours to get it to track right). This might be deeper ‘under the hood’ than you wanted to go.

    -Finally, that is one sexy saw vise you’ve got there. 🙂

    • Thanks Mike,
      Excellent points, as usual. A couple of comments:

      “I noticed you carefully mentioning maintaining fleam and rake angles, but I didn’t notice anything about trying to keep the file level across the plate.”

      Worth a mention indeed, but not truly all that important in my experience as long as you aren’t filing grosly out of level. In fact, some more experienced saw filers actually file sloped gullets, intentionally filing with the file held at an angle to the plate. I believe the new Bad Axe saws are filed this way.

      “Using a marker of some sort (layout fluid, or just a Sharpie marker) to mark the teeth before sharpening can be a sanity saver because it lets you see positively which teeth you’ve already done, which is important when you have to stop for some reason. The file removes the ink so you know you’ve filed that tooth.”

      An excellent recommendation. I did mention this in a previous blog post (I used candle soot) but not in the video. I don’t do it myself all that often as I try not to stop once I start but if you start and stop often it can be a good aid to keep track of where you are.

      “Not everyone files alternate teeth from opposite sides. Some just file rip-saws from one side, and set after filing.”

      Very true, you can file rip teeth all from the same side. I have done it this way before, however, I don’t recommend it, especially to someone who has never sharpened a saw before or doesn’t sharpen them very often. There are several good reasons to file alternate teeth from opposite sides, even for rip saws.

      First, most saws already have set to them before you start filing, even if you need to add more after filing. By filing the front of the tooth that is set away from you (whether you file first or set first), you reduce file chatter and saw vibration because you are pushing the tooth in the direction it is leaning. If you try to file a tooth that is set toward you, it will have more tendency to chatter as you are pushing the tooth against it’s set. Chatter dulls files faster and makes achieving a good sharpening more challenging. This is more of an issue with the bigger teeth of large rip and crosscut saws as they typically have more set but I try to do it the same way for all of my saws.

      This brings me to the second reason I don’t recommend it, consistency. If you always file the same way, filing alternating teeth from opposite sides, regardless of what type of saw you are filing, you will develop a habit to do so. If you file different saws different ways, it tends to introduce more variables and confusion into the process. I like to keep it as simple and consistent as possible. It makes the entire process of learning to file a saw less intimidating. When I’ve shown folks how to file saws in my shop, it always seems to go smoother when the entire process is kept as simple and consistent as possible.

      “You mentioned testing for sharpness but I didn’t see anything about what to do if the saw tracks wrong after sharpening (i.e. nothing about stoning the side it favours to get it to track right). This might be deeper ‘under the hood’ than you wanted to go.”

      Yeah, another very good point. More of an oversight and a good thing to be aware of.

      As a general note, it’s been challenging trying to include as much of the necessary information as I can while keeping these things under 30 minutes. If I go too long, and believe me, I could easily go too long, the files get too big and I can’t upload them to the server so I try to squeeze everything I can into a 30 minute segment (or preferably less). Many times, I have to choose not to cover a topic or two, other times, I just miss things due to oversight. That’s why I count on you folks to point out all these thing so they don’t ultimately get missed completely :).

      • Excellent counter-points.

        You mention the notion of intentionally biasing the gullets to each side. I wasn’t aware that this was considered a good idea, but regardless I imagine we can agree that the angle across the plate, whether level or not, should be consistent.

        You also mentioned chatter on the file. This is an interesting point. There is some dissention in the ranks regarding what size of file to use for a given tooth size. The more, um, Scottish among us tend to lean towards a larger file such that the face width of the file is a bit more than twice the length of the tooth face, so that you can get three uses out of a file – one for each edge on the triangular file. For someone who files saws for a living this is a significant issue.

        The drawback is that the teeth are coarser on a larger file (encouraging chatter) and a larger file has rounder edges giving shallower gullets – not enough to be a ‘big deal’ most of the time, but an issue when sawing thick material. A file that is just barely wide enough to file the tooth can be used on only one edge, meaning it will have roughly 1/3 the useful life of a big one, but it cuts a deeper gullet, has finer teeth (with less chatter) and is, in my experience, easier to ‘index’ into the saw plate when you’re filing. For the average hobbyist a single saw file will probably last them for years, so the gullet depth and smooth filing takes precedence over economy for me.

        Oh, and before anyone gets offended, my background *is* Scottish, but apparently it’s weak enough that I can over-spend on woodworking tools that I rarely actually *use*… 🙂

        It must be a real challenge to come up with the content on these videos. I commend you for the success you’ve had! Keep at it… You do all the work and I just sit in the weeds and pontificate after the fact… 🙂

        • Thanks Mike!
          Please continue to pontificate. These discussions are very educational and informative and the multiple perspectives make for interesting and enlightening dialog.

          Interesting thoughts on the file size. I can see how this would work just fine and can certainly agree with the benefits of the finer file teeth, deeper gullets and easier indexing of the file. I suppose you would eventually end up with two dull faces and one sharp face, or do you constantly turn the file in use to even out the wear on all three faces?

          Where I can see using a smaller file on larger teeth being much less cost effective is when a saw needs a complete retoothing. When I have needed to retooth a saw or cut new teeth from scratch into a saw I’ve made, I’ve pretty much used up an entire edge of a file just for the retoothing process, before moving on to the sharpening. Using the larger file, I just turn to a fresh corner to do the sharpening after I have finished the retoothing. I would imagine using a smaller file would require using a brand new file after the retoothing process was done. I’m curious as to whether you have found this to be the case?

          In either case, I doubt that the average hobbiest is retoothing a lot of saws so in the end the long term cost of needing one file per retoothing versus two will likely not be a big factor in chosing a method. I will say that one should be consistent with their file size choice though in order to avoid constantly changing the geometry of the teeth and requiring a lot of additional unnecessary filing each time.

  4. Very nice tutorial on hand saw sharpening.

    I have never sharpened a hand saw but, with your tutorial, it looks like something I could tackle with a few tools and some practice. Also, I found your thoughts interesting on not going down the road of flea markets for a saw to try it on. Sometimes we can undermine our own efforts with false economies if we are not careful.

    • Mark,
      Thanks for the comment. I’m sure you could easily learn to file a saw. As I mentioned in the video, it’s really no harder than learning to hone a plane iron or chisel. Regarding practicing on a new saw, I really do think it would be easier. Retoothing to me is a more technical operation as you need to shape all the teeth, trying to maintain them all approximately the same size and spacing. On a new saw, the hard work of toothing has already been done as the teeth are typically sheared in by machine. All it needs is sharpening. Allong these lines, another option for folks wanting to try it but not wanting to try on their expensive saws is to buy an inexpensive new saw like the Crown gents saw or an import tenon saw from the local BORG. These saws would also already have the teeth cut in and would only require a proper sharpening and setting. I think this would be a better option than buying an old junker from a yard sale and flipping a coin as to whether or not the teeth are in good shape or not. Once you’ve become comfortable with sharpening and familiar with good tooth geometry, then trying a retoothing job is much less intimidating.

  5. Another outstanding episode. I applaud your organization and being able to cover so much so efficiently. This is truly the mark of an experienced craftsman because you obviously don’t have to think about your content only the camera angle. I truly enjoyed this episode and as you know from my own show I am just getting into saw sharpening. I have fallen prey to the flea market junker scenario to “try out” my sharpening and it is so true that we could all learn by sharpening a saw that has been done correctly. Also as a follow up to some of the comments, I have 2 panel saw (rip and xcut) that have been filed with the sloping gullets and they are a dream to work with. I’m not sure if Mike (Bad Axe) files his this way but it might explain why I love his saws so much. I can’t quite figure out what it is about this style of sharpening but the saws move like butter through the wood. Maybe they clear the dust faster, not sure. Thank you for the extensive look into this topic and your no nonsense, make the jig in your shop approach to filing. I will be saving this episode to watch in the shop again in front of my saw vise!

  6. Hi,

    I have a gents saw that I purchased for around $15.00 at a local hardware store some yrs ago and now that I have a better understanding of sharpening thanks to people like you I’d like to use that saw to practice my sharpening skills on. This saw is filed crosscut but I’d like to use it to cut dovetails. I purchased it thinking it was a dovetail. I didn’t know then what I know now. Can I convert this into a rip saw? I know that you can take a rip saw and file it crosscut but I’m not sure about filing a X-cut saw rip.

    I really enjoy your podcasts and look forward to many more. They’re fantastic. I’m getting quite an education online.


    • Hi Wanda,
      It is very easily converted to rip. Just joint the teeth a couple of times to make sure they are all even and file the rake angle you want (I like between 0 and 4 degrees for a dovetail saw), and don’t file any fleam (i.e. file at 90 degrees to the saw plate). You might have to joint and file and then joint and file a second or third time to get the teeth all changed over to the desired rake angle, but on a dovetail saw, it should go very quickly since the teeth are so small.

      Alternatively, you can file the teeth off completely and just file in new teeth at the rake and spacing you want. It’s not as hard as it sounds, especially with small teeth. I actually have to do this for a customer’s saw this week, so look for a podcast on it soon.

      • Hi Bob,

        Thanks for the tips. I think I can handle jointing nd filing. I’ll certainly give it a go.

        Can’t wait to see the podcast.


  7. Bob,

    I saw this saw sharpening video when it came out and thought to myself that it was interesting but would never sharpen my saws. Well, times have changed. Last week i restored an old Disston saw I purchased on ebay. I cleaned out the saw plate using white vinegar like you showed on another video. At first I was going to send it out for sharpening but then I decide to try and sharpen it myself. I sharpened the saw using the techniques you showed in the video. It took me a while to get it done, but now I’m hooked. I feel like saw sharpening is easier than sharpening a plane blade (big change from before). I would like to thank you for demystifying saw sharpening. I would also like to thank you for the time and effort you put into your blog. Your blog is a wealth of (free) woodworking information. Please note that your efforts don’t go unnoticed.



    • That’s fantastic Luis! Thanks for sharing your success. I’m glad you decided to give it a try. As you’ve found out for yourself, it really can be that easy. Keep em sharp!

Comments are closed.