Episode #42: Re-toothing a Hand Saw

Note: All of my old podcast videos have been moved to my YouTube channel.  You can now watch this video here:



25 thoughts on “Episode #42: Re-toothing a Hand Saw

  1. Great episode Bob! Just one question, I noticed on the wooden block you used for a file end handle,some lines and 4 degrees written. What was this for and if you have it in one of your other posts which one should I view?


    • Thanks John! The block on the end of the file is used to maintain a consistent rake angle on the teeth. In essence, there’s a hole drilled slightly smaller than the tip of the file. A line is drawn tangent to the hole at the desired rake angle, in this case about 4 degrees. The face of the file is then aligned with the angled line and jammed into the block (use a soft wood that will compress easily). Then by holding the block level, the rake angle is maintained. You can find a more detailed explanation of the rake angle guide block in Episode #7: Sharpening Part 3.

  2. Great video Bob! Thanks for postng it. That definitely didn’t look any harder than some of the reshaping I’ve done on saws I’ve found in the wild. BTW, looks like you got a new saw vise (is that a Gramercy?) since the last time you did a video. Very nice!

    Chris Griggs

    • Hi Marilyn,
      I buy a lot of file from Sears. The Craftsman brand saw files are made by Simonds and are actually pretty decent. For the smaller sizes, I typically get the Grobet files from Tools for Working Wood or Wenzloff. At some point I may start buying box quantities though and offering them for sale because I seem to be doing a lot more sharpening and using up a lot more files these days.

  3. Hi Bob,

    This video was worth the wait. 🙂 FANTASTIC! I loved it. I was always curious as to how one rethoothed an old hand saw. Now I know.

    Got a ? about vintage saws… Retensioning a saw.. does that mean straightening bend or kinked saw plates? I’m asking because I’ve been in touch with one of the well known saw makers and he has an Atkins panel saw for sale that he has jointed, sharpened and retensioned. He assures me it will cut through a 2X 4 with ease. $195 $230 including s/h. Is that a reasonable price for a vintage Atkins 20″ panel saw crosscut?


    • Retensioning is a part of removing bends and kinks. To remove these bends and kinks with hammer work requires stretching the metal with light hammer blows to get it to move where you want to. The process removes the tension in the saw plate, therefore, the saw must be retensioned after it is straightened. This type of smith work is as much art as it is skill and takes years to master. It isn’t easy to do.

      With that said, much of an old saws value is determined by the type of saw, but also just as much, if not more by the job done to restore it. Only you can decide if the asking price is worth it to you. But I will say that from experience restoring a lot of these old saws, it can be a lot of work depending upon the initial condition. I don’t know how rare or collectible this particular saw is, but in most cases, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re paying mostly for the time of an expert saw doctor and not necessarily for a valuable saw. Of course there are some very collectible saws out there too, but they typically fetch high prices even before being restored. I will say the the price you list is not unreasonable for the amount of work often required to bring these old saws back. But you have to decide if it’s worth it to you.

  4. Thanks Bob. A tremendously helpful and encouraging video, as always. You’re providing such a service to the hand-tool community.

    You mentioned that the somewhat imperfect spacing created by hand filing is actually an advantage. Rasps are a good analogy; another would be variable-tooth bandsaw blades. These blades are deliberately made with slight variation in tooth size and spacing. Compared to standard blades, they can reduce vibration and noise while leaving a cleaner surface. So, be it powered by electricity or tacos, a saw with subtle variation in tooth size can produce a smoother cut than the pitch and rake angle might suggest.

    Re-toothing by hand has another advantage (I think…). It’s my understanding that punching new teeth by machine will mean re-tensioning the saw plate – something most of us wouldn’t want to try ourselves.

    • It’s my understanding that punching new teeth by machine will mean re-tensioning the saw plate…

      Perhaps, if a lot of steel is removed from the toothline (i.e up to or past the tensioned area), but this really applies regardless of the method of retoothing the saw. One can file just as much steel away as punching. Not typically quite as much as punching requires, but close enough. Punching the teeth will cause some deformation in the saw plate and filing down a bit will be required to remedy that. It shouldn’t need to be retensioned though just because of punching the teeth. The tension is typically applied about 3/8″-1/2″ or so above the gullets, so unless you are removing the teeth plus another 3/8″ of steel, the saw shouldn’t need retensioning just because of punching new teeth. If the teeth are removed and recut several times, whether by punching or filing, then it may need to be retensioned because it is possible the tensioned area may have been removed. This is also only typically a problem with unbacked saws to my knowledge. I don’t believe backed saws were tensioned (though I’m not 100% sure on this).

  5. Great series of pod casts. Found your site off Matts Basement workshop. Started watching from No. 1 got through your sharpening series. I have a “tennon” saw similar to the one you just retoothed. I tried working from former teeth, and as you said things got really botched up. Will now try taking off all teeth and retoothing.

    What are the usual TPI for a Tennon saw and also for a dovetail saw?

    agin great series. It is obvious that you have experience with the topics you have covered.

    Also liked your “trick” on sharpening gouges with slip stone and holding it vertical.


    • Tenon saws are usually somewhere in the range of 11 to 14 points per inch (the same thing as 10 to 13 teeth per inch). My personal tenon saw is 12 PPI. I have also made a few for other people in 11 PPI and that was a very popular spacing. The finer spacings seem to be better when filed crosscut and used for tenon shoulders vs. cheeks. SO more of a carcass or sash saw than a tenon saw. I use my tenon saw for tenon cheeks, so it is filed rip on the larger side of the typical range for more efficient use.

      Dovetails saws are pretty specialized tools designed for sawing stock no thicker than 3/4″ to 7/8″ max. So their tooth spacing is much finer. Usually in the range of 16 to 20 PPI. They are basically not really very effecient at doing anything except cutting dovetails. Because of their small teeth, any cut deeper than around 7/8″ (e.g. even small tenons) cause them to clog up with sawdust before they can clear the cut, so they bog down very fast.

      So the point is that there really is no rule on tooth spacing except to match the tooth spacing on your saw to the thickness of the wood being sawn. The deeper the cut, the fewer teeth per inch. The shallower the cut, the more teeth per inch.

  6. LIL Bob, really enjoyed the video tutorial I learned a lot from this. I have collected a few saws over the past year that need some attention. I really want to learn to do this and been collecting a few files, sawset etc. I do have a saw vise but would like a larger one so I can handle all saws. I like the looks of the Grammacy and currently saving up for that. I watch all saw threads on WoodNet and as you know there are a few great saw Doctors there.

    But this is the first video I have seen that shows how to retooth a saw and I thank you very much for taking the time this is a great resource. You make it look pretty easy and looks like you really enjoy this very much. I still have a lot to learn especially with the rake and fleams etc. I still get a little confused there, but I know practice makes perfect.

    Thanks again for a great video.


  7. Hello, thanks for the great video!

    One question, as both videos regarding this subject are for rip saws. At what point do you introduce the fleam if the finished product is going to be a crosscut saw? Do you shape all the teeth straight across, rejoint, and then introduce the fleam? Or should it be done as you are sinking the teeth to depth? You mention this while you are marking the teeth, but that’s the last time it comes up. It seems to me it should be done while sinking to depth, but that would also involve keeping track of skipping teeth and a few flips in the vise. Thanks!

    • The way I do it is to do all of the shaping as a rip tooth. This is purely for efficiency. You can shape the fleam right from the start, but it requires a lot more care and time. Shaping as a rip tooth all from one side lets me do it much faster and watch the tooth shape more closely and file more evenly. It also allows me to focus only on maintaining a consistent rake angle while shaping. Filing the fleam goes fast because you’re removing a lot less steel. So I shape as a rip with the desired CC rake angle, rejoint and then add the fleam.

      • Thank you, that makes sense. Appreciate the quick response, as well as all of the outstanding content here. It’s been extremely helpful as I transition to killing less electrons in my woodworking!

        As an aside…why name the blog the “Logan” Cabinet Shoppe rather than the obvious Rozaieski Cabinet Shoppe? I’ve looked all over the site to find the answer to that one 🙂

  8. Hey Bob,
    I am new to the site and like what you do. I realize the video was posted a year ago, but, I am not sure how blogs work and wonder if you would receive a comment so far down the road from a blog post. Anyway, here goes and possibly of some help to others viewing this into the future.
    Instead of laying the paper directly to the saw plate, put blue painters tape down first. Then lay the tacked paper on top of the painters tape. This will save having to scrape away the paper with a blade and then cleaning with mineral spirits. Instead, you jus peel away the painters tape and the pattern is gone with no residue. Scrollsawers do this with their patterns.
    Hope this tip helps someone. 🙂

  9. Hello Bob. Any advice regarding how much set to put on the various size/type of saws? I recall the particular saw in your video being “set” to the maximum tool setting. What about other saw sizes? Thanks for the great blog!

    • I don’t think I’ve ever used the maximum setting on my saw set except for perhaps one time to judge how much set it actually put into the saw. The maximum setting on my personal set is too much set for any saw used in working with kiln dried furniture woods. It might be useful for someone who rips a lot of green construction lumber, but in my experience, it’s too much set for the kinds of work I do.

      Unfortunately, what setting to use for a particular saw is going to depend upon your particular saw and saw set. I use a Disston Triumph saw set, which few people are using these days. So how I set my saw set up will not correlate to say the Stanley 42X, which seems to be a much more popular style. My saws are also different than yours (e.g. none of my saws are taper ground), so that makes a difference too.

      The simple answer is that I add the minimum amount of set necessary to prevent the saw from binding in the cut. However, this means that it’s mostly a trial and error kind of process. Depending upon the saw I’m filing, I set the saw about where I think it should be (based upon experience filing and setting similar saws), side joint it once or twice to even things out (the set is never perfectly equal on all teeth) and then make a couple of test cuts. If I like how the saw is tracking and how it feels in the cut, it’s done. If I feel that the saw is a bit tight in the kerf, I’ll add a touch more set and side joint again, and then make another test cut. If the original test cut was too sloppy in the kerf for my taste, I’ll side joint once or twice more and test cut again.

      This is all repeated until the saw cuts how I want it to. With practice you’ll get very close to putting in the right amount of set for your personal taste the first go round. When you are first getting started in sharpening saw, however, there will be some trial and error before you can nail down how much set is too little, too much or just right for a particular saw. It will be different for every saw because different saws have differing amounts of taper to their blades, the blades are different thicknesses, the teeth are different sizes, and different woods may require different amounts of set. It’s really a trial and error game until you find what you like.

      I would suggest starting with a middle of the road setting for large crosscut and rip saws and the lowest setting for small joinery saws. It’s better to add set if the saw is binding than it is to try to remove set from a saw that has too much. There’s really no rule though. Start with one of these settings depending upon the saw you are filing and tweak the set to your preference based upon making test cuts in the kinds of woods you are using.

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