How to sharpen hand saws

The humble hand saw has been used for centuries for cutting wood. Sadly many woodworkers have chosen the route of the hard point hand saw.

step by step sharpening woodworking hand saws

Memoirs of a woodworkers son

Growing up with a woodworker and master craftsman for a father I was fascinated watching him sharpen his saw. At the end of every day, he’d be in his workshop spending what little time he has left of that day sharpening his hand saw.

Hard point saws were a revelation but resharpen-able are back

This might seem like an excessive exercise it was the way things were done then. I didn’t have the option of hardpoint saws such as the Sandvik 244. It wasn’t a choice but a necessity. These days when we are driven by that urge to get closer to earth we seem to want the experience that our forefathers once had.

The hand saw revolution

When using an old Disston or Spear and Jackson self sharpened hand saws in the workshop they can last a good long while. Save yourself some money and learn how to tune your hand saw to suit your own personal preference.

Since we wouldn’t use a hand-sharpened saw for working on a building site hard-point saws have their place. We do find but the concept of resharpen-able hand saws in the workshop offers more scope. You can just sharpen or maybe a full tune-up is required.

Tuning or Sharpening my handsaw

Tuning is not something that will come naturally but in time and a bit of practice, you will understand your Handsaw and then you will be able to tune it to suit your own needs.

Whether you need to Sharpen or Tune will depend on the condition of the saw blank. A simple sharpen is the touching up of the teeth with a file and set using a saw set.

I have an old saw is it worth restoring?

Restoring an old hand saw will depend on whether it is worth it. There are a few things to check.

  • Is there enough blade blank left to sharpen or re cut teeth?
  • Does the saw blank still have a temper?
  • Is the steel still spring steel?
  • Does the blade have any kinks?
  • Is the saw a quality tool like a Disston?
  • Is there enough blade blank left to sharpen or recut teeth?

This is a visual inspection and one that depends on the type of saw. A panel saw has no back so as long as you have room for the teeth the saw should be useful.

Does the saw blank still have a temper?

This is important but not always easy to confirm the temper. A metallurgist can check this but really just sharpen it and see how the tooth edge lasts instead.

Is the steel still spring steel?

This is just a simple visual and a bit of bendy twanging! Spring steel has a memory so eye up and see if the blade is straight. Now give it good bend and check along the blade again and if it is still straight then the steel is still spring. Remember though a saw with a back such as a backsaw, tenon or dovetail is going to be hard to bend! Just give it a bend between the fingers and you should see if it still springs steel.

Does the blade have any kinks?

Kinks are probably the one thing you want to avoid as these are difficult to resolve. If you feel your kinked saw is really worth restoring even though kinked send it to a saw doctor to true it. Otherwise return to the hunt for a new old saw.

Can the kinks in a saw blade be hammered out?

The simple answer to this is ‘yes’ you can hammer out the kinks in an old old hand saw blade. Although you can do this job yourself sometimes a ‘Saw Doctor’ is needed. Careful peining with a ball pein hammer or a small anvil can alter the temper and remove kinks. If you cannot remove the kinks then call it a day because those kinks will cause the saw to jam during the cut stroke.

Is the saw a quality tool like a Disston?

It is not rocket science to realise that rubbish saws when new it is obvious that they are not worth renovating now. Choose your saw wisely.

disston medalion saw sharpening

Sharpening your old handsaw

We have talked about the importance of starting with a good tool so now we should think about the art of sharpening your new old handsaw. In many cases, these old saws are a joy to use and for a little work, you will have a tool that you could hand down to generations.

Geometry and Technical spec to follow

First I want to cover the practical but if you scroll down to the end of this tutorial you will find the finer details of the sharpening process such as Fleam angles. I don’t want to scare you off yet!

DIY Hand Saw Sharpening

To sharpen your saw you will need to level up the teeth which is called jointing. Some kind of support for the saw blank to aid accurate passes with a file. saws you have sharpened every tooth as per your tooth pattern you will need to set the teeth.

Not all resharpenable saws are the same

Before you try to resharpen your old saw you first need to know what kind of saw you have.  Some saws are designed to rip wood and some are to cut across the wood. Typical saws are

  • Rip saw
  • Crosscut
  • Tenon
  • Dovetail
  • Gents
  • Back saw

Crosscut saw tooth pattern

The Thwart or commonly known Crosscut saw is designed to cut wood across the grain. Sharpening the crosscut saw employs sharpening techniques such as Fleam, Rake and Slope. The use of the crosscut saw pattern is used on saws such as a tenon saw. In the past, the crosscut pattern was commonly used in the logging industry.

crosscut teeth rake and gullet

The Ripsaw tooth pattern

The woodworkers rip saw is used to cut wood along the grain. The course cut of the rip saw is designed to rapidly saw wood. 

Each tooth is angled back at 8° with a long slope because of the fewer teeth per inch. Unlike the cross cut which has an alternating cut pattern the rip saw is sharpened square to the tooth.

Rip saws depending on the speed of cut will have between 4 and 10 teeth per inch. Sawmills are fitted with rip saw profile bandsaws or circular saw blades.

rip teeth rake and gullet

Saw sharpening tools

If you still want to perform some saw sharpening you will need a few tools.

  • Wooden saw sharpening cheeks. You can easily make these.  Metal saw vice if you can find one.
  • 2 small G clamps
  • Flat file, double-cut, smooth metal file for Jointing
  • Taper saw file either single or double cut
  • Magnifying glasses already specs of two plus diopter
  • A saw set for bending teeth to correct angle
tool kit for saw sharpening

You only need a few tools to start sharpening your handsaw. In time you will collect a series of different saw sharpening tools.

saw set saw sharpening

The saw set was a quality made tool . I have a few eclipse saw sets such as the Eclipse N077. The N0 77 saw set was made of Brass.

The Eclipse No 77 saw set can be modified for high DPI saws such as a dovetail saw. You do this by filing down the anvil of the saw set.

eclipse no77 set saw sharpening

The triangular taper file for saw sharpening. This file is available under different makes. I mainly use Nicolson and Bahco taper files for my hand saw sharpening. You will need the correct file for your saw. If a handsaw has a lot of teeth such as a dovetail sawthen you will need an extra fine file. Rip saws need a larger file for sharpening the teeth.

taper file saw sharpening

Sharpening Rip Saw Step by Step

These are the easiest saw to sharpen as the teeth are sharpened at the same angle.

  1. Place saw into saw vice or use wooden vice cheeks
  2. Adjust the height of the saw so the teeth are supported just below the gullet of the tooth
  3. Level teeth (known as jointing) so there are no high teeth by using a double cut bastard file across the top of the teeth. A couple of passes should be enough.
  4. I like  to lightly spray paint the teeth so I can see which teeth I have cut with the file
  5. Using an appropriate taper file, make two passes across each tooth.
  6. Set the teeth if you feel it need it using a saw set.
  7. A burr is created during the sharpening process to remove it use a fine diamond or water stone along the sides. This will help you maintain a straight cut.
  8. Repeat No6 until  you are satisfied with the control of your saw
checking hand saw for jointing

Use a steel rule to evaluate if the teeth are in line. If the saw blade has not been jointed for some while you may need to flatten the tops of the teeth.

bastard file jointing saw sharpening

Use a bastard file across the top of the teeth to file the teeth until they are inline. Here I use the file without a handle or jointing jig. You can buy a tool that assists with the jointing process. There is no need to file the teeth away but just flatten the tops.

dovetail saw sharpening

When you file each tooth sharp use a controlled motion. I tend to lock my muscles so I stroke each tooth equally but being careful to add pressure to adjust the cut to shape the teeth. 

diamond flattening saw sharpening

Sharpening crosscut saw Step by Step

These saws require additional attention. Unlike rip saws these crosscut saws have a fleam angle. These saws are also have an alternating file cut. Check down below for the correct angle before yous start.

These are the easiest saw to sharpen as the teeth are sharpened at the same angle.

  1. Place saw into saw vice or use wooden vice cheeks
  2. Adjust the height of the saw so the teeth are supported just below the gullet of the tooth
  3. Level teeth (known as jointing) so there are no high teeth by using a double cut bastard file across the top of the teeth. A couple of passes should be enough.
  4. I like  to lightly spray paint the teeth so I can see which teeth I have cut with the file
  5. Using an appropriate taper file, make two passes across each tooth 
  6. using your saw file introduce a fleam angle or alternating teeth. Mark first tooth to help synchronizing each tooth to sharpen.
  7. Turn the saw around in the vice and file the unsharpened teeth. Mark First tooth so not to forget where you are and prevent inadvertently shaping the wrong tooth.
  8. Set the teeth if you feel it need it using a saw set.
  9. A burr is created during the sharpening process to remove it use a fine diamond or water stone along the sides. This will help you maintain a straight cut.
  10. Repeat No6 until  you are satisfied with the control of your saw

Now for the boring technical Geometry

What is the Fleam angle?

Fleam is the angle across the teeth. If you pass the file at 90° then you should be sharpening a Rip saw. This would be considered as a 0° Fleam angle. On crosscut saws the fleam angle is turned left or right by introducing an angle with the file. 

FLEAM TIP

On each of my saw sharpening vice cleats I use a protractor and draw the Fleam angle for that saw on the top. While sharpening your saw just follow the lines so you can maintain fleam accuracy.

Which Fleam Angle ? Cross Cut Saw Rip Saw Back Saw
Softwoods20° - 25°0° - 6°20° - 30°
Hardwoods15° - 20°0° - 6°15° - 30°

Slope

The horizontal angle across the saw creating a sloping attack to the cutting stroke. Most saws require zero slope but you will discover your personal preference. If you change the slope of a tooth you will automatically change the shape of the gullet.

Rake

The rake is the angle of attack of each tooth. 

  • Shape rip saw teeth up to 8°
  • Shape crosscut saw teeth between 8-15°
Which Rake Angle ? Cross Cut Saw Rip Saw Back Saw
Softwoods8° - 15°0° - 6°12° - 16°
Hardwoods8° - 15°6° - 10°12° - 20°

By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989 

head wood malcolm kett memorial

Malcolm the Boat ‘RIP’

 Woodworking for me is in my blood as a son of a traditional boatbuilder. My Father Malcolm Kett was highly skilled and inventive individual often referred to as ‘Malcolm The Boat’. 

selfie with mortar board

Marcus Kett and my Mortar!

Although I have spent a considerable portion of my life seeking further education and gaining qualifications in woodworking, electrical installations, bricklaying and to top it a degree in photography.

Yes, it is a medley of possible career choices but the one that I felt truly at home with was Woodworking. Woodworking has been my staple career choice that has given my family stability.

Why do I write these guides?

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Well that’s Me

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Wally is the middle one

We started to write these guides to help our customers. The idea was to provide the information needed to install our made to measure wooden products that we sell on this website and directly to our local customers.

We soon received feedback from people abroad and interested readers not local to us. I like to help people and I am excited that fellow woodworkers or keen DIYers found guidance in my articles. I intend to carry on writing and producing youtube videos for the purpose of providing useful content. Please share our blog with your friends and anyone that could find interest in the magic of working with wood. 

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About Wallybois

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Wally is the middle one

We have lived and worked here in the Limousin Nouvelle Aquitaine since 2010, building window shutters and external doors. Our Volet manufacturing business is based at our home property as a ‘Cottage Industry’. We are a small business operating partly (60%) off the grid and try our best to practice our woodworking ethically.

How did we come up with the trading name ‘Wallybois’ ? Well it is simple really, my best buddy ‘Wally’ and the fact that ‘Bois’ is French for wood and we live in France.

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By Marcus Kett, Woodworking since 1989

Based in the Nouvelle Aquitaine of France

Tel: +33 7 81 45 32 82

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