How to Sharpen a Woodworking Handsaw | Paul Sellers

How to Sharpen a Woodworking Handsaw | Paul Sellers

December 10, 2019 100 By Luis Garrison


I think for some time now you know it’s
probably several years I’ve been telling people how to sharpen their saws and
there’s a lot of confusion around the saws themselves as to which size saw
do I need and do I sharpen it for a rip cut or a crosscut so what I want to do
is explain to you the simplicity of saws and saw sharpening and just go
through a couple of the saws to try to explain what the differences are and
then I’ve got three hand saws here and I’ve got four smaller saws, these are
called tenon saws in the UK and back saws in the US they were called backsaws
also in the UK at one time this is a large toothed ripsaw and this
has some pretty hefty teeth on it this is five-and-a-half teeth to the inch and then we go down in size this is a ten point crosscut saw that means the
teeth have been sharpened specifically for a crosscut and then this one is also
an 11-point saw and this one is a panel saw this rips and cuts in the same saw
and that I want to explain how why we got to this confusion of saws this is
a larger tenon saw, it is 14 inches long 11 points per inch so this is the same
size tooth is this one and this one has a rigid back that keeps the saw rigid as
it goes into the cut here’s another 11 points or slightly shorter couple of inches shorter the same size teeth and then I’ve got a
a smaller sort even yet this is a 10 inch and then this is an eight inch these
have the same size teeth these are 16 points per inch but it is amazing really, all of
these saws except this one are all sharpened for a rip cut pattern but they
will also crosscut except the large tooth saw, this one will
not cross cut very easily so let me give you a quick demonstration on what and how
these look when you saw with them so you can assess things for yourself this is the large, this is absolutely a
rip cut pattern, it got massive teeth and then when I start sawing with this
one I find the teeth get hung up because it’s
really meant for rip cutting along the grain of the wood and we’ll be going
through all of that with you at some point in the future here’s another one this is a rip cut
pattern but watch this one this crosscuts just fine, it
cross gets very well what about this one this is the crosscut pattern and this one
has fleam teeth and I’ll explain that to you shortly I can definitely see the difference here on the top here I can see a much cleaner cut with this
crosscut here this one is very close to it and this
one is very rugged and you can see the outbreak down here the big rip
cut just chewed up the out cut and the other ones are much finer so much so I
can just flick and you’ll see a cleaner cut on the outside there then I go to
this one which was the same size as the other this is your tenon saw, what you use a
tenon saw for cutting tenons but you can both cross cut and rip cut the tenon,
the shoulder of the tenon and the face of the tenon with this one saw which is why
we like that particular saw, this one has got the same size teeth slightly shorter
and there’s no difference between the two cuts, one thing’s different is the
thickness of the steel on that one is slightly thinner than this one so I get
a finer kerf. Then we go down to this one again a rip cut pattern, this one cuts
beautifully this is probably what I would use for my
dovetails for small tenons and so on so there’s a purpose in each and in
owning each one of these saws but to get you started we’re going to reduce this number of
saws, so there’s my small very super fine dovetail saw, this is a beading saw, we’d use it for that and this is a really good saw to own so let’s
take out the excesses here for a minute take out the saws and then we’ll start
talking about how we sharpen these saws so we’re going to put this crosscut saw
aside for a little while because we’ll do cross cuts in a separate edition we’ll keep this one and we’ll put away
the big rip saw, because what I’m trying to present is the saws that we’re using
throughout our videos and throughout our projects, we actually rely on one or two
saws so we’re going to rely on these two saws
sometimes we might reach for the bigger rip cut saw if we’re ripping through two inch oak then we’ll use that saw but in this case and for the projects that
we’ve been presenting these are the saws that we’ll be relying on
the most. Think it might help at this point just to show you the two different
patterns closer in and what I’ve got here this is something
I put together from wood and what this shows you is what we call a progressive
rip cut pattern that we use on most saws, this is what simplifies my method
of sharpening and presents it for new woodworkers and season woodworkers to
establish this pattern so when we actually start sharpening the saw if
this is the tip of the saw the handlers at this end here this is the heel this
is the toe, when we place the saw file into this gullet here you can see
that or I can see that the the top of the saw file it actually is almost level
it’s slightly sloping forward but when I move in the first one inch I keep that
pattern all the way through for the first one inch of the saw so if it’s a
14 point 15 point per inch saw I just count the number of teeth and
then as I take a stroke I go 1 2 3 4 5 and I count to 15 and I
know I’ve got my one inch after I’ve got my one inch I rotate my file slightly more forward
and I go another inch which is progressively changing the shape of the
tooth now when I get down to this point here I think you can see that the
face of the file in here is perpendicular and that’s what gives me
the aggressive rip I need that aggressive rip nearer to my hand and
it doesn’t matter which size saw I sharpened I always have my saws
sharpened with a perpendicular face all the way up to the handle of the saw from
here on so the top of the file is sloping quite
markedly but i don’t have to be concerned about that, my eye hand
coordination can arrange for this file to be perpendicular so as I move along I get this aggressive
cut so when I start my saw cut in the wood I’m starting with a somewhat passive
rake for the first one inch then it goes to a little bit more aggressive rate for
the next one inch and I could do that for three inches I can keep
adjusting but when I guess it’s two three or four inches especially on a
longer 22 inch panel saw I’ll have this perpendicular cut all the way through to
the end because as you sawing, when you start sawing you start at the beginning
here like this but as you move into the wood as you go
deeper into the wood, say over here you have your power here and it’s the same
with dovetail saws so you get all your power back here
close to the hand and that’s where you do the the most prep predominance of
your aggressive cutting, with the fleam tooth this is a very different pattern here this fleam tooth is is essential on
largest saws so if you have a six point, five point, four point saw and you’re planning on
cross-cutting a limb or a beam or a large section of wood, you would definitely need a crosscut saw we still apply this to some of the
smaller saws because if we’re cutting plywood if we’re cutting lots of cross
grain wood then we probably would change the pattern on our tooth from a rip cut to a fleam cut
which is why I have this other fleam cut saw over here and I might keep the
fleam cut saw permanently to a fleam cut pattern because it just helps me in
my panel cutting but generally we are going to stay with a rip cut pattern
and will show you now how to sharpen that pattern and and maintain your saws now that we’ve narrowed this down to a
couple of saws I want to show you how to sharpen the saw and I want to give
you some information that will help you better understand the complexities and
the simplicity of sharpening handsaws with a rip cut pattern rip cut is the simplest pattern crosscut
with the fleam tooth is not very complicated these two saws have the
same size teeth they’re both 11 points per inch so we’ll set one aside and
we’ll focus on this one this has this stiff back and this is probably the one
that you’ll have to sharpen the most of any of the saws that you have, it
doesn’t matter if you buy a high quality Wenzloff, Lie Nielsen, Veritas saw or
whether you buy a saw on e-Bay they all need to be resharpened and you
have to master this skill because it’s inconvenient to send them off, usually
takes me four minutes to sharpen the saw it takes me another four minutes to set
it so in 10 minutes I’ve got my saw sharpened and set and
ready to go and I only have to set the saw about every six to ten sharpening so it’s not something you have to do every time so this method I’m going to show you is
for a rip cut pattern saw that you can both rip cut and crosscut with and I
think it’s important that we make this as simple as possible I only use a couple of saw files you I
but I’ve got this package of saws from Veritas, they have a very nice
package and it will give you all the saw files you ever need but for the
moment we’ll just run through what you need for a saw file to get you going
with the first saw that you probably will sharpen
which will be your tenon saw this is got 11 points per inch 11 to 15 is a good size to be able to
hand sharpen, 16 points you can sharpen when you get up into the 20 25 30 points
per inch they really become impractical to resharpen so really think through
which size tooth you want, you don’t need a saw for dovetails or tenons with
more teeth and 15 or 16 points per inch this 11 points will do
just about everything you want so I use a clamp I’ve got a couple of
different types here this is one that I make and it’s where I just take a a saw
and run the the handsaw down the middle drill a hole here to stop it splitting and you just then simply slide
you saw in to here, if this is if you don’t have a clamp and you can clamp
this in the vise, the downside of it is I have to sit down to sharpen my saw for me I usually don’t sit down for
anything so either bend or I sit down but I’m going to use a different clamp
now I have different sized ones as well I have longer ones that I have for the
longer panel saw and you can put this on both ways if it doesn’t go all the way
to the end you can slide it this way this one is long enough probably but you
can also come in from the other end too and then I have a small one for my
dovetail saws like this one here so this will do my small saws as well you can
make different sized ones very inexpensive just a piece of one inch by
one inch pine will work, I’m going to use a clamp that I have and there are
all kinds of commercial clamps that you can buy that were manufactured years ago I like this one very much just level
yourself up slide this into the clamp and you want
the teeth to be fairly close to the edge just to minimize any kind of vibration,
make it level now the neat thing about sharpening this
rip cut pattern is it’s dead square across and it’s square to the
plate of the saw so in both directions this way to show you this way
square across the saw this way and it’s also square to the length of the saw
this way so you don’t have to do anything more than that now what about saw files how many sides are there to a saw file, most people think this is a three-sided file
but actually it has six sides the three wide faces and then right on the cutting
edge here where the two large planes come together, you must put
another face in there that’s the cuts the steel otherwise the edges would
break off and that would rest in the bottom of the gullet and it wouldn’t cut
so it’s actually a six-sided file we sometimes call it a 3 square file most often it’s called a saw file
but then you get confused with saw file and chainsaw file so it’s a handsaw
file and we start sharpening in many different ways but what I want to show
you right now is the simplest way for you to get started we were when I
progress through the saw sharpening may be in later videos I’ll show you how I
alter the size of the teeth the shape of the teeth and things like that but this
will get you any saw that you have for rip cutting this will get you going the first thing I do is I run a file a
flat file single cut flat file called a bastard file or a mill file pull this
across the tops of the teeth just with one stroke what that does is it gives me a shiny
spot on the top of all the teeth and also it shows me some teeth are a little
bit wider than others so I can see if the flat spot is wider on one tooth then
I might take more off each side of that flat spot to make the tooth the right
size and maintain a level of equality on each of the teeth but also it brings me
to exactly the same height so I file from both sides until that shiny spot
gets smaller and smaller and usually it’s all done with one or two strokes or
half a stroke extra so now we have to remember what we said in the beginning
when we start filing the first one inch which will be 11 points is going to be
with the top of the file dead straight dead level should I say, perfectly leveled so
the first 11 strokes remember that the length of stroke the
pressure that you put on each of the saw strokes is going to affect the
size of this tooth so you have to be conscious the whole time the most important thing is
going to be the size of the tooth and the size of the saw file what I did is I measured the height of
the tooth and this will just be visual for you more than anything the height of this tooth is 1.34 high
and the size of my file needs to be at least twice that height so I’m a 3.88 so
I’m just over double it wouldn’t matter if it was three times bigger but
I just want to have a file size that’s commensurate to the size of the tooth that goes for any saw that you have it
needs to be twice the height why does it need to be twice the height the reason it needs to be twice the
height is because when you’re filing these teeth every time you take a stroke
this bottom aspect of the file is wearing out so if you rotate
the file and the file is not twice the height you’re offering one worn surface and
one good cutting surface to the teeth and
that will give you an uneven cut so you want your files to wear down evenly from
both faces, just for clarity I’m going to show you normally I would hold my saw
file at the fore end of the file and at the back end with the handle in my hand
so I would file like this but for clarity for this video I’m going to put my fingers
back here so this will help you to see when I start my filing I start on the
front of the first tooth and I keep my saw file level now remember for the first 11 teeth
we’re going to go across with the saw file perfectly level what this gives me is an a passive rake
on the front of the tooth that enables me to start the saw clearly and and
without any effort and then I move over and I start to rotate my file after the
11th cut I’m going to rotate my file slightly here then after the next inch
which will be another 11 teeth I will be perpendicular here so this
gives me an aggressive front to the teeth that will actually cut so when I’m cutting across the grain I
lighten up on my cut when I’m cutting with the grain I can press aggressively
into the wood so first of all we’re going to go with
the first pass here we start here level on the top and push forward a couple of
strokes light strokes, same length strokes counting as we go 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 so what I’ve got now is I rotate my file
slightly here going to my next gullet same again 2-strokes from each one I look back on my teeth on the tops of
the teeth and if I have any flat spots I might go back to that flat spot take a
half cut here and a half cut here just to remove the flux but now I’m back into
my 11 so this is two inches from the end of the saw now on this one now I’m going
perpendicular with this face so this is perfectly up and down this gives me an
aggressive rate to the tooth for 1,2 1,2 and this isn’t critical, for you want to
try and maintain a regular path for that file and keep everything the same so I’m
dead square across and my saw file is level from front to back across all the
teeth this way knows I can feel this file cutting, a saw file
will actually usually cut 10 to 20 saws depending on the quality of
the file so in America I recommend you buy Grobet files and
in Britain you could buy Grobet or you could buy Bacho, Bahco are very good
files, I think they are about the best I’ve come across keep, that saw file
perpendicular keep the file stroke the same, same number of strokes you can hear the difference n hours, I’m
coming out of the jaws of the vise but there’s still sufficient support for the saw filing, the plate bending just a little bit, but the handle supporting
it you can see here this back tooth is
disappearing as they do on the fore end and the rear and here they will
disappear so you can just file this at an angle with a flat file or you can
file it up this way like this and that will remove that tooth because it’s is
not really operating now, so we finish
sharpening and these teeth boy they feel so sharp they’re tiny little pinpricks like
a cat’s claw almost they are so fine and I want to
introduce something to that I doubt whether you would have ever seen before
I started this you know I don’t care very much for micro bevels and secondary
bevels on most tools but on a saw I found this really helps with the
longevity of the tooth edge if I go on the back of each of these
teeth and rest the edge which has no abrasive on this edge against the four
part of the adjacent tooth you can see is a place this
on to the back of the first tooth that I’m just going to keep it out of level
just enough to strengthen that tooth, so as I place this on the tooth I just push forward
with two strokes and I go to the next one and I maintain that angle all the
way through this is putting a small flat on the back of the tooth and it’s
strengthening the fore edge of the tooth so this saw should stay sharp maybe two or three times longer just
with this little adjustment so we’ve got a micro bevel right on the
very back of the tooth there’s no abrasion on the edges of
this little file very worthwhile list this extra step never seen this before by
anybody I just realized one day some time back
that with a micro bevel on the back my saws in the school stayed sharper, now I
want you to be able to do this these little files don’t cost very much
and it will probably do your saws for several years if you miss a tooth it won’t hurt
anything Try and keep the angle like I said I enjoy
sharpening saws, I’ve sharpened them for the schools for years thousands of times,
missed that one, back to that one you can do this to any saw when you come
to sharpen you don’t have to get this flat out it will take it out with one
stroke probably because this is such a micro bevel or a micro-sized bevel, but any
saw you can do this on all your saws this perfect saw sharpening so that’s all the sharpening done and now I have to
introduce what we call saw setting and this can be done before or after
the final sharpening is done you just have to be careful when you offer this
to the saw that you don’t damage the teeth but if you’re gentle it won’t hurt them and on every saw
set there’s a barrel, there is a circular platform
in here we call the anvil and it has a number in there this one happens to have
a number 12 and it should be a 22 because this is a superfine saw set and
I can sharp really fine teeth, set really fine teeth with this and what we have is
a plunger is right in the middle of the barrel so when I move this forward or
squeeze the triggers here the two aspects of the plyer part, it punches it
forward and then the anvil itself hits from the other side and strikes the
tooth and bends it on the anvil so let me show you how we set the saw
just do one inch for you just to show you so I can squeeze this here now, squeeze this tooth and then I skip a
tooth and you can see how the plunger here that plunger moves forward the
barrel moves forward and then the hammer which is that narrow point in between
that we call that the hammer and the back part that you can see the number 12
on is actually called the anvil so I rest the saw set down onto
the teeth and squeeze every alternate tooth that’s leaning away from me, now if you
have a saw that doesn’t have any set on it because it’s been worn down you can go either direction then I come
back from the opposite side and put set on from the other side so there’s a last stage when you set the
teeth I don’t rely on the saw
set because usually is too much so usually I would go to a couple of
hammers and remove some of the set and how I do that is really very simple, have a couple of hammers like this clamp one in the vise and then I take the saw that I’ve
just set and I go along here like this and I tap those teeth gently, I go all
the way along the saw then I flip over and do the same again from this side and
I take off some of the set, now this is spring steel so it springs back because
it has memory in the steel and I find that I have a perfectly set saw that
will cut really well Let me show you here, piece of oak here so if I just cut a tenon or something
like that or I wanted to saw a longer tenon you, can see this saw is already
aggressive back here what you do is you start up here and
then you drop your hand this is where your power stroke is right here this is
your power from here to here is your power this is your easy start see how easily
this starts and you go down the cheek of your tenon
but when it comes to cross cuts you’ll start your cross cut here you can go
across this is the easy start see how easily this saw starts here is where
my aggression is so I go in with my easy start and then back here I lighten up on my cut and that gives
me a perfect combination saw with progressive rip teeth that really work for what I’m doing.