Saw Talk #12: You win some, you lose some

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Blog entry by Brit posted 06-17-2012 09:37 AM 7530 reads 3 times favorited 29 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 11: More Thoughts on Sharpening Backsaws Part 12 of Saw Talk series Part 13: Intrepid Sawster Triumphs over Adversity »

So I thought I’d have a go at sharpening the 14 inch Cowell & Chapman backsaw (which is really a W. Tyzack, Sons & Turner). I’m going to file it 10.5 TPI rip with 9 degrees of rake and 5 degrees of fleam. I was going to add 5 degrees of slope as well, but I figure at this point I should just concentrate on filing the fleam correctly without complicating things further. Remember this one?

This saw has an extra-heavy brass back and therefore there is a considerable amount of weight behind the cut. By adding 9 degrees of rake, the saw should be easier to start and result in a smoother sawing action. In other words, adding the rake angle should reduce the tendency for the teeth to ‘grab’ the wood. This is all new to me, so I’m interested to see if this is in fact the case.

Although this saw was originally filed 10.5 TPI, to shape the teeth I decided to joint the existing teeth off completely and use my method of applying a template to the side of the saw with double-sided tape, like I did for the S&J dovetail saw. This works well for filing new teeth.

With the template affixed to the saw, I mounted the saw in the vise and knocked up a jig to give me my 9 degree rake angle. It is easy to keep the top of the jig horizontal and this means that the side of the file cutting the front of each tooth must be angled at 9 degrees. As you can see, I stupidly wrote fleam instead of rake, but at least I knew what it meant even if I didn’t write it properly.

When shaping, the teeth are filed at 90 degrees to the saw plate. For this reason, you can shape all the teeth from one side. Fleam only comes into play once eveny spaced teeth have been established with equal gullet depth and a consistent rake angle.

So using a 6” double extra slim saw file (suitable for 10 – 11 TPI), I moved along the plate taking 5 or 6 strokes on each tooth. This went well and soon I had all the teeth shaped the way I wanted them.

At this point, I decided to ‘set’ the teeth. Some people prefer to do this after sharpening, but in this case I elected to apply the set now so that I could test the saw before filing in the fleam. This would give me a reference point so I could compare the effect of adding 5 degrees of fleam to the teeth.

I wanted to add about .003” of set per side, so I measured the thickness of the saw plate (.025”) and then adjusted my saw set until the added set gave me a measurement of .031”. The numbers on saw sets are just a rough guide and it is always advisable to test the set on the teeth at the heel of the plate (under the handle), since they don’t actually do any cutting. For each saw I sharpen, I’m noting down which file and saw set I used and how the saw set was set. This means that next time I come to sharpen each saw I’ll know what I’m doing.

Before setting the teeth, I dabbed a permanent marker on the tip of every other tooth. This made it easy to apply set to the marked teeth from one side of the plate and the unmarked teeth from the other side of the plate.

Now I could see how the saw cut without any fleam. First I made a cut as if I was sawing off a tenon cheek, then I made a series of vertical cuts to full depth. It took about 33 strokes to reach full depth (just under 4”), although in fairness the teeth are not all perfectly sharp at this point.

I selected Sapele as my test wood, because if a kerf looks good in Sapele, the chances are it will look even better in most other woods. Sapele is not the easiest wood to saw. It has an interlocking grain structure and often, internal stresses cause the wood to close around the saw as you’re sawing, causing the saw to bind. Anyhow, let’s take a look at the back of the cut. As you can see, there is a fair bit of shredding. Although this is easily removed with a swipe of a plane or sandpaper, in theory adding a little bit of fleam should reduce the amount of shredding and I wanted to see if this was true and whether there was any trade off.

Before sharpening, I lightly jointed the teeth (two passes)

The purpose of jointing before you sharpen is primarily to ensure the teeth are of equal height after shaping. However it also serves another purpose if you apply set before you sharpen the teeth. Setting causes the teeth to bend outwards and twist slightly. This means that the tips of the teeth are no longer perpendicular to the side of the saw plate. Instead they form a shallow inverted ‘V’ shape. Jointing after setting ensures the tips are 90 degrees to the side of the plate again. When ripping, you want the bottom of your kerf to be flat, otherwise when sawing a tenon cheek you will always be left with a little bit of ‘fur’ to clean up right in the corner where the cheek meets the shoulder.

The little flats that jointing produces are known as ‘shiners’ and you sharpen the teeth until you just remove each shiner. Then you know the teeth are sharp. A raking light can really help the ‘shiners’ stand out.

So now it was time to sharpen the teeth and I needed to think about getting a consistent fleam angle. Once more I turned to Sketchup and drew a template which was nothing more than a series of parallel 5 degree lines. Notice that the lines lean the other way on the far side of the teeth. Since I am left-handed, the saw handle is on the left. If you are right-handed, the lines on both templates would lean the other way and the handle would be on your right. I covered the paper with Sellotape so the iron filings wouldn’t stick to it and obscure the lines. By sighting down on the file, it is easy to keep it parallel with one of the lines and this ensures that your fleam angle remains consistent.

So I started filing all the odd numbered teeth from one side. Then after reversing my rake angle jig, I filed all the even numbered teeth from the other side. ”This is a doddle”, I thought. ”I don’t know what all the fuss is about.” Then I looked more closely at the teeth I’d filed. (You have my permission to laugh now chaps.) This is what is known as ‘Cows’ and ‘Calves’ or ‘Big teeth’, ‘Little teeth’ and it basically means you’ve messed up. :-(

At this point, I was pretty hacked off. After doing a great job on the shaping, I’d ruined all my hard work. But what had gone wrong? Time for some introspection and to wrestle with the devil inside.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

29 comments so far

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 3817 days

#1 posted 06-17-2012 10:26 AM

Great post Andy.
Looking forward to reading the next article.
(By the way I am also in the middle of sharpening a hand saw, it was originally a crosscut saw but I am sharpening it for ripping as zero fleam seemed easier to me for a first try)

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bĂȘte mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View lysdexic's profile


5349 posts in 3861 days

#2 posted 06-17-2012 11:34 AM

If I keep reading your posts I might accidentally learn something :^)

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - nobodhi_here

View Brit's profile


8436 posts in 4081 days

#3 posted 06-17-2012 11:39 AM

llwynog – There’s nothing like a good cliffhanger is there?

Scott – Me too. LOL.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Don W's profile

Don W

20176 posts in 3806 days

#4 posted 06-17-2012 12:50 PM

Andy, that’s quite the pictorial. I’m waiting with anticipation. I walk by my unsharpened saws and thing “I need to get back to them” ....... then I think, I wonder what Joe would charge me if I shipped all of them to him? I can sharpen, but the retooth gets me every time.

Thanks for the series. Like Scott, I figure you may be able to teach me something after all.

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

View terryR's profile


7656 posts in 3547 days

#5 posted 06-17-2012 12:57 PM

Andy, thanks for sharing this! That is such a lovely saw…I’m certain you will fix her nicely!

It’s good for us meager woodworkers to see masters like yourself make mistakes…then sit and think about what went wrong…then jump up with excitement as you think of solutions!!! very inspiring!!!

In your spare time…you should write a book…tool restores…home life…whatever…I bet everyone here would buy a copy! :-)

-- tr ...see one, do one, teach one...

View Don W's profile

Don W

20176 posts in 3806 days

#6 posted 06-17-2012 12:58 PM

I agree Terry, everyone here would buy a copy! :-)

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

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6875 posts in 5218 days

#7 posted 06-17-2012 12:59 PM

Great post!!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View jjw5858's profile


1135 posts in 3840 days

#8 posted 06-17-2012 01:01 PM

Haaaaa….....this is classic. We have certainly all had moments like this…..I have no worries Andy you will most definitely come up with the problem and show us how it all works. Great blog with a lot of solid information. I think a Brit Comic Strip is needed with each blog though from now on…..haaaa that’s great stuff…lol. All the best my friend look forward to more!

-- "Always continue to learn, laugh and share!" JJW

View Brit's profile


8436 posts in 4081 days

#9 posted 06-17-2012 01:08 PM

Don – Currently I’m the opposite. I can file new teeth first time every time. You should try the template method and just take your time.

Terry – That means I’d sell about 40 copies. I think that’s what they call a flop. :o)

Lee – Thanks.

Joe – Thanks. I don’t know about a regular Brit comic strip. It was hard enough to get my wife to take these photos. Even then, I had to go and have a shave first. She said “You do know these will be plastered all over the internet, don’t you?” “That’s the idea” I said. I mean really Joe, I’m 52 years old. Like a give a crap what people think. LOL.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 3837 days

#10 posted 06-17-2012 02:03 PM

Nice post Andy, a bit over my head, but I may be learning something too. I am sure you can fix it. Thanks for posting.

View Brad's profile


1147 posts in 3978 days

#11 posted 06-17-2012 08:53 PM

41 books Andy. Put me down for one.

Man I appreciate you writing About cows and calves. I’ve been battling this Jain as well. tried filing slope for the first time last week. what an epiphany.

nice pictorial too buddy. can’t wait for the next episode.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 4078 days

#12 posted 06-17-2012 11:13 PM

Very informative and comical Andy. Keep the lessons coming.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View Mauricio's profile


7168 posts in 4390 days

#13 posted 06-18-2012 01:46 PM

Ha ha ha, classic post Andy, cant wait to see the happy ending

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

View AnthonyReed's profile


10183 posts in 3678 days

#14 posted 06-18-2012 04:12 PM

Great post Andy. As always, thanks for bring us along.

-- ~Tony

View Brit's profile


8436 posts in 4081 days

#15 posted 06-18-2012 07:28 PM

Shane – Thanks for the vote of confidence. Let me know if you have any specific questions and I’ll do my best to address them.

Dave – Thanks. I’m learning bucket loads myself. :-)

Mauricio – I thought you’d like this one. I fixed it today. Hope to get an update posted later tonight.

Tony – Always a pleasure to share my journey into restoring hand tools and learning to use them.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

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