Tool Tweaks #2: Learning to Sharpen Saws

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Blog entry by Dorje posted 01-28-2008 09:50 AM 24037 reads 14 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Better Scraper Tuning Part 2 of Tool Tweaks series Part 3: Saw Sharpening Pt.2 »

I’ve been wanting to add a few saws to the “toolbox.” And, rather than spend a bunch of dough, I thought that I’d try to refurbish some used backsaws. Though I will more than likely purchase a couple older Disston or other manufacturer tenon saws, in the 12” range, I though I’d try my hand at learning to sharpen on a couple 10” backsaws with turned handles that I already have.

The only functional western style backsaw I own (aside from a flush cut saw) is a Garlick and Sons 8” dovetail saw with a turned handle and 19 teeth per inch (TPI). It’s comfortable and cuts well. I discovered it has a little bit more set than it should (.010” overall set; should be .004-008” overall), so will adjust that after I gain skill with the following saws, though it just takes honing the sides of the teeth to lessen the set and it’s not over by much. I cut these with the G&S saw sharpened from the factory:

Here’s what its teeth look like up close:

There are just so many of them! I’ve been doing A LOT of reading about saws and saw sharpening lately and I believe the consensus of authors on the topic is that there is no need for a 20 TPI (or thereabouts). Most authors state that 10-15 is about right. One advocated filing away every other tooth on a saw in the 20-26 TPI range. By the way, the Lie Nielsen dovetail saw has 15 TPIā€¦sounds about right.

This Two Cherries saw is in dire shape. It was given to me by an acquaintance and it has never been able to cut. Literally. It roughs up wood pretty good though. I had it stored away waiting for the day that I would learn to sharpen my saws. That day has come.

Its got 13 TPI and the shape is just dead wrong for a RIP saw. See the G&S teeth above to get the idea for what a rip saw shape should be like. This shape is closer to a crosscut (CC) shape, but filed incorrectly (if filed at all). This saw had overall set of .022”. The teeth might as well have been sideways! My hunch is that this saw’s teeth were stamped at the factory and machine set (or all was done in one procedure?). I plan to correct the shape and file this as a RIP saw, that can be used for dovetails or as a small carcase/tenon saw. This saw, although tagged with the Two Cherries label, is the same saw that Chris Gochnour sharpened in his article and video at FWW. However, the saw he reviewed and sharpened was a Deer brand. Bottom line: just a $10-15 saw. Perfect for learning on. Here’s what the teeth look like up close:

This other saw, I’m calling a Stanley, as it came out of a little miter jig that I bought for a buck or so at a tool swap. It actually cuts second best to the G&S. It has 15 TPI and will probably stay that way. It is filed RIP at this point and has about .012” of overall set. I plan to file this as a CC saw and reduce its set.

Here’s what its teeth look like:

To start on the Two Cherries saw, I first took the set out by hammering it out gently on the anvil of a small vise:

It’s important to use a hammer with a convex face, and the Warrington pattern hammer fits the bill. A ball peen would have worked well too, but this one is always on the bench.

I made a saw jointer out of a scrap piece of fir and jointed the teeth to a small consistent flat on the top of every tooth with an 8” mill bastard:

If you look close you can see the jointed teeth toward the right side in the photo of the saw. You can only see the area that is reflective, but all teeth are equally flat:

Next up, I used a 5” double extra slim taper saw file to just barely start to shape the teeth. I’ve been stealing away time and have literally only had a minute here and a minute there to work on this, so bear with me!

The file (it’s a little guy):

The few (8-9) teeth that I started to roughly reshape, can be seen on the left hand side:

After these teeth are reshaped, I’ll set them, do another light jointing, and do the final sharpening from both sides.

Along with the saw jointer block I was able to muster up a Tage Frid style saw vise. It’s hinged at the bottom and the hard maple jaws are tapered so that it’s tight up high – where it counts. It seems to work well. This is really where all my spare minutes went. But, I had to have it before moving on!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

18 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 5324 days

#1 posted 01-28-2008 09:55 AM

Great blog Dorje!

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 5131 days

#2 posted 01-28-2008 12:26 PM

Very nice blog! I’m marking this one as a favorite so I can refer back :)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 5157 days

#3 posted 01-28-2008 03:04 PM

Nice blog Dorje. I would never have the courage or the ability to try and “improve” a saw by filing away teeth. This posting has been educational.


-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5298 days

#4 posted 01-28-2008 03:14 PM

Well done, Dorje! I need to do some of this. I have a good saw set but need some new files. I also need practice since the last saw I sharpened was a cross cut( as in saw down big trees) saw. Keep this coming as I need all the help I can get.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Mike Lingenfelter's profile

Mike Lingenfelter

503 posts in 5449 days

#5 posted 01-28-2008 03:39 PM

Nice blog Dorje, good information. Your close-up shots of the blades are really nice. You even when black and white like Woodworking Magazine.

View dalec's profile


612 posts in 5224 days

#6 posted 01-28-2008 04:54 PM

Great topic, explanation and photos.


View Mark's profile


316 posts in 5469 days

#7 posted 01-28-2008 05:20 PM

Very good information Dorje. I’ve just started restoring some of the handsaws, tenon saws and gent saws I have. Cleaning them up is one thing but sharpening is another. I would also suggest that one begin practicing sharpening on handsaws with as few teeth as possible and preferably saws that you won’t mind messing up a bit. After you feel comfortable with sharpening skills you have acquired then move on to the tenon and gent saws.

I must admit that the restoration and sharpening experience is quite gratifying.

-- Mark

View Pete Santos's profile

Pete Santos

172 posts in 5344 days

#8 posted 01-28-2008 06:26 PM

Awesome. Count me to be in the lazy side. I’ll send stuff out to be sharpened or just buy a new saw and recycle the old one.

-- Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position, or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service, and love.

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 5248 days

#9 posted 01-28-2008 10:57 PM


Interesting blog. Can’t wait to see how the sharpened saws perform. By the way, that set of dovetails that you did is quite impressive – maybe that should be your next blog!

-- Mark, Webster New York, Visit my website at

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 5332 days

#10 posted 01-29-2008 01:41 AM

Thanks all -

Mark M. – That set of dovetails was from a previous LJ project entry -

Mike – the color shots weren’t giving me the contrast I wanted so I shot a bunch of black and white. It is like Woodworking magazine…I like it.

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 5429 days

#11 posted 01-29-2008 03:15 PM

Fantastic job, Dorje. I’m glad you started this blog because I just decided I was going to try the same thing soon. It will be interesting to follow the process. I haven’t a clue about how to use a saw set properly. Thanks for the mention of Chris Gochnour article. I didn’t know he had one (I like his articles and videos). What other sources could you recommend reading? The only one I have is Leonard Lee’s book. It’s pretty tho he spends some time on saws but again no real details on the saw set.

As others have mentioned, this is really well written and your photography is top notch. Please continue.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View Mike Lingenfelter's profile

Mike Lingenfelter

503 posts in 5449 days

#12 posted 01-29-2008 10:08 PM

I just came across this saw sharpening information today. There is a lot of good information here. I’ve been to this web site before but didn’t the sharpening info at that time. I thought everyone would like the extra information.

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 5332 days

#13 posted 01-30-2008 01:18 AM

Beat me to it Mike! I was going to post this as “required” reading! I’ll try to assemble a list at some point on some other references. It’s interesting to read about the variations of strategies and filing angles people use. It helps develop a “range” of acceptable approaches to saw shaprening. Individual authors point out nuances that the others do not. The vintagesaw “primer” was one of the last things that I read and although it’s missing some key ingredients for sure, it does serve well as a (long) intro. I was gald that what it lacked, I was able to find out elswhere.

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Jeff's profile


1010 posts in 5429 days

#14 posted 01-30-2008 03:39 AM

Thanks for the link, Mike.

Dorje, I look forward to your source list.

-- Jeff, St. Paul, MN

View gizmodyne's profile


1785 posts in 5425 days

#15 posted 01-30-2008 03:41 AM

Great post. You are getting old school with the black and white. Can I send you some saws?

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

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