Getting started with hand tools #2: Sharpening a saw and some brace bits

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Blog entry by Tim posted 02-27-2013 02:29 AM 3268 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Setting up shop Part 2 of Getting started with hand tools series Part 3: Replacing MF 5A chuck springs »

The next step to getting my workbench built was sharpening my tenon saw. The primary resource I used was the saw sharpening video on Paul Sellers' Master Class website. A few technique videos are free if you sign up for an account, and that’s one of them. He shows a pretty simple method for sharpening a rip pattern and explains it will cross cut reasonably well too. I also read the material on the Bad Axe Saw Works site, but it was fairly complicated, and not meant for a beginner.

I don’t have a saw vice, so I put a couple pieces of scrap wood on each side of the blade and clamped it all together in the vice. It worked great to hold the saw and keep it from vibrating, but moving it as I went along the saw was a little annoying with three separate pieces to adjust. Cutting down the middle of a single piece and stopping before the end to make one piece to clamp in the vice would be easier in the long run. That’s in the video too, though I think a thicker piece of hardwood would offer more support.

I also haven’t bought saw files yet, so all I have is a set of HF diamond needle files. One of them is a triangular file that is about the right size to sharpen my 12 ppi tenon saw, just rather short and small to hold. Other than that it worked well enough. Saw files would probably work better, but I wanted the needle files for brace bit sharpening and this got me going for now. I’m planning on buying some Grobet saw files from Amazon when I decide how many sizes to buy. (Edit: The ones on Amazon are definitely not the Grobet Swiss files and aren’t worth it)

After watching the video, the actual filing wasn’t too hard. The teeth on this saw were fairly poorly sharpened before, with many different sized teeth and not lined up, so I wasn’t worried about messing it up. First I jointed it a bit to line up all the teeth. They were out of line enough that I should have jointed a little more even though some teeth were really getting filed down, but I took it easy considering it was my first time doing it. I intended to follow the video’s method of setting a very passive rake on the first inch a little more aggressive on the next inch and very aggressive, basically zero rake on the rest of the saw, but I ended up with a pretty aggressive rake all the way. I’ll have to fix that more carefully next time. I did manage to even out the teeth pretty well though by carefully putting more pressure to one side or the other depending on where the oversized tooth was that needed more filing, while making sure to still file perpendicular to the saw plate. Keeping two hands on the file helped.

The results were pretty nice. The saw now cuts well, but with the aggressive rake at the front, it is still a little hard to get started, even with nibbling and lifting most of the saw’s weight off the work. I also need to flatten the plate a bit, and finally found links in Don W's blog to these two. There’s also good saw material in the Saw restoration thread and in Brit's Saw Talk blog.

After that I tried sharpening a few of my brace bits since everyone was sleeping and sawing wasn’t going to happen. Pretty much every source on the internet agrees about how to sharpen those. They all also recommend an auger bit file with safe edges, but I didn’t have a problem using the needle file set. I was careful to maintain the angles and not to file the outside diameter of the bit since that can ruin it. Here the bits I had gotten were also filed fairly poorly so I wasn’t worried about messing these up either. I found cleaning up the cutting edges wasn’t too hard. Here's a video on it, the auger bit filing starts at about 7:40. He’s got a trick for making an auger bit file from sandpaper too.

Finally I tried cleaning up one of the screwdrivers that came in the tool chest since it was pretty badly rounded. I also haven’t been able to find any good sources on sharpening screwdrivers, but I knew I couldn’t hurt this one. I basically just tried to square up the tip and flatten the faces. After working on it a bit the result was pretty decent.

5 comments so far

View gawthrrw's profile


207 posts in 2778 days

#1 posted 03-13-2013 09:45 PM

Great article.. I wish I would have met you before I was getting ready to move and we could have learned sharpening together lol!

-- Rob, Dallas TX

View ejvc's profile


107 posts in 2291 days

#2 posted 06-17-2014 06:24 PM

Hey it’s great to hear that a beginner can do this kind of sharpening. I need to do some of these things so am pleased to hear about your results.

-- Building stuff with my daughter (6). Pretty new to woodworking, I mostly sew...

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2292 days

#3 posted 06-17-2014 06:33 PM

Glad it could help. There’s a new video on Paul Seller’s masterclass site on sharpening auger bits too and he uses a triangular saw file. That is a bit easier than the cheap diamond needle file and gets them quite a bit sharper.

I’m still not getting perfect results by any means, but I’ve been able to sharpen neglected saws and auger bits to cut way better than they did before.

View Don W's profile

Don W

19141 posts in 2898 days

#4 posted 06-17-2014 10:53 PM

Well done Tim.

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

View Tim's profile


3812 posts in 2292 days

#5 posted 06-17-2014 11:42 PM

Thanks Don, this was a while ago. I should probably blog on some updates when I get a chance. I’ve since gotten a vintage saw vice and some saw files and they work much better.

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