Saw Sharpening 101 with Matt Cianci @ Shady Lea School of Woodworking

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Forum topic by need2boat posted 12-14-2011 07:51 PM 2385 views 0 times favorited 0 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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12-14-2011 07:51 PM

Topic tags/keywords: saw saw filing jointing wood handsaw hand saw woodworking saw vise

I posted this to my Blog but figured others in the North East looking into winter classes might be interested. Matt the instructor said they would be adding dates in the next week or so for Feb thru the spring.


One of the skills I’ve been working on as time permits is saw sharpening. Like so many of use I buy used tools and enjoy bringing them back to life and using them. For the most part that’s not a big issue until I started getting interested in sharpening saws. I found I was getting the “idea” correct but still had some gaps in the process. Enter Matt Cianci who professionally sharpens saws and writes a saw blog.

This winter he’s found time and is offering a few saw related class (I think in hopes of cutting down on the requests for help). The one day course: Saw Sharpening 101 is held at Shady Lea School of Woodworking. The focus is on sharpening saws with teeth that in good condition and due to the time constraints of a single day the process of filing to shape teeth is glossed over. It’s something everyone in the class wanted to learn more about but agreed it’s better time spent going over the process of sharpening rip and cross and leave shaping for another time.

The class was noon-5 but most of us stayed to around 6ish. The class was limited to 6 people and Matt plus one follow up student. Students were asked to bring one Rip, Cross Cut saw. Vises, files, jointers, and sets were optional. If you had them great if not Matt brought some.

We started off with a quick talk about the tools. Matt provided a number of styles of vintage vises including 2 new ones from tools for working wood and his home made vise. After we went over pros and Cons we talked about files and selecting the right size as well as brands any styles Swiss or US. Something I was unaware of. Files we talk about the different brands of sets, pros cons. The Stanley 42x was giving top marks but for those of us well read this not a shocker. It was however interesting to know why it’s the best and look at some of the other offerings on the market. We did not look at any of the currently offered sets but vintage. With the basics covered we went over the steps involved to sharping, Matt provided a few handouts of useful information about sharping and terminology.

With the tools and terms behind us, Matt tightened a rips saw in his homemade vise and, went over the key point of over head light file angle, use of watching the flats, and keep your arm smooth. At this point he spoke to mill files, and jointers and how to make them. He then filed a few teeth, talking about what he looks for and in general what needs to happen to create a sharp tooth.

Matt’s homemade vise easily hold 26” blades.

I find I learn best by watching and for me just watching while he filed was really helpful. In particular to see his file arm and body placement in relationship to watching the flats on the teeth and how he adjusted each was really helpful. You can read it, and see it on a video but it’s really hard to see both the flat on the tooth and body position in a video. Once questions were answered each of us took a turn sharping a few teeth while he watched, offered advice, and words of encouragement.

Matt showing us the finer points of filing.

slow is steady, steady is fast

After finishing with Matt’s test saw we returned to our stations to give it a go on the saws we brought. I had a Nice D-8 that I bought some time ago it was filed rip 5tpi. While this was going on Matt walk the room helping out, answering question.

Although I’ve had experience sharping I found it really helpful to have someone like Matt to bounce questions off and provide feedback. As you know if you’ve filed saws in the past its hard to tell if your wrist is cocked or your not properly applying pressure. Having someone to watch and they in turn watch you really helps speed the learning process.

Once we all finished with out cross cuts we stoned the edge and took a few test cuts.

everyone working away on there rip saws. Matt is to the left explaining the burr removal process with a fine stone.

Next was the Cross Cut (CC) and as Matt put it “time to separate the men from the boys”. Again we started with a quick refresher of how a CC saw works and what the final goal is. As well as angles and jig use for the files. I think everyone went with the traditional 15 degrees of rake and 20 degrees of fleam.

One tip I picked up, and a real moment of clarity for me, was using the triangle flats left after jointing. Understanding it shows you the front and back of each tooth and acts as a guide to follow and remove the worries of skipping a tooth while filing. In general when filing in the past I wasn’t using the flats to judge my progress enough and not taking advantage of them as a marker of progress.

The rest of the class was spent working on our CC saws. Of course I made mistakes as the only south paw in the class Matt and I both realized I needed to make adjustments but regards I left understanding the process and that’s a great feeling.

Getting started on my cross cut saw. notice the south paw style with handle to the left!

Last night I finished up the cross cut saw I started on Saturday and after the forst cut in a piece of oak I was all smiles. The cut was 10X better then my last and most importantly I know where I made mistakes and how to correct them. I can’t say the same would be true for everyone but I would happily recommend the class to anyone looking to learn more regardless of how long they’ve been sharping. I also hope Matt considers a 2 day or adds a shaping class to the line up for those of us that have saws that need the reshape the teeth before getting to the sharpening.

a few pictures of my Diston D-8 8 PPI filed Cross Cut


-- Second Chance Saw Works Blog: Positive Rake

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