Chris Schwarz's Blog

Ron Herman: ‘Sharpen Your Handsaws’


The first time I saw Ron Herman sharpen a handsaw, I learned more about sharpening the tool in 20 minutes than I had learned in all the years I’d been a woodworker.

I had been sharpening my saws for years, but I was mostly trying to replicate the saw’s existing tooth geometry. I wasn’t confident enough to restore old saws, cut new teeth or fix the massive but typical problems you see in flea-market specials.

If you don’t know Ron, it’s time. He’s the owner of Antiquity Builders of Ohio, a Columbus-based contracting company that builds new homes and restores historic properties. While that is interesting enough, what is even more fascinating is that Ron uses hand tools for many of the operations on the job site.

Sometimes, the job requires a hand-tool approach – such as when he is working on a historic property. But even when he’s building a new house, Ron turns to hand tools for many operations.

As a result, Ron has become an expert saw sharpener. And he has taught hundreds of apprentices and Ohio woodworkers how to sharpen their own saws.

What is unique about his approach? A profound lack of bunk.

If you’ve tried to learn saw sharpening from reading alone, I pity you. There is lots of conflicting and wrong advice out there. A lot of sharpening directions are based on theory. Ron’s methods are based on sharpening thousands of saws and relying on their sharp edges to put food on his table.

Because of his lifetime of experience and the fact that he happens to be a great teacher, I knew he was the man to do a DVD on sharpening handsaws and backsaws.

So we coaxed him into it earlier this year and now the DVD has been released.

If you want to learn to sharpen saws, buy the DVD. It’s all you need to know to get started. Ron shows you how to do it with a minimum number of tools plus a simple block of wood that guides your angle and fleam (this block is absolute and pure genius).

He covers stuff that books don’t: How to sit in front of the tool. How to hold the files. Where exactly to put pressure. How filing should feel. How it should sound. What to do when you encounter all manner of misshapen teeth. How to test your work and adjust it.

Ron also decimates a lot of the old wives tales about saw sharpening – like that you have to turn the saw around to sharpen half of the teeth. That you need to set all the teeth. That you have to set your teeth and then sharpen them.

And he shows you how it all works in real time.

The DVD is less than 90 minutes. After watching it, you’ll be ready and eager to go out to your shop and sharpen a saw. I was.

The DVD “Sharpen Your Handsaws” is available at ShopWoodworking.com for $24.99. Click here to read more about the DVD and see a short trailer.

Highly, highly recommended.

— Christopher Schwarz

6 thoughts on “Ron Herman: ‘Sharpen Your Handsaws’

  1. archae

    Chris,
    This is NOT a woodworking question.

    All of your videos that I’ve watched have very lyrical and light solo guitar music that makes the videos so entertaining.

    Can you please give the credits for the background music?
    (I assure you I am not working for any copyright enforcement agency.)
    Thanks,
    archae = RK

  2. mitchellm

    I’ve really been debating about picking up this video. I wasn’t sure if it would answer all my questions or just cover the very basic bit. Thanks for the review it really helps clear up that this video should have everything I have been looking for. I wish I would have read this before the early sale price ran out.

  3. bobbollin

    Received my video today and I completely agree, Chris. I have just begun trying to sharpen handsaws and I learned more in 1/2 hour this afternoon than I have learned from three different books and hours of reading. Just the tips on body position (who’da thunk it?) were an immediate revelation – and it gets better and better.

    Very worthwhile.

  4. J. Pierce

    Kind of neat to see a behind the scenes as to how you guys film these things.

    I’ve already watched the video through the “Shop Class On Demand” online system, and I’ve got to say, it’s an excellent work. You learn so much more sometimes from watching (and hearing!) than reading and pictures. It reminds me of your sharpening video for planes and chisels Chris – sharpening can be as complex and mysterious as you want it to be; but it’s often better to spend less time worrying about complex geometry, and just sharpen and get back to work.

    I think more than anything, it’s great to give people the confidence to tackle this job – it seems intimidating at first, but it’s not hard (probably easier than planes and chisels, in the long run!) and there’s nothing to be scared of -with a minimum of information, you’re not apt to screw things up too much.

    It’s nice to see the condition of the sawplates on the saws Ron’s using – it makes me feel a bit better about giving up where I did on polishing mine.

    I love Ron’s sawbench too – I would have built one myself if it wasn’t that I needed more practice with the half-lap and notched joinery of your design. Perhaps it’ll be my third sawbench, so I cut really long boards!

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