Get a Consistent Set on Your Saw With Paper - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Get a Consistent Set on Your Saw With Paper

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Feature Articles, Sawing Techniques, Saws, Woodworking Blogs

Whenever I teach a sawing class, I typically reduce the set of students’ saws using a metal file. And when I do this, I’m also amazed at how many times I’m also filing an errant tooth that is sticking out beyond its brethren.

But I can say with all honesty that I have never had to do this with a saw from Wenzloff & Sons.

Why? Well I think we need to thank Mike Wenzloff’s grandfather, Wilbur White, who taught Mike how to sharpen. He showed Mike how to achieve a consistent set on a saw using a metal-jawed vise and paper. Yes, paper.

Mike agreed to show us the process while demonstrating at the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, Wash.

The first step is that after you sharpen the saw, set it. In fact, you should overset it. Wenzloff uses the Somax saw set, which he has modified, and doesn’t worry too much about being super consistent.

Then he takes some paper that is .002″ thick – he typically use pages from the Enco or McMaster-Carr catalogs – and folds the paper over the teeth and sawplate.

Then he squeezes the paper-wrapped sawplate in a vise with heavy metal jaws. After it has been squeezed all along the length of the sawplate, the tool is ready to use.

The trick works because the paper doesn’t compress. So when you squeeze the paper-wrapped sawplate, all the teeth are bent so they stand .002″ off the sawplate. It’s a fantastic trick that Mike shares freely with everyone.

Thanks Mike.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. It has been a few years since I got to inspect a new Wenzloff & Sons saw. They are remarkable. I still lust for a full set of his Kenyon saws. Must… resist. Also, if you like saws, check out our DVDs on how to sharpen a saw with Ron Herman and how to make a traditional sawbench – a must-have accessory for a handsaw.

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Showing 18 comments
  • Ray in Stoney Creek

    I am interested in this tip, but would like to apply it to a 26″ 5 ppi rip saw. I know this saw has way too much set, it rattles in the cut and leaves a kerf way wider than the sawplate.

    Would the same paper apply to something this coarse, or should I use something thicker than regular paper?

    I am not an experienced sharpener, but would like to reduce the set on this saw to make it more usable.


    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz


      I think that if your saw is taper-ground and you work in dry hardwoods then you will be OK with a .002″ set.

      If you are concerned, try it first with two sheets of paper.

  • Pilgrimm

    Dear Christopher,

    This is a great tip! But I just have to put my 2 cents in…

    After you have gone to Lie-Nielsen for their triple-pulped, oil-impregnated, steel roller-finished “Saw Set Paper”, you might want to tell people that this method will not work with the run-of-the-mill steel vises most guys have in their shops! Those vises, even those made by Wilton (One of the Best) have jaws which have small teeth ground into the jaw faces to enable the vise to more-or-less “grip” that material between the jaws. The vise in the photo is a machinists milling vise, and it appears to be a 6″ model. The best of these vises is made by a company called Kurt, and the 6-inch models retail between $600 and $800 dollars!

    Sorry, but I don’t have such a vise, and that makes this a very difficult method to pursue.

    • Christopher Schwarz
      Christopher Schwarz

      Mike Wenzloff responds:

      As regards jaws in mechanics vises. Yes, a set of jaws in a mechanics vise will have a texture for gripping. However, smooth jaws can easily be made with mild steel. If that is too much work, smooth jaw liners are often available. And if that is too much work or too much of an expense (they are cheap), then cut up a couple hand saws in poor shape and line the jaws with a couple layers on each side. Some mechanics vises also have reversible jaws with one side smooth, so take a look at the vise before doing anything.

      Some drill press vises can be put to the same service. And again, cutting up a couple old hand saws for use as liners works fine as long as they are cut from back under and around the handle area–the plate is taper ground on better saws. In fact, if one looks carefully in the video, you can see some thin liners sticking above the jaws. That is simply 0.042″ saw steel so the cap screw recesses are covered over.

      A 6″ Kurt vise like I use isn’t necessary–but they are nice. The main attribute of the vise is that the jaws need to close parallel. Gotta remember, my grandfather used a mechanics vise. It can be done, eh?

      Take care, Mike

  • renaissanceww

    FYI, Mike explained this technique at WIA in 2009 and I have been using it ever since with fantastic results. Yet another reason to attend WIA..

    This message approved by the WIA embedded social media reporter

    Social media reporter away!

  • indymac24

    Thanks for the reply Richard but you contradicted yourself in your answer. Either the paper compresses or it doesn’t. If not then what is it’s purpose? Wouldn’t using the bare sawplate in the vise give the same result if the paper does not compress. I’m not understanding how the paper affects the dynamics of the process!


    • watermantra

      I think the crux of the trick is that the points of the saw break through the paper. If you watch the video, Mike describes every other point breaking through the paper, thus allowing those points to be bent to the combined thickness of the saw plate and two thicknesses of paper.

      I’m not sure about the paper compressing or not. Surely the paper compresses a little bit, if only microscopically. The same goes for the steel of the sawplate, and even for the jaws of the vise to a small degree. None of those materials are that dense (except at the Big Bang!) When that pressure is concentrated on a tiny point, I would bet that it actually does compress…even to the point of poking through, which would make the trick work basically the way Mike described.

      What does seems to be true is that this works…for at least three generations of sawmakers; Mike, his father, and now his sons who make saws along with him. I’m also sure that Chris wouldn’t put something in his blog that doesn’t work.

      So whether or not the physics are described properly, I’m excited about trying this trick out. I have a saw that needs sharpening this morning!

    • zackdog

      Don’t confuse “does not compress” with “does not puncture”. As Mike explains in the video, the paper is punctured by the teeth that are pushed into it by the non-compressible paper. Without the puncturable paper (i.e. teeth between two non-puncturable and non-compressable metal vise jaws), you’d get zero set.
      Remember, the point is a consistent set, not zero set.

    • indymac24

      I’m not questioning the results just trying to get my mind around the physics of the process. On the way into work this morning I pretty much worked it out. There is insufficient pressure exerted by the vice to compress the paper on the broad area of the sawplate. However where the paper meets the points there is compression or displacement of the paper fibers allowing the points to “puncture the surface”. At that point the set is reduced to the thickness of the paper “spacer” holding the sawplate away from the vice jaw.

      • TCBound

        If you were to look directly along the saw plate from the end, you would see the teeth “set” to either side from center by however much. In order to reduce that “set” to a uniform measurement you need to press the teeth back toward the saw plate. The paper, at 3-4 thousandths keeps the vise from pressing the teeth too far, as the paper thickness on each side of the saw plate will not compress further and the end result is teeth “set” to the thickness of the paper. Yes, the teeth points cut or pierce the paper. But the paper only allows the vise to press the teeth back to the thickness of the paper. If you used paper of .005, you would get .005 set!
        I played with the same idea using masking tape, but it was a pain to apply uniformly. The paper wrap is MUCH easier!

  • watermantra

    This post leads me to a question I’ve wondered about since I started sharpening my own saws. Maybe someone has an answer. When filing the teeth of a saw, I’m sure everyone has experienced the burr that happens on the bench side of the saw teeth. In the video with Ron Herman, he demonstrates this when he makes a test cut after the first filing, and the teeth with the burrs have little bitty shavings left on them. He then goes on to sharpen with a finer file, and then set, then reduce the set with a file.

    So my question is this…does stoning somehow remove that burr and make the saw teeth a little sharper? This is how sharpening a chisel or plane blade works…the burr is removed by stoning the back and a cutting edge with two planes of the bevel meeting at a near zero radius is revealed.

    Maybe it’s too miniscule of a difference to be worth the effort or even be noticeable. But I do like to stone after I set because it seems to make a difference, or perhaps because it just kinda makes me feel better. Is it placebo?

  • indymac24

    Excuse the saw geometry novice level question but why doesn’t this result in zero set? I am assuming the teeth are the same thickness as the plate since they are a part of that plate. So if squeezed flat with the paper on each side the result should be zero set. Is it spring back that accounts for the residual set?


    • Richard Dawson


      As I see it, the keys to this technique are 1)the saw teeth were initially overset, 2) the saw teeth will pierce the paper as they are pushed back toward a zero set, and 3) the paper doesn’t compress appreciably, thus limiting the movement of the teeth toward zero.

      I think the paper will compress a little, since most sheet paper is something in the neighborhood of .003 to .004 inches. The only way to get a zero set would be for the paper to compress to zero thickness. This can’t happen.

      The idea is a very clever one, something not intuitively obvious, at least not to me. Yours was not a novice level question.


  • xMike

    OhHo! I LIKE the $12/sheet saw setting paper!
    (grin, short!)

  • damien

    Before the fun begins, this works with Wenzloff & Sons saws. With no-name maybe hard toothed saws it is sometimes better to test on the last teeth how the saw handles forceful setting.
    My experience (experience being the sum of the mistakes made) with setting is that is always good to start at the end of a saw.

  • Pedder

    Hi Christopher,

    that is a great tip, thanks. Everyone like me, who hasn’t got such a big vise, can use the tape trick: I glue a packaging tape on the saw blade just not the teeth and use a stone to dress the setting. I press the stone on the tape, so the set is just as much as a tape thicknes.

    Cheers Pedder

  • John Cashman

    Excellent tip! I’ve never heard of this technique anywhere before. The next time I sharpen a saw, I’m going to have to try this.

  • philjohnwilliams

    Very interesting. How long before Lie-Nielsen comes out with $12/sheet saw setting paper?

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