Saw Sharpening 101
by Matt Cianci
We’ve all been there: You reach for your saw in the middle of a project, and before you start the cut, you drag your finger along the teeth and say to yourself, “Meh…they’re sharp enough.” But you soon find out they are anything but.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could sharpen your own saws and never have to settle for the misery of a dull saw again? With a small investment of time and money, you can.
So let’s jump right into the four critical steps to sharpening any handsaw: setting, jointing, filing and stoning.
A saw’s set – the right and left projection of the teeth from the saw plate – determines the width of the kerf and prevents the saw from binding in the cut.
Setting the teeth might not always be needed, so the first step is to evaluate.
To test your saw’s set, make a cut in a piece of wood whose species, thickness and moisture content is typical of your work. If the saw binds (gets stuck in the cut), it requires setting. If the blade is loose in the kerf, however, then it may be over-set, which can be corrected in the final step of stoning.
Most saw set tools adjust to allow setting different sizes of teeth and types of work. I recommend adjusting your tool to create the slightest amount of set for a backsaw, and only a touch more for a handsaw. Ignore the numbers on the tool; they are there only to confuse you.
If your saw requires setting, begin by clamping the saw in a vise with the toothline about 2″ above the jaws. Starting at the heel of the saw, identify the first tooth set away from you. Place the saw set so the center of the hammer (the steel mechanism that bends the tooth over the anvil) aligns with the point of the tooth. Make sure the casting rests solidly on the toothline and squeeze the tool firmly. You will see the tooth bend ever so slightly away from you. Skip the next tooth and move on to the next tooth set away from you. Set it as you did before, and repeat down the entire length of the saw. Now flip the saw around in the vise and set the teeth you skipped on the first pass.
Web site: Find out more about saw sharpening on Matt’s Cianci’s site.
To Buy: “Build a Custom Backsaw with Matt Cianci” and “Super-Tune Your Backsaw with Matt Cianci”
In our store: “Handsaw Essentials,” by Christopher Schwarz and Popular Woodworking editors and contributors.
From the December 2014 issue, #215