In Arts & Mysteries

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When we talk about stock preparation by hand, we always talk about planes. But I find saws are far more important to the process. Blow a cross cut, and you’re going to be spending more time than you wanted to with your block plane. And I don’t know about you, but I do not like planing end grain.

I was chit chatting on line with a very good professional furniture maker. He said something I had trouble agreeing with. “Well I’m a good craftsman but I don’t sharpen my saws” (that’s not exactly what he said, I’m just trying to make a point). I’m not willing to say the gentleman isn’t good, but neither am I willing to praise someone who can’t sharpen ALL his tools. You don’t send your chisels out to be sharpened, do you?

Throughout the years I’ve read accounts of people who “discovered” hand planes and had it change their lives. “I was a cabinetmaker for 30 years” they write, “then I” read this article or took this class “and I sharpened my plane iron and now I know what I was missing for all those years”. As I write this I know many of you are nodding in agreement. I know that happened to you too. It happened to me too.

News flash. This just in:
Go sharpen your hand saws! You’re going to have the exact same experience. If you’re not sharpening your saws yourself, chances are you don’t know what a sharp saw can do.

Sharpening a saw is not hard. Type “saw sharpening” into your favorite web browser tonight, buy a couple files, and get to it. Here’s my trick: count your strokes. If the teeth are fairly uniform in their dullness (i.e. a tiny white snow cap, roughly the same size, appears on each, not every other tooth) just use one or two strokes per tooth. Do only the teeth set near you, then turn the saw around and do the other side.

Having a sharp saw is an important first step in preparing your stock. If you’ve not done so, go back and read my article on saw teeth PW OCT 06. It won’t tell you how to sharpen, but it will tell you which saw to sharpen.

Sawing is a gateway skill. Once you learn to saw, all of the opportunities will be available to you; working with friends, working with kids, working at midnight (one of my favorites!), working outside, tricky 18th c joinery, the list goes on and on. But you can’t walk through that gate with a dull saw.

– Adam Cherubini

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Showing 4 comments
  • Jerry Palmer

    I went through the handsaw epiphany a few years back. Hadn’t used a well sharpened handsaw since I was a kid, and didn’t understand why my later attempts at using hand saws seemed to end in discontent. I avoided saws without tails for years, then stumbled across an old D8 Thumbhole. Research on the internet led me to several good sites on saws and sharpening and when I gave it a shot I was amazed at how well even my shoddily sharpened saw worked. Saw sharpening is truly not difficult to do, and you get better at it real fast. I take an old Disston #112 crosscut that I rehandled with me to the wood store and you ought to see the looks when folks see me in the parking lot breaking those 12 foot long boards down by hand to a size more amenable to being carried home in the back of my truck.

  • Adam

    I think the number of teeth cooresponds to stock thickness. I like to have 6 teeth in the kerf. So working with 4/4 stock mostly, I like a 4 tpi rip saw. I don’t do a lot of "rough" cross-cuts. I tend to plane first and x-cut later and often for the last time. So my x-cut saw is about 12tpi. For basic stock prep I only use a few saws- my 4 tpi rip saw, my 20" x-cut panel saw, and a fine rip saw for thin stock. For narrow stock and precision cuts I use a 14" x-cut backsaw, 12-14tpi.

    I don’t really do a lot of curved work in thick stock. I haven’t made any formal chairs yet. But the scroll work I’ve encountered I did with a 12" bow saw. I bought the blade from Highland Hardware, but I think my friend Joel has info and parts and saws at Tell him I said hello!


  • Roderick Drumgoole


    How many different saws do you use for your stock prep? I presume that you are using more than one type of rip and one type crosscut. How about cutting curves…do you use some sort of bow/frame saw?



  • Larry Gelder

    How may TPI do you recommend for rip and crosscut of rough lumber respectively? How about greenwood?

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