What's the best method for sharpening hand saws?

//What's the best method for sharpening hand saws?
What's the best method for sharpening hand saws?2015-06-09T20:04:16+00:00
  • Creator
  • #1829523

    Post count: 2

    I recently purchased my first antique Disston back saw and would love some advice on how to tune it up and sharpen it. Here are some photos:

    Antique Disston Backsaw medalion

    Here’s another photo of a restored handsaw that I like:

    Here’s a great video that I found:

  • Author
  • MetalworkerMike
    Post count: 4

    Sharpening hand saws

    You don’t mention whether you want the teeth filed for rip or cross-cut.

    Despite so many opinions to the contrary, there are a number of very august woodworking entities (like the late Tage Frid) who use(d) rip for everything.


  • Mike in TN
    Post count: 284

    Backsaw Tuneup


    The level of rework depends on the current condition of the saw, and what you want to do with it. I have been lucky that all of my past backsaw projects started with saws that were not significantly bent, dented, or warped so that the work to the saw plate and spine consisted of simple rust removal and sharpening. They were reworked for use and not to return them to factory condition. I remove the handle and if necessary I wipe it down with acetone to remove any grease and loose finish, paint, etc. as required. I normally would use a fine abrasive pad to ease any sharp edges from past dents and dings just to make them more comfortable in the hand. A light coat of BLO followed the next day with paste wax is usually sufficient. I don’t try to and remove all of the rust staining from the plate. I think is sufficient to use a fine wet-and-dry abrasive paper and WD-40 to remove the surface rust and get the plate and spine slick enough to slide through the cut. After sharpening I coat the saw with a light coat of baby oil and then later I will give it a light coat of paste wax. The saw nuts are gently wire brushed and waxed. A drop of oil is applied on the threads when the saw is put back together.

    I normally will sharpen the saw before I put the handle back on and I have come to the opinion that filing fine toothed backsaws with a rip style tooth is sufficient. I do ease the rake on the first inch or so to facilitate starting the cut. I believe that it has to do with the relative size of the tooth to the wood fibers. A sharp 12 TPI or finer saw used for joinery seems to work very well in both rip and crosscut applications and a crosscut tooth pattern seems inferior for rip cuts and produces no significant improvement in crosscut quality. It may also be true that the fact that I lightly stone the sides of the teeth after setting them may help with the crosscut action. Many joinery surfaces end up being hidden in the joint or end up getting reworked with other tools anyway. I prefer joinery straight from the saw when possible and have had no issues with joint failure due to saw surface texture. I lightly set the teeth and then lightly stone the sides of the teeth to even the set to about 0.003 or less per side. I really want the kerf to be only slightly wider than the plate and that helps to keep the saw running true. After making a few test rip cuts I will re-stone the teeth as necessary to keep the saw running true. Panel and carpenter saws have to be sharpened crosscut and rip because of the larger teeth and greater set used on those tools.

  • JSP
    Post count: 11

    Great advice already, so I’ll only add this-

    I just sharpened my rip saw this morning, and all I needed was a triangle needle file. Depending if you want cross or rip cut, or just follow what the saw already has, will be the only difference. I match the file to the angle of the tooth and lightly file it until it is uniformly brightened. It takes a bit of time on longer saws, but is fairly easy to do.

  • amatvey14
    Post count: 4

    I have two backsaws like that and ones is fairly sharp, but the other is dull. how would you sharpen them?

    • Mike in TN
      Post count: 284

      Backsaw Sharpening

      First, there are numerous videos on Youtube that can explain the process much better than mere words and I would recommend you check several of them out. I would also suggest that you pick up a cheap saw from the “dollar” store or a yard sale for practice instead of working on a good one until your confidence is built up. While you can re-sharpen out your mistakes you would just be wasting some good saw plate in the process. You would also be better off starting with rip teeth just because the tooth geometry is simpler and the saw should do a pretty good job for both rip and cross cuts after you get it sharpened up. I also have found it helpful to have a movable light source, like a desk lamp, that can be changed around as necessary to highlight the tooth points. A good set of magnifying glasses or a similar device helps with such fine work.

      Just watch the videos, buy the necessary tools, put on some good music and have some fun. There is a lot of joy to be had in using well tuned tools and the satisfaction of knowing how to tune them.



  • amatvey14
    Post count: 4

    Thank you.

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.

Log In

Wood and Shop in your inbox?

Subscribe to get Joshua's free traditional woodworking videos, articles & news:

You have Successfully Subscribed!