Having a sharp hand saw will make a big difference for woodworkers when building furniture. A sharp hand saw makes your cutting faster and cleaner. Yes, you could send your hand saw off to be sharpened, but chances are, most local saw sharpening services won’t really be familiar with sharpening hand saws for furniture makers. With a few tools and some practice, you can sharpen your own hand saws much better than by having someone else sharpen it.

Here are a couple of our videos & articles to help you learn to sharpen your hand saw and refurbish your hand saw:

How to Sharpen Hand Saws for Woodworking

In the above video I filmed hand saw maker Tom Calisto sharing a tutorial on how to sharpen new and antique hand saws for woodworking. Sharpening hand saw…

Video restoring refurbishing hand saws back saws on woodworking workbench

Understanding & Restoring Antique Handsaws

  By Joshua Farnsworth In my above video, expert hand saw maker Tom Calisto goes into detail on refurbishing an antique Simonds back

Make or Buy a Hand Saw Sharpening Vise

Wooden hand saw vise and Disston D-8 Rip hand saw in a woodworking workbench vise

A saw sharpening vise holds the saw plate of your hand saw while you sharpen your wood hand saws. A saw vise must hold the saw plate firmly, and clamp firmly to a workbench or other work surface, without much movement. If you are able, it is a great idea to build your own wooden saw vise. Here is a nice video by Shannon Rogers on building a traditional saw vice by hand:

Here’s another good free tutorial for building a saw vice: Lee Valley’s free saw vice tutorial

Buying a metal saw vise is another great option, especially if you want to just jump into saw sharpening, and aren’t as interested in building a saw sharpening vise. Metal saw sharpening vises aren’t as wide as vises that you can make out of wood, but they can be conveniently clamped to a lot of different surfaces, and they are nice to look at.

On one of my metal saw vises I attached blue painter’s tape and drew guides to assist with sawing at the appropriate fleam angle (above). The metal saw vices clamp firmly onto a horizontal board or bench.

Some woodworking students that have taken classes at my school have purchased the The Gramercy Tools 14″ Saw Vise, and like it, but at $170 I would personally just stick with finding antique saw sharpening vises. The main differences that you’ll see in antique cast iron saw sharpening vises are the way that they clamp the saw plate, the way they clamp to your workbench, and the size of saw plates that they will hold. The latter consideration makes the biggest difference in price, but that feature really just saves you from having to move your saw as often, which may not be a big deal to you.

Antique saw vises are plentiful on Ebay, and run from $15 to about $70. Before buying a metal saw vise, just make sure there aren’t any broken parts to the casting, or it could weaken the saw vise, which could lead to splitting down the road (I’ve experienced this). The most common antique saw vises that you will find are Disston saw vises and Wentworth saw vises. I have used both vises extensively and like them both. Here are some saw vises that are popular:

Buy Triangular Saw Files

Triangular hand saw files are used to shape western-style hand saw teeth. These triangles are 60 degrees on each angle, so the space between your saw teeth will always be 60 degrees. The size of saw file to purchase depends on the size of the teeth on your hand saw (or the size of the teeth that you’re going to create). Smaller hand saw teeth (more teeth per inch) would require a smaller triangular file, while larger saw teeth require a larger triangular file.  Pretty simple, huh? There are many charts to help you determine which size hand saw file is needed, but if you ever mix up your triangular saw files, just realize that you need each side of your triangular file to be twice the size of the saw tooth.

Triangular hand saw file filing rip hand saw teeth

This will help you conserve your files and money because it allows you to use up both halves of a file side. Even though all files have the same 60 degree shape, using files that are too big will miss shape your teeth, because they have rounded edges, rather than sharp edges as found on small files. Here is a chart of recommended triangular hand saw file sizes (you can, of course, be a little flexible):

Recommended Triangular File Sizes
PPI File Size
4 – 5 1/2 7-in. regular taper
6-7 7-in. slim taper
8 6-in. slim taper
9-10 6-in. extra slim taper
11 6-in. double extra slim taper
12-14 5-in. double extra slim taper
15-20 4-in. double extra slim taper

Not all triangular hand saw sharpening files are made to the same quality. Some of them wear out much faster than others.

Here are some file brands that I’ve used and some that have been recommended to me by other woodworkers and hand saw sharpeners:

Bahco saw files:

Grobet saw files (also branded as “Vallorbe” and “Glardon” in some areas):

Simonds saw files:

Nicholson saw files:

Nicholson’s quality isn’t what it used to be, but some people still like them…

Buy a Bastard Mill File & File Jointer

You’ll need a bastard mill file and a file jointer to hold it. A few passes with this setup will enable you to bring all the saw’s teeth down to the same height. I purchased this inexpensive bastard mill file and this Veritas Jointer/Edger. And here’s an antique pair that I use too, so you can keep your eyes open for them:

Buy Two Handsaw Sets

Adding “set” to handsaw blades, means using a tool to push the teeth one way or another to create a slightly wider “kerf” (saw track) and more even cutting. It also prevents your saw from “binding”, or getting stuck in the kerf. A “Saw Set” is a simple, inexpensive, and mandatory saw sharpening tool. Stanley made some popular hand saw sets, including the No. 42 and No. 42X pistol grip saw sets. Tom Calisto (the handsaw maker featured in “Building an 18th Century Panel Saw with Tom Calisto“) loves the antique No. 42X. However, I prefer saw sets that have better clearance. I really like the new Japanese Somax No. 250 saw sets (about $25 each):

  • Course saw set (for panel saws & back saws with larger teeth: 4-12 points per inch)
  • Fine saw set (for back saws with finer teeth: 13-27 points per inch)

They work amazing and are already in perfect condition. For a bit more money (unless you are lucky to find one in a flea market) you can look for a this popular vintage saw set: Stanley No. 42 saw set. There are some other vintage saw sets easily found here on Ebay.

But as you can see, my new saw sets don’t require refurbishing…that way I can spend my time refurbishing my saws rather than my saw sets:

Buy a Hand Saw Sharpening File Guide

Veritas hand saw file guide holder laying on a woodworking workbench

To accomplish uniform saw filing, it’s important to hold the triangular saw file at a consistent angle for each hand saw tooth. This can be accomplished as simply as attaching a small block of wood to your triangular saw file, or as sophisticated as using a store-bought hand saw file guide that fits on the end of your triangular saw sharpening files. I’ve used both methods over the years, and can admit that I really love using a commercial file guide. I own the Veritas / Lee Valley’s file guide.

Continue to the Mallets & Hammers Buying Guide (#7)…

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