Woodworking Basics: Sharpening a Handsaw

Improve your carpentry and prolong the life of your handsaw with these step-by-step instructions for keeping your tool razor-sharp.

| January 24, 2011

Fundamentals of Sharpening Book Cover

Despite the proliferation of power tools in recent years, hand tools are still an important part of the modern woodworking shop. “Fundamentals of Sharpening” will show you how to keep saws, chisels, gouges, planes and other tools working at their best, increasing efficiency and creating better finished products.


The following is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Sharpening (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2010). The skill of any craftsperson is based largely on the ability to create and maintain a keen edge on cutting tools. Fundamentals of Sharpening offers solid, straightforward advice on sharpening the most commonly used hand tools, from handsaws, chisels and gouges to bench planes, scrapers, and bits for braces and hand drills. This excerpt is from Chapter 2, “Maintaining Hand Tools.” 

Sharpening a handsaw is a three-step operation. It begins with jointing, or filing the tips of the teeth so that they are all the same height. This is followed by setting the teeth to the correct angle. This ensures that the blade cuts straight and does not stick in the kerf. Setting involves bending the teeth alternately to each side of the blade’s centerline. The final step in the process is sharpening itself, typically with a file.

Not all handsaws are identical. The shape, spacing and set of the teeth vary according to the type of cutting the saw will perform. The spacing between teeth is usually expressed in TPI, or teeth per inch. The following describes how to sharpen ripsaws, combination saws, and Japanese and Western-style crosscut saws. Because of their very fine teeth, dovetail and tenon saws should be sent out to a professional for sharpening.

Anatomy of Saw Blades and Filing Angles

Filing Ripsaw Teeth. Ripsaws have widely spaced teeth with from five to seven teeth per inch (TPI). They also have a more pronounced set than other saws. Both features enable them to cut quickly along the grain. As shown in the Image Gallery, the leading edges of rip teeth are almost vertical. To sharpen the teeth, use a triangular mill file, drawing it straight across each tooth at a 90-degree angle to the blade axis.

1/27/2011 12:38:08 PM

Great article! Thanks for excerpting it. But the first few illustrations (of which file to use on which type of saw) were really hard to figure out at first. It took forever for me to realize they were showing two different views of the blade in one picture! The two views were so close together I thought they were somehow all part of the *same* picture, and all I could think was "that doesn't look like ANY saw blade I've ever seen." I finally figured out what was going on, but not until I'd stared at them so hard I gave myself a headache! :-) I just couldn't differentiate between positive and negative space in the illustrations - kind of like the "is it a goblet or is it two faces in profile" optical illusion. Suggestion to the publisher if this book is ever updated: Make a clearer distinction between the side view and head-on views of the teeth, either by separating the two views a bit further, labeling them somehow or making them separate illustrations.