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

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.

Filing Combination Teeth. Combination saws are dual-purpose saws that can be used for both rip cuts and crosscuts, although they rip more slowly than a rip saw and cut more roughly than a crosscut saw. Combination teeth slope forward and backward at the same angle (about 60 degrees), and both edges are beveled. Sharpen both edges using a triangular mill file (see illustration in the Image Gallery), tilting the handle of the file down slightly.

Sharpening Crosscut Teeth. The teeth of a crosscut saw are closely spaced — eight to 12 TPI is typical  — and they have very little set. Crosscut teeth feature sloped leading edges with bevels, which enable them to cut cleanly across the grain. As with ripsaws, the teeth should be sharpened with a triangular mill file. Hold the file at the same angle as the bevel, which is typically 65 degrees (see illustration).

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.

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