Saw Sharpening Equipment Changes

It’s been saw season around here lately. A few months ago, Lee Valley introduced their saw filing holder (or as I like to call it, “a doo-hickey that you put on the end of the file”). I bought one almost as soon as it came out. Unfortunately, an injury to my finger (not induced by woodworking) and other matters have kept me from doing much in the shop this year. However, I did get a chance recently and because I had a number of saws that needed help, I thought I’d start there.

Strangely, the last thing I did in the shop in the previous year was also to sharpen a pair of saws that ended up in Ethan’s workshop in Taiwan. I did those with the old “block of wood on the end of the file” method. For those, I also made myself a quick-and-dirty saw jointer:


This is another one of those things I should have done a long time ago. It took maybe 20 minutes.

Now, the only real reason that I bought the Veritas holder was being fed up with the million little saw file blocks that accumulate over time:


Not only do those blocks take up a lot of space when I’m not using them, but it’s hard to keep the angles consistent on both sides, and trying to keep track of them all is irritating.

The first saw I worked on was a small crosscut saw for a friend. I said that I would do this saw last year and thought I’d better get it out of my queue first. This saw also featured another first: The first time I ever hammered out a kink in a saw. I’m amazed that it worked. Then I jointed and shaped the teeth. The shaping was the first time I used the handle, and because I just used it straight across to establish a halfway decent tooth geometry, there isn’t much to write about other than that it seemed reasonably comfortable.

Then I set the teeth. Here’s another departure from the norm. I’ve been using a Millers Falls saw set for a long time, and although it works fine, it’s a little uncomfortable to use for a long period. I thought about a replacement such as the famed Stanley 42X, but that has the same kind of grip as the MF. For whatever reason, I decided that I’d try to figure out a Disston Triumph saw set (Stephen Shepherd has written about them here):


It turns out that these things are not bad at all. It’s got the height and depth adjustments that you want on a set, and has a little “gripper” to grab the saw plate just before the plunger presses the tooth into the anvil. One size doesn’t seem to fit all, though; the plunger on the one I have is much too wide for fine-tooth saws (there are smaller versions, and I think you could file down the plunger, too).

With the set done, I could apply a final light jointing, and sharpen the teeth:


The Veritas handle was still reasonably comfortable, but now that I was filing to create fleam and sloped gullets, I noticed that the rake angle setting on the handle was really no longer realistic (the protractor that sets the fleam angle guide was slightly better, but read on). So instead of trying to figure out the correct angle, I just placed the file in the gullet with the fleam and slope that I wanted, and rotated the rake angle setting until the protractor guide was parallel to the saw. However, I did take note of the rake angle setting that resulted on the file holder, because I reversed it when I filed the second half of the teeth from the other side.

The resulting saw worked as well as any I’ve filed before:


Of course, it only worked well once I glued the beautiful apple handle back together after I’d cracked it trying to take the picture above (sigh).

The next saw to work on was a new rip saw that I had on my list for a while. A while back, I had found yet another Disston No. 7 with quite a lot of blade left (but not in the greatest of shape rust-wise). After removing the rust and waxing the blade, I set about making the large teeth by removing every other tooth, converting a 7TPI saw into a 3.5TPI saw. I was a little worried about setting this saw, because I might be trying to bend every other back against its original set, and that could break a tooth. But it turned out that once I’d filed out all of the new teeth, there wasn’t much set remaining anyway, so it worked out fine:


It was during the filing of this saw that I determined that the Veritas handle was helping me file a little faster. This had nothing to do with the angle adjustments. It was because I could pull the file with my left hand as I was pushing with my right. This was possible because the file holder grips the file tightly (as opposed to the block of wood, which does not). It made a difference on this saw because there really was quite a lot to file away to create the new teeth.

But I also determined that you really do have to take the measurements on the saw file holder with a grain of salt and make adjustments as necessary. The large teeth on this saw require a large file, and this is what it looks like when the file holder is on the end:


Because there’s an increased taper at the end of the file, the file holder grips slightly askew from the file’s line. So if you want to keep this file perpendicular to the saw plate by using the protractor, you have to adjust the protractor off the zero mark. There is less of an effect on smaller files, but it’s still there.

In the end, I don’t think this matters much. It would be a tricky (but not impossible) engineering problem to fix it, but the worst part would be an additional adjustment on the handle that would be far more confusing than the ones already there.

The third saw that I filed was my Winchester crosscut saw. I did not need to shape the teeth because I wasn’t starting from scratch. I lightly jointed the saw, set the file holder angles by eye for the first half of the saw, then reversed the angles for the other half. It went quickly.

I also used the filing handle on a fourth saw, a brand new one. That one isn’t finished yet; I’ll post when it is.

A summary regarding the Veritas file handle is as follows: I don’t think that the accuracy of the rake and fleam angle measurements are important. Consistency is more important, and it works fine for that, but not any better than a paper fleam guide and blocks of wood (and remember that practice trumps all). It also won’t help you with the most important part of saw filing: keeping the tooth height uniform (just use a jointer; if you want to throw even more money at them, Lee Valley can sell you one).

For me, it does what I want it to do. There are no more blocks of wood cluttering my saw sharpening supplies, and it’s fairly comfortable to grip. The extra force that I can apply to the file stroke when shaping new teeth is a welcome bonus.

4 thoughts on “Saw Sharpening Equipment Changes

  1. I had been using those little blocks for a while – but I recently switched to wine bottle corks – I shove the end of the file in to the end of the cork and then make two marks using a sharpie to show the proper orientation for rake and fleam. I think it works pretty well. It it very comfortable to hold – and better yet – cheap.

    • Hi Andrew, I’ve heard someone else extoll the virtues of corks. So there must be something to them. Still seems to me that you’d need more than one, though.

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