Have Files, Will Sharpen

The bench planes and chisels are not the only tools that need regular sharpening…your handsaws will also benefit from a little TLC.

Below is a nice vintage saw sharpening vice I picked up years ago from a cabinetmaker in Newton who was retiring and moving south. It was in very good shape and had some very graceful lines in the casting, but the little vise screw was designed to only close up to about 1″ so I could never use it on my 3/4″ thick assembly table unless I wanted to shim it up with an extra block of wood. It now found its home on the edge of my sharpening station where it’s generally out of the way when I am sharpening on the stones.

Saw in Saw Vise
Saw in Saw Vise  (No, that Bachco saw for timber framing is not the most traditional saw for sharpening, but every now and then a quick touch up helps extend its life)

When looking for a saw sharpening vise, make sure you pick one where the inner jaw faces are smooth, the center of the jaws are open in the center when not under pressure — this way it evenly applies pressure when holding your saws — and has a solid clamping action both on the saw and onto the bench. If you cannot find one of these old vices, you can make your own jaws from wood and use it in your bench vise or check out the modern version of this vice from Gramercy Tools.

Space at center of the jaws
Space at center of the jaws

Now that you have a place to hold your saw, it’s time to start sharpening. I used to have a random assortment of files I bought from various machinist’s chests, flea markets and used tool dealers over the years and I got by with that.  The problem with that random assortment was if you wanted something just a little bigger or smaller or finer or at a different profile it was a lot of hunting around, I may not have what I was looking for and I do not believe all of them were necessarily meant for hand saw sharpening. Then a few weeks ago I saw Lee Valley started offering a Grobet Swiss files with a labeled tool roll and decided to give it a try. I’ve had other Grobet Swiss files in the past (for carving and similar applications) and been very happy with the quality.

Lee Valley Saw File Set + Tool Roll
Lee Valley Saw File Set + Tool Roll

So far it’s been a great little set and earned a place in my tool chest. I sprang for the ‘needle file’ which is used with very fine and progressive pitch saws and has a dedicated pocket in this tool roll. Online there are plenty of great articles on how to sharpen a saw so I won’t go into detail about how to do that here, but I will make a few high level suggestions. If you sharpen regularly and with a consistent motion you’ll likely have good results. If you have to joint and reset a saw, track down an old Stanley or similar saw set tool. I found an old one in the original box for < $10 and it looked almost new — these tools often do not see a ton of use, but when needed they work much better than the very old bending wrench style saw set.

Good luck and happy filing!

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