Hand Saw Sharpening

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by Chad M

A Sharp Hand Saw is a Happy Hand Saw

Hand saw sharpening is an essential task in maintaining your woodworking tools. Handsaws have been around since…well, since carpenters have been around. Since the invention of the most basic hand saw this tool has evolved into many different types: two man felling saws, rip saws, crosscut saws, dovetail saws, tenon saws, carcass saws, Japanese hand saw and the list goes on and on. There are differences and similarities between all of the different types of hand saws but one thing that they all have in common is that all hand saw types have to be sharp to work properly.

What You Will Need to for Hand Saw Sharpening

If you want to know how to sharpen a hand saw, you first have to have the right sharpening tools. You will need:

  • a saw vise
  • a saw jointer with a mill file
  • a saw set triangular file of the proper size
  • and a little bit of patience.

With these common carpentry tools you will never cut will a dull wood saw blade again.

The Hand Saw Vise

When you are saw blade sharpening you will create a good deal of vibration – this vibration doesn’t allow the file to properly bite into the metal of the saw blade. A saw vice reduces the vibration in the saw blade by holding the blade securely. Back in the days when a hand saw was a staple of every carpenter’s tools saw vises were a common item; they are not so abundant today. An easy solution to this is to make your own; two pieces of wood long enough for your saw blade and a bench top vise are all you need .

Sharpening Hand Saws - The  Saw Vise            Sharpening Hand Saws - The  Saw Vise Picture 2

The Saw Jointer

Through everyday use, damage, or improper sharpening the teeth of a saw become different heights, This difference in tooth height means that the taller teeth are the ones cutting while the shorter teeth get skipped over – this can make using the saw difficult. The saw jointer is used to return all of the teeth to the same height. The mill file mounts to the inside of the jointer, the jointer body helps to keep the mill file square to the saw blade. To use the saw jointer, simply place the jointer against the saw and run it along the blade once; when done all of the teeth should have a very small flat spot on the top. If not, run the saw jointer along the blade as many times as necessary to get the tops of every tooth flat – make sure to inspect after each pass to prevent over flattening the teeth.

Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Jointer Picture 1       Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Jointer Picture 2      Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Jointer Picture 3

Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Jointer Picture 4       Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Jointer Picture 5

The Saw Set

The teeth of a hand saw blade have what is called a set; this is the distance that the saw tooth is bent away from the saw blade. This set creates a saw kerf wide enough to prevent the body of the saw blade from binding. To set the teeth of your saw, start at the heel (by the handle) and bend every other tooth to the right, then come back and bend the teeth you skipped over to the left.

Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Set - Picture 1       Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Set - Picture 2       Hand Saw Sharpening - The Saw Set - Picture 3

The File

Different hand saws require different files for sharpening; the type of file you need is determined by the points per inch (or PPI) of your hand saw. Hand saw sharpening files come in four basic tapers:

  • Regular
  • Slim
  • Extra Slim
  • Double Extra Slim.

The length of the file is also important – a 4 inch Double Extra Slim Taper can be used to sharpen smaller teeth than a 6 inch Double Extra Slim Taper.

The package your sharpening file comes in should say what PPI that file is for. A quality file is important, bargain files are not durable or hard enough to produce a truly sharp hand saw blade that will keep its sharp edge for many cuts. Once you have your file chosen it is time to start sharpening the teeth. Again starting at the heel, push the file across the cutting edge of the teeth. For rip saws the file will travel perpendicular to the saw blade, the teeth of a crosscut saw will be filed at a 75 to 80 degree angle to the saw blade.

Hand Saw Sharpening - Saw Files - Picture 1          Hand Saw Sharpening - Saw Files - Picture 2       Hand Saw Sharpening - Saw Files - Picture 3

Hand Saw Sharpening - Saw Files - Picture 4       Hand Saw Sharpening - Saw Files - Picture 5


Sharpening hand saws takes a little patience and determination to get it right. The best hand saw is rendered almost completely useless by a dull blade. So take the time to learn how to sharpen your hand saw blades. If you make hand saw blade sharpening part of your regular woodworking hand tools maintenance, you will find that all your cutting tasks will go much faster, smoother and more accurately.

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4 comments on “Hand Saw Sharpening

  1. John S

    Chad thanks for this article! This was a really helpful overview of hand saw sharpening – I just wish I had somebody to show me in person once or twice so that I could really get a handle on it lol

  2. Phil

    Thanks for the hand saw sharpening post. As I read it, I realized it wasn’t as daunting a task as I had thought.
    My bench vise is already about two feet long, and the saw jointer looks the same as what I built to square my cabinet scrapers with – you just turn it upside-down. Setting the teeth looks like it takes some practice, though. And I’ve got a vast arsenal of files to work with and now I have an application for some I’ve never used!

  3. James

    This is one of those things that I have always wondered how I could do it on my own without having to send my saws off to someone to have it done. I think for about the cost of one sharpening, I could buy the files I need to do this all on my own. Thanks!

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