How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw

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How to Keep Your Hand Saw Sharp

Hand saws have been around as long carpenters have been around, and from that time we’ve all struggled with the never-ending challenge:  how to keep a hand saw sharp and manually sharpen a hand saw.  Since the invention of the most basic hand saw (who knows how many years ago) this tool has evolved into many different types: two man felling saws, rip saws, crosscut saws, dovetail saws, tenon saws, carcass saws and the list goes on and on. There are many differences and similarities between all of the different types of hand saw, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they have to be sharp to work properly.

Tools to Manually Sharpen Your Hand Saw

To sharpen your hand saw you will first need a few tools:

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

The Saw Vise – Prevent Vibration

When sharpening a hand saw you 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 handsaw was a staple of every carpenter’s toolbox, saw vises were a common item; however 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.

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Vice

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Vice

The Saw Jointer – Correct Tooth Height

Whether from everyday use, damage, or improper sharpening, the teeth of a saw start to have 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 make sure all the teeth are the same height. The mill file mounts to the inside of the jointer, and 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.  Just make sure to inspect after each pass to prevent over flattening the teeth.

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Jointer

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Jointer

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Jointer

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Jointer

The Saw Set – Prevent Binding

The teeth of a 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 hand 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.

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Set

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Set

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - Saw Set

The File – Sharpen the Hand Saw

Different saws require different files for sharpening; the type of file you need is determined by the points per inch (or PPI) of your your saw. Sharpening files come in four basic tapers: Regular, Slim, Extra Slim, and 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 sharpen a quality hand saw. Once you choose your file it’s 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.

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - The File

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - The File

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - The File

How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw - The File

What other methods have you used when sharpening your hard saw?  Share them in the comments below.

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Chad McDade is the owner of Housewright Construction. His company performs residential remodeling, new construction, and the occasional custom woodworking project...Read more

17 comments on “How to Manually Sharpen a Hand Saw

  1. John S

    Chad – this is a really pertinent article for me! I have several older hand saws I gathered for the sake of restoring and using – but keep on being rather intimidated by what others have said and demonstrated is “required” for sharpening. I know I will not be an expert after only sharpening a few hand saws, BUT at least I have some confidence now going in…!

  2. Sergey

    Chad, thank you for a through and detailed description of saw-sharpening technique. Many years ago I have attempted to sharpen a hand saw on my own, and I failed miserably. Now, I know what I was doing wrong, and I will always keep a copy of your article around should I ever need to sharpen a hand saw.

  3. Micah

    thanks for the article. I was raised using hand saws and have several now that I use every once in a while just for fun. I have a few that need to be sharpened so thanks. Now to get the proper equipment.

  4. Gene

    I obtained some of my sharpening tools from Ebay. You can find saw sets, saw jointers and saw vises for very reasonable prices. I also checked out books from the local library for how to and tips. I would not buy used files though as they need to be sharp.

  5. Dustin

    Thanks for the article, I’ve got a few old handsaws I’ve picked up over the year that could use a sharpening.

    Gor those of you still intimidated by saw sharpening I know there are a few old hardware stores around here that sharpen handsaws. I’m sure most places have similar places, you just need to find them.

    One thing I noticed you neglect to mention is that the saw had bo be capible of being sharpened, meaning it isn’t one of the modern box store designs with nontraditional teeth that have been heat treated.

  6. Frank

    Hi, Chad,

    I can’t sharp my handsaw with a file since the file is not hard enough to sharp it. Could you please recommend some files to me?



  7. Neil Teegarden

    I am interested in more information on the difference between saws that can be sharpened and ‘throw away’ saws. I do knife and garden tool sharpening and several customers have asked me about sharpening their hand saws. Determining whether the saw can be sharpened would step one!

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