Some time ago I bought an old (like grandparents-old) Disston for $50 on eBay (if you’re lucky, you might be able to buy one at a yard sale for a few bucks) and I have slowly been accumulating and building the necessary tools to sharpen it. Specifically,

  • A saw vise — you used to be able to buy these, but since no one sharpens their saws anymore, these are hard to find. Fortunately, you can build your own. It’s just a wooden clamp you insert in your vise. I used a Tage Frid design, except I don’t have a hinge at the bottom of mine.
  • A 6″ slim taper saw file.
  • A jig that goes on the front of the file to hold the edge at a 98 degrees to make an 8 degree rake(*).

My saw was filed crosscut (to cut across the grain) but I decided to file mine rip to saw along the grain. This will allow me to split boards more easily.

I followed these saw filing instructions. The set looked pretty good to me already, so all I did was to joint(**) it making sure all teeth were the same height, and refile it for rip. Rip saws have no fleam which cut my filing work in half. While this is my first attempt at saw filing, the result was a definite improvement. It really eats through that pine now! Compared to a $20 big box store saw, its performance is amazing.Touching the teeth with a finger it literally grabs the skin. I’ve never felt something like that except in in my $200 Lie-Nielsen panel saw. (And now I wonder why I spent that much for the LN when I could have made it myself.)

(*) An 8 degree rake is a highly aggressive angle which makes for a very fast saw. I don’t think you can buy this for money. You have to make it yourself.

(**) This is where the term “out of joint” comes from. If a saw is out of joint, not all teeth are working. Your saw could potentially jump around and be a general pain to work with.

So instead of buying a new plastic saw, you just might want to consider getting an old saw, a $6 file, and fixing it up. It’s not hard. In fact, it’s somewhat depressing/disturbing to realize over and over that while modern solutions are usually cheap, quick, and easy, they are usually inferior to the tools and skills they replaced. It’s just that nobody knows this anymore. Those who are old enough to know have forgotten and those who are too young to remember never knew it in the first place.

Lessons learned: Saw filing for rip is easy, so making your own saw vise and buying a file and an old saw is an inexpensive way to get a superior saw and keep it running for life. If you need a saw, do it this way instead of heading down to the home improvement center to buy some plastic handled piece of stamped sheet metal that will end up in a landfill in 10 years.

Originally posted 2011-06-26 18:42:31.