How to Sharpen Saw Blades by Hand: The Best Guide

Last Updated: by Peter Lynn

Woodworkers are nothing without their tools. One of these very basic tools is the hand saw, which has been around for as long as carpentry itself. And since the invention of hand saws, we have had one never-ending challenge: how to keep them sharp.

Fortunately, it does not require a magician to get your hand saw super sharp. A little time, the right tools, and a few simple techniques are enough to make your saw razor-sharp and performance awe-inspiring.

So here is our expert guide on how to sharpen saw blades by hand for perfect results:

How to Sharpen a Hand Saw: The Must-Have Tools

To sharpen your hand saw manually, the first step is gathering all the necessary things. So here are the things you must have:

A Vise

A vise is used for gripping the blade tightly in position as you file the teeth. The good thing is that vises are cheap and can last over a long time. But if buying a vice appears inappropriate, you can also improvise by using cheek boards for gripping the blade and securing them using your standard carpentry clamp.

A Quality Triangular File

Another thing you must have when sharpening a hand saw is a quality file. This should be the triangular-shaped model designed with three corners, which are set at 60 degrees. However, the corners of the files are rounded.

The shape helps to set the hand saw teeth at 60 degrees and create a perfectly-rounded bottom. This is crucial because it reduces the tendency of the blade to break, especially when cutting tough materials and exerting a lot of pressure.

Saw Set

A saw set is a tool that looks like a pair of pliers and is used for adjusting the distance that saw teeth bend from the saw blade. This setting is very important in preventing the blade from binding to the workpiece.

Flat File

In addition to the triangular file, you also need the standard flat file, which will be used for leveling the teeth before starting to sharpen them.

A Cross Cut File

If you want to create gullets, especially in large crosscut saws, this type of file will come in handy. One side of the crosscut saw is rounded so that you can sink the depth of some cuts on the blade.

Wire Brush or Sandpaper

Are you planning to sharpen an old or used hand saw? The chances are that it has developed some rust or it is dirt, and you will need to brush or sand it off.

Patience

Well, this is not a tool, but we must indicate that it is very critical when sharpening the blade of a hand saw.

How to Sharpen Saw Blades by Hand: The DIY Steps 

Before starting to sharpen saw blades by hand, it is important to gather all the items in your workshop or worksite. If the saw is old or rusty, we recommend that you start by sanding it off or brushing with a wire brush.

If you are not used to the process of sharpening saws, you should also wear gloves to protect your hands.

Step One: Inspect The Saw And The Saw Blade

Inspecting a saw is crucial in helping you to understand its type, condition, and get prepared for the process. For example, is it a rip saw or a crosscut saw?

Step Two: Secure the Hand Saw

To sharpen your hand saw by hand, you need to secure it firmly using a clamp or vise. While it is true that you can simply hold the saw with a clamp, there is a danger of weakening or breaking the blade.

Instead, you should place the saw between two short blocks of wood and clamp the three together. See the demonstration below:

As you clamp the saw, make sure to leave a significant section of the teethed end sticking out for you to work on. Although there is no standard on this, we recommend that you get the teeth as low as possible but not to the point of getting blocked by the vise — approximately half to one inch should be okay.

Step Three: Level off the Hand Saw’s Teeth

This is another preparatory yet crucial stage before you can start the actual sharpening. To do this, you need to run the flat file across the top of the current saw’s teeth, while applying some little pressure. Two or three passes should be enough to level the teeth.

Flattening the teeth helps to create some flat tops that shine brightly if you direct some light to them. When you are through with flattening, all the teeth should be at the same level, and ready for setting and sharpening.

Step Three: Set Your Saw and Sharpen It

Setting your saw is very important because it gives it the right kerf, which prevents the saw from jamming when cutting wood.

First, determine how far you want the teeth to bend away from the blade and set the saw using its rotating disc. Then, place the saw on each tooth in turn, squeezing the hands to get the perfect kerf.

When you are done setting the saw’s teeth, it is time to start sharpening them. Using your dominant hand, hold the handle of the triangular file so that the thumb is parallel or slightly bent towards the file.

Then, hold the other point of the file with the forefinger and thumb of the non-dominant hand. At this point, the way you sharpen the saw will get different depending on the type of saw that you are sharpening.

  • If you are sharpening a rip saw, use two strokes of the file between every two teeth until you are done. This will give you consistent depth, sharpness, and neat teeth.
Note that in a rip saw, you should keep the file level so that it takes a form of a T shape when sharpening. This means you hold the triangular file at 90 degrees to the saw blade.
  • In the case of a crosscut saw, you should follow the same process of sharpening a rip saw, but working at an angle. This implies that instead of holding the triangular saw at 90 degrees, you shift to 15 degrees.
Furthermore, you should sharpen the teeth alternately (skipping every other tooth) until you reach the end. Then, change the direction of the file when working on the alternating set of teeth so that the sharp edges of the saw teeth will finally point in different directions.

Step Four: Evening Out and Creating Gullets

After sharpening the teeth of a hand saw, it is not uncommon to get some of them still having wide flat spots. The process of clearing these flat tops is called evening out. It involves carefully inspecting the teeth after sharpening them to identify those with flat tops.

Using the triangular file, carefully file back the teeth with wide flat spots to make them sharp. If you are sharpening a crosscut saw, make sure to file the teeth in a manner that matches well with the others on the same side of the blade.

For example, if you were filling the teeth at 15 degrees, make sure to maintain the same angle when clearing the wide flat tops.

When you take a closer look at large crosscut saws, you will notice that some of them come with deep rounded cuts (gullets) that are used for removing wood chippings when cutting. Once you are through sharpening the saw blade, you should turn to the crosscut saw to create these gullets.

So, establish at what instance you want the gullets to occur. In most cases, they are cut after every three teeth. Using the crosscut saw’s rounded side, deepen every fourth tooth, ensuring to maintain the same cutting angle.

Conclusion

In this article, we have demonstrated that although many people think that how to sharpen saw blades by hand is complicated, it can be pretty simple when you have proper tools and follow the right procedure. The goal should be ensuring you secure the saw firmly using a good vice and working on each tooth after the other.

But even with the right tools and following the correct procedure, we are going to be frank here: how to sharpen a hand saw like a pro is an art and needs time to perfect. So, do not get discouraged with the first results. Be patient, and the next attempts will yield better results. That is the best way to become a pro.

We have to give special thanks to Wood By Wright for his excellent video. It was truly awe-inspiring and helped us make every aspect of how to sharpen a hand saw clear and straightforward. Keep up the good work!

 

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