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How To Sharpen a Hand Saw: Step-by-Step

How sharp is your hand saw? Here’s how to get it sharper.

Hand saws have been used to cut wood for centuries and they remain among the most popular tools used by woodworkers, construction workers, and DIYers. A good hand saw will cut through wood quickly and accurately, but it won’t be effective if it has blunt teeth.

Before you look to replace your hand saw, you should consider sharpening it instead. Sharpening a saw is a simple task and will help you use your tool for longer, but you might need some advice if you have never done it before.

To help you do it properly, we will explain how to sharpen a hand saw. By following these tips, you should be able to get your saw cutting like the first time you used it.

Key Takeaways

  • Choose the correct file: Use a tapered file that matches the hand saw’s teeth per inch (TPI) for effective sharpening.
  • Inspect and level the teeth: Ensure all teeth are even before sharpening, also known as jointing, to achieve a smooth and uniform edge.
  • Sharpening technique: For rip-cut saws, hold the file perpendicular to the blade, using smooth strokes. For crosscut saws, place the file at a 15-degree angle and follow the bevel of the teeth.
  • Regular maintenance: Store the hand saw in a moisture-free toolbox, oil the blade, remove any rust, and use the correct saw for each task to prolong its life and cutting efficiency.

Types of Hand Saw Teeth

There are two main types of hand saw teeth, which have different alignments but are both designed to cut through wood.

Crosscut Teeth

Crosscut teeth are angled on the inside edge to make them more effective at cutting across the fibers of the wood. These teeth essentially act like a series of many tiny knives, gradually slicing through the wood. These saws are designed to cut across the grain, hence their name, which is more difficult than cutting with it.

Rip-Cut Teeth

Rip-cut teeth don’t have an angled edge, unlike crosscut teeth. Instead, the teeth act like chisels, scraping away the wood as they move along the material. These teeth rip through the wood along the grain, which is easier than cutting across it.

How to Choose a Saw File

Saw files are available in four basic tapers: regular, slim, extra-slim, and double extra-slim. They also vary greatly in quality. Cheap, imported files are generally made of softer materials, which won’t file as effectively and won’t sharpen your saw properly. If you want to save money by extending your hand saw’s lifespan, it is worth paying a little extra for high-quality files.

When choosing a file, try to use one that isn’t too big or too small.  You should be able to see the teeth of the blade as you file and there shouldn’t be any underlap or overlap of either edge of the file.

A file that is too small won’t be able to sharpen each tooth evenly, which could end up dulling the saw instead of sharpening it.

On the other hand, a file that is too large will obscure the teeth and prevent you from seeing what you are doing. As a result, they rarely deliver the same level of sharpness as smaller files.

You can determine the size of the file you need by looking at the saw’s teeth per inch.

This chart should help:

File Type Teeth Per Inch (TPI)
8-inch regular taper 3 to 4.5
6-inch regular taper 5 to 5.5
7-inch slim taper 6 to 7
6-inch slim taper 8
6-inch extra-slim taper 9 to 10
6-inch 2x slim taper 11 to 13
4-inch 2x slim taper 13 to 20

What You Need

  • A set of taper files
  • A saw set
  • Goggles
  • A vice
  • Spare wood
  • A mill file

How to Sharpen a Crosscut Saw

1. Inspect the Saw

Before you start filing, make sure all of the teeth are level. If there are variations in the teeth, you will need to make them level again. This process is known as jointing. Clamp the saw into the vice and use two strips of wood to support the blade and add rigidity.

Make sure the teeth protrude 2 inches above the top of the vice. Grab your mill file and start from the heel end of the blade, moving the file along the tooth line toward the toe. This should even out the teeth, leaving you with a uniform edge. Use three or four strokes to perfect the line.

The benefit of jointing is that it creates a flat edge along the tips of the teeth to guide your file when you start sharpening the saw blade.

Quick Tip

Use a rake-angle guide to set a consistent geometry of each tooth. Rip-cut rake angles are set at 5 to 10 degrees, while crosscut teeth are typically set at 15 degrees.

2. Set the Teeth

Saw sets are tools that resemble pliers with long handles at one end and a clamp at the other end. A winding mechanism aligns the blades when you squeeze the handles together. You should see the tooth moving if it was previously out of alignment.

Place the saw set so the center hammer (the metal winding mechanism that bends the tooth against the anvil) is aligned with the point of the tooth and then squeeze the handles. The tooth should move away from you. Repeat this process on every other tooth, then turn the blade around and work along any teeth that you missed on your first pass.

3. Put on Your Safety Equipment

Put on your safety goggles and reclamp your saw in the vice. Make sure the bottoms of the tooth gullets are 0.063 inches above the top of the vice. Now place the taper file between the first pair of teeth. You should have teeth on both sides, with one facing you from the right and another facing away to the left.

4. Start Filing

Press your index finger firmly on the file at the point where it meets the tooth, then push the file down into the gullet. This should rotate the file into the gullet at an angle that matches the 15 degrees of the crosscut teeth.

Maintain the bevel angle and make your first stroke, ensuring the file stays in the gullet. Your aim is to reduce the flat area on the front and back teeth by half.

5. Skip the Next Tooth

Skip a gullet and repeat the sharpening process, using the same number of strokes. You are skipping a tooth because they are in alternating directions. When you reach the end of the blade, you can start with the first gullet you skipped and work along the blade in the same manner. Just make sure the teeth on the left are facing toward you and those on the right are facing away.

6. Stoning

To achieve the highest-quality finish on the blade, you will need a block of India stone at 600 grit. With the saw placed flat on your table, gently run the stone along its edge. This will remove any burrs created by the filing process.

Flip the blade over and do the same to the other side and your saw should be ready to use.

Test Your Blade

To check the quality of your blade, make a test cut in a piece of scrap wood.

How to Sharpen a Rip-Cut Saw

1. Clamp the Saw

Clamp your saw to hold it in place while you work, using two strips of wood to support the blade in the clamp. You should set the height of the gullets at 0.063 inches above the top of the vice. Make sure the saw’s heel is to your right.

2. Place the File in the First Gullet

Place the file in the first gullet, ensuring it is firmly seated at the bottom. Hold the file perpendicular to the saw blade, so it is parallel to the table.

3. Start Filing

Apply gentle pressure and push the file across the saw blade to make your first stroke. Use the full length of the file for more efficient sharpening.

4. Make Fluid Strokes

Novices have a tendency to use short, jerky strokes but these often result in an uneven finish. You should use long, smooth strokes with consistent pressure, using the same amount of passes in each gullet of the saw.

When you pass the file across the gullet, you should see fresh steel on the front and back of the teeth on each side of the gullet, as well as in the gullet itself.

5. Repeat

Continue filing until you can’t see the flat area on the right anymore. When you are satisfied, move on to the next tooth and repeat the process. Work along the blade until you reach the end.

Hand Saw Maintenance Tips

Maintaining your hand saw should prolong how long you can use it before it needs to be re-sharpened. Here are some tips that will help you slow the dulling process and preserve your saw’s integrity.

Store in a Moisture-Free Toolbox

Moisture causes rust and rust damages metal objects such as your hand saw’s blade. The best way to prevent corrosion is to keep your saw in an airtight toolbox where humidity won’t get at it.

Oil the Blade

Oiling your blade between uses will protect it against moisture and keep rust at bay. It will also lubricate the saw, which helps it cut more smoothly.

Remove Rust

You can remove rust on your blade by using either a razor blade or sandpaper. Both options will scrape away the layer of corrosion and leave you with a smooth blade.

Use the Saw Correctly

Use long strokes when making cuts with your saw. This will be smoother and exposes the teeth to a more even amount of wear and tear. Doing this consistently will prevent your saw from becoming blunt in one area alone.

Use the Correct Saw

Choosing the wrong saw for a task is a surefire way to damage its teeth. If the material is too hard, you will dull the cutting edge very quickly.


How Do I Know If My Hand Saw Is Dull?

Knowing whether or not the blade of your hand saw is dull is essential for ensuring that it performs at its best.

Counter-intuitively, one of the signs of a dull blade may be that it seems to cut through wood too easily as this could indicate that the blade is not providing an adequate amount of friction while cutting.

Another thing to note is whether or not your hand saw is leaving rough edges along the cut line, as a sharp blade should provide a clean cut.

Lastly, you can get a sense of how dull the blade is by holding it up to the light and examining it closely – if the blade appears jagged, then you know it requires some sharpening.

Is It Worth Sharpening a Hand Saw?

Overall, it is worth sharpening a hand saw with the appropriate tools and techniques.

Sharpening hand saws require the use of dedicated files and certain steps to sharpen the teeth of the blade correctly. It’s best to purchase dedicated tapered files specialized for filing saws for more effective cutting.

As such, investing in these resources can ultimately save time and energy in undertaking this task successfully. Plus, with a properly sharpened saw, the job will be completed quicker and with greater precision than prior to sharpening.

How Many Times Can You Sharpen a Hand Saw Blade?

Though it depends on the type of blade and usage conditions, hand saw blades can be sharpened multiple times before they need to be replaced. Sharpening brings back the original cutting efficiency and considerably enhances the blade’s usability.

Therefore, it is important to develop regular maintenance practices to maintain maximum efficiency while using this essential tool.

How Much Does It Cost to Have a Hand Saw Sharpened?

Investing in a hand saw sharpening can be a cost-effective decision as it significantly extends the life of your tool and allows you to achieve precise cuts.

The cost of having a hand saw sharpened varies depending on its size and condition but typically falls between 20 and 40 dollars.

Many professional blade sharpeners use both mechanical and manual methods to get an unbeatable edge that will make any carpenter proud.

A properly sharpened hand saw will leave you with cleaner, smoother cuts and less strain on your hands from the added force needed for dull blades.

How Do Professionals Sharpen Hand Saw Blades?

Professional sharpening of hand saw blades requires specialized tools and knowledge. A traditional method of sharpening is by use of a saw set, which is a device that sets the teeth of a saw at an angle suitable for cutting.

This can be accomplished by placing the saw set against the back and side of each tooth, setting it to the appropriate angle depending on the type of wood being cut.

Next, the tooth must be filed with a whetstone or file, which tapers and sharpens each individual tooth so that it can effectively cut wood.

Finally, once the teeth have been sharpened, a benchstone or similar tool is used to hone them so that they are as sharp as possible prior to cutting.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.