How to Sharpen Saw Blades

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Categories Saws
Keep your blades sharp for better quality outcomes.

A trusty hand saw is a woodworker’s best friend. If properly looked after, it will last a lifetime and beyond. Sharpening saw blades is vital as part of that regime of care. And knowing which saw blade sharpener to get is an important part of keeping yours in razor-sharp condition.

We explore the best ways of sharpening saw blades so you can get the most from your saw.

How to Keep a Sharp Saw Blade

Place the saw blade in a vice. Use a strip of wood to increase the rigidity of the blade. Reset the teeth using a saw set. A taper file is triangular and sharpens the front of one tooth and the back of another at the same time. Work at the same angle as the saw’s teeth.


How to Spot When a Saw Blade Needs Sharpening

You will get a feel for when the blade needs some attention, but there are tell-tale signs. The wood may discolor when you are using the saw. You may see chipping or smaller bits of sawdust. Other ways to tell if your blade is dull is when you start to smell burning when in use and the blade takes longer to cut.

Are Saw Blades Worth Sharpening?

They certainly are worth sharpening, especially if you want to avoid the expense of replacing that saw blade every time it gets blunt. Also, think of it as a good saw blade wasted. Keeping your cutting tools sharp means you always have the best tools at hand, which improves your accuracy, speed and the quality of your work.

Saw blades keep their sharpness well, but like all cutting tools, they dull eventually. How long the blade lasts depends on what you are cutting. Hardwood, and other robust materials, will dull your blade faster than softwood and plastic.

The other consideration is how often you use the saw. If it sees daily use, expect to have to sharpen the blade every week to keep it in optimal condition. If you are an occasional DIY’er, you should get years of use before needing to sharpen the blade.

A quality carbide-tipped blade should give you 15 to 20 sharpenings before it needs replacing.

Even the most reliable saws dull over time. Each time the teeth make contact with the stock, they dull a little. Over time, this narrows the set of the teeth, causing them to bind more. You will notice this with a hand saw when you make a downward stroke and the blade sticks.

Also, it is worth learning what each saw excels at. There are general hand saws, which get used for most cutting tasks, and then there are specialist saws that cater to different jobs. Using the wrong saw will also dull the blades faster.

Deciding to replace the saw is a personal choice, but a good rule of thumb is when the cost of the maintenance exceeds 50 percent of the saw’s price, think about a replacement.

Best Ways to Sharpen Saw Blades

There are several tried and tested methods of sharpening saw blades.

Method #1: Taper File

Taper files are an effective way of sharpening hand saw blades. Depending on the size of your saw’s teeth, you will require a small taper file or a larger one. You can use either a single or double-cut file as they are equally effective at sharpening saw blades.

The file is triangular-shaped, no matter its size, with each of its three angles sitting at 60 degrees. This is known as an equilateral triangle. This design means the file will simultaneously file the front of one tooth and the back of another.

Filing a Saw Blade With a Taper File

Secure the blade in a vice. Grip the file with your dominant hand at the base and your other hand on the tip. Use two strokes in the gap between the teeth. This will give you a consistent result. Make sure the file is level with the angle of the saw teeth.

PROS:
  • Precise.
  • Easy method.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Easy to learn.
CONS:
  • Slow.

Method #2: Crank Sharpener

Crank sharpeners are devices that primarily sharpen chainsaw blades. This device straddles your blade and is operated by cranking the handle. They are lightweight and ideal for when you need to sharpen your blade when you are on the job in remote places.

One of the most popular crank sharpeners is the Timberline chain sharpener (1).

Using a Crank Sharpener

Using a crank sharpener requires no particular skill and can be undertaken by a novice. Insert the crank sharpener over the chain. Wind the crank handle, and the sharpener grips the chain, pulling it towards the cutting tools. Most crank sharpeners cut the chain at 25 to 35 degrees, which is the standard setting.

PROS:
  • Easy to use.
  • Effective.
  • Fast, individual blade sharpening.
CONS:
  • Expensive.

Method #3: Automatic Sharpener

Like the crank sharpener, automatic sharpeners sharpen chainsaws. They work by the chain running along a sharpening block inserted at the tip of the sharpener. Like the crank sharpener, the benefits of this method is that you can be in the middle of nowhere and still have a way of sharpening your chainsaw.

Using an Automatic Sharpener

Insert the chainsaw in the sharpener and shut the lid. Switch on the chainsaw and give it some revs. Now push the tip of the sharpener against a solid and flat surface to bring the semi-circular sharpening block into contact with the saw’s teeth.

Only work in 5-second bursts, with a maximum of 3 contacts, and your blade is sharpened. This isn’t the most accurate way to achieve a sharp cutting edge, but you will notice a difference.

PROS:
  • Fast.
  • Easy to use.
  • Take it anywhere.
CONS:
  • Not very precise.
  • Doesn’t yield the best results.

Method #4: Diamond Wheel Sharpeners

These sharpeners are similar to grinders in that they spin at high speed as you apply the saw blade to the surface. They are typically coated with a 400 diamond grit to sharpen carbide-tipped saw blades.

Using a Diamond Wheel Sharpener

As the wheel rotates, apply the saw blade to the surface and start to grind. The 400 grit hones the teeth back into shape. Don’t press too hard, or you will get an uneven finish. It should be done gently and at the same angle as the teeth on the blade.

PROS:
  • Faster results.
  • More efficient.
  • Super-sharp results.
CONS:
  • Expensive.
  • Could damage the blade.
  • Hard to master.

How to Sharpen Saw Blades Using a File

Using a file to sharpen a saw blade is one of the easiest ways to achieve a good result. Here’s what you will need.

What You Need

  • A couple of taper files.
  • A saw set.
  • Goggles.
  • A vice.
  • Spare wood.

1. Inspect the Saw

Examine the teeth. Are they all the same height? If you spot some variations, clamp the saw blade in a vice using a wooden strip to hold the saw blade rigid in the vice. Take a double-cut smooth metal file and reduce the height of the teeth that protrude.

When you’ve done this, examine the blade for other damage. Rust and blemishes can cause the blade to bind in the stock.

2. Set the Teeth

You should be checking that the kerf is the correct width. Misaligned teeth will cut unevenly no matter how sharp they are. A saw set makes this job less painful and ensures the teeth are aligned.

A saw set looks like a pair of pliers, with a pivot, long handles at one end, and a set of teeth at the other. Clamp the saw blade in the saw set and adjust the circular hammer disc. This tightens and puts pressure on the teeth to bring them into closer alignment. Squeeze the handles to bend the tooth. Each tooth is bent into shape from the midpoint, with the sets on each side matching.

Saw sets are easier to use on blades with fewer teeth. For blades with a higher tooth count, it is advised to pay to have them sharpened by a professional.

You simply start at one end, positioning the saw set over the first tooth and squeeze. The tooth is now set. Work along the saw in the same fashion, skipping the next tooth because it faces in the opposite direction. Flip the saw blade and start the process again for the teeth positioned in the opposing direction.

3. Filing the Teeth

Choose the right taper file. Small files suit finer blades with a higher tooth count, while larger files are better for a lower tooth count blade. You might want to try a single or a double-cut file for saws with 5 to 7 teeth per inch (TPI).

For medium-coarse blades with 8 to 10 TPI, try a regular taper, and for 15 teeth or more, try an extra-slim taper.

4. Secure the Saw Blade

Clamp the saw blade in a vice with wooden strips to protect the metal of the blade and to give it rigidity. Working at the same angle as the teeth, work the file’s 60-degree angle across the teeth, making sure that the file works the front and rear of the teeth. Use two strokes per tooth to get an even finish.

How to Clean a Saw Blade

Depending on what type of saw blade it is, grab a bucket and some warm soapy water, submerge the blade in the water and leave it alone for 5 to 10 minutes. Then lift the blade out, taking extra care of the sharp teeth, with a cloth or a small soft brush, and wipe away any blemishes and stains that might cause the blade to bind in the material.

Submerge the blade back into the water and shake it to dislodge any last remnants of debris from the surface of the blade. When you are satisfied that all the dirt is removed, lift it from the water, and dry it with a cloth.

Top Tips for Keeping Saw Blades Sharp

There are several ways you can delay the dulling effects of constant use on your saw blade.

Use the Correct Blade

Always make sure you are using the correct blade for the task in front of you. Nothing dulls a blade quicker than incorrect usage of the blade.

Align Your Saw

Always make sure your saw is aligned so that the blade runs true. Any misalignment causes the blade to run unevenly, which puts additional strain on the teeth. It is also crucial that your blade is parallel with the fence, or you will get back cutting.

Oil Regularly

Moisture in the atmosphere rusts metal blades. When you are storing your blade, wipe it with some oil to protect it. Also, to ease the strain on the teeth, a well oiled-handsaw is more efficient when making cutting strokes.

Remove Rust With a Razor

Remove the blade and lay it flat. Run the razor blade along the length of the saw blade, keeping the angle of the razor low. This scrapes away any rust blemishes. You can also use sandpaper and wire wool to remove rust.


Stay Sharp

Saw blades have one function, and that is to cut through different materials. If the blade is dull, it cannot perform these tasks and renders itself useless. If you are going to have a saw, wouldn’t you want it at it’s best?

By sharpening the saw blade, you are saving money, and that always feels better than spending it.

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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.
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