Ally Pally Questions-More on saws



I very much enjoyed your demonstration on Saturday, and our chat afterwards and came away from the show full of new ideas for further developing traditional-style woodworking in the context of my design technology lessons.

We discussed the possibility of sharpening some of the grotty old saws which are available for the use of my pupils. On closer examination, I think half of them are hardpoints (the ones with the black plastic handles in the photos), and the other half (with wooden handles) may be possible to sharpen: the question is, of course, whether they are likely to be worth sharpening. I don’t know whether you can see anything from the photos, but I would value your opinion if you can. I have ordered some saw sharpening files from Axminster today, and will have a go anyway.

Thanks again for a very interesting talk, and I look forward to hearing from you.



Well it was a very busy weekend, but I so enjoyed being with my fellow woodworkers. I have been trying to reverse some of the current trend to use mass-manufacturing methods to do woodworking where hand methods would be so much more rewarding and more equal to the task, even for D&T. I am currently hearing some very good news from key areas on the cutting edge of education and they are actively encouraging students to consider craftsmanship as a means of establishing new design concepts. Working with others to reestablish a working program whereby working craftsmen like myself will engage with students and teachers to show how dextrous hand work is in the development of prototype design work. I also work with others like yourself to inspire teachers in schools and colleges, which is equally inspiring for me.

Re the saws:

Whether you restore these or not, you still have to come around to the fact that saws must be sharpened regularly and it must be done well. That takes practice but it’s not a ten-year growth program. I think that the saws you have would be good to practice on. If you fail you can always start over. Here’s a trick that will really work for you should that happen: I take a flat file and file off all of the teeth. Sounds drastic I know but it works so well. Then clamp a sabre saw blade (any saw blade with the number of teeth you want) flush with the edge you just filed and use this as a guide to cut new teeth. A hacksaw blade will work on finer teeth around 18 ppi. The only problem with this method is that when you ‘bottom out’ in the cut it dulls the file because the guide teeth are hardened. That said, the newly cut saw will cut like butter and subsequent sharpenings need no such guide.

You are right about the hardened teeth. Those with black points (blued really) are hardened to the point they will not file and they will ruin a file in two strokes. I actually think that the black handled saw may have annealed (tempered and therefor softer and sharpenable) teeth because the teeth seem so misshapen, indicating that they have been filed into that condition. You could test the hardness with part of a file near the handle as this is a part that you generally don’t use. Pulling the file will either cut the teeth or leave a shiny trail on the file teeth. If it’s the latter, the saw teeth are too hard to sharpen.

On this saw (below right) the teeth look quite overset. many dismiss this as being OK, but it’s not at all. Overset teeth means there is lots of wiggle and waggle room leading to inaccurate cuts, but, more than this, it also means you will be removing far more material than is needed, which means more effort to effect the cut.


You could of course consider buying new saws. Companies like Tilgear have special rates for schools (you may need to call them for a catalog) and their prices are usually favourable for schools. I say this because it will be easier for you to resharpen a new saw that has dulled than a bad saw that has been badly sharpened repeatedly, which is what you have here. That way you can practice on newer saws and then reestablish the old ones when you have developed more skill and confidence. Even the new saws may need sharpening as they often come dull and overset. I hope that you can make it to one of my courses some time in the future as it really cuts the learning curve to see sharpening methods firsthand. In the meantime you should have a go!


4 thoughts on “Ally Pally Questions-More on saws”

  1. I bought a short new JCB saw out of curiosity since the diggers are so well known . Brand new and it would not cut anything. I had a close look at the teeth with a magnifier . Each point had a tiny round blob of metal . The heating process must have gone wrong completely . I also have a small JCB sander that seemed right for some floorboards. Every part that needed to be in line was out of line. The designer had obviously never used it in reality . And the sanding belt always wanted to skid off the rollers. At least I have a useful motor for some improvisation later .

    1. I never looked at JCB tools and equipment in the same way I might look at their back-hoe heavy equipment. I never really liked the way they looked so never tried any so thanks for the input.

  2. All your excellent advice is a replacement for the library searches I used to do some years ago . I would often be seen lugging half a dozen woodworking books back home. There was a change in the book style later. Much glossier pages. More colour but in many cases poorer content. The generation who began writing books did not seem to savour the finer details that make your videos so fascinating .
    One thing that improved my saw sharpening was positioning a lamp to make a strong reflection on the tips of the levelled teeth . You have probably mentioned that somewhere .
    Lovely to see your woodworking family growing so well .

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