Of saws I reflect on

When I took my first saw file to my tenon saw I wasn’t a bit worried about the consequences of my inexperienced efforts. That was back around 1965. My thrusts with the file weren’t as deliberate or straight as they are now. My control was uneven, but the outcome seemed to work OK. Going deep in the gullet and hitting both faces seemed the only thing important. That was then. Two decades later I discovered shaping, progression, breasting and other things. I was able to change a saw handle quickly to suit my hand; to change the saw’s angle of presentation to the wood, I could file off the teeth and resize new ones large or small. Angles can be of no importance and then, minutes later, they become all important.

Not too many people know this so I will tell you. Tom Lie Nielsen knows this and so too Veritas and Bob Wenzlof. Too much set makes a saw most useless. It makes it grossly inaccurate and hard in the cut – sometimes twice as hard. I have one hammer in the vise. It becomes my anvil. With a second hammer the set yields and I temper its aggression with equal taps from both sides. My saws need minimal set. The right set is equal in importance to sharpness. No saw needs too much set. It’s an enemy to all good work.

My saw is lovely now, after 47 years, I at last appreciate its loveliness. It rests beside my 4 ½ and my 5 ½. I still polish its brass now and then. Bit of a luxury look I suppose.


  1. A very timely post, Paul, thank you.  I just purchased a very nice late 19th century 6 point rip handsaw from ebay.  It has a wonderfully shaped handle that is in very nice condition with a great finish.  The plate is straight and clean and the teeth are sharp.  I’m very pleased with my purchase and it joins my old 7 pt and 12 pt Disstons to finally free me from my table saw.  The only problem is that this saw has an absolutely obscene amount of set.  Can I remove set from this saw in the way you describe here?  Given that I work mostly in dry hardwoods, how much set would be advisable in a rip saw of this nature and how will I know I’m removing enough or not enough by hammering the teeth out?  Thanks for continuing to be such a great resource

    1. Tooth set can depend on wood and wetness of wood. We generally no longer cut wood from the raw any more but buy kiln-dried wood with a low moisture content. In times past carpenters worked with less dry material and so often I find old saws, rip and crosscut, with lots of set. I always set for a minimum set so if I am using a saw set, that means 12PPI. Even this is often too much set, but using the set does give equality of set to each tooth. If I then want less set I use the the two-hammer method for de-setting the overset. In answer to your question, generally you can reduce set on your saw this way. Gentel and consistent tapping and doing the same form both sides to all the teeth with result in an even set and there i enough memory in the steel to spring back after each tap but at a lesser set. It is very accurate. The only caution you must have is that very occasionally teeth or the saw can sometimes be manufactured with hard teeth. In other words the teeth are brittle. That’s why, every so often, I get a saw for sharpening and find the teeth break off either during setting or even when filing or in use. This is a 1-300 ration, so a rare thing. If you start near the handle you will be able to see if the teeth are a problem. This can occur when teeth have been overset too.

      1. Very very interesting Paul. Thank you! how you reshape a teeth? i have a cross-cut blade i want to reshape rip cut. What file and tools i need in order to do this?

        1. This depends on the saw tooth size. I think I did a blog on this some time back. I will look for it and let you know.

  2. I have read nearly your entire blog (It took me about a week).
    I like the idea of acquiring new skills.

    About the hammer method to remove excessive saw set:
    a) As I don’t plan to equip a school, I will not buy many saws with excessive set.
    I suppose when you have corrected the excessive set you adjust your setting tool in such a way you never give excessive set anymore.
    How to developp the skill without practice?

    b) What do you think of the Wenzloff method using a vise and two sheet of paper?


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