Handsaw defined by cultural changes

I often receive emails asking me about more modern saw makers and apart from a couple of modern makers more involved in finessing the finished tools they make, I find myself unable to recommend most of the mass-made saws for one simple reason – hard-point teeth. Is it the hard-point teeth alone that fails the test or something more? Induction hardened teeth mean that a perfectly good saw has to be discarded and at best might end up being recycled if we are lucky. Beyond even that there is another problem and that is that most often these saws have teeth defined by shape for crosscutting wood and when they come to ripcutting along or with the wood grain they just don’t cut it.
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I remember the transition coming into place when I didn’t quite understand the first Spear and Jackson catalog entry about 15, maybe 20, years ago. Two saws looked the same or similar, but the first saw said underneath, ‘resharpenable’, whereas the other said, “lasts five times longer than conventional saws”. I passed over the comments at first, but was left with a niggling feeling. Just what was going on here? I had never seen anything said or phrased like this before in a tool catalog and I then realized what was happening. On the one hand there was a conventional saw that had steel hardness at a level that could be resharpened with a three-square saw file whilst on the other the steel was induction hardened electronically and that hardness meant that the sharpness would last five times longer but then could not be resharpened by using traditional hand methods. The problem was this then. What was being implied was that the new saw would last five times longer than the old saw when in fact it was the sharpness of the teeth that would last five times longer. This then led to the first disposable saws we see so highly prized today and yet in the construction trades this now makes sense even though it’s still hard to reconcile making a throwaway saw.

DSC_0048I think that what prompted these thoughts came as a result of my traveling from state to state. In my demo’s I have been working with a 16” Disston handsaw I bought on eBay for £10 ($15 usd). When people see its effectiveness they seem quite amazed. I rip and crosscut with the same saw too and so they begin asking questions. The saw is short and so that makes the saw somewhat unusual, but I like its shortness for a couple of reasons. One, it’s compact length makes it ideal for traveling with and, two, it’s shortened punchiness gives the most inline directness that penetrates right at the heel of the saw. As an at-the-bench saw, where wood is anchored differently than say on saw horses, the presentation of the saw to the wood is more perpendicular and so has a directness other saws might not have. DSC_0001On sawhorses the saw is presented at an angle as with most overhand overhead cutting. DSC_0004That being the case, a short handsaw works well for vise work, whereas sawhorse cutting actually relies on the extra length, which gives good purchase over the material and extra length for those teeth lost in the longer cut with angled presentation of the saw to the wood because of the angle of the saw engaging within the actual cut in the wood being sawn. Short handsaws like mine are ideal for larger tenon work because when taper ground, the saw plate (blade) affords greater localized rigidity in front of and around the handle area of the saw and so a rigid back to the saw is not necessary. This then allows unlimited depth of cut to the saw.

DSC_0115Many of the modern saws used in woodworking today are actually well designed for certain spheres of woodworking and I use them quite frequently because of that. The saw in the photo above seems somewhat out of place in my tool chest and generally speaking, for me, it might be. In construction carpentry however it’s different and especially so in today’s carpentry. Most carpenters rely on powered skill saws of one kind or another. These machines require accessibility to the wood and freedom of movement say across saw horses or the like. Sheet goods such as OSB, MDF, plywood and two-by stock is indeed mostly crosscut cutting (MDF excluded as it has no grain per se). That being the case, there are occasions throughout any day when the skill saw doesn’t reach and that’s when a handsaw with induction hardened teeth comes into its own. These saws will indeed crosscut dimensional lumber very effectively and also deal with pressed fibre board (chipboard UK) faced with plastic laminate, melamine and so on. Resins used as binding agents to create engineered boards like this are extremely hard on all saws too and so tungsten carbide teeth and induction hard-point teeth become essential.

14 comments on “Handsaw defined by cultural changes

  1. At $20/5 times longer equal $4 why would you try this? Agreed these are throw aways if you earn a wage in construction. Yard sale flea market price equals 2-5$ and fun to bring it back the retro saws. Plus there are gems to be rescued. I didn’t mean to splash water on your thoughts.

    • The reality is that most woodworkers no longer have the skills or feel confident that they can sharpen saws. Combine that with a highly competitive construction trade and it’s unlikely we will see this change.

    • Well since you want to quantify things in terms of money then you have to factor in your own worth and your calculation ignores this. Imagine this saw isn’t your own and you had to spend these 15 minutes sharpening it. I’d want ~£15+ each sharpen for my time otherwise I might as well be working and pay someone to sharpen my saw.

      That being said I can appreciate the want to keep your own tools and maintain them yourself and in the name of sustainability, satisfaction and enjoyment this should be the way to go. You, however, have made this purely fiscal and this argument never holds water.

  2. I just discovered your fantastic blog and videos, and have been catching up on the older entries.

    I admire your balanced opinion about there being an appropriate use for induction hardened saws for certain purposes. I also have one that I use when I need to cut engineered materials, and have been resharpening it with diamond files (two Japanese feathered files, one coarse and one fine). The hardened teeth might be harder than conventional files, but diamond is harder still! Admittedly, I am only retouching the teeth, but I have nonetheless found this to be a useful way to extend the life of the tool.

  3. I have had questions about this very subject and being a rebel I had to experiment with an induction hardened saw to test sharpening. Some years ago I had seen a youtube on touching up the teeth on bandsaw blades to buy a little more life out of a blade. The method used a thin abrasive wheel in a dremel tool and just required a light bouncing along with a careful approach angle. The time grinding each tooth was hardly enough to heat up the steel at all and I found this useful on my older blades that were ready to throw out. Alas, I tried this on a newer handsaw that had dulled and have had a good bit of success this way. The teeth are sharpened on 3 facets and it takes a careful “tap” with the side of the wheel to each facet. It’s tricky not loosing your place and either missing a tooth or hitting one twice. The top facet is only important as to its height and not so much otherwise. I suppose I could “joint'” the teeth later down the road to even the tops of the teeth. As with the diamond file idea, diamond wheels are available for dremels as well. I would think the controlling ingredient in all this is not overheating the teeth and ruining the temper. To date,I can vouch for two things: First, I have indeed bought a second life to an induction hardened handsaw, Second, I think my time, effort and money are better spent on normally tempered saws that I can file just as you show in your videos. I have better sawing success and more enjoyment in the latter for sure.

  4. Just occurred to me that induction hardening typically only changes the steel’s hardness in the region surrounding the teeth. That means the back of induction hardened saws should still be soft enough to sharpen. Has anyone tried recycling the saw plate from an induction hardened saw by cutting new teeth into the back of the saw and mounting a new handle in the new orientation?

    • Yes, I have done this and it’s easy enough to do but on the one I used the steel was not really hard enough. The teeth snap of and the edge files easily too. I have a YouTube about how to recut dead-on accurate teeth to recut teeth with a small hacksaw blade and a saw file. Here is the blog:

      and here is the YouTube

  5. (Theoretical) quick and dirty fix for sharpening induction hardened: throw them in the oven.
    Step: 1. Remove the blade. If you use a cheap Japanese disposable saw, like I do, removing the blade is simple enough.
    Step 2: Find a tempering chart. Easily done on Google. Cheap Japanese saws are usually SK series which should temper similarly to 1080/1095 depending on type.
    Step 3: Dial in the temp and chuck the blade in.

    As Mr. Sellers notes, this won’t work forever because only the teeth are hard but it could allow a few good sharpening before replacement is required.

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