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Jack Sharpens Saws

We worked near to each other, him one side and me the other. I gave him his first lessons in restoring and sharpening saws, Jack. He listens attentively and learns quickly. By doing it it becomes experiential learning. Much better than with books I think but when a book is done well be a crafting artisan, as mine is, it comes together there too. I have not read a book or even a booklet that covers sharpening too well, that’s why Essential Woodworking Hand Tools came together so well; I had a burden to make sure I left my knowledge on hand tools for others. My video work has fleshed this out too. So glad for my side of the world wide web.

My hands, his eyes. His ears. The vibration in the air recounts the pressures I apply, the lateral, vertical, even and uneven pressure.

I twist my old hands in certainty in a certain way, work from left to right, feel for the resistance, shift, absorb, things like that second by second and I adjust to take in the vibrations that might lead to abberation should my hands not counter the imbalance of stroke, pressure and direction.

See how lovely the file on the left is. It’s a vintage file. New old stock!

My work in teaching side be side needs only minimal explanation because it’s seen, heard and then felt too so directly. This one on one is, was, the way of man and boy for me and all trainee boys before me for centuries. We’ve lost this great thing, man and boy. Its a sad thing. A sad day. I did the same with my boys as they grew up. Man and boy, man and boy and so on for each one of them. I saw them grow, was a part of it. No one else could do it for me. These were my sons. It was my responsibility and my doing. They never feared messing up and rarely did they. Of course there is no sexism here. And I have done and always will do the same for any woman or girl wanting to follow the same path wanting to learn in whatever years I have left. It just happened a thousand times more with men because they were the ones that came to me to learn.

Most restorative practices on saws are no brainers. Rust removal by abrasive first, and that’s most often quick and effective with just sandpaper, and then the surfaces take on an immediate smoothness that’s improved on level to level. And then of course there is the cleanness on the plate I like.

His first saw has pressed studs which look ugly because they are just utilitarian. They are also extremely difficult to remove without causing damage, if not impossible. But I was able to show the difference between stud types and how to settle a couple of issues and Jack will know this for the rest of his life.

I like that I am able to equip him. He did well sharpening his first saw but the second one challenged him a bit more. I was glad because it isn’t always first time successes that work best in the learning curve. Better understanding in the different dynamics affecting sharpening come when problems raise their ugly heads for you to gain your ‘aha-moments’. those learned from weeks, months and decades past stand you in good stead for the present and future you might otherwise always take for granted.

24 Comments

  1. Steve on 29 September 2019 at 8:53 am

    Hello Paul,

    One of my saws had those pressed studs – it was old and the handle loosened. I found that I could remove them by progressively drilling them out after centre punching them. They were crude and made of steel so it’s a somewhat protracted process. Seem to be on late 60’s tools and beyond – I suppose for cost and expediency.

    • Paul Sellers on 29 September 2019 at 9:49 am

      Well, we didn’t want to drill them out and have to buy in new studs. Felt it was unnecessary if just hammer-tapping retightened them.

  2. Steve on 29 September 2019 at 9:56 am

    Yes this was some time ago and the price of non ferrous metals keeps going up..

  3. Mario Fusaro on 29 September 2019 at 12:49 pm

    You are absolutely correct, Paul in that the man – boy art of teaching has all but disappeared. This too, is how I learned and I did my best to teach my son. My daughters were not too receptive to working with wood but they learned the basics. My 2 year old granddaughter just presented my daughter-in-law with a simple (crude) napkin holder that her and Poppy made. Together we sawed, planed and drilled the dowel holes with a brace & bit. I think the most fun she had was working the brace and helping me hammer the 2 dowels through the dowel plate. She even helped elongate the holes on the sliding top with a round file. I did the final easing and shellac finish. The smile on her face when she presented it to her mother was only exceeded by the smile and hug she got from her mom. I hope we can do this together again.

  4. William D. Elliott on 29 September 2019 at 3:09 pm

    Paul, a couple of summers ago I traveled to La Cross, Wisconsin and took a week long course from Mark Harrell at Bad Axe Saw Company on the making and sharpening of hand saw. It was tough, but necessary. 8 hours a day for 5 days. Over and over, we cut teeth, filed teeth, filed teeth. Mark would come by, and say, “you have flats remaining, do it over.”

    At some point, you get to know what is a sharp saw. It is a glorious feeling.

    Your fine teaching and writing brings back those memories of that week at Bad Axe Saw Company. Thanks.

  5. Tom Angle on 29 September 2019 at 6:31 pm

    For me, I can read something until I am blue, but that only goes so far. I need to actually do it, to learn it.

    Yes I think a lot that is missing today is parents spending time with their children or at least some adult time spent with a child. I find kids look for instruction and attention and if directed right, really take it in. The most is that someone cared enough to spend some time with them.

  6. Keith on 29 September 2019 at 10:32 pm

    Paul, what are the chances of combining all the different saw restoration tips you’ve shared into a video. Your blogs and books seem to cover every aspect but a visual aid restoring a saw from start to finish would be priceless if you ever find the time to make one.

  7. Neil Christie on 30 September 2019 at 12:01 am

    The passing on of these skills is more important now than at any time in the past. We face a future where the use and throw culture will no longer be acceptable or possible for most people.
    I see a return to making and buying things which will last a lifetime or longer. This due to environmental concerns and material shortage but also to economic pressures.
    The wheel may turn far enough that the person who can sharpen and use a saw will be in such demand that they can make a proper living from the skills they have.

    • Paul Sellers on 30 September 2019 at 8:17 am

      I don’t share your confidence that things will change as long as we have the kind of carefree consumerism promoted for people to aspire to. That rugged individual independence that really is an illusion. The 5 million a year football player and the actors with perfect teeth and bodies airbrushed before filming. The me-me-and-I culture mostly cultivates dissatisfaction and self pity alongside those things that lead to isolation and depression.

  8. Kevin Bargdill on 30 September 2019 at 5:27 am

    Hi Paul, I’ve been watching your sharpening videos a lot lately and have decided to dive in. I started shopping for a saw setter and Lee Valley and Woodcraft don’t have them. On Amazon they have one, but the reviews are saying that the anvil is too soft to work good. Do you know of a decent setter that would be a good one for someone just starting to resharpen.

    • Paul Sellers on 30 September 2019 at 8:12 am

      Ebay, Ebay, Ebay! They never wear out and secondhand Eclipse ones are really well made.

  9. Michael Geiger on 30 September 2019 at 7:35 am

    https://paulsellers.com/2011/12/sawsets-old-and-new/

    I have the eclipse and it’s one of my favourite tools! The shape of it fits perfectly into the hand. I think the one I have has the wider hammer but I haven’t had issues with it.

  10. mark on 30 September 2019 at 11:21 am

    Speaking of saw setters, is there any particular reason you don’t like the steel version as much as the bronze? I spent a while waiting for an older, steel version to pop up on ebay after seeing your blog post about them having a thinner hammer. Then after acquiring one I saw your Youtube video where you mentioned you didn’t like the steel version as much, but didn’t go into why. It seems really well made to me, but I have yet to set a saw with it.

  11. Nick Bromley on 30 September 2019 at 11:22 am

    I sharpened my first saw at the weekend, an 8″ 17tpi Drabble & Sanderson dovetail saw I bought off eBay. It was in decent condition, but very blunt. I’d read and re-read the section on saw-sharpening in Essential Woodworking Hand Tools, watched various YouTube videos and bought a suitable Bahco saw file. I was still a little apprehensive given the high tpi – I was worried I might accidentally file too much off each tooth – but I took it steadily and a few minutes later I’d done one pass – the teeth felt prickly and it cut through some pine OK-ish, but quickly jammed.

    I did a second pass with the file, then set each tooth with an Eclipse sawset (kindly donated by my uncle) using the minimum setting. It cut better, but still jammed, so I added a bit more set. This time, the saw didn’t jam but produced a lovely straight, clean cut. I think I can probably make another pass with the file to make it even sharper.

    It probably too me 15 mins overall and no doubt I can bring that time right down as I get more experienced. It wasn’t a hassle in the slightest but a very satisfying piece of mini restoration, and I can’t wait to start using it on a new project.

  12. Rodger Haynes on 30 September 2019 at 2:03 pm

    What are your thoughts on diamond files for saw sharpening?

    • Paul Sellers on 30 September 2019 at 2:36 pm

      I truly have doubts as to longevity because the sharp edges they cut into as corners will soon penetrate the electro-plating causing separation before wear. Plus, diamond particles are actually an abrasive rather than a tooth. There is a huge difference between draw filing as in sharpening saws and abrading as with diamonds.

  13. Nick Hales on 30 September 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Hi all . Totally agree with Paul about the eclipse saw set , also I watched your video on reducing the size of the hammer for the smaller teeth . Works great too. So thats two eclipse sets but ive purchased another made by Chas Morill made in the USA . Whereas the eclipse goes down to 12 tpi this will go to 16 tpi plus the rests (I will call them that ) are wider apart so allowing a better view of the teeth. As I am getting older now , but not as old as Paul , I have to mark every other tooth with a marker pen and the wider throat on the Morill set makes life much easier . One more point . The earlier eclipse are brass , nice , but the later are not . Not so nice , the Morill is steel so on the underside of the shoulders ( you know the part I mean ) I put a small amount of super glue . So now when landing the set on nice sharp teeth you don’t get that sound of steel on steel .

  14. nemo on 30 September 2019 at 8:39 pm

    Eclipse no. 77 is probably the saw set mr. Sellers is suggesting to Kevin Bargdill. I have a few of them and like them. It’s not like I need more, but whenver I stumble upon one at a yardsale or fleamarket and see one, the price is invariably very low (many people don’t know what those funny pliers are for) and they end up coming home with me. Don’t think I’ve ever paid more than 0.50 euro for one. Don’t need more sawsets but at those prices I can’t help myself. Also have a knock-off that is exactly like the Eclipse 77, except for lack of brandname and typenumber. Still performs fine.

    If you search this blog, you should find a post showing that the #77 comes in two different variants, with mr. Sellers explaining how to modify the set so it works for saws with finer teeth.

    (my comment will probably end up again not under the message of Kevin Bargdill I’m responding to but in the main thread, despite clicking on the correct ‘reply’ link)

  15. Christopher Bruce on 30 September 2019 at 10:06 pm

    Here’s a funny story some of you may relate to. I bought a beautiful old 10 point saw for $5. Sharpened it a few times but the teeth were way out of whack. So I decided to try my first re-shape. Filed teeth off and pre-cut the teeth as Paul had shown. It didn’t go too well the teeth were not uniform. So I filed them off again and did it a second time. This time it went very well. I was more careful with filling and was very happy with the result. Put the handle back on and on the first stroke I realized I’d turned it into a Japanese pull saw. LOL.

  16. Terrence OBrien on 1 October 2019 at 1:28 am

    Anyone know exactly what part of the tooth the plunger should contact? There is a huge difference in the set depending on where the plunger hits the tooth. I guess it’s one of those thousands of little things people used to pick up sitting next to the guy who had done a thousand saws.

  17. Nathan on 1 October 2019 at 2:48 am

    Paul I have restored many hand saws of all sizes and with some success and have loved the joy of seeing them come back to life.
    Some beauties I have found for less than $10 and they had their challenges, some so far gone but what intrigued me was how far I’d go to restore them back to their working state. Polish the brass studs, mend a handle.
    This enjoyment I have found came from seeing you restore them. Inspiration that you give through your work will go on and on.
    What is happening is my son and his friends are now asking questions about how things I make are made. That’s worth something!!
    Thanks Paul.

  18. Peter Kelly on 1 October 2019 at 9:36 am

    Hi Paul, re filing. Can I introduce you & your followers to Clickspring, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCworsKCR-Sx6R6-BnIjS2MA
    Chris is a wizard on filing & his recreation of the Antikythera mechanism is to behold!!

  19. Peter Brandt Petersen on 3 October 2019 at 3:40 pm

    always start by file the front of the teeth and then the back. always start opposite end of handle.
    Poul knows for sure, but I haven’t seen Poul mention it, but I’m pretty new to the site.
    hope you understand my english! is not so good at it.

    Sincerely Peter.

  20. Keith W on 5 October 2019 at 2:07 pm

    I have seen a German saw set in an antique shop. Struggled to see how it worked properly, looked too complicated compared to my Eclipse. Decided that £10 to experiment with it was too much.

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