Whenever I undertake a new woodworking project, I find myself needing to take breaks periodically due to spring steel withdrawal. You know what I mean…the ache you get in your loins for a freshly revealed etch and crisply sharpened teeth staring up at you from your vintage Disston saw vise?
No…you don’t get that feeling??? Hhhhmmmm….maybe my wife is right? Well, anyway….
It’s sad, but it seems I can’t go more than a few days without diving into some old saw rehab to bring another long-lost gem back from the brink of the scrap pile.
This week was wrought with said withdrawl….I’ve been knee-deep in my new super saw bench build…ripping, planing, cutting…actual WOOD working so I had to distract myself with some saw time. And boy am I glad I did, because whenever I do, I seem to take leaps forward in my saw sharpening and fettling skills….this week was no different.
I’ve had this war-era Disston #4 back saw sitting in my short till for a few months and I’ve been meaning to retooth it. When I originally bought it back in the spring, it was covered in rust and looking pretty sad with its purely machine shaped handle (you know the ugly ones I’m talking about that Disston insulted us with right before their fall from greatness).
When i first brought her home, I immediately cleaned her up and reshaped the handle. At 16 inches long, she’s a true tenon saw….def hard to find in this vintage. The teeth however, at 12 points per inch, were peg filed, as is common to find with older saws, and with fleam to boot….not going to fly as a tenon saw at all!
Here she is after a day at my spa…
After cleaning her up, I put her on the shelf with plans of re-toothing her soon, but you know how that goes….summer…fall….and here we are.
So I took her down a couple nights ago, with arms sore from planing white oak, and I decided the time had come for that re-toothing. I was set on 10 points, rip cut (no fleam), and about 7 degrees of negative rake….my favorite recipe for tenon saw teeth.
The first step of course, as she was a 12 point saw, was de-toothing her before I could re-tooth her.
So, over to the grinder we go…and quick work here (a lot faster than filing them all away….aarrrrrggghh!!!!)
I leave just the bottoms of the gullets left and chuck her into the saw vise to take her down to a clean line with a mill file…
You can see I’m skewing the file here just a bit to make a cleaner cut. And the last two strokes I turn the file 90 degrees to the tooth line and draw file it for a really smooth finish.
Next, I mark out the tooth spacing with a fine Sharpie and threaded rod as a guide. You can use lots of little tricks to mark the tooth spacing…I’ve been meaning to try those templates from Lief at Norse Woodsmith…gotta upgrade my process…
To start filing in the teeth, I use a very light touch and take one stroke across the Sharpie mark to simply create a groove for subsequent strokes…no heavy filing here…its quick and easy…
Now that a groove is created at the correct spacing, I can focus on makin’ teeth. I don’t take more than two or three strokes with the file per tooth…you really want to keep your spacing accurate and its best done bit by bit.
A few minutes and a few passes and the teeth are just about shaped…
After the first shaping, I joint the teeth and then perfect the spacing by paying close attention to the gullets and “moving” certain teeth forward of back by accentuating my file stroke to the left or right. This is honestly the trickiest part of filing….it can get real tedious so I take my time.
Here they are all shaped…
Now comes the part where lots of people do different things…some sharpen now, then set, some set them sharpen…and the fight goes on.
I like to first set the teeth, joint them again, and then finish with the sharpening. I think it’s absolutely paramount to joint the teeth after you set them because the setting process changes the presentation of the tooth point to the wood (Mike Wenzloff explains it better than I do). By jointing after setting, you return the tooth point to a true perpendicular to the wood when you saw.
I set with my Stanley 42 on the smallest setting…
Followed by a jointing, the final filing, a light stoning of the set, and voila….she bites wood again!!!!
I chucked some 10/4 white oak into my leg vise and hastily scribed some plumb lines to simulate tenon cheek cuts. She needed just a little more taken off the right (because I file my teeth all from the same side, my saws always steer to the right and need to stone a little more off that side due to the burr) and after that it was like buttah’!!!
The 16 inch saw plate really helps to keep the cuts lined up and with 3 and 5/8 under the back, I can reach serious depth without needing to switch to a panel saw.
With the ache now abated, I can return my focus to the super saw bench in bliss…..aaaahhhhh…all is well in the world once more!