NEW! Saw Sharpening Service!

A few months ago, I got an email out of nowhere from Mark Harrell of  BadAxeTool fame. In case you live under a table saw shaped rock and have never heard of him, Mark is the owner and saw smith behind the amazing Bad Axe Saws. His saws are the latest rage in Galootopolis, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of using a Bad Axe, then you know why…they are astounding saws. Chris Schwarz  just wrote up a great review of Mark’s saws in the Fine Tool Journal that Wiktor Kuc was good enough to re-publish on his site here.

Anyway, after some initial emailing, Mark and I agreed to conduct a trade (in order to better gauge each others skills!) 😉 Mark sent me his new hybrid dovetail/tenon saw, and I sent him a nice 1880s vintage Disston D-8 rip saw (Mark’s favorite) that I had fully restored and sharpened up.

As soon as I received it, I was blown away by Mark’s saw…it has quickly become one of my go to back saws. And, much to my satisfaction, Mark was as equally impressed with my work on his new Disston ripper.

But, the story doesn’t end there….

A couple of days ago, Mark asked me to help him out…it seems he’s been building quite a back log of vintage saw restoration work and now has a 10 to 12 week waiting time. Not wanting to lose faithful customers, he asked me to help him out….here’s a copy of the email…

“Matt, help! I have a boatload of Bad Axe saws to deliver, and my backlog of vintage saw work is getting bloated to ridiculousness—I’m telling my customers they have to wait 10-12 weeks, and that’s just stupid. You are a fabulous saw doc—can I shift some of this load onto your shoulders? Be sure to post this message on your blog, so folks know this is coming from me, and that you da man when it comes to making saws sticky-sharp! Thanks! ~ Mark”

So, without any further blathering on my part, I’m happy to announce that I will now be offering full hand saw sharpening and restoration services here through the Saw Blog!

This was an easy decision for me to make, as many of you have been inquiring lately and my plan was to begin offering services soon anyway….Mark just has a knack for being persuasive enough to get me to fast forward my time-table a bit. 😉 And in addition to sharpening and restoration services, I’ll soon be offering fully restored and sharpened vintage hand saws for sale through the blog as well….stay tuned for more on that later.

For those re-directed here from Mark’s site, or my own readers and any one looking for saw sharpening and restoration, here is a quick listing of my rates. If you are interested or have questions, please email me at One day soon, I will get around to launching a proper website and email link, but until then please email me at the above address.

My rates:

Basic saw sharpening: $35
This includes jointing, filing, setting and final sharpening

NOTE: For miter box saws, add $15.
Re-toothing: add $45
This is done entirely by hand and is an additional charge to the $35 noted above
Straightening saw plate: $25
This includes removing kinks and bends by smithing with a saw hammer
Saw tote repair: $30
This includes one repair of a break such as a broken horn, handle web, stress fracture or other break in the tote. For additional horn or repair, add $20.
Cleaning saw plate: $25
This includes rust removal, basic polishing to 400 grit and waxing. For heavy rust, additional polishing or resurrecting an etch, add $15.

Well, there you have it….feel free to email Mark as well with questions or contact me directly.

Right now, I’m offering a 1 to 2 week turnaround time for most saws…depending on the work.

As always, thanks for stopping by! 🙂


Oh, and btw…here’s a pic of that saw I sent Mark…

Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm  Comments (16)  

Cleaning a saw plate…

If you’re not familiar with Josh Clark of Hyperkitten then do yourself a favor and surf on over to his site. Josh is without a doubt the coolest damn antique tool dealer this side of the Mississippi.

Case in point is the recent package of tools I got from Josh….he knows I am an avid saw-freak and always manages to find the nicest scratch for my particular itch. Josh can find just about anything, and his prices are extremely fair…even bordering on ridiculous at times.

As it were, this latest package of booty from Josh contained a couple very nice older English saws, and some saw parts…take a look…

A tisket, a tasket, a mid-19th century English sash saw and other sundry goodies. 🙂

One of said goodies was a decent 24 inch Disston #7 saw plate with 8 points that was begging to be cleaned and re-united with a proper tote. So I figured this would be a great opportunity to blog about my methods of cleaning an old rusty saw plate and use the #7 as my model.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been experimenting with lots of different ways of cleaning saw plates, and recently, I have settled on a method and materials that are efficient and readily available.

To get started, you really only need two basic items….Simple Green cleaner and 400 grit abrasive paper….

If you were to conduct a survey of those who clean saw plates regularly, you will find that most use mineral spirits as their abrasive lubricant, and no doubt MS works well on cleaning rust and grime, but it also excels at causing neurological damage….a fact that motivated me to find an alternative.

That search lead to all sorts of things, some petroleum distillates, some other types of solvents. Eventually, I found Simple Green. I recalled a member of WoodNet mentioning that he had used window cleaner with good results, and I thought how great it would be if I could find a regular cleaning product that would work on my saws, AND would have the added benefit of not shortening my life. So, I picked up a bottle for $5 and had at it…

…with outstanding results!!!! This stuff has  pleasant minty scent and cuts grime and rust just as well as mineral spirits….I truly cannot tell the difference in its ability of to disolve rust and grime, nor in the lubricating properties of the S.G. nor its ability to prevent clogging on the abrasive paper. This stuff rocks! So,  save your precious brain cells for beer drinking and retire your mineral spirits. 😉

The other item you’ll need is 400 grit abrasive paper….automotive wet/dry paper will hold up better, but Norton 3x aluminum oxide paper is also good. I use both, but tend to use more of the Norton stuff ’cause I can buy it in bulk from Woodcraft.

Now that we’re ready to start the saw cleaning, there’s just one more thing…make a paper pad for the saw plate….this is an important step that I recommend.

What is a paper pad and why should you use one? Well, a paper pad is basically just a piece of heavy craft paper cut in the shape of your saw plate, and you should use one because of this simple reason: as you’re sanding away on your saw plate, the abrasive breaks up and gets carried away by the slurry from the cleaner, and this loose abrasive invariably ends up getting all over the bench top you’re working on. The last thing you want is that loose abrasive getting embedded into the work surface you are pressing down on so that when you flip the nice clean saw plate over to work on the other side, you grind all that abrasive back into the fresh steel on the clean side and scratch up your saw. I used to go crazy trying to figure out complex ways of cleaning my bench top between sides until I came up with this little “saw pad” trick.

To make one, just lay your saw plate on an over sized piece of brown craft paper or resin flooring paper. Place your saw plate on the piece and trace around it with a razor….

What you’re left with is a perfectly shaped paper pad for your saw…

Now you’re ready to clean!

Place your saw plate on the pad and spray generously over the plate…squirt about four or five pumps worth for one side. Grab a square of 400 grit abrasive paper and start scrubbing. Always scrub with the length of the saw….NEVER scrub across the width of the saw. Steel is just like wood….always sand with the grain….cross grain scratches on steel are just as tough to get out!!!

You’ll notice that I don’t use a sanding block here…and there’s an important reason why. If I was trying to preserve or uncover the etch on this saw, then yes, I would use a sanding block over the area of the etch…but ONLY over the area of the etch and not anywhere else on the plate. Why? 

I’ve found that using a backing block over the whole saw prevents the abrasive from getting into the subtle undulating texture of the saw plate, and you end up with a saw that has varying spots of cleanliness and polish…very uncomely. So use a block over the etch if you want to save it, or skip it all together if you are not worried about the etch. I’ll write about how to resurrect an etch in another post…that’s a fun little exercise that deserves its own spotlight. 🙂

Back to the saw….

Depending on how dirty and rusty your saw is, you’ll probably need to clean the slurry away and switch to a fresh sheet of abrasive paper every couple of minutes. Don’t be stingy with the abrasive….its cheap and this is drudgery you want to end ASAP, no doubt. Make sure you focus particular attention along the toothline…I always give the teeth special attention and use two sheets of abrasive to ensure I’m getting it good.

After about ten minutes of work and three or four squares of paper, here’s what you get…

Now, as Pete Taran says on his site, no ones going to mistake your saw for brand new after cleaning, but then again, why would you want them to? Right? As you can see from the pic, the plate has a bit of sheen, but is free from loose dirt, rust, corrosion and crud. To me, this is the perfect balance of cleanliness, polish and vintage look….if you were to go one grade of abrasive finer, you’d start to really polish the high spots on the saw plate and it would begin to look strange….like a high-carbon skin disease. 😉 For me, 400 grit provides that perfect balance between too clean, and not clean enough.

Now you can flip the saw over and repeat the process on the other side. You’ll notice that your saw pad has gotten wet and started to dissolve along its edges, but no fear, it is still doing its job of keeping you saw off of loose abrasive that could now scratch it up.

After you finish the other side, make a point of abrading the edges of the plate as well….run the abrassive paper along the spine, nose and heel of the saw. The fine edges clean very quickly, and add another level of refinement to your new prize. You can even work a little folded up piece into the nib and clean it of the rust and grime.

Next, I take my saw over to the sink and rinse the hell out of it under warm water…yes, I said water. This is the easiest way to clean the saw of gunk, slurry and abrasive. Don’t worry about the water rusting your saw…you’re going to dry it next. I wipe down the saw right from the faucet, but don’t worry about getting every drop of water because now its over the shop vac, which I’ve reversed into a high-powered blower, and I blow it thoroughly dry…focusing on the bolt hoes and teeth, in particular.

Here she is all cleaned up…

Now that she’s all nice and rust free, we want to keep her that way…a quick coat of paste wax will work wonders. I’ve tried different kinds of waxes, and they all work, but stay away from Briwax as it has caustic solvents like xylene and toluene that really serve no purpose here other than making you light-headed and possible giving you cancer. I like Minwax paste wax ’cause its cheap and readily available…

A minute to buff and dry, and here she is….ready for her next life…

Finally, I dig through my pile of orphaned saw totes and select a nice patinated apple tote with a lamb’s tongue. It’s not a historically correct match for this Disston #7, as its tote would be beech, but the two look so damn good together I just can’t help it…

So, that’s about it…nice and simple. Like I mentioned at the start, I’ve tried all sorts of ways of cleaning saw plates, but most of them use too much materials for very little improvement over this simple approach.  One cleaner, one grit and you’re done.

As always, thanks for stopping by….

Happy sawin’

-Matt  🙂

Published in: on May 22, 2011 at 6:52 pm  Comments (18)  

Vises with vices…

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that a good saw vise is hard to find. It’s not a matter of quantity…finding one is very easy…they are everywhere on ebay, antique shops and tool dealers. The problem is finding one that functions well.

As I learned to sharpen saws early on, my experiences with saw vises paralleled very closely with my experiences with women. At first, I didn’t know what to look for, so I would just buy everyone I found and stick my saw in it to see how it worked. Soon enough, in addition to lots of sub-par vises (and unsavory ex-girlfriends) I ended up with a very clear idea of what was required of a solid, functional vise. It wasn’t until then that I was finally able to find a great vise that could serve all of my needs, because until then, I never knew what I needed.

So, now I know exactly what I require in a good vise (and in a good woman! 😉 )

 And what it all boils down to is that because I do a lot of retoothing by hand, I need a vise that is as solid as a Nazi bunker. When you’re retoothing a 4 or 5 point rip saw, any weak point in the vise will flex with your file stroke…and this robs your file of its work. Not good. So I can now look at a vise and tell if its going to be any good without even picking it up. 

Now before you start lauding me with praise, I should probably tell you that being able to tell a good saw vise from a bad one is not rocket science. In fact, it’s probably common sense for your average second grader….in most cases, bigger equals better. Why it took me so long to figure this out, I don’t know (I never was very smart anyway). Perhaps, just like those many ex-girlfriends, I wasn’t paying attention to the right….details. 😉

Anyway, I figured I would share my experiences and critiques with each vise I’ve been enamored with over the past few years.

It all started 8 or 9 years ago the first time I sharpened a saw. At that time, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a saw vise, so I did what any power tool woodworker would have done and used my Black and Decker Workmate. With two pieces of MDF as vise jaws, I clamped my vintage Disston dovetail saw into the Workmate and had at it….with surprisingly good results. The Workmate performed admirably, and if all I ever needed to sharpen was back saws, then this would probably be all the saw vise I would ever need. The jaws held the work more securely than you’d ever need, it was easy to operate, and didn’t deflect under my file stroke at all. Again, I was filing a 15 point DT saw, so the stroke had minimal force behind it, but this set up could easily handle anything up to an 11 or 12 point saw with no problem. Go figure!

Alas, the burgeoning saw disease was destined to soon metastasize to my brain and completely take over my life, so when I started to file hand saws I quickly outgrew my Workmate. I did try to make it work, but the poor bugger just didn’t have the mass to pull it off, and with its splayed steel legs, getting a stool close enough to the vise for long filing sessions was an exercise in futility. Oh well….who doesn’t like an excuse to buy a new tool?!?!?

Here’s the point in the story you all know so well…..your first love….and boy, was she a looker! A vintage, turn of the century Disston #2…you know…the one with the raised lettering proclaiming her father’s name…

Ahhhhh…I can still remember the moment I saw her on the table at an antique tool auction…she looked at me, and I at her, and that was it. $20 and she was mine. The first few times with her were life changing…she was beautiful, firm and responsive. Wait a minute….what are we talking about again?!?!?! 😉

Anyway, back to saw vises…when I found this Disston #2, the  cam lock had plenty of life in it, the jaws were straight and true, and the screw mechanism that holds the vise to your workbench was solid. Truly, this vise changed the way I looked at saw filing…it was great to be able to stand up and file at a comfortable level. And once again, if all I ever needed to file was smaller saws, this little gal would be fine….but there in lies the rub.

Because this vise has the common design that elevates the saw high off the bench, it kind of turns the whole unit into a sky scaper….and you know what they say about the top of skyscrapers in the wind. Well just imagine the toothline of your saw is the top floor of the Sears Tower, and your file stroke is the wind…you can do the math.

So, unfortunately, this beautiful tool was limited in its function….it just gave too much deflection with larger files and work. I would say the limits of this vise are in the 9 to 10 point range. I can remember filing a 20 inch Disston #7 panel saw with 10 points and being very pleased with this vise. But I can also remember a week later when I tried to file a 6 point Atkins rip saw in it and that was the moment that my eyes started to glance longingly at other women…I mean vises.

Enter the Sargent #95….this vise is one of those fancy ones with the ball and socket that lets you turn, bevel, and slant the saw any which way you please. It also had more mass than the Disston, and it had a screw closure, as opposed to the cam lock for the vise jaws. That meant I could dial in heavier clamp pressure on the saw plate….

Once again, all was well in saw filing land….my new love was solid and oh so flexible. Sweet! I really fell for the ball and socket mechanism too…not only was this just a damn cool feature to play with and look at, but I didn’t have to unclamp the saw to file from the other side of the plate for saws with fleam. I’d just unclamp the ball in the socket and swing it around…voila!

But, just like the others, this romance wasn’t meant to last…the now glaring issue of retoothing the big saws came roaring back with a vengeance. No matter how hard I tightened that socket (NOT A GOOD IDEA!!! OLD CAST IRON IS BRITTLE!!!!) I couldn’t counter act the skyscraper effect….deflection with the heavy files. Oh well…..back in the mix of cheap bars and disco-techs I went….still determined to meet my dream girl.

And here’s where the story gets interesting. At some point, I remember reading Joel’s blog at Tools For Working Wood about his old Wentworth vise….I was intrigued. Could this be? A saw vise that delivers?

Luckily enough, I was happy to score a box lot of saw vises at local tool auction that included one of these Wentworth vises…..sweet! One of the cool things about this vise is that it has an integral rubber liner on the clamping jaws that help to prevent the dreaded screeching of the file across the teeth. Not only that, but they help keep the saw firmly in the jaws. But the real selling point of this vise was the compact nature of jaw fixture to the point where the vise clamps to your bench…

Here’s the reality with saw vises: the shorter the distance from your bench top to the vise jaws, the more stable your vise is going to be in use. And this vise by far had the shortest distance of any I’d seen. And what a difference it made! Coupled with the rubber jaw liner (which I did replace as the original was all dried up and crumbly) this vise was a real winner! It was short, which made is solid, it was easy to operate and clamp thanks to the cam lock, and it was easy to store do to its compact size. I loved it. And yes….it handled big saws and big files just fine. 🙂

The only down side to this vise was the short jaw length….at 1o inches long, it required two repositionings to file a full size hand saw. Not a deal breaker, but certainly a nuisance when you’re in a filing groove….it just turns into a hassle to unclamp, move, line it up and reclamp over and over. Call me picky, but at this point in my life, I wanted it all in a partner. 😉

But honestly, I was resigned to accept this vise as my mate for the long haul. I didn’t think it could get any better….at least not without shelling out $150 for Joel’s wonderful GramercyToolsVise. (And thus far, I have held out on selling a kidney on ebay to finance that one…)

But, like all those before, this little lady was ultimately doomed as well. I just got tired of the unclamping…clamping…unclamping…clamping dance and decided it was time to move on.

So, much like the two enterprising young men in the John Hughes 80’s teen classic WeirdScience who decided to make the perfect woman, I decided to make the perfect vise….

And what it turned out to be was nothing more than a simple hinged saw carriage for use in my Moxon twin screw vise….two scraps of plywood, two strips of hardwood for the jaws, a couple brass barrel hinges and….

Held to my bench with hold fasts, you could drive a Hummer into this vise and it wouldn’t move….let alone deflect it with a saw file. The only limitation? In order to fit my already existing Moxon vise, I had to limit the length of the saw carriage to 24 inches to fit between the screws. That means if I had to file a saw longer than 24 inches, I had to remove the tote. Not cool.

So, how does this story end? Well, it doesn’t. In fact, another recent chapter has been added very recently. A brief stop on my way home from work a few Fridays ago at a local antique shop yielded this most amazing saw vise…

She’s big, she’s brawny and she’s a solid as a brick house. I had to tap in a new screw to clamp the jaws closed, as I had to drill out the original (it was rusted solid). But without a doubt, this is the biggest saw vise I have ever found in the wild. The jaws are 14 inches wide…very big for vintage iron! The castings are HUGE…this thing weighs a ton!!!! It is amazingly solid….the file deflection is minimal and certainly the slightest I have ever found in a vintage vise. I have no idea who made this vise, as it has no markings of any kind….but it is old…very old.

Anyway, for now, it seems my search for the perfect vise is at a still point…..

We’ll see…


Published in: on May 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm  Comments (15)