Hand Saws

Handsaws are sharpened using a number of tools.
  1. Required
    1. Flat, mill file
    2. 60° triangular file
    3. Saw set tool
  2. Optional -- wooden jigs can be made
    1. Saw jointer file holder
    2. Rake indicating jig
    3. Fleam indicating jig
    4. Hand saw vise, or some form of clamp-on filing guide

Sharpening steps:

  1. Clean & de-rust the saw blade; repair as necessary.
  2. Joint the tops of the teeth.
  3. Set the teeth.
  4. Re-joint the tops of the teeth.
  5. File the teeth to sharpen them.
  6. De-burr the teeth (also called, “dressing” or “stoning”).
  7. Wax the blade.

You make me believe in reincarnation because no one could become that stupid in one lifetime.

Unknown Sergeant

Side View

End View

Top View
Saw Type Saw Purpose Rake Fleam Drop Set* Comments
Range Recom. Range Recom. Range Recom.
Backsaw Crosscut -12° to -30° -15° 10° to 45° 20° 0° to 10° 25%

Drop: Older texts recommended a drop of 5°.

Rip -15° to 0° -10° 25%

Drop: Older texts recommended a drop of 10°.

Hybrid -15° to 0° -10° 10° 25%

This hybrid approach works well with hard woods.

Compass Saw (all) (same as for Rip Hand Saws)  
Hand Saw Crosscut

-12° to -30° -15° 10° to 45° 25° 0° to 10° 25%

Rake: Higher rake angles make the saw's cutting more aggressive (and faster). For soft, fibrous woods, consider rake = 45° and increase Set.

Fleam: With fleam at 10°, a crosscut saw acts more like a modified rip saw. At 45°, it requires more resharpening and is less tolerant of variable grain alignment. For soft, fibrous woods, consider fleam = 30°.

In older texts, fleam = drop, and it is common to see both at 10°.


-10° to +5° -5° 0° to 6° 0° to 10° 25%

Rake: For general, all-around use, set to -5°. Higher rake angles make the saw's cutting more aggressive (and faster).

Fleam: For dense wood with wild grain, increase to 10°.

Drop: Older texts recommended a drop of 10°.

Reciprocating Saw Blades (all)   25%  
Veneer Saw (all)     0 Use a stone to de-burr, and then bevel the sides of the teeth.

* Set is expressed as a percentage of the saw blade's thickness, before de-burring the teeth.

Notes & Comments

Another View of Filing Angles

Triangular File Used vs. Saw TPI

Image courtesy Tools for Working Wood

Jointing: When jointing the tops of the teeth, a saw jointer makes this easier. However, you could also use one of the jigs in the recommended books below. Engler's and Lie-Nielson's books show this best.

Setting:. When setting the teeth, a saw set is critical for this.

If buying one, get one with a pistol-grip, and which accommodates 4-16 TPI. The saw set I use is a Stanley model 42W. It works much better than the models 42 or 432. I have not tried the Stanley model 42S nor the model 42X, nor any of those newer ones available on eBay, so I cannot speak to their abilities.

Only set the top 1/2 of the teeth.

Increase Set for saws with coarse teeth. Decrease Set for saws with finer teeth.

For very fine saws, the burr from the filing may give an adequate set. If it does not, you may need to have a second saw set where you have filed down the width of the hammer. This is expecially the case for saws with 15 points per inch or more. Matt Cianci's book, Set & File, shows good pictures of this.

Filing:. When filing the teeth, the saw must be held solidly along a straight edge. The goals are to

  1. ensure consistent gullet depth, and
  2. ensure the angles (flame, slope, and rake) cut into the gullets are consistent.

A saw vice like the Gramercy Tools 14" Saw Vise is very good for this, but it can also be made from wood (e.g., a 2x4).

There are jigs in the recommended books below. Engler's and Lie-Nielson's books show the options best.

For the triangular file, use the specified size based on the saw's teeth per inch (TPI) as shown in the lower picture to the right.

De-burring the teeth (also known as, dressing the teeth, or stoning the teeth:. When de-burring the teeth, be sure to use a hard stone or file to even out the amount of set and create a consistent cutting by the saw.

French veneer saws have a variable rake towards the center, and only have a bevel on one side. Best to have a professional re-sharpen these.

Blackburn Tools' web page, Saw Tooth Geometry, has good visuals to explain Drop (which they call, Slope), Fleam, and Rake.

More Information

Books & Papers

Other recommended books and papers are listed below alphabetically, not by preference.

Videos & Presentations

Web Sites

About this site
Remember : The goal of sharpening is to produce sharp tools, and these tools can injure you if mishandled. Safety measures should be followed to protect yourself and those in your shop. Be sure to read and follow all instructions from the manufacturer, and and utilize proper safety equipment. Never consume alcohol or anything that could impair your judgement before sharpening tools, or using sharp tools. Comments can be sent via eMail to me at SharpeningHandbook@Gmail.com.