Saw 3: I was warned


When I was a kid, I was in love with BMX bikes and tricks. Living in a small Midwestern town, this was an unusual activity and I was pretty much on my own trying to figure out how to make my bike to do what I saw in BMX Plus! (a magazine). One trick involved jumping over the handlebars and “ghost riding.” I tried it. My foot ended up in the break cable and my face ended up in the pavement. All the while my family stood as witnesses to my idiocy.

This weekend, I made my first attempt at sharpening a handsaw. Jointing went okay; nice shiny tops on all the teeth. Shaping seems to be where everything fell apart. Per the Ron Herman video, I made a little guide block for the front of my file. It worked exceptionally well going one direction. However, when I turned the saw around I didn’t reorient the file in the block. Even the first couple of strokes I thought something seemed off, but I kept at it. I got into a good rhythm and before I knew it I was at the other end.

About twice a year I was forced to visit my great-grandmother. She was so old she was scary. Her face was deeply wrinkled. Her gray hair was always in a weird hairnet; wispy strands reaching out to get me. I don’t remember her talking (she was out of her mind at this point), but I do remember her teeth. It looked as though someone had carefully knocked out every other one. Granny could have easily passed as a jack-o-lantern still on the porch in December.

And that is exactly how my saw plate currently looks. One big tooth. One tiny tooth. In a repetitive loop.

Failure is a beautiful and odd thing. The fear of failure keeps some people from trying at all. Of those who try, some can’t handle failure and quit. Others pick up the pieces (and themselves) determined to get it right. Those are the people who allow failure to become a wise teacher.

I wrecked my bicycle dozens of times. I fractured my ribs and broke two fingers, but I finally landed that trick.

And I will have a sharp cross-cut saw.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. R S Greenwood says:

    Now that’s a whoopsie to smile about and chalk up to inexperience. Kind of like leaving the drain plug out of the oil pan. Something you’ll only do once. Fortunately it’s on a flea market find and not a prized piece of the past. I’d lay it aside for a spell and tackle it again on some rainy afternoon down the road.


    1. Eric Key says:

      I agree. It’s a great learning experience! And since it is only a flea market find I’m not too worried about messing it up. But I don’t think I’ll be laying it aside…I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I’ll keep at it until it’s right. Or I don’t have any saw plate left. 🙂


  2. momist says:

    Cows and calves, they call that around here. My first saw ended up with the same fault, but practice makes perfect, and as long as the tooth is still there you don’t need to file it all away to correct the error.
    Many people think the three large faces of the saw file are what should not be worn out, but in fact it is the three tiny faces on the corners that fail. Try a new file for the next one? Alternatively, Paul Sellars suggest using a hacksaw for the bottom of the gullet, so the worn file can be re-used.


    1. Eric Key says:

      That is a really great tip!! I’m on my last side of one file and have a few more spare ones just in case. Thanks for the pointer!


  3. Todd Reid says:

    You’re ahead of me again on this one! I haven’t attempted to screw anything up yet like you have. I have an old set of chisels to practice sharpening and I need to find a flea market plane iron to practice on before I go after those Lie Neilson planes. Looks like I need some flea market saws too. I love learning from your mistakes Eric. Good luck tomorrow and please let me know how it goes.


    1. Eric Key says:

      Did you read Christopher Schwarz’s blog on the Popular Woodworking site about Shapton stones? Seems like a really good deal if you’re in the market for some sharpening equipment. But you don’t have to have those you know…just grab some sandpaper and go at it. Be careful sharpening old or cheap stuff; sometimes they work so well when you’re done that you wonder why you bought the “good” stuff anyway.


  4. nordichomey says:

    I cheated and took a class from Mike Siemens. Mike ensured my teeth looked better than my dental Bridge… baseball.


    1. Eric Key says:

      I don’t think I would call that cheating–that is wise. The reminders (scars) from our youth sure make great stories for everyone else. Did you learn to catch?


  5. meanmna says:

    I love the “I was warned” title … I have found an easy fix is to file both teeth from the same side of the saw rather than turing the saw around. Then at the end, you can stone both sides to knock off any bur and make sure the saw cuts straight.

    Use your guide block on the file to maintain a consistent rake and then another guide block on the top of the teeth to guild your fleam. Start at one end (I start at the back) and file every other tooth. When you get to the end, go back to the beginning and flip your fleam guide around (but keep your rake guide the same) so that you are filing the proper fleam for the other teeth and proceed down the plate hitting all the ones you skipped the first time.

    One key is to make sure when you file the fleam into the teeth that the edge it produces is on the outer edge of the tooth, not the inner edge (hopefully this makes sense).

    Finally, a light jointing so that you have a just perceivable flat prior to sharpening helps. Try to take away just have of that flat before moving on the first time around and the second pass on the opposite teeth you will file it away. Also, don’t forget you can apply lateral pressure as well into the face/back of a tooth and not just downward to help take the flats off evenly.


    1. Eric Key says:

      I had someone on Instagram suggest filing from the same side too! What a world of difference that makes. Everything you have written is crystal clear now that I’ve been at it a while. The first time through I didn’t change my block for the rake angle…that made a real mess. But the great news is that I’m getting the hang of it, learning something new, and getting great help from people like you. Really do appreciate the feedback!


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