Hand Saw Restoration and Re-teething of a 99p saw Completed


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14 Oct 2011
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I thought I might share how I bring an overlooked hand saw back into being a very useful thing. This is my method, step by step, I'm sure others will both help me and anyone reading this by suggesting improvements and ways in which I can do it better. All comments are gratefully received.

I was inspired to write this by both all of the sharing of restoration done by others, I don't pretend to be an equal to the high quality work I've seen on this forum and also by a new woody who wrote in the forum who was looking for advice on their first hand saw.

For anyone new to wood work, the first hand saw they normally pickup is normally a in-expensive hard point saw from a DIY store. These saws are fine IMO for rough DIY but for anyone trying to make joints they leave a lot to be desired and can I'm sure put people off.

So, for a grand investment 99p anyone can obtain a saw that with a little time and effort can be as good as the most expensive saws you can buy (again that's my opinion)

So, first things first, either look up your nearest car boot sale or start looking on auction sites for a hand saw.

The first question is often what to look for, well a hand saw is basically only as good as the teeth that cut the wood and this is determined by the quality of the steel. The better steels are found on either high quality modern saws such as a Pax who are the last saw makers in the UK or alternatively, an old saw. For a 'rags to riches' saw your not looking for anything fancy. Pistol grip saws tend to go for a lot of money, so a closed handle may not look as nice, but is actually stronger and more resilient to being dropped. Generally on an old saw it will have a wooden handle, which is highly likely to be beach. Don't worry about how 'crappy' I looks that's soon solved with little sand paper!

Brass back saws cost more to make than steel and is a good sign that it was a quality saw in its day, so my suggestion is select one with a brass back.

Don't get hung up about brands, rather look at the overal quality of the saw that lies beneath the grime. If the teeth are missing, uneven, dull, smile with glee, your going to sharpen in and that puts a lot of people off making it cheaper.

Select a saw that does not have split nuts on the two, three or four 'bolts' holding the handle onto the blade. Look instead for a saw with nuts that you can use a normal screwdriver on. Nothing wrong with split nuts apart from
1. They need a screw driver adapting to fit the nut
2. They are generally weaker and more brittle and break easier.

Lastly, sight down the blade and check that the blade is not kinked. It may be curved or an S shape, but what you don't want is any sharp and sudden changes in direction. Anything else is easily fixed.
So, armed with what to look for, I purchased the following saw for the grand sum of 99p


The saw has a Warrated Medalion, which means that it was probably for a good quality saw manufacturer who needed to move some stock for a lower price than the normal brand would command. Looking at the shape of the handle and overal high quality of how it's been made its probably a Spear & Jackson saw.

Under the grime it has a nice beach handle, and the brass back is really well folded, the two sides are even and level. The blade is rusty with very light putting, however nothing is near the teeth, so it's just cosmetic. A nice sharpened Spear & Jackson saw on an auction site is probably going to cost c£40 including postage. So, I've got a bargain!


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The saw has a lot of problems, teeth are missing / uneven which is known as Cows and Calves, and the blade is in an S shape when you sight down it. All easily fixed!

First things first, take the saw apart. Unscrew the nuts and gently remove the studs, they may need persuading to come out by tapping them out with a thick nail that's been blunted / had the point removed. Be careful not to damage / bend the studs.




Gentle pull the saw handle off the blade, keeping the studs and nuts together and putting aside for safe keeping.
Now to remove the brass back. If it's steel, it's the same process. Place the blade in a vice with wooden inserts or something to protect the blade. Your not worried about the teeth, you just don't want to damage the blade., now starting at the toe (opposite end to the handle) either use a wooden mallet or, a piece of wood talked with a hammer tap the back off the blade. It may be very stiff as the rust has caused it to bind together......another good reason to select a brass backed saw.




So, now the saws fully apart the restoration can begin. Initially the blade needs cleaning up, you want to have a blade that you can see a reflection in, that's not to say it needs to be shiny and like a mirror. The reason you need to see a reflection is that when cutting a piece of wood, if you can see the reflection of the wood in the blade, when the reflection lines up with the wood, you know your going to cut at 90 degrees, easy and saves having to mark out!

I use household vinegar to clean up rust, any vinegar will do, cheaper the better. Place the blade in a container and cover in vinegar and leave it for about 48 hours.


After its pickled for a while take it out dry it off and use either wire wool, Autosol, brass cleaner or similar to remove the back residue left on the blade. A bit of elbow grease and it starts to clean up. Here is how far I take it. I then cover it in some form of rust preventor. Any wax will do (silicone free), I use Metal Guard followed by a light wax.



You can see the reflection of the Metal Guard can in the blade, that's good enough for aligning the wood to cut at 90 degrees.
Next the handle gets a good sand to remove all of the old finish, grime and horrid scoring. I usually start off with 120 grit and work my way up to about 240. Now is the time to test out the feel of the handle. If it's a bit thick for your grip sand it down, if it's not wide enough for your hand sand it wider. I remove every sharp edge and blend all of the curves until it feels nice in my hand. You want to make the handle fit your hand and be as nice as possible to hold.

So, this is after about 15 minutes work. Total time spent so far is about 20 minutes.

Looks good, ive got a few old saws from my grandad in the shed somewhere, might have to dig them out if theyre worth keeping instead of keep buying the £7 bogof cheapies from B&Q.


I have been meaning to attempt this on my myraid of old saws for a while, thanks :D Never thought about the reflection thing!
Rhyolith":3f8rh0g1 said:
I have been meaning to attempt this on my myraid of old saws for a while, thanks :D Never thought about the reflection thing!

Makes it slide nicely in the kerf too.

Now that the handle is cleaned up, smooth and fits your hand you need to add some form of finish. The conventional wisdom is to avoid varnish as this can rub your hand and cause blisters / sore areas. Well, if your sawing for hours every day, that's good advice, however, virtually everyone precessional or hobby orientated only uses hand tools for a short period I would use what ever you want!

Personally I use boiled linseed oil often referred to s BLO followed by a coat of bees wax.


To apply BLO is very easy, literally smother the handle in it, wait 10 minutes and wipe off the excess, let it dry for a few hours and repeat. The end grain will suck up the BLO, so don't worry about it. What you don't want to have is a situation where you leave the BLO smothered over the handle and leave it to dry when the wood has soaked up as much of it as it can. If this happens you end up with a nasty sticky mess that takes a while to scrape and sand back. The trick is just wipe off the excess after c10 mins. You can apply as many coats as you want up until it saturates and won't absorb any more. I don't normally wait for this point and give it about 5 coats.

After leaving the last coat for 48 hours I will give it a coat of bees wax. This isn't to achieve a shiny finish, the bees wax makes a nice finish to hold that isn't slippy. You don't have to wax it, left with just BLO is absolutely fine. This saw had a wax finish on the handle.

Finally don't throw away the cloth or paper towel you used to apply the BLO, spread it out and let it dry. If you scrunch it up and throw it away it might ignite and start a fire. Once the rag or paper towel is dry it's safe to dispose of.
The handle is now finished and can be put aside, leaving just the blade to finish. Firstly, the brass back needs to be put back on the plate, it's not necessary for sharpening, it just in my opinion makes the blade easier to handle.

At this point it's a good time to shine up the brass back, again Autosol or brass cleaner works well. For this saw I also shined up the studs, Medalion and nuts, might as well make it look as good as I can! Once cleaned, hair spray makes a very good barrier to tarnishing.

So, to begin with check that the blade near where the brass back is going to go is free from crud and is flat, often there will be a crud line where the brass back edge was on the blade and this needs special attention to make sure it's been removed. If you use sandpaper don't over do it, it's easy to thin the plate steel down and it needs its thickness to be clamped by the brass back.


You can see the folded brass, a good sign that this is a quality saw is that the brass is folded evenly and both sides align. A poorer quality saw the fold will be offset and one side will be longer than the other. It's not an issue and won't affect the saw in any way, it's just an indication of the care that was taken when it was made.

The brass back (or steel) is a folded piece of metal that clamps the blade plate and allows you to induce tension into the blade. The tension is what pulls the blade straight and makes it into a saw. If a saw has been dropped often the tension in the blade has been released and when you sight down the blade is either curved or an S shape. This is easy to induce when fitting the back and equally easy to fix if you drop the saw.

Place the handle back in the blade and check its aligned with the stud holes. Then mark on the blade where the brass back needs to sit, it should be flush with the handle in the recess, I.e. No gap when you look down on the saw. We can adjust it if necessary later on, it's just to get it as close as possible.

Firstly run a little oil along the edge of the back where the blade goes, it makes putting it back on a little easier, any oil will do.

Now, secure the blade plate in a vice and starting at the handle end start putting the brass back onto the blade. This is the same photo of me taking it off, but it's shows exactly how you start to put it back on.


The next photo is my primitive diagram of where to start tapping it with a mallet to push the back into the blade. You tap at the two ends (1) and (2) of the brass back, NEVER in the middle.


By tapping only on either end until you get it sat back down about 4 to 6mm or 1/8~1/4" across the entire bade you induce a tension along the blade, the centre of the blade will not have been pushed into the back as far a either end, and this causes the centre of the blade at the teeth to be in tension. If you tap in the centre of the blade the top edge of the blade inside the back goes into tension and the bottom edge where the teeth will be is in compression which causes the curve or S that you sometimes see when sighting down the blade.

If you don't get it right first, there are two remedies, either take off the back and start again, or tap lightly on either end. The second method works every time, it's a gentle tap. If you drop the saw, and the tension is released the usual remedy is to tap the toe to re-tension it. This often leads to the back being pushed down too far on old saws you see.

This is the saw now with its brass back on

To sharpen the blade you will need some specialist tools, that ar'nt very expensive.

A second cut file such as a Bacho c£8, this is mine:


A triangular saw file, for hand saws I would recommend that you buy a 5 or 6 " single ended slim file. I buy mine fro. Administer Tools (c£4) and normally buy two just in case one is a dud. I normally buy Vallorbe Swiss files which I find to be very good. You need to either buy a handle or make one out of some scrap wood with a hole drilled into it for the tang of the file to be inserted. My file that I used is shown with a guide block pushed in the end, we will come to that directly.


A saw set, such as an Eclipse 77 bought from. An auction site for c£5. There are fine and course Eclipse saw sets which are both designated as a no77! The way to tell them apart normally is that the fine has a red in the workings.


When buying an Eclipse saw set you will find both iron and bronze versions, I tend to buy the bronze as they are nicer looking. They both work the same, so it's just a cosmetic preference.

Now, although I have both a course and a fine saw set, that's just me, you actually only need one, fine or course it doesn't matter. The only difference between the fine and course is the width of the hammer that bends the saw teeth. You can take a course setting tool apart and file the hammer smaller to fit the teeth your making. A filed hammer can set a large tooth as well as a small tooth!

One myth is that the dial on the anvil of the saw set designates the setting for the number of teeth per inch. It doesn't, it's just an aid for determining how far you will bend the teeth.

Total cost so far £18 including the saw.
To sharpen the saw it needs to be held securely. There are either specialist saw vices available on auction sites, you can make one, plans are available on the Internet, or alternatively you can go super low tech, and use two pieces of wood. I've done part of this restoration using two pieces of wood and part with my saw vice, I started out using pieces of wood, which is perfectly adequate.

Here's the two pieces I used




The exact dimensions are not critical, you just want something that is slightly longer than the saw. I place the blade between the two pieces of wood and use two screws to secure it together - through the ends of the wood which are beyond the blade. The blade is poking out about 4mm.

Many advocate that the top of the wood should be chamfered at say 15 degrees. It's not necessary, but it helps to use the entire length of the file.

I should add, that for normal use, without accidents I sharpen my saws about once a year, and a saw file will sharpen about 6 saws, about 70p a sharpen!
For any new saw I buy that's secondhand I ALWAYS remove all of the teeth no matter how good they look and cut new ones. Why? Well, there are normally problems with how it's been sharpened in the past e.g.

The teeth have not been set correctly, and the slot the blade cuts is too wide. Resetting the teeth is never very successful.

The teeth have been stoned. If the saw is not cutting straight and wanders to one side, the set on the teeth is not equal on both sides. A solution advocated is to use a sharpening stone to 'hone' the offending side. Disaster in my opinion. The teeth on the side that are stoned are reduced in width and will wear faster that the side that has not been stoned, very quickly the saw won't cut properly again.

The teeth have been sharpened incorrectly with some big teeth and some little ones (Cows bad Calves)

I also like to choose the number of teeth per inch I want, this is determined by what I want the saw for.

If your attempting to sharpen a saw for the first time, I would strongly advocate stripping all of the teeth off, by following the method I will hopefully explain you will both learn very quickly how to sharpen a saw and get a good result.

This is a close up of some of the teeth on the saw


So, with the saw trapped between two pieces of wood that is now held in the vice, use the second cut file to file off the teeth. Long strokes down the entire blade until all sign of the teeth is gone. Don't worry, your only removing a couple of millimetres and it will be done in about 8~10 strokes. Let the file cut, don't push down on the file, and lift the file off the blade at the end of each stroke.

Try to keep the file horizontal, don't tip it to one side, this is important for ensuring the teeth are properly formed in the next stage. Because the blade is very thin, any affect of a tipped file will be very small, for a panel saw or ripping saw which has a thicker blade the effect is far more noticeable so try to get into the habit of keeping the saw flat. There are jigs you can buy to keep the file flat, or alternatively you can make one. I find that with a little care it's easy enough to do free hand.



Now that the teeth are removed take something straight and check that the filed surface is flat. Assuming you have chosen a saw that's about 12" long a ruler is good for this purpose. When I say flat, I'm not taking about feeler gauge flat, just reasonably flat, it must not be concave with a hollow in the centre of the blade, a very very slight bow or crown isn't a problem. Take a little time and get it reasonably flat without taking lots of metal off.

Some saws have a blade that narrows towards the toe by design, and a lot have this appearance due to poor sawing / sharpening. You can at this stage adjust the taper on the blade if you want.....I never bother. The saw I bought was almost perfectly square.
To sharpen the saw, we need to determine what the saw will be used for, there are different tooth patterns (that's not the correct term, but for clarity I will use it) for different situations. For ripping, or cutting with the grain, the teeth are very simple to make, for cross cut the tooth pattern is more complex and needs more concentration to do it well.

All in all, I have found that backed saws that are sharpened to a RIP pattern are absolutely fine for 99% of everything I have ever made. It's only with exotic woods and very thin stuff I have ever been tempted to reach for a saw that is sharpened with 'fleam' for cross cutting. In general, and this is my opinion, the thin plate of the blade and a finely set tooth (amount you push the tooth to one side) means that there is not real noticeable difference between a RIP and a cross cut saw.

So, this saw is going to be sharpened with a RIP tooth setting. The next question is what angle should the front edge of the tooth be sharpened at? If the front edge is at 90 degrees it is very aggressive and hard to start the cut, if you relax the angle to say 15 degrees from the vertical it is very easy to start but cuts very slowly. There is a lot written about the best angle (rake of the tooth), and again from my own experimentation I have found that it only really becomes relevant on large saws with big teeth. My reading has suggested that Disston advocated 8 degrees for RIP saws which is what I use on all my saws. It makes a relatively aggressive cut which is relatively easy to start. The best compromise.

There is a school of thought that a progressive rake leads to the best saw, where the front 1" (25mm) from the toe is sharpened at say 15 degrees, then over the following inch (25mm) this is then progressively increased to either 8 degrees or all the way back to 0 degrees. I've tried it, it's easy with a bit of experience to sharpen a saw this way, but again IMO does not really give any benefit and does make the front 2" of your blade not as effective as it could be at cutting - that's actually a lot of poor cutting area on a 12" blade which is a typical handsaw length,

So, again this saws going to be sharpened at constant 8 degrees of rake.

Finally, there is the question of how many teeth per inch to cut (TPI). This is the number of teeth you can count starting at a gully and finishing at a gully in a distance of 1". There is another measure you will see, which it PPI or points per inch. This is the number of teeth over an inch you can count in this case you count the points of the teeth rather than the gullies. PPI is always one more than TPI. So, a 14 TPI is a 15PPI.

For a saw to cut properly you need at least 3~4 teeth in the cut at any given time. Any less and the saw will 'catch', this is caused by the saw falling into the wood too far causing you to try and push the whole tooth (gully to point) through the wood rather than just a small section of the top (point) of the tooth. It's the same feeling you get when starting a saw in a cut, and is caused by exactly the same problem.

So, for simple maths, if you have a saw with 15TPI or 16PPI, it will cut very well down to say 1/4" thigh wood. At 1/4" (6mm) it will have at any given time 16 /4 = 4 points in the cut. By not cutting straight to the wood, and rather at an angle you can elongate the length of wood being cut and go down to about 2mm or c1/6" without too much difficulty.

For almost every application brass backed hand saws are usually shaperped to a tooth spacing of between 11 and 13 TPI (12 to 14 PPI). For finer work and dovetails 14PPI and for larger tennons 12PPI. A saw with any of these PPI will cut everything you will most likely want, the 14 PPI will be slightly slower in how quickly you can cut than an 12PPI, however the exit of the cut will be slightly less raggedy.

There are commercial saws you can buy with a 16 or 22 TPI, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having this tooth spacing, it will cut a very finely, but relatively slowly. I've personally never needed a saw with this fine tooth pattern.

So, for a truly universal saw (in my opinion) we arrive at a RIP pattern, with an 8 degree rake and 14PPI. This will cross cut, make tennons and cut Dovetails extremely well in all wood down to about 4mm in thickness. That covers just about everything most people will do.

You can see the reflection of the Metal Guard can in the blade, that's good enough for aligning the wood to cut at 90 degrees.
It's a bit mythical that reflection/90º thing as anybody will soon find if they attempt to rely on it.

Re polish - I'm not into tool restoration, beyond what you need to make it work, which in this case would be a good dose of raw linseed oil (all over) and a sharpen say 30 minutes max. The wood and the steel will then polish up with use. Even a very rusty blade develops a black/brown low-friction and reflective sheen, which after a great deal of use will go steely grey in patches.

I also would never bother to recut - it's simpler to follow what's already there (if anything remains) and the odd missing tooth will be corrected over time. If I wanted a different TPI I'd look for another saw. Old saws are cheap.