Not dead yet…

I haven’t had much time to work on the blog lately. Between working on orders and attending LN Hand Tool Events, time to write has been scarce.

I have also been up to my eyeballs in work as I try to prepare myself for the Handworks Show this weekend. I have a few more tools to make and pack before leaving tomorrow morning for Amana. If you’re going, stop by the Furniture Shop and say hello.

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Saw sharpening series – Saw vises, Part I

This is the first entry in a saw sharpening serial. To ensure you don’t miss any future posts, you can subscribe to this blog by submitting your email address in the box to the right. You can also find related posts by searching this blog for “saw sharpening series”, or by visiting the full chronological index.

The series will be as comprehensive as possible without making it too tedious or dense for the writer or reader. Should the author belabor a point, it is because we believe it too important to leave unsaid or to chance. -Ed.

The qualities of a good saw vise, being the first part in a saw sharpening serial.

There are many places I could start this series, but the humble saw vise is a good one. In this installment, we will establish the criteria that make a vise good or bad. Future posts will address the working qualities of a range of vises, along with possible modifications.

A nearly countless variety of saw vises, both mass-produced and shop made, grace this world with their existence. The quality of these vises range from frustratingly useless to exquisitely useful. Choose one of the former and sharpening becomes a discouraging or impossible task; choose the latter and sharpening may become an enjoyable routine.

To increase your odds of finding or making a superior saw vise, there are several characteristics you should look for.

Above all, the vise must be rigid. By this, I mean that the vise cannot move about when you are filing. The vise itself, as well as the bench or stand it is mounted on must be rigid. It is of equal importance that the connection between bench and vise be solid.

Rigidity matters because pushing a file across a saw tooth also pushes the saw (and the vise holding it) away from you. Lacking rigidity, the vise will oscillate back and forth, which is bad for the file (it wears prematurely), your ears (the screeching can be dreadful), and the saw (the random motion makes it difficult to maintain any semblance of accuracy and precision in shaping the teeth). The larger the teeth, the more rigid the vise must be to resist this oscillation.

Don't be a dullard (Miseries of Human Life by Isaac Cruikshank, circa 1808. Courtesy of Jack Plane,

Don’t risk the wrath of passersby by using a weak vise. Yes, we’ve seen this illustration before (and will again, as it is one of my favorites). (Miseries of Human Life by Isaac Cruikshank, circa 1808. Courtesy of Jack Plane,


Of nearly equal importance is the ability of the vise to hold the saw securely. To do this, the jaws must grip the blade firmly and evenly across their entire width. To facilitate an even pressure distribution, the jaws on better vises are slightly curved. As the jaws are closed, the ends touch first, then bend until they meet at the middle as yet more clamping force is applied.

Lack of support for the blade leads to the blade chattering, with all of the attendant problems outlined above in the section on rigidity.

Compared to the two criteria above, other considerations pale. One of these lesser criteria is the width of the jaws. Having to continually reposition the saw is a minor inconvenience and annoyance. If you can find one with jaws that are at least half the width of your longest saw, you will need to move the saw no more than once.

Coming next – a look at some of the metal bodied saw vises, with brief discussions of their working qualities.

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Saw sharpening series – index

I have created this entry as an index for my saw sharpening series. This index lists the entries in chronological order, which is a good order to read them in.

As I post the entries, I will update this index with links to each post.


Saw sharpening series – Saw vises, Part I - The qualities of a good saw vise

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Saw sharpening – an upcoming series

With a snow storm dumping about ten inches of snow on us today (the forecasters finally got one right!), I stayed home today to catch up on a few things. One of those is a series on saw sharpening, which I have wanted to do for some time now. I have been working on it in small bursts here and there, and while it is not yet nearly complete, it is time to finally start posting some of the material.

Over the coming year, the series will cover the equipment and tools needed, then delve into various aspects of sharpening. I will show how I do things in my shop, but also try to present other options and opinions.

If you want to make sure that you don’t miss any of these posts (or any others), you can subscribe to this blog by submitting your email in the box to the right.

Posted in Announcements, Saw filing | 2 Comments

Concerning saw files (which I am now selling)

I am now selling Grobet Swiss needle and Bahco taper saw files, which are among the best files made today. While I don’t carry every size (and certainly not as many as were available decades ago), the range is sufficient to cover most tooth pitches you are likely to encounter. The following post will, I hope, give the novice filer the confidence to get started.


A common source of angst for new sharpeners is choosing the right file for sharpening their new (or new to them) saw. What follows is nothing new, but a very modest compilation of background information that may allay some of that trepidation.

We will concern ourselves in this post with only triangular tapered saw files (hereinafter to be simply called files). These are the files used to sharpen western handsaws and backsaws. The files required to shape and sharpen two man crosscut saws, Japanese saws, and others are a different topic altogether.

FILE GEOMETRY: All saw files share some basic geometric similarities. Examine the file in the drawing below. The cross section is an equilateral triangle with radiused corners. The three faces and three radii are all toothed. The cross section gradually increases in fullness as one moves away from the point, reaching its maximum size approximately one fourth to one half of the way down the file body. At this point, the cross section remains constant until the tang is reached. Since a file sharpens both the front and back of adjacent teeth simultaneously, the cross section of the file is imparted on a saw’s teeth. For this reason, the points of all teeth and the base of the gullets are always 60° angles, no matter the rake (see footnote at the end of this post).

Very basic taper saw file geometry.

Very basic taper saw file geometry.


The role that the taper plays in a file’s usefulness is the topic of some debate. I have never found or used a non-tapered saw file, but they are shown in some older catalogs. Nicholson (and perhaps others) sold both blunt (non-tapered) and tapered saw files, noting that they were often preferred by carpenters and other expert saw filers. This implies that tapered files may be easier to use; not having had the chance to compare the two, I cannot speak with any authority on that topic.

Scan showing taper and blunt saw files. From File Filosophy, Nicholson File Company, 1949.

Scan showing taper and blunt saw files. From File Filosophy, Nicholson File Company, 1949.


FILE NAMING AND SIZING: While all saw files share the basic geometry outlined above, they are differentiated by their length, thickness (or width of a face), and cut.

  • Length: Saw files come in at least seven different lengths, 4″, 5″, 6″, 7″, 8″, 9″, and 10″ being the most common. The length is always measured from the point to the beginning of the tang.
How the length of a tapered saw file is measured.

How the length of a tapered saw file is measured.


  • Thickness: The nomenclature for this dimension is a bit odd. Each length of file comes in four different thicknesses (listed in order of decreasing width): regular, slim, extra slim (X-slim), and double extra slim (XX-slim). When considering a particular length of saw file, the regular taper will have the widest face, and the XX-slim the narrowest. For a given thickness (say, slim), the longer file will have a wider face.
  • Cut: Saw files are either single or double cut. Single cut files have a single row of diagonal teeth, while double cut files have two rows of diagonal teeth at opposing angles. A single cut file cuts somewhat slower, but leaves a slightly smoother surface than a double cut file. These differences are usually slight.
Single vs. double cut files. From File Filosophy, Nicholson File Company, 1949.

Single vs. double cut files. From File Filosophy, Nicholson File Company, 1949.


CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD FILES: Much has been written of the decline in availability of good saw files. Having used a wide variety of both recently manufactured and new old stock (NOS) files, this decline appears very real to me. The quality of files available today ranges from very poor to very good. Short of actually trying out a potential file, there are a couple of things you can look for as an indication of quality.

  • Surface finish: The teeth in files are not cut by removing material, but by raising the metal from the surface of the file blank with a chisel. As a result, any irregularities in the surface of the file blank will be present at the tip of the tooth. Examine the body of the file at its tip and above the tang to see how the blank was finished. The smoother and more polished this area, the more care was taken in preparing the blank, and the smoother the file will cut.
How a saw file is made. From File Filosophy, Nicholson File Company, 1949.

How a saw file is made. From File Filosophy, Nicholson File Company, 1949.


  • Straightness: Inferior files are often bowed or twisted along their length, which makes them more difficult to use in a controlled manner.
  • Durability: This quality, unfortunately, can only be determined after use. A good file will dull gradually as the teeth slowly lose their edge. A common mode of failure in inferior files is fractured teeth along the radiused edge, where the pressure is greatest. After losing just a few teeth, the problem cascades quickly, and the file rapidly becomes useless. Files are particularly prone to this failure when filing in new teeth by hand. As teeth are lost, the file begins to jump around, making it very difficult to maintain an even spacing. In very short order, the file loses ever more teeth, and soon ceases to cut at all.

For cutting in teeth, new old stock (NOS) files are an excellent choice.  With one exception, I have found no modern saw files that will stand up to this task as well as they do. Grobet Swiss needle files are the exception; these files are just as durable (or even more so) as any NOS that I have found. They are, unfortunately, not large enough for teeth larger than about 10 or 11 ppi. If you are simply maintaining sharpness and not doing major reshaping, then the range of acceptable files made today broadens, as this is not nearly as strenuous a test of a file’s mettle.         


CHOOSING THE CORRECT SIZE OF FILE FOR YOUR SAW: The most common advice given for choosing a file to use on a particular saw is to select one whose face is twice as wide as the edge of the tooth being filed. When one edge has dulled, the file can be rotated to expose fresh teeth. In this way, all three corners and faces of the file can be fully utilized. Guided by this advice, it is seen that filing from both sides of the saw requires a larger file than working all the teeth from one side.

Showing the traditional method of selecting the proper size of saw file.

Showing the traditional method of selecting the proper size of saw file.


While this advice is a decent simplification, it quickly becomes apparent that strict adherence to it requires that many sizes of files (requiring considerable expenditure) be kept to sharpen a well-stocked till. Fortunately, further examination and refinement can lessen the required outlay.

Implicit in this rule of thumb is the assumption that a file wears evenly over its faces. In my experience, it does not. Rather, the corners of the file dull or fail first, even while there is still life left in the faces of the file. Rotating the file to a fresh corner restores the cutting ability, even though a portion of the face that was previously used is asked to continue cutting. This overlap allows one file to work for several different tooth pitches.

Another consideration in selecting a file is the corner radius of the file. This radius increases as the length and width of the file increase. In extreme cases, the radius of the file can actually be larger than the front edge of a tooth. In this case, the actual rake of the tooth will be greater than expected, leading to unpredictable and unsatisfactory performance. This phenomenon is much more pronounced in smaller teeth (about 13 ppi and finer).

Furthermore, since the gullet takes its shape from the file, a larger file (with its larger radius) leaves a smaller gullet.  With less space to carry sawdust, the saw will not clear the cut as well as one with a larger gullet. In general, gullet size and corner radius are of greater concern with small teeth and files, while face width is the more important consideration on larger teeth and files.

Largely due to these two observations, I now use three square needle files for filing small teeth (11 ppi and finer). Their small corner radius makes for precise and predictable results, while maximizing gullet volume.

Showing the effects of different files on gullet formation.

Showing the effects of different files on gullet formation.


One last point: a file with a narrower face gives better visibility of the tooth when filing than does a larger one. It is a minor point, to be sure, but any advantage that can be had when straining to see small teeth is appreciated. There are any number of tables and charts out there that match saw files to the ppi of the saw you are sharpening. There is some variation between these recommendations, but by and large they can be trusted to yield good results. The best bet is to follow the recommendations of the vendor, since not everyone sells the same range of files. The table below is what I tend to use. Bear in mind that, for the reasons outlined above, I usually prefer a slightly smaller file than most recommend.

Saw file recommendations.

Saw file recommendations.


FILE LIFE:  Some tools are a lifetime investment. Saw files are not. Chances are that if you are wondering if the file is dull, it reached that point some time ago.

Flippant answers aside, this is a tough question. Broken teeth along the edges of the file are easy to see and feel, but dulling of the teeth is more gradual and less obvious. If you need to press down too hard to keep the file from skating across the tooth, you diminish the accuracy of your filing and frustrate yourself needlessly.

Don't be a dullard. Miseries of Human Life by Isaac Cruikshank, circa 1808 (courtesy of Jack Plane,

Don’t be a dullard (Miseries of Human Life by Isaac Cruikshank, circa 1808. Courtesy of Jack Plane,


RECOMMENDED FILE BRANDS: If you can find NOS saw files, these can be a great value. Nicholson, Simonds, Disston, and others once made top-notch files. They no longer do. The supply of the NOS is, unfortunately, unpredictable. Restricting the discussion to new files, the field narrows considerably. I use Grobet Swiss three-square needle files for smaller teeth, and Bahco files for all others. Pferd files are nearly the equals of Bahco. I have sampled a few files made by Baiter (sent to me by a friend), and was pleased with their quality.

Footnote: Technically, these angles are only 60° when the teeth are filed without fleam or slope. When fleam and slope are introduced, this angle changes.

Posted in Saw filing, Saw making, Tools of a saw wright | Leave a comment

My last saw of 2014 – a new wrinkle

Some time ago, I received an email from a woodworker whose woodworking interest lies in 18th century tools and techniques. While he has a goodly number of backsaws, panel and full size saws were sadly absent. Seeking redress for this situation, he inquired on the possibility of making a panel saw to fit his period toolkit.

With some hesitation, I consented to attempt a 20″ panel saw styled after the Kenyon Seaton saws. The finished saw, pictured below, exceeded my hopes.

As pleasing as the saw is to look at, cutting with it is even more enjoyable. Measured against my Disston saws of comparable size, this one just felt more natural to hold and use. In my test cutting, the lack of taper grinding did not make the saw feel too heavy or unwieldly, although had I a taper ground saw of the same design to compare it against I may have felt otherwise.

I am not taking orders for more of these. While making a one-off was fun, there are production issues that need to be addressed before making more of them, and I do not have the time to devote to that right now.

A few details:

Handle: Quartersawn American beech

Blade: 20″ long, 0.032″ thick (not taper ground), 7 ppi, filed rip with 5° of rake

20" panel saw, styled after the Kenyon Seaton saws. - Iron much? -Ed. - It's called artistic presentation. -Me

20″ panel saw, styled after the Kenyon Seaton saws.
- Iron much? -Ed.
- It’s called artistic presentation. -Me

Quartersawn American beech. What a beautiful and vastly underrated wood.

Quartersawn American beech. What a beautiful and vastly underrated wood.

The handle looks graceful from any angle.

This handle looks graceful from any angle.

The intersections of curved lines is fascinating to me.

The intersections of curved surfaces is fascinating to me.

Even the end grain of beech looks good.

Even the end grain of beech looks good.

My take on the enigmatic nib.

My take on the enigmatic nib.

Posted in Saw making | 3 Comments

Upcoming Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event® – Brooklyn, NY

This is the first LN Hand Tool Event of 2015, and it is one I have looked forward to since seeing that it is being hosted by RE-CO BKLYN, an urban log milling and furniture making company.

Besides catching up with some old friends, I am excited to finally see the only sawmill I know of currently operating in the New York City. This weekend promises to be a great kickoff for the New Year.


Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event® – Brooklyn, NY

Friday & Saturday, January 2-3

10:00 – 6:00 (Friday), 10:00 – 5:00 (Saturday)


5606 Cooper Avenue

Ridgewood, NY 11385

Subway directions to the venue are available on RE-CO BKLYN’s website.

Remember, the admission to this event is free, and you will have a chance to play with a lot of beautiful tools, as well as talk to other people who share your passion for them. Hope to see a few of you there!

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Christmas and ordering

It’s been a while since I last posted, but not for lack of material. I have no shortage of ideas and topics, but time has been in short supply over the last several months. Between moving to a new, dedicated shop, then moving to a new house and riding out some turbulence in my personal life, my time has been consumed by keeping up with orders. As things settle down, I will get back to writing.

I am taking a break next week to visit family, so all orders placed from this point forward will most likely ship out in January when I return and resume production. You will still be able to place orders, but shipping will be delayed until my return.

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Transferring my website to a new host

I am switching website hosts over the next several days. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the transfer goes relatively smoothly.

While this work is being done, the Rose Tools Archive will temporarily be offline. If all goes well, everything else will remain in place and accessible.

If you have problems loading any pages, please be patient and check back later. If problems persist, drop me a quick note and I will work on it.

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Upcoming Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Events® – Trenton, NJ

Just two more weeks until my last Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event of 2014. This time, I am headed over to Willard Brothers Woodcutters in Trenton, NJ. Yet another chance to look at some special woods, something I never tire of.

Speaking of woods, last week’s event at C.P. Johnson’s (in Culpeper, VA) was excellent. Chris has a great selection of domestic woods at prices that are hard to beat. The man even knows his apples – the fresh pressed cider he passed around was some of the best I have ever had. And his mother’s ham sandwiches on sweet potato rolls – amazingly good.


Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event® – Trenton, NJ

Friday & Saturday, November 14-15

9:00 – 5:00 (Friday), 9:00 – 5:00 (Saturday)

Willard Brothers Woodcutters

300 Basin Road

Trenton, NJ 08619

Remember, the admission to this event is free, and you will have a chance to play with a lot of beautiful tools, as well as talk to other people who share your passion for them. Hope to see a few of you there!

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