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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5 Responses to Saw sharpening series – Saw vises, Part I

  1. Cool. Great timing for that series of post. I have a few saws on my project pile. I have a tenon saw currently in rehab, teeth were really mishapen so i joint them flat and about to recut new teeth. I think ill wait for the series before i proceed :-)


    • Isaac says:


      Oh, boy, nothing like a bit of pressure. I have no idea how long it will take to slog through all of this, but I’m sure it will be more than a few months


  2. Can’t stress enough the importance of rigidity of your setup. Any bit of jitter will make your life instantly more miserable . Definitely helps to have a well-anchored vise.

  3. Bill Swinyer says:

    This blog post is from March of 2015. Has there been any more parts of this series? Any idea when new ones will be posted?

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