Saw Sharpening Vise

2010.07.20

The June 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking (#183) includes plans for a simple but effective shop-made saw sharpening vise.  Back when everyone used handsaws, cast iron saw vises were readily available, and can still be found on ebay or perhaps flea markets.  Unfortunately, most of them are pretty worn out.  Tools for Working Wood sells a nice new one.  The price of the Popular Woodworking design was appealing in comparison, but it was really designed for small backsaws.  Sharpening saws longer than the jaw length would require unclamping and repositioning the saw in the vise.  Most of the antique models were small as well, probably for weight and portability issues.

I simply decided to double the design, with two legs instead of one, and longer jaws spanning across both legs.  I made the jaws 22 long to accommodate the size of my handsaws.

I made mine out of alder, and assembled it with countersunk screws and a little glue here and there.

Assembling saw vise support blocks
Saw vise in progress

I quickly discovered that even with the tapered ends on the jaws, the handles of my handsaws prevented the vise from holding the blade all the way to the back end of the toothline.  I could remove the handles when sharpening, but that would be a hassle.  So I traced the basic shape of the most obtrusive handle and cut out the jaws on both sides with a coping saw.

Saw will not fit all the way in saw vise
Saw vise after reshaping ends of jaws to allow handsaw handles to fit

Saw vise, files, and handsaws

Saw Filing Guide

I bought this vintage saw filing guide on ebay.  It was made by Speed Corp. of Portland, Oregon.  The patent was applied for by James Speed in 1948 and issued in 1950, as an improvement to an earlier design.  One of the challenges of sharpening a handsaw is keeping the triangular file held at consistent angles, especially on crosscut saws where the teeth are beveled side to side (called fleam) as well as angled away from vertical (called the rake).  (Better explained on vintagesaws.com.)  This guide isn’t completely foolproof, but it does help a lot.

Speed Corp saw filing guide
Speed Corp saw filing guide