Shape of things to come

Shape_01I haven’t spent a lot of time on the blog talking about the process of filing as I don’t consider myself a particularly good writer, rather I have a good friend who edits my incoherent thoughts and the web already has a few good sources. I think the most popular is Pete Taran’s, “Saw Filing–A Beginner’s Primer”. No single text can cover all the finer points so I thought I’d dive into some of the problem areas that are often not covered.

I’ll start with a common and frustrating problem — broken teeth.

Shape_02Regardless if you’re starting today or have been filing for years, a broken tooth or worse yet, breaking one when setting, is just one of the things you deal with from time to time. There is truth to the fact that you tend to find more broken teeth on the higher end “London Spring Steel” due to the extra-hardened steel but most often the cause is resetting a tooth in the opposite direction after it’s been set.

IMGP0194But however it happened you’ll need to joint the teeth even with flats on the tops. This would be SOP for starting the process of sharpening any saw regardless of the condition.

The difference with a broken or chipped tooth is that the amount of jointing will vary depending on how low the tooth breaks. A small chip may just be an extra few swipes of the file but if the tooth breaks below the gullet you’ll need to repeat the process, making two passes or joint flat and cut new teeth, the latter being more tricky and time consuming.

Here’s a tip on selecting a file for jointing. Many use an 8″mill (shape) in a smooth cut (grade) and this is a good overall size that works well with a lot of the jigs, commercial or homemade, to help file the teeth square to the tool’s face. The goal is to flatten and not round the tops of the teeth while jointing. The simplest jig is a scrap of hardwood with a kerf in the block that allows the file to be held with a firm friction fit. The file should sit proud of the block at least ½ the thickness of the file.

Over time I’ve found a larger 10″ or 14″ file slightly coarser, bastard or second cut, works better, faster and with the larger size I don’t need the jig.

Another pitfall to watch for is not jointing enough. MAN UP and make a few passes. Don’t worry about taking 1/8 off a 5 or 1/16 off an 11 point. Unless the saw has been recently sharpened, chances are the teeth and gullets need some help and you can’t do that with a flat that will be gone in 2 swipes of your file.

Shape_03Also note, if you’re adjusting rake angle by more than a few degrees it’s really important to make sure the file is seated in the gullet otherwise the file wobbles resulting in hooked teeth. You’ll run into this hooked tooth problem more with rip saws as people tend to use a wider selection of angles than cross cut.

The easy solution when changing rake angles significantly is to joint way down on the gullets. This is relative to the tooth size as a smaller file is easier to control in hand. One common example is changing a rip saw from the old standard of 8º to something a little more contemporary like 0º on a 5 points per inch saw. In this case I would joint down to around ½ the size of the teeth and really pay attention to holding the angle correctly.

Ok, enough on the jointing. With the teeth now flattened you can shape them. I find when shaping teeth after a deep jointing I like to work in stages. I’ll do 3 or 4 passes on every tooth but leave some flat at the top. It’s really important to let any short teeth go and resist the urge to file them! Look a few teeth down the line. If you’ve got a short tooth coming up let the tooth before and after go. Finish getting the rest close so there is just a hair of the flats left. If you know you’re going to be jointing again, do get fussy at this point. That said it’s good practice if need be.

Shape_04Now bite your lip and joint the saw again till those short or broken teeth are the same height. The point of jointing and shaping twice allows not only to correct the short or broken teeth but also to even out the spacing or pitch and gullet depth.

One thing often neglected when reading about filing is the importance of consistent gullet depth and keeping them even to the tooth height. I find two things help.

First don’t get fixated on JUST the flats when you sharpen. Drop your head and look at the baseline of your gullets. Is it as straight as your tooth line?

The other tip is a technique that’s often used to prevent cows and calves, or big and little teeth, a hurdle many Jr. Smiths face. The fix is to file each tooth a set amount like 2 strokes then move to the next tooth, leaving some flat on each tooth. This way they all come into shape at the same time. The added side effect I find is your gullets are more even. I personally prefer this method most of the time. The exception is a really short plate or if the shape of the teeth is very good from the outset.

Keep in mind if you’ve got a really bad saw where the pitch or space between the teeth is inconsistent you’ll need to adjust the spacing.

With practice you’ll find there are limits to how far you can push and pull a tooth by filing the front or back BEFORE you run out of flat. Depending on the inaccuracy of the pitch you may need to joint a few times. Above all keep in mind you just need to resist filing the tooth past its flat.

Shape_05At some point everything will be even, the teeth will be the correct shape and the gullets perfect. Stop and have a beer!

I’ll leave off here and talk a little about setting and sharpening another time.

Joe Federici
Saw Monger & Advocate

The Quest for Fastnacht

Horst_03A few weeks ago I wrote about the Horst auction; in short, getting skunked and barely lifting my arm to bid.

A few weeks later there was the winter tool auction so I thought I’d give it another go. I also met up with my friend Malissa so the time worked to serve double-duty as she’s been helping to get my paperwork in order.

There wasn’t a tremendous amount of saws but more than last time and I figured it was a good opportunity to meet many of the local dealers. Most of the better saws I find I buy directly and auctions are a great place to network.

The day job prevented the possibility to preview so I was up before the rooster Saturday and made the trip to Lancaster, PA in traffic-free record time.

Horst_05Getting there when the doors opened left me plenty of time to look things over. The auction contained a nice collection of over 500 items. Most were wooden planes and tools from the Pennsylvania area. In addition to the stuff inside they had some larger box lots outside. As is the nature of box lots, most consisted of heavy items and/or project restorations. I did spy a cool metal user-made saw vise. The price went way more than its usefulness. I wouldn’t even want to think about shipping it so the idea of resale held no value to this Monger.

Horst_049 am was game time. I looked around to see who was there. I’m still someone new to auctions in this area and am finding prices overall a bit higher this year. This is a good thing, except I don’t think the users and collectors got the memo.

Coffee in one hand, auction number and notes in the other, I was following along writing down prices on things I found interesting. The first few saw lots came up and the buyers looking to stock up drove the process above market, so I walked outside to see the box lots for a little while. They run the inside and outside box lots simultaneously so I founds lots of wives and friends proxy bidding.

Horst_02The next group of saws contained Disston cone nuts that looked like a hardware store addition with metal plate sides. I’m a fan of metal plated handles of all makers and these were missing a few nuts, so I figured I might have a shot. Well, wrong again, but this is where the story gets interesting. Where I was sitting my view was blocked and I thought the high bidder was a seller from around Wilkes-Barre, PA, whom I’d had met at the Mid-West gathering a few weeks earlier.

Seeing a repeat of a few weeks ago I figured it was just around midday and I’d cut my losses and head back to the shop. I had a few handle repairs and no shortage of sharpening and thought the time would be better spent. I gathered up things and walked over to Jason (thinking he had bested me on the saws) to see if he had any more info on the saws.

After shaking hands he corrected me and said it was another collector from right in the same area that had won the saws.  Introductions were made to Terry who then told me he’s a collector of wooden planes and all things made in the Lancaster area, in addition to a weakness for unusual saws with no particular makers in mind. We walked outside and he had an interesting Mathieson he picked up locally. I’m not an expert on them but this one had brass hardware similar to the McNiece Patent. We talked about it and, seeing I was empty-handed, he said he was downsizing his collection and had a few user saws that might be of interest.

Figuring my luck at the auction was a bust and he was heading home, I followed him for the short but nice trip through the farm roads of Lancaster back to his house. Not knowing what to expect I was overwhelmed by his collection. Terry was a bit modest; he too is a member of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association and had been collecting for many years. The saws were impressive but secondary to his collection of wood molding planes. I looked over and talked with him about a few. My knowledge of plane makers and wood planes in general is lacking.

Note to self: pay more attention to Josh Clark at the boot sales!

Regardless, it’s always fun talking with someone that has so much first hand information and examples from years of collecting.

Horst_08After the quick tour and lesson we walked down to the basement and unstacked some (nice) saw chests containing a few dozen saws each. Most were from the early 20th century and a few real early American makers. Mind you, not everything was looking for a new home but I was happy with the selection of really good users and a few rare ones as well. We figured out a fair price and then carried them out to my car.

Horst_07Feeling a little better about things, I returned to the auction to see where things were in the process. I waited out about 20 lots just to see the last of the saws go above market and then smiling headed back to the car to find a place to eat. I’d been hoping to get some local Dutchie foods, such as Fastnacht which is normally made this time of the year.

I always look for local things whenever I travel. I’m big on pulling u-turn’s and slamming on the brakes when I pass a farm stand. Malissa knowing this had emailed me about Fastnacht Day which I googled and learned is a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that falls on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, aka Fat Tuesday, the traditional day to eat the best or maybe the richest sweets before the Lenten fast.

Horst_01However, despite my best efforts, and maybe in retribution for the good fortune with saws, I had no luck finding a local fresh bakery or restaurant offering local cuisine.  In the end we decided on a local sandwich shop that was very good. Udder Choice claims the largest selection of ice cream scoops in the US; I figured it was roughly at over 200, which didn’t seem that impressive.  I mean, I have more than 200 saws and the other week, when talking with Carl, he knows a collector that has over 3000.

Horst_06So I settled for a trunk full of choice saws over Fastnachts and I think my waistline is happier for it. But next year Fastnacht day falls on March 4th so get ready; I know I will.

Joe Federici
Saw Monger and Duchy food connoisseur