I was asked by Dana Horton to talk a little about the use of a foley retoother, as most of the time when buying one the previous owner has never used or seen the manual.
Luckily the PDF manual can be found on-line in large part thanks to Mark Stansbury and his Foley site. So to streamline things I’m writing this as an overview and covering things the manual doesn’t. If you own a retoother, the one thing I’m leaving out that is important is adjusting the cutting heads. I think the manual does a good job going over it, but if you have issues feel free to email me.
Foley made a few models over the years but the two most common are the early 30/31 and later 385. The model 30 and 31 are the same with the exception that the later 31 was sold standard with the electric motor. The later 385 design also works about the same with some updates to the carrier system using parts consistent with the filer sold at this time.
I currently use the 285 but have owned and used the 30/31 quite a bit. Note that all the models up until Foley merged with Belsaw use the same carrier and ratchet bar system; so when buying a retoother it’s important to get ALL the parts. Very often the ratchet bars are missing or the seller also has a filer and only has one set of carriers for both. From experience I find you’re better off just passing on incomplete sets as most are missing the same part, the ratchet bars.
If the toother you bought is complete you should have the retoother, 3 carriers: straight, crown, and backsaws and 5 or more ratchet bars. The standard bars included with most are: 13-7-4, 8-4.5, 9-5, 10-5.5, 11-6. The optional bars sold individually were 12-6.5, 14-7.5, 15-8-4.5, 16-8.5. The last two containing 15 and 16 ppi were the hardest for me to find. The ratchet bars are marked for points per inch that the bar would cut teeth for.
The ratchet bars fit in all the carriers the same. The carriers have 3 slots that the tabs on the ratchet bars slide into. Once together the carriers then slide into grooved wheels on the machine. Next check that the rake angle is set correctly for your needs. The machine will cut from 0º-30º by loosening the “T” handle or knobs depending on the unit. Don’t expect the angles to be perfect. If you use the unit enough you can mark your corrected angles on the gauge.
Note: It’s REALLY important to tighten the knobs. The unit creates a lot of vibration and in most cases any mistake made will destroy the plate.
With the rake angle set the next step is to set the feed rate. Locate the feeder paw in the center of the unit and lift it upright. Now look at the cutting head just below and manually rotate the flywheel so the head is in its highest position. This allows the carrier clearance, and you to check the feed rate. At this point no saw is attached to the carrier.
The ratchet bar can be set for 2 or more pitches (space between teeth AKA points per inch). Looking at the leading edge of the bar there will be 2 or 3 numbers. The first number will be higher, the second lower and so on. The numbers corresponds to the PPI it will cut and the placement in the order denotes how many teeth the paw skips between passes. The first number is achieved when the paw grabs every tooth. The second is skipping a tooth and the third number is skipping 3 teeth. To adjust the paw, rotate the knob directly at the end. This allows you to reduce or increase the distance with each full rotation. With the carrier installed slide it up to the paw, flip the paw over, and manually rotate the wheel. Adjust the knob to correspond to what’s needed for your PPI.
I want to stress it’s really important to hand rotate the machine to check you’re grabbing the correct number, then test run the machine to make sure the adjustment is good. A little play is needed so that it doesn’t jump a tooth. Note that no saw is in the carrier while this is being tested. How the paw grabs the tooth is something that needs to be checked EVERYTIME you change the bars or carriers. It’s also important to adjust the rake angle BEFORE you adjust the paw as the angle affects the travel. Failure to set the paw properly will result in the retoother jumping between the smaller and bigger PPI on the bar and you will need to start over.
With the paw set, lift it back up and now slide the carrier out. The handle always, always, always goes to the left. The only exception would be a pull stroke saw. Keep in mind the handle is often removed or you may be toothing a new backsaw plate so it’s easy to mix up and the results will always suck. …BTDT. When I retooth new backsaw plates I use a sharpie and put an “H” where the handle will go. I also mark every carrier bar “ <————— HANDLE” denoting proper position.
The saw plate is held fast by three tabs and wing nuts. The plate with or without handle is loaded and centered on the bar. A simple gauge (that should be included with sale!) is used to align how proud the toothline is held on the carrier. As you can imagine, the prouder it sits, the more is cut off. The bigger the teeth, the prouder it sits. Once adjusted tighten the wing nuts.
Be real mindful here. Vibration is something this machine makes in spades. If the clips aren’t seated well, they can slip allowing the nuts to loosen, and then any number of things can happen and none will result in a smile. I wouldn’t go so far as to use mechanical aids to tighten them as the other issue is they aren’t real heavy duty; just double check and wiggle the tabs to check they are seated.
Once happy I like to manually slide up to the cutting head and manually rotate the cutting head to see how much will be cut. The gauge used is very basic so it’s good to check you’re not taking more than necessary.
At this point we’re ready to rock and roll. Pull the carrier back out so the machine can run a bit before it starts cutting. I like to use a gel type cutting fluid on the edge of the saw. When ready flip the paw down. Do one more manual rotation; maybe flip the power on and off just to check that it’s grabbing correctly, then let her rip. Once the saw completes cutting, turn it off. Flip the paw up and slide the carrier out.
There are a few caveats on running the toother. As stated earlier the toother makes a good deal of vibration. On top of that, the carrier is long and fairly lightweight. This amplifies the vibration and in extreme cases, like cutting rip teeth with 0º rake, the unit can skip a tooth. I find if I use both hands to help support the carrier it reduces the vibration quite a bit. I’ve also experimented with a wooden block to act as a guide. Whatever you can do to minimize vibration through the cutting process is good. Also in the event things go south, stopping and restarting the toother in the middle of a cut is not possible. If you stop you will need to start over; it’s best to joint the saw flat and start again.
The force of cutting, along with the condition of the cutting parts, will cause the plate to bend. Because of this I use two identical retoothers, one for backsaws (less abuse) and another for panel (more abuse). Either unit in good working order produced a slight bend that’s easily fixed. However if the cutting head chips or dulls the effects vary but most often results in extremely bent plates that require smithing.
As you can see there are plenty of pitfalls and I’m leaving out resurfacing the anvil and hammer, AKA the cutting parts. This comes with its own set of trouble. However, all of these things aside, a properly adjusted retoother is useful and makes short work of retoothing when needed; I don’t hesitate to use mine.
If you’re in the market to buy one, I strongly recommend downloading and reading the section about setting and checking the cutting parts. When going to look at one, use a scrap piece of printer paper. A properly adjusted unit should cut a “V” in the paper when the flywheel is manually rotated. If it doesn’t it’s out of adjustment. Also take a flashlight and check out the cutting head. If you see chips, the head will need to be surfaced. You can read more about that in the manual.
Hopefully this gives you an overview and a little respect of the process. If you have other questions, feel free to ask.