The missing fine print on using a Foley retoother

Foley_01I 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.

Foley_02If 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.

Foley_03Note: 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.

Foley_04The 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.

Foley_05With 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.

Foley_06There 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.

Joe Federici
Saw Mechanic

29 thoughts on “The missing fine print on using a Foley retoother

  1. Thanks Joe, I still haven’t found a home for my retoother but I am closer. I’ve moved my saw sharpening bench (a heavy duty saw horse with the Gramacy vise) into the front room of our house. My wife is a champ. Reading your piece makes me think about how I can change things around. I’ll send some pictures of my digs. Should you find yourself down this way I make the best stromboli in Poquoson. Take care my friend. d

  2. i have a foley 385000 retoother the friction wheel is broken. do u know where to get i could get one or how to retrofit ? any help would be great thanks dennis

      • joe: the friction wheel that drives the fly wheel diagram #42 part #358043 . my wheel disintegrated so i don’t know the diameter of the wheel. you seem to be very knowledgeable . i just though there must be parts out there somewhere thanks joe dennis

        • That friction drive wheel seems to dry out and crack quite a bit. I’ve bought a few retoothers where the previous owner just converted it over to a tractor v belt.

          That said your in luck that part is still available and you can order one by from belsaw who bought out foley. Just do a search on google for foley belsaw and you should find them. Its not cheep around 25.00 but at least you can still buy it.

          • No problem. We foley users need to stick together. Let me know if you run into trouble. Also wen you buy the new wheel it WILL NOT come with the set screw so save the old one. Joe.

  3. Joe,

    You typed that you use a 285 these days…shouldn’t that be a 385?

    Not a big deal, just pointing out. You show the 385 manual and what appears to be a 385 retoother, but reference in your post to the 285.


      • No problem Joe, and BTW to the person who was looking for the little rubber wheel that crumbles and breaks, you can get those from Foley, about $25. I bought 2 a few years ago, as I had a few 385s. As Joe said you can actually put a small pulley on the motor arbor and run a v-belt around the flywheel. That method does work, and if you wanted to you could turn a small rubber wheel on a lathe that would work.


  4. joe when i e-mailed u about the friction wheel [by the way i bought one from foley] u said u had spare parts. i was wondering do u have any retainer springs that hold the carrier in the retoother. if u do i would like to buy a couple. or if u know where i could buy some. thanks dennis

  5. Hello,
    Thanks for the great article. I’ve been patiently waiting for about a year, and finally found a retoother with a complete set of carriers and ratchet bars!
    With it came the 5 common bars. 13 ppi being the finest pitch of the bunch.
    However, I like building back saws. Most of which are 14-16 ppi. I’m agonizing over the fact that I’ll have to continue toothing an entire plate with files by hand while patiently waiting for a god send (again). Although I do admit that the gullets are very small, so retoothing 16 ppi by hand isn’t as tiring as a 5 point rip. It’s just tedious and who wouldn’t rather use a Foley to get it done quickly and uniformly?

    Anyone make them (or know of someone that can) for sale?
    Any comments or ideas would be appreciated.


    • Hey Tom,
      I’m really sorry this is taking me SoOO long to get back to you. I recently moved and in the process of looking for work locally and it’s cut time out of the, gasp social media. Anyway I’m not sure I’m following your Question. I think your asking for a source or solution for higher number ratchet bars that allow the retoothing to cut more teeth per inch. If so I”m sorry to say Belsaw does still manufacture some of the wear items for the reoother but ratchet bars is not one of them. Your best bet is to look locally in craigslist and search retoother then ask what bars are being sold with the unit. I ended up buying a few units before I found all the bars but I still found it much cheaper then what prices can go for on ebay. The other option would be to to have one of the larger bars recut or even just made new. I had looked into a local shop doing this and the price was high around 100.00 but very doable. Another great site for searching CL is searchtempest it will search multiple area easily based off a single zip code and distance. let me know how it goes. Joe

  6. Hi Joe,

    A lot of great information here. I found a retoother for sale and one of the ratchet bars has the middle pin and one of the end hooks broken off. Do you know if there is a way to replace these? Also, you mentioned that making ratchet bars cost about $100 and is very doable. What kind of shop would be able to do this? Thanks

    • Hey Greg,

      I’ve picked up some used bars where the hooks have been broken off and people uses everything from a cheap nail, or screw and bold to fancier bent metal. I spoke with a local machine shop that said they could laser cut the bar for around 100.00. I really didn’t get past that stage I would think you could get it cut with the hokes in the rod.


  7. Thanks for the information on the retoother. Can anyone suppy the size or machinist drawings of the ratchet bar. I”m thinking about trying to cut them in the shop if drawings are found.

  8. Can someone please send me the size of a ratchet retoother bar. I have a foley 385 without the retoother bars. Have the carriers.

  9. Hello, in regards to the carrier gauge, we are looking at reproducing one due to Foley no longer having any in stock. Could you possibly get us some measurements from yours or even pictures next to a rule and email them to us? Anything at this time would be wonderful.


  10. I see your back. Sorry but I didn’t know you left. I just found your article on a Foley retoother. I just got ( yesterday ) an SR 1000. It seems to be in really good shape but I have a few questions.
    1) I have 4 carriers 1 is a crown 3 are straight how do I know if I have a back saw carrier?
    2) Thers no gauge. Do I need it? if not where do I set the handsaw in the carrier.
    3) I have the 8,9,10,11 and 13 ratchet bars. ( 8 seems really worn down. Does it matter) How could I get more?
    4) can I retooth over the existing or do they need to be filed down first?
    5) what else can you tell me or warn me

    Thank you

    • Hi Kevin,
      thanks for checking out the site. Last I checked Mark had a Foley site with some good info so also check there.

      1) I have 4 carriers 1 is a crown 3 are straight how do I know if I have a back saw carrier?
      The bar for the backsaw has a slightly different clamp made to hold the back better. I think they show picture in the manual. If you find you don’t have one PM me and I may have one I could sell.

      2) Thers no gauge. Do I need it? if not where do I set the handsaw in the carrier.
      It’s nice to have one, but you can get by. You need to leave enough space for the size of the tooth you are cutting so if you’re cutting an 8pt it’s around a 1/4 (just a guess). you measure from the gullet not the top of the tooth. Give yourself 1/16-1/8 of extra space.

      3) I have the 8,9,10,11 and 13 ratchet bars. ( 8 seems really worn down. Does it matter) How could I get more?
      There is no source for replacement bars so you would need to find on Ebay or someone selling parts. The manual will show you a complete list of what they made. you are missing 4, 5, 5.5 6, 7, 12, 14, 15, 16.

      4) can I retooth over the existing or do they need to be filed down first?
      Yes you can but but if it’s a large tooth size like 4,5,6,7 I tend to joint them down around 1/2.

      5) what else can you tell me or warn me
      READ THE MANUAL! it goes over how to test and check it’s working properly.


  11. One more question. I thought I could still get a retoother guage but I can’t. Anyway you could give me measurements off of yours and I could just measure what I need. I assume it’s from the side of the bar closest to the teeth. Thanks. I would PM you but I wasn’t sure how and I’m not a Facebook fan.

    • No problem social media like facebook isn’t for everyone. if you go to the about me tab you can email me but you filled out your email when you left this comment so let me see what I can find and I’ll email you. I had made a PDF of the gauge for Marks Foley Page. I thought I had a link to it under my links.


  12. I have purchased a Foley Belsaw retoother Model 385. But it is missing the ratchet bars. Do you have any for sale? Do you know who may have them? Or, Do you have a drawing of them to help me make them? If not i will have to make one by guesswork.

    Thank You

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