Sharpening a crosscut saw

saw and gauge

Matt’s combination gauge balances on one handle of his two-man crosscut saw in the woodshed. (Well, not normally, but it does for the purposes of this artsy-fartsy photo.)

Around here we call them “misery whips.” These are those long, flexible manual wood-cutting saws you see in pioneer-era logging photos and at log shows. The really long ones have a handle each end, making them a two-man saw. The teeth on these saws, unlike the little hardware store special you use once a year to fall a Christmas tree, are several inches deep – like crocodile teeth.

Naturally, Matt has one.

For my birthday we went to the swap meet, which is kind of like playing gift roulette. Will I find nothing or the score of a lifetime? Skipping over the exciting start to our journey in which our mochas got cold while we filled out police reports for an hour because we witnessed a noontime drunk trying to take on a telephone pole (no serious injuries and he did not, as he hoped, get away before the police arrived), I can sum up the day by saying that my birthday present to myself was to force Matt to buy things for himself. At the antiques store he found (and I cajoled him to purchase) a whole set of the red plastic cookie cutters coveted and hoarded by his family. At the swap meet he found a combination jointer gauge. He knew enough to know that it played some part in sharpening crosscut saws, but not enough to use it, so we took it over to the museum. (The Western Heritage Center is one of our top weekend destinations – I’ll be singing its praises in a future post.) They were able to confirm Matt’s suspicions and give him a quick run down. Our presence encouraged other people to enter and engage themselves in the interactive exhibits, and since we mooch around the museum practically every other weekend we removed ourselves so that the two guides could focus on the newcomers.

I hopped online at the library the next day to check YouTube for videos of sharpening these saws. I expected to find at least a few, given the popularity of logging shows in our region and the recent spate of “extreme” logging shows on the edutainment channels. Skunked. Plenty of high-end woodworking saws being sharpened, but no big nasties. A little more online puttering yielded the perfect guide: a 2003 revision of a 1977 Forest Service crosscut saw manual. Not only did it explain, in well-illustrated detail, how to sharpen the beasts, but also the subtle differences between different saws, how the different tooth patterns cut, how to construct a vise for sharpening and general maintenance, how to choose a new or used saw, and how to use the thing.

Not for everyone, but for those who need it, a very valuable resource. Available for free download here

— Amanda


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