As I was walking away from a garage sale recently with yet another very restorable Disston handsaw from the apple handle era that I paid $3 for, I was thinking about what the price tells me (I'm an economist). Sadly, it's this: from a market perspective these tools are essentially worthless. You and I don't think they're worthless, of course, but there is sufficient supply that the market price approaches zero, at least in Oregon. Lots of sellers, not very many buyers. This is in marked contrast to Stanley planes and other tools from the same era. Why?
I think there are several reasons, but part of the answer may be sharpening. The days of a good local sharpening service for handsaws are in the past for most of us. Mine told me that handsaws don't have rake or fleam angles! No matter what saw I sent them, it came back with zero degrees rake and zero degrees fleam. If you are going to use western handsaws, you have to learn to sharpen them, just like chisels and planes.
To me, there is a progression of sharpening skills:
1. Start with a ripsaw that is somewhat dull but has good teeth and sharpen it;
2. Same with a cross-cut saw;
3. Same with a dovetail saw;
5. Take a garage sale saw with missing or misshaped teeth and restore it;
6. Take a garage sale saw, file off the existing teeth and start from scratch.
To this point, I've focused on 1-3. I have several strategies with garage sale saws that have bad teeth. I sent the big backsaw at the top of this blog to Marv Werner for retoothing and sharpening and it came back better than new. For most others, I've sent them to the local sharpening service and started with a saw that has well-formed teeth with no rake or fleam, since that's all they know how to do, and gone from there. I filed off the bad toothline on one 5 1/2 ppi ripsaw and cut in new teeth with a template. It was a good first effort.
I've decided that I want to try to become a proficient saw filer in 2013 and have been working on a strategy, which will be the subject of the next several posts. As I've done on other subjects, I will try to create a bibliography of links to the best information on the internet and in books or DVDs. I'll summarize the information I've gleaned from forum posts and I'll write about the equipment that I've made or purchased. Hopefully, you will find it useful.
Here's my pitch: buy yourself a $3 saw and have at it. What's the worst that can happen? As for me, I've got to stop for now. This is enough handsaws for one woodworker, don't you think: