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One of the cardinal rules of woodworking is that the purchase of one tool begets the need for several others.
There are three things you need: a triangular file to make the teeth sharp, a saw set to bend the teeth away from the body of the blade and a vise to hold the blade while you work. This was the problem we faced a couple years ago when we held a hands-on saw sharpening class at the 2008 Woodworking in America conference. Any hardwood will do; we used odds and ends we had in our shop of ash, poplar, cherry and oak.
A saw vise does two things: It puts the blade at a convenient height and the jaws keep the blade from vibrating as you file. Lacking 50 bench vises at our conference location, we made the base so we could secure the saw vise to a workbench with a couple Fstyle clamps. When the vise is assembled, there should be a slight gap between the two jaws, and a hollow should be planed in the middle of the jaw faces. There is an unsettled debate about whether or not the faces of the jaws should be parallel, or just meet at the top. The opposition believes that parallel jaws increase the mass in the wood-to-steel contact area, thereby reducing vibration. Ideally, the length of the jaws ought to match the length of the saw blade, so the entire length of the blade can be filed without repositioning.
Spend some time preparing the jaws, and check them against one another as you work to ensure that they match. If the grip isn’t strong enough, be sure the clamp is centered in the width of the upright and try a different vertical position for the clamp. The good thing about learning to sharpen saws is that you can pick up a decent old saw at a yard sale or flea market for a few dollars and use that to practice on. If it’s a crosscut saw, angle the file about 15? back toward the handle when viewed from above. It’s best if you can find someone to show you how, but the next-best thing is to watch a good video. Buy: Shop for saw sharpening supplies, including files, sets and a modern saw vise from Tools for Working Wood.
Christopher Schwarz has helped many of us solve some pretty frustrating problems over the years.
After months of searching for a well-made unit that wouldn’t require a lot of rehab, I began to design my own saw vise. Web site: Visit Jason Thigpen’s Texas Heritage Woodworks web site for high-quality tools rolls, shop aprons and more. Years ago Don McConnell (now with Clark & Williams plane makers) shamed me into sharpening my own saws. He was down for a photo shoot and I mentioned that I had sent a saw out to be sharpened with some odd filing. Tail tucked between legs, I went home that night and bought saw files from Pete Taran, read his entire saw filing primer and started searching for a good saw vise on the eBay. Then I saw the new Gramercy saw vise from Tools for Working Wood at the Woodworking in America conference. Chris is a contributing editor to Popular Woodworking Magazine and the publisher at Lost Art Press.
Chris, For nearly fifty years my Stover Mfg Co saw vise has served me well and still clamps tight as a bear trap.
I had bought five antique saw vises over a couple of decades, and a Wentworth was my favorite. While Moxon-style twin-screw vises seem to be breeding like rabbits these days (see our November 2011 issue, #193 and our December 2010 issue, #187), this version, developed by Alan Turner and Mario Rodriguez at Philadelphia Furniture Workshop (and available through Tools for Working Wood) has some interesting features.

Perhaps most useful (for those who prefer to build furniture rather than shop fixtures) is that for just $30 more than the cost of the Benchcrafted twin-screw vise hardware alone, this vise arrives ready to use. One significant difference between this vise, the Benchcrafted version and the one we featured in the December 2010 issue, is the thickness of the movable front jaw (though of course if you make your own, you can make it any thickness you wish). One last difference is the shelf behind the fixed rear jaw, which allows tails-first dovetailers to clamp the tail board in position when transferring the layout to the pin board.
For six years, this Franklin, Ind., enterprise has been cranking out wooden vise screws for workbench builders.
There are plans for a traditional face vise, tail vise, wagon vise, leg vise, twin screw and others. It’s actually remarkable that we now have (at least) three companies to choose from when shopping for a threaded wooden vise screw. All three of these wooden screw companies are small family-run shops that turn out products that haven’t been on the market for almost a century.
The Beall Tool Company sells a fixture that you can purchase and make all the wooden screws you will ever want.
I seen them across from your booth,definately thinking of useing them when I build my bench first of next year! Sawing by hand is both easier and more accurate than many people think, provided the saw is sharpened properly. Before you follow our plan, however, give some thought to the type and size of saws you plan on working with, and don’t be afraid to change the size or shape of the jaws. The addition of a square block secured below the base will allow you to hold the saw vise easily in your bench vise.
When the uprights are clamped together, this hollow forces the ends of the jaws to close first.
One camp asserts that the faces of the jaws should be angled slightly in at the top to ensure that the gripping force is strongest directly below the saw teeth, thereby reducing vibration. Changing from one to the other takes only a few minutes of planing, so try both ways and decide which works best for you. For backsaws, the height of the jaws should be reduced to provide room to grip the blade above the back. Next, attach one of the uprights to the base with glue and screws, then insert the two corner braces. There should be a slight, bowed gap along the length of the jaws when viewed from above, and both ends should come tightly together when viewed from the end. The odds of getting the exact fit you want on the first try are slim, and this reversible connection lets you easily remove them for adjustment, or to swap jaws for a different type or size of saw. If that doesn’t work, check the way the jaws fit the blade and adjust the faces of the jaws with some judicious planing. Filing the teeth of a saw is more about consistency than skill, and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. When you are adept at matching existing angles, you’ll have the skills to experiment with differing rake angles (the slope of the front of the tooth from vertical) and fleam angles (the angle of the face of the tooth from the body of the blade). In the box below we’ve listed one of the best we have found, as well as sources for instruction and supplies.
The jaws on a saw vise clamp down tightly on the saw plate, holding it securely as you file each tooth.
The result is a vise that not only has a classic look, it is a workhorse that has greatly surpassed the performance of any other vise I’ve tried, new or old. You can use any hardwood you like, provided it’s straight-grained rift-sawn or quartersawn material. The heart of the system is the 5?8″, eight threads-per-inch Acme-threaded screw and wing nut.

Saws don’t need as much work as planes and chisels, so my skills have been poky in coming.
Leif Hanson, who has more of a saw problem than I do, has also done the calculus on his blog.
And if you want to buy one lifetime saw vise that will work perfectly out of the box, the Gramercy is the way to go. Turner says this thinner front jaw allows you to get closer to your work for better control, and, because it’s cambered along its length, it grips the work tightly with less effort than a flat chop (and less risk of marring your work). Even if you don’t buy one of their wooden screws, the plans offer a lot of good ideas for how you could adapt a vintage wood screw into your workbench. And you’ll find the prices very close to those offered by Lake Erie Toolworks and Big Wood Vise. When I built my first bench with wooden screws, the Holtzapffel, I bought my screws from some guy who bought them a decade earlier at some California flea market. It’s a huge American-made book that has several plans for benches incorporating wooden vise screws. Old saws can be an incredible bargain, and if you’re a frugal sort you likely won’t want to spend a lot on sharpening equipment. The jaws sit in shallow rabbets in the two uprights, and should be held in place with screws only. As the clamp is tightened, pressure is applied along the length of the jaws to hold the blade firmly. Place an F-style clamp on the uprights above the fulcrum and below the jaws, then tighten it.
Put a good light on the work (and get a pair of magnifying goggles if you’re older than 40) and have at it. The goal is to make the metal shiny all the way across the front of a tooth that points away from you and the back of the tooth ahead of it.
A well-built saw vise will absorb vibration and chatter, resulting in faster filing, longer file life and better results. The clamping mechanisms on a lot of old vises are a weak spot, either broken or worn past the point of use. Acme thread is capable of applying a great deal of force, and the threads won’t gall, strip or weaken over time. The Gramercy has 14″ jaws that grip the saw so tightly that the vise and saw seem as one entity. I must say that I couldn’t see the sense of leaving it unpainted so I took it apart, wiped it down with lacquer thinner and sprayed it with some rustoleum bronze metal finish. The small site offers a good selection of free plans and instructions for incorporating wooden screws into a workbench. Matthew said he’s happy to do a custom hub if you are trying to match an old-school design on a workbench – vintage workbenches tend to have far more elaborate hubs than what you see today. And I was happy to get them, even though their quality isn’t even close to what you can buy today. You will likely want to modify the jaws at some point to accommodate a different saw, or tweak the way the jaws hold the saw blade. The angle and size of the bevels aren’t critical; you simply want to reduce the width of the attachment point on the movable upright.
This makes it easier for the upright to bend slightly when you tighten the clamp to secure the jaws.

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