Chris Schwarz's Groves Saw Restoration

Popular WoodWorking & WoodWorking magazine editor, Chris Schwarz, is in my view the most prolific and influential writer on working wood today. He champions the notion that one does not have to reject the old to embrace the new; that both corded/cordless and vintage hand tools of enduring design have a place in the shop, and that the smart woodworker will discover a higher aesthetic blending both ethics. That said, I think Chris defines the progressive Luddite.

When Chris asked me to sharpen one of his saws, I jumped at the opportunity. Maybe he'd say something nice about what I do on his blog—I'm no fool. It turned out to be a total setup. He sent me the crappiest saw I've ever seen—a beat-up old Groves 12-incher with more bows along the toothline than a formation of English archers facing down the French at Agincourt. The following narrative reflects how I restored his old saw, and showcases the various techniques I use in any major restoration project.

Chris's old-and-in-the-way backsaw

An old Groves 12-inch Back Saw, 12 TPI X-Cut

...with an incredibly wavy toothline!

This saw has seen far better days. I estimate the vintage to fall somewhere in the 1870’s. A pronounced taper travels from heel to toe, a chip mars the upper horn, and there are the aforementioned (British) bows along the toothline. Who knows how many times this saw has been dropped (by previous owners, of course)?

I count at least five bows. This is going to be a major restoration, and I’ll spend much of the time straightening out the sawplate.


Removing the spine


For starters, I disassemble the saw by lifting the spine from the sawplate with a vise and a stout screwdriver.

Now we’re ready to work. Looks like the handle and split screws are replacements (note the two screwholes of wider diameter than the smaller two). I’ll begin by removing accumulated crud on the sawplate to lesson friction in the cut.

Cleaning the Sawplate

Removing the rust and crud buildup

Polishing the metal

Here are some products I use to clean the sawplate: Medium and fine Sandflex blocks, Oxystrip rust remover, and a fine sanding sponge. Once I scrub off the rust and grime, I polish the sawplate with some metal polish. I particularly like Wizards metal polish for this part of the job.

Treating the Handle and Straightening the Sawplate

Restoring the handle

Straightening the sawplate

Now for the handle: I judiciously clean the handle with a dremel and buffing wheel, then wipe on a product call 'Kramer’s Best Antique Improver.' Heretofore I’ve used a traditional mix of turpentine, boiled linseed oil and beeswax, but this product works with an old finish and preserves it with natural ingredients (and no petrochemicals). You can find Kramer’s web site at Great stuff.

Now I hammer the sawplate straight. I use a flat saw anvil, a blacksmith’s cross peen hammer, and a ball peen hammer. Galoot Bob Smalser provides a great treatise on how to straighten out sawplates.

This turned out to be the lengthiest process of all with the amount of bows along the toothline and a twist in the metal at the toe.

Cutting New Teeth

My Burr Retoother cutting 12 TPI & 15-degree rake

Able to cut anywhere between 4-16 TPI

Time to retooth the sawplate. I use a Burr retoother, a 50’s-60’s vintage machine made by Max Manufacturing, San Jose, CA. This machine stamps out the old teeth with a punch and die, and cuts a new toothline anywhere between 4 and 16 TPI.

Now we have a newly-cut toothline: evenly spaced teeth at 12 TPI with a 15-degree rake.

Preparing to Sharpen

The newly cut teeth

Jointing the teeth

A closer look. My retoother is invaluable for this sort of work. Back to the saw anvil now for more hammering—retoothing bows the entire sawplate, but it’s quickly remedied, and doing it in this order makes sure bows appear that I might have missed when straightening the sawplate earlier.

After flattening the sawplate again, I’m ready to sharpen the saw. I start by jointing the toothline with my Disston 3D saw vise.

Sharpening the Teeth

Acme hand saw filer used for 1st filing

Disston 3D saw vise used for the 2nd filing

Now for the initial sharpening. I use an Acme Saw Filing machine to establish a consistent 20-degree fleam and 5-degree gullet, without changing the rake the retoother cut. This is a great old machine manufactured between the 1940’s and 60’s. Unlike the more automated Foley hand saw sharpener (which can grind a tooth off with no hand control), this tool lets me move the saw vise one tooth at a time. I control the amount of pressure the file exerts in the toothline by hand with a lever that drops the file into the gullet.

Then it's back to the Disston 3D Saw Vise, where I lightly joint the toothline again, and conduct the secondary sharpening entirely by hand.

Setting and Reassembly

Setting the toothline with my Stanley 42X Saw Set

Reassembling the saw

If I’ve established good gullets between the teeth, I can apply minimal set with my Stanley 42X Saw Set to promote a thin kerf while maintaining smooth cutting action without binding. I use the 2nd lowest notch on the gauge and gently squeeze each tooth into place. Following this I return the sawplate to the saw vise and gently file any teeth with minute flats remaining on top that I missed earlier. After lightly stoning both sides of the toothline to remove any burrs, I have completed the sharpening process.

Adjusting Depth of Sawplate Under the Back

Tapping the spine (back) into place

Adjusting the handle

Now I can polish the sawnuts and reassemble the saw. I tap the spine lightly across the top of the sawplate until I achieve even clamping pressure, which keeps the newly flattened sawplate straight. I reattach the handle to line up the holes in the sawplate and wood before screwing the sawnuts into place.

I end up with a blade that now has 2 1/8" depth under the back from heel to toe. We’ve lost 1/8” from the retoothing process, but blade depth is now consistent and far straighter than before.

Final Tuning

Adjusting toe depth

And now for the test...

We now have a much better toothline, though there’s still a slight bow toward the toe where that end of the sawplate suffered the most abuse. A few more taps on the saw anvil corrected most of this but not all. There is a limit. Let’s give it a test drive on some 1X white oak.

Test Drive

I like the action...

...and it looks nicer

The saw is now razor-sharp, and slices through the cut in just a few short strokes with a much straighter blade, thinner kerf, and far better action.

It’s ready to go back to Chris.

No Longer Old-and-In-the-Way.



In summary, this particular restoration straightened the sawplate, treated the handle and cut/sharpened fresh teeth. It's gone from a beat-up old saw gathering dust to a saw that will last at least another generation.