I Saw A Vice

by | Jan 9, 2014 | 22 comments

saw sharpening 1When I first started in woodwork I was shown how to sharpen my saws within a very makeshift device. It was simply a piece of wood as long as the saw with a kerf cut in to it to about ninety percent of its depth so that the saw could be slotted in place. The whole thing was then just thrown in to a bench vice.
I’ve always felt that this was something which I drastically needed to improve upon but like so many things I’ve never got around to doing it. I can’t pretend to be an expert on saw vices as I’ve never sat and given it any time but I do know that they can be a pretty expensive thing to buy and making a good one nearly always involves fabricating some kind of screw or hinged mechanism which I find unnecessarily complex.

Whilst tidying through one of our barns recently I came across this saw vice and I could see immediately how practical the design was – the jaw is just wedged in to the frame so that it holds the saw tightly as you push it down. After a quick test the other day I realised what a dream it is to use compared to the rudimentary one I was trained on, and being able to rely only on the wedged shape for clamping is the sort of clever simplicity which I enjoy.
With very few tweaks I think this will be my perfect saw vice and it just happened to be sat lying amongst a pile of rubbish, it’s funny how things can just find you.

I’m looking forward to making my own version soon and I’ll also talk more at that time about my equally simple approach to saw sharpening. When I showed this find to my old man to impress him with its uniqueness he just shrugged and said he’d seen loads like it – typical that he never thought to tell me! I’d love to hear about the different quirks of the saw vices you use, have you got a trusty arrangement which you love?saw vice wedgesaw vice



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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Chris Buckingham

    The strange thing about us humans is that one always tends to think that what is common knowledge to you,is also to others, the saw vice that you found in your barn is the type that I thought everyone had in their kit, as it is the type used by our woodwork shop at school 50 years ago, just how many other things are we taking for granted?

  2. Michael Forster

    I recognised that straight away – it was just the kind of thing they had at the centre where I trained in the 60s – and I later made myself a similar one for my home workshop. I sharpened a lot of saws in that (with varying degrees of success). It occurs to me now (it didn’t then!) that a slight convexity on the inner vice faces might be a good thing – the ends will then be pinched together ensuring a good grip all along the blade.

  3. Michael Forster

    As an afterthought – any tips on sharpening fine dovetail saws would be appreciated – the tiny teeth are a bit daunting!

  4. John K


    I would love to see a video of the new improved version if you feel you have the time! I’ve never seen this type of vise and never successfully sharpened a saw. Maybe this is just the piece that has been missing…

    Thanks for the post and all the best,


  5. Scott Smith

    That would be a great project to show us how to make. What do you think?

  6. Ed

    I’m not clear on what you’r showing. Is it two unconnected pieces of timber shaped at one end to receive the saw handle plus two sloped housings? You make a saw sandwich, then drop the sandwich into the parallel slot in which you have your fingers in the upper photo? Does the frame with the slot reach to the floor and you support it in the vice, or does it just clamp in the vice without reaching the floor?

    This looks nice because, when I use the kerfed wood approach, I seem to monkey around getting the right height for the tooth above the wood, not banging things out of place getting into the vice, etc. It looks like you just line things up in the sandwich, jam it into the slots, and off you go. The nice thing about the kerfed wood approach is that it takes zero storage space and, when I lose it, I can make another quickly (although I always seem to lose it when all my rip saws are dull).

    I have a “regular” metal saw vice that I found super cheap at a flea market. I don’t like that the jaws are so short so you must move the saw a few times to keep good support. Maybe I’m being too fussy and shouldn’t move the saw? But, if I must (and it feels that way), it interrupts the rhythm and I lose track of which tooth I’m on.

    Thanks for posting this. I struggle with saw sharpening.

  7. mike murray

    Nice find on the saw vise. They can be handy.

    I built a large saw vise some time back and have used it quite a bit. It might look complicated but actually it is really simple in operation. Works really well.

    I have to have a chuckle about the smaller vise I built. I took it to show the fellows in the Guild and one of them said I should enter it in the fair. I did and it took a blue ribbon. Funny thing about it is that I made it with some scrap wood and used my little backsaw and a chisel to create the half-lap joints. It was really simple and kind of roughly made. I guess there wasn’t much competition in that category. : )
    Here are a couple pictures of the vises:



  8. Bob Groh

    Paul Seller’s has a nice video (one of his Master Woodworking series – his video’s are, by the way, highly recommended by your’s truly) on saw sharpening and he shows a few saw vises including a variation of a simple wood one. I presently use an old vintage iron one but plan on trying a simple wood one. Yes, with a hinge to hold the two halves! Having a bit of inward lip at the top is, I think, essential to ensuring a ‘pinch’ along the blade. In fact, I think the top edge should also have a slight bow (front to back) to, once again, ensure a tight pinch along the entire length of the clamp. I intend on dropping mine into my bench vise both for convenience and to bring the saw blade up a bit. Enjoy your posts – keep them coming!

  9. Mark Armstrong

    That is very similar to one I made I also notched out fame to accept my back saws as well.
    I find it good as you do not have to keep moving saw vice to accommodate length of a longer saw.

  10. Paul Chapman

    A piece about your approach to saw sharpening would be very welcome, Richard, particularly the smaller dovetail, tenon and carcass saws.

  11. Bob Bell

    Looking forward to your development of the vise and discussion of saw-sharpening techniques.
    The vise I use is a copy shown by Tage Frid in one of his books and has served well for twenty years. However it clamps in my bench vise and subsequently leaves me hunched over the saw when sharpening. Your discovery looks like an improvement.

  12. davidos

    never seen one before .i look forward to your post on sharpening

  13. Ken

    Thanks for this one Richard. Looking forward to you following up on this one buddy. 😉

  14. wonderfulwoodwork

    Well done Richard. In a world of disposable saws and cutting devices we are perhaps a generation who has forgotten how to sharpen a saw! Like you, as an apprentice it was simply two bits of wood clamped into a vice to hold your saw and off you went a sharpening.
    I am now fed up with the noise and dust of power tool and have now reverted back to hand tools. Very therapeutic to use and instead of chippings and dust you get shavings and the lovely sound of peace and quiet so you can hear yourself think. 🙂

  15. Jonathan

    Brian Close showed me how to build these a few years ago. He used one as an apprentice, they fitted a foot bar to hold it down, while resting against a suitable bench/stack of boards etc. (ie it was portable)
    His version had a more pronounced tapering in the 2 uprights and was (as a previous poster sudgested) slightly cambered along the 2 blades to get a solid clamp all the way accross. The 2 through bolts revent them splitting.

  16. DF

    G’day Richard
    Used this type of saw clamp from my apprentice days- 38 years ago. Very effective and interestingly a universal solution for all of the guys I worked with- from many countries.

    Cheers.. David

  17. John Neish

    That seams just like the one my Dad gave me when I left home in Jan 1970. He was using that same one for many years before me. Unfortunately mine disappeared a few years back. Now I intend to build another one. One difference in mine, when you drop the sandwiched Saw into the slot, my slot is wedge shaped. That way, when you drop it in, it self tightens.

  18. George Fantacci


    I’ve been looking through the old blog posts and can’t find where posted any more about this saw vice. Do you have the time to do this? Can you give us some details to try to make it? Thanks for the great site, and keep up the good work!

  19. Ken Johnsen

    I learned to sharpen on this type of saw vice when I was 19, working as dock builder in 1968, with my father. My father ran the saw shed and did all the saw sharpening for the gang.

    Quick and easy to make and use

  20. Mike Z.

    I know this post is older than dirt – I still feel compelled to comment.
    I have been relearning to sharpen saws after 40+ years – I too am using the simple chock with a saw cut for the saw while the entire thing gets locked down in the face vise. My eyes certainly aren’t what they used to be 40 years ago – sitting on a stool at bench height is alright but standing would be better. Also as my eyesight sucks I have discovered that natural sunlight is better for detail than anything!! I found this post searching for a wooden vise I could use outdoors and move around at will – this may well be the ticket. Never seen anything remotely like it in the states so thanks again for a valuable piece of kit.


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