Open letter to a new saw filing apprentice

Trevor Shpeley
October 23, 2017
By Trevor Shpeley
Oct. 23, 2017 - So you want to be a filer? Well, you’ve done the hard part and passed your pre-apprenticeship exam and secured your spot in the filing room. Now it’s time to learn the trade. Most of what you need to know will be taught in school and by your fellow filers, but here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way to get you started.

Levelling a saw can be a challenge to master. At first you aren’t even sure what you are looking at and then it can seem like you are doing nothing but creating more bumps as you try to remove them. The first step is to clean both sides of your saw. A little dirt on the inside can turn a bump into a divot. Take care of all the ridges and valleys that travel with the flow of the saw before you go looking for cross lumps. Any bump will look like a cross lump in isolation. Use your levelling rolls as much as possible before you reach for your hammer, this will save your saw from looking like you went after it with a shotgun. Remind yourself to “see what you see” and not what you want to see. We have all looked at a saw and thought, “that’s awesome” only to go back later when the tension isn’t working out and realize that our “flat” saw wasn’t flat at all. The gauge can show no light across the saw but it might be because your saw is slightly humped up, not because it’s level. Tilt your gauge just a little to discover if this is the case. If the saw is level you should see a slight sliver of light evenly across the saw when you tilt the gauge towards you a small amount.

Putting tension in a saw is another of those skills that are easy to learn and difficult to master. To save yourself a lot of trouble, do not try and put too much tension in at once. It is far easier to put more tension in than it is to pull it out. Since you can’t actually remove tension, you must add more around the open spot until the surrounding steel is compensating for the spot where you over-rolled it. If you have tried to add tension in twice and you are getting an unexpected result, go back and check your levelling, the problem will usually be found there. Roll tension into the saw in small increments and try not to overdo it in one spot. Sure, your tension might look nice when the saw drops away from the gauge but if it is concentrated in one area and just dragging the rest of the saw with it, your blade is not going to run very well. Once again, see what you see not what you want to see. Believe your gauge, it never lies, but it can fool you if you aren’t paying attention.

Here are some more random tips to help you out. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a saw you are having trouble with. It’s amazing how different a problem can look when you take some time to clear your head. Go clean your bench or help somebody else for awhile; you may find you have no trouble at all when you get back. Dress your gauges and hammer frequently. We depend on these tools for everything we do so if they are not exactly what they should be, you are not going to see consistent results. Change saw guides early and often. It doesn’t take long to do and it is cheap insurance against deviating saws. When you sharpen saws, do it slowly. You will get a better finish and lessen the chances of your tooth getting dubbed over at the top. A dubbed saw is a dull saw.

Lastly, when somebody calls you to do a saw change, stay cheerful and do what they ask. It doesn’t matter if you know there is nothing wrong with the saws. It doesn’t matter if you know that changing a saw isn’t going to make a roll-problem go away. It doesn’t even matter if it’s the fifth call-out in an hour for the same problem. You smile and say, “no problem”, do your change and then afterwards you can go talk to them and offer your suggestions on how the problem might be fixed. Creating animosity between filers, management and other tradesmen is a no-win situation and you will suffer in the long run if you allow your emotions to get in the way of a functional work place.

So there you go. Best of luck in your new career. Saw filing can be more rewarding than just about any other trade but remember, just because the concepts seem simple to learn, you can expect to spend years learning to do it properly. Good luck!


Trevor Shpeley is on the executive of the BC Sawfilers Association and works as a filer at Kalesnikoff Lumber in British Columbia.
More in this category: « Swadge early, swadge often

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