Choosing & Using Japanese Saws

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Japanese Saws

Choosing & Using Japanese Saws

Expand your tool arsenal with handsaws that belong to a centuries-old tradition of craftsmanship

By Yann Giguere

Japanese Saws

Today I teach Japanese woodworking techniques and take on custom woodworking projects in my Brooklyn studio, but my first exposure to Japanese-style woodworking was entirely accidental. When I began to learn woodworking in a cabinet shop, we worked primarily with power tools. The one handsaw we had was a Japanese “pull saw.” My mentor explained that “we use it because it works great.” I gave it a try and...wow! I was “pulled” in. I purchased my first saw and the pleasure grew— motivating me to undertake a formal apprenticeship with a Japanese woodworking master. You don’t have to be devoted to Japanese woodworking to appreciate the unique qualities of Japanese-style saws. In this article, I’ll provide details on choosing and using the three types of Japanese saws that enable you to do a wide range of cutting by hand.

Japanese Saws

Alignment is important. Pull saws provide you with a number of different cutting positions. But in all cases, accuracy is easier to achieve when the dominant hand, arm and shoulder are in line with the cutline.

Pull saw pros and cons

The pros and cons of pull saws have a great deal to do with their thinner blades and with the way that crosscutting blades are sharpened (see photos below).

Japanese Saws

PROS

• Less energy required for cutting.

• Faster cutting than Westernstyle handsaws.

• More flexibility in cutting positions.

• Thin kerf is an advantage in certain situations.

• Saws with replaceable blades eliminate the need to sharpen or repair a dull or damaged blade.

• Long handle accommodates twohanded grip when necessary.

Japanese Saws

CONS

• Crosscutting teeth can be easily damaged by misuse or accidental impact.

• Too long to fit in a toolbox. (But folding pull saws overcome this limitation.)

• Dull or damaged crosscutting blades are difficult and timeconsuming to resharpen.

• Straight handle will feel strange to Westernstyle saw users.

Japanese Saws

Ryoba saws are all-purpose performers

The workhorse of Japanese saws, the ryoba is easy to identify because it has two sets of teeth—one for ripping and one for crosscutting. If you’re new to hand-sawing on the pull stroke, I recommend using a ryoba as your “starter” saw. Ryobas are often described by blade length (in millimeters), because this usually indicates the saw’s main uses. In general, shorter saws have finer teeth, enabling you to do more exacting work. A 210mm (81⁄4") ryoba is for furniture. I use my 240mm (91⁄2") ryoba for general carpentry. A 270mm (103⁄4") ryoba is for larger work, like timber-frame joinery. If you look closely at the ripping side of a ryoba saw, you’ll notice that the teeth are smaller at the heel of the blade, which makes it easier to get a cut started. My 240mm blue hard Gyokucho ryoba (see Buyer’s Guide on p. 61) is a favorite of mine because of its versatility. Though this saw’s teeth are ground for cutting hardwoods, they will do fine cutting softwoods as well. The teeth are fine enough for very precise cutting—the nextbest thing to a dozuki saw for joinery work. When just starting to use a ryoba saw, it may seem difficult to make a straight cut with such a flexible blade. The secret is to plan your cut so that the kerf you initially make can guide the blade as you finish the cut. Make a cut in stages, as shown below, and you’ll be surprised at the accuracy you can achieve.

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