Japanese ‘Saw’ or nokogiri (鋸)
The Japanese hand saw has become very popular amongst woodworkers. In this article I want to share with you my thoughts on the Japanese woodworkers hand saw and how you’re one. I will set out how they are different from our popular Western and European woodworking saws. It’s not to say that the typical Western hand saw is worse or any less capable than the Japanese saw, it is just that they are different tools.
I use a Japanese ‘Saw’ or nokogiri (鋸) in my workshop for certain tasks. If I want to cut a dovetail or saw a tenon joint I am more likely to choose a Japanese pull saw than one of my western back saws.
What types of Japanese saws are there?
There are five popular types of Japanese hand saws
- The ryoba
- The Douzukinoko
Each of the saws are designed for a particular job.
Ripping with the grain, cross-cutting and dovetail joints.
Translated “attached trunk”, like any western backsaw these saws have a back or spine which stiffens a very thin blade. These are used for crosscutting joints such as a tenon. The back prevents the saw from cutting deeper than the blade.
Translated “Double Blade”. This saw is a general-purpose saw and has no back so it is good for through cuts. This saw is the dual purpose it has two cutting edges.
This is an ideal saw to use with a sawing guide as it has no back and is a single edge saw
A small ryōba (double-edged)saw was used for cutting into faces of timber rather than from the edge. This saw has the teeth following a shallow radius. This curve helps the teeth to cut into the board surface with ease. I don’t have this saw but a joiner friend who has had training by a well known Japanese carpenter has allowed me to try his. At first I was not sure if I would have a use for this saw. I was wrong and I will be buying one for cutting in face repair dovetails.
Mawashibiki is a small saw with a tapered blade like a western keyhole saw. The difference between these two saws is the cutting direction of the teeth. The Japanese saw cuts on the pull stroke unlike the western keyhole saw that cuts on the push stroke. The Mawashibiki blade is much thinner than the western saw because the blade does not buckle on the pull stroke.
Which is best, handmade or a commercial saw?
I personally prefer the handmade Japanese saw and the reason for that is that the quality of these saws are sublime. As soon as you pick one up you realise that you have not made a mistake or have you?
Although these traditional saws are beautiful they do need special consideration in use and sharpening.
Are Japanese saws resharpenable?
The traditional Japanese hand saw is resharpenable but you’ll find it very difficult to find anybody who can sharpen it. The teeth are so fine and the steel of the blade is so thin, sharpening a Japanese hand saw is a highly skilled and specialist job.
Why can’t I sharpen my why Japanese pull saw?
Most Japanese handsaws such as a Ryoba are designed not to be restartable but replaceable. There are a lot of benefits of choosing a modern Japanese saw
Can I replace the blade of a Japanese saw?
You can replace the brain of a modern Japanese saw very easily. Usually, there is a screw or clamp that secures the blade. Replacing the blade on one of these saws is a very cost-effective option if you want to own a Japanese saw of any type.
Japanese pull saws are constructed using highly tempered steel. The teeth on a Japanese saw can be as fine as 32 TPI although a general-purpose or is 12 TPI so that if they were resharpenable it would have to be done through a magnifying glass.
Do Japanese pull saws have replaceable blades?
Yes Japanese pull saws that are used for carpentry are fitted with a replaceable blade. The blade is easily swapped by removing a screw or loosening a clamp.
How long do Japanese saws last?
Surprisingly a Japanese hand saw lasted a very long time, it is only when it becomes damaged is when you want me to prematurely change the blade.
Cutting Hard and softwood with a Japanese saw
The Japanese saw has a high TPI compared to a western or European saw. This might be a good or bad thing. When cutting hardwood such as Oak the resin content is dry and so cutting wood with a fine saw causes no issues, unlike softwood. Cutting softwood with any of the Japanese saws is not a great issue as long as you clean the blade after use. Most softwoods have high resin content and it can clog the teeth.
My thoughts on the Japanese Saws
I am a keen woodworker and as such, I like to try new things. The Japanese range of saws are an acquired taste but I have to admit I am smitten. I personally feel that the Ryoba should be your first saw for general cutting but also the Douzukinoko is a great pull saw for the cutting of tenons and dovetails.
Thank you for reading my article on Japanese saws and before you go why not share it.