Monday, May 25, 2015

Japanese saws

Here we go, I'm diving off into the deep end again. Japanese saws this time. God help us all. More blind leading the blind, haha.

Not much gets written about Japanese saws, which is a pity considering how many people use them. And not just Japanese guys either. Out of all the many Japanese carpentry tools out there, it is the saw that has been most widely adopted. I would be willing to bet that out of every 100 new saws sold today, 95 of them have a Japanese style saw tooth. Go to Home Depot and look at their offerings (all 4 of them! Obviously few people are using ANY type of handsaw.).
The not-so-slight problem is that, while Japanese saws are amazingly awesome creatures that are in use world-wide, the industry has shifted almost exclusively to the disposable blade philosophy. Don't get me wrong, industry has chosen this route for good reasons. Annual saw sales must number in the 10's of millions, and to supply that demand......

Factory made saws ( the Japanese manufactured ones at least) are reasonably priced and really good. My Nakaya D210C kumiko saw cost only about $50 and is a REALLY nice saw, cuts fast and smooth, and is surprisingly hefty. Obscenely thin kerf. Definitely the nicest store bought saw I've ever had and when the blade gets dull, I can get a replacement for only $15 or so. I mentioned this saw before but to reiterate, it's a tool worth buying. A bit harder to find, but worth it.

Nakaya D210C from 

Bridge City Tools sells a gussied-up version of this same saw, near as I can tell. 

It costs over 2x as much, and I'd be embarrassed to use it in public though.

The other saws that are pictured above are:
  • Z-saw 265, a good general purpose saw, $40 or so, commonly available and you can get a 6-pack of replacement blades for $50
  • Gyokucho #290, a small yet hefty and stiff little saw. Very easy to use and a nice size for joinery. The curved tip lets you start the cut in the middle of a panel, handy. Hida Tool sells them for $29
  • Vaughan BS150D Bear saw, cheap feeling and kind of flimsy, this saw is actually quite good. $18 at my (used to be) local Fred Meyer general store. The saw is really made by Zetto ( the Z-saw guys), but repackaged and sold under the Vaughan name. Super flexible flush cutting blade perfect for trimming dowels and kerfing joints for a perfect fit. What you do with the original gray plastic handle is up to you, haha.

The disposable blade saws often have impulse hardened teeth or, at the least, use very hard steel for the blades, making sharpening considerably more difficult. It can be done, though thankfully they stay sharp for an admirably long time.



Not so long ago in Japan, there were blacksmiths in every village and every carpenter would've been using handmade saws. And unlike now, carpenters were expected to know how to sharpen their own tools, and if major saw repair was needed, there were people who knew how to do that too. Between everyone buying disposable blade saws and the old-timers dying off, there are less and less people out there who really know how to fix up the old saws, much less make new ones.
If a person is so inclined, there are literally thousands of old Japanese saws that can be put back to good use. Rusty, neglected old saws sell for far less than the cost of postage, and often all they require is a good cleaning and the attention of someone knowledgeable about the use of a yasuri file. Lots of these old saws are handmade and are FAR higher quality than you can buy today. Anywhere.

I have no idea how many people, worldwide, have any more than the most basic knowledge about saws and what makes them work, Western or Japanese.
Not many, in any event. I'm not in that number, not even close, but I've got some ideas.
My European/South American correspondent, Sebastian Gonzalez is one of the only guys out there who is actually working on this stuff. He's got ideas too.

Japanese saws are fun to use but there is much more sophistication than is apparent by their simple design. Just like kanna, God is in the details.

Curious? I am.


  1. The sound! the sound is so important... it tells you almost everything you need to know about the saw.

    I was thinking today, yesterday, don't know anymore, about writing a "get it in Japan" post, explaining how to get a most probable good deal from buyee, for saws and chisels mostly. And then some video tutorials... after all I'm jobless for a while so plenty of time to go back into research.

    Concerning the disposable saws... for what I've tried, they are sharp, and that's all. But there is so much to a saw than sharpness, a good saw will be easy to use, even for a novice, and a pleasure to use, or to talk with maybe, they start to feel like my friends by now.

    When do we have the straightening saws post by the way?

    1. Sebastian my friend!

      Funny you should ask about straightening.......Your reminder about sound could not have come at a better time.

      Also, as I was searching out stock pictures of disposable blade saws, I realized that Stu Tierney ( I think that's the spelling) at has the best prices on good quality, mainline Japanese saws. The stuff that really gets used in Japan. Far cheaper than anyone else I've found. He can get Nakaya, Gyokucho sharksaw, Mitsukawa and probably more. From what I understand, he doesn't carry inventory so you need to be slightly patient, but he would be one of my first choices for new saws.

    2. I just ordered once from him, and the files were late, very late. But what I more disliked was the lack of contact from his side, like I had to mail him twice to get one answer and then he offered an "upgrade" in the shipping that I never got to see. For what I heard that's sadly the usual way of dealing with clients.

      Now, to contradict myself a bit, I think small dosuki should be machine made. My eyes hurt at sharpening and the metal back compensates for the lack of tension on the blade so the difference is not as noticeable as with long ryobas. I should have gotten some but with already 2 dozuki was difficult to justify.

      I was thinking yesterday, since could not sleep, in a horse for saws. I have a few that still need scraping with the sen so I guess will be one of the first things that I'll make arriving in santigo... tomorrow morning.

      Keep up the good work my friend, maybe we can teach each other to see, even if now we are still blind.


Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason