Saturday, July 18, 2015

Finishing up the Japanese style saw vise



It's about time to finish up this project. The rains have stopped, the rainbows are out, and I've got some saws that are in need of some sharpening. It's time to finish the vise!




I'm great at starting projects, lousy at the finishing stages.. I'm too enthusiastic for my own good.





From the previous post, the two halves of the vise have been shaped, now it's time to attach them. This being my first attempt at a Japanese style saw vise, combined with my choice to run the wood grain the "wrong" way, it would be wiser to attach the halves using some means that would let me adjust or separate them when I undoubtedly need to. So, of course I choose the permanent (but much cooler) means of attachment....riveting them.


My rivet stock will be some old bent nails that are never in short supply. For the roves, I drill the centers on another thing that is seldom in short supply, pennies.


I bore shallow recesses to get everything below the surface. When I do this next time, I will bore less deep or skip the recessed thing entirely. Although it gives a neater finish, when I inevitably need to grind these off later, access will be a bitch.



The nails are lightly galvanized, but a little phosphoric acid removes that quickly. Jasco Prep&Prime to the rescue!

The zinc galvanizing causes the acid to get all foamy, but the nails are under there. I give it 15 minutes.



The reason for removing the galvanized coating is that I want the nails in as soft a state as possible before peening, so I need to anneal the metal first. Burning off the galvanizing works great, but also causes the formation of nasty gasses that can cause brain damage/kill you/etc. I'm challenged enough as it is, so prudence prevails. I don't get to say that very often.



A propane torch, get 'em red hot, then let things cool, the slower the better.

I thought that the lava rock worked well as a fireproof surface. Talk about an appropriate material.



If you happen to find yourself moving out into the boondocks and haven't yet built your forge (everyone needs a forge, right?), a good propane torch and a decent sized piece of ceramic blanket insulation makes a sort of workable emergency, half-assed forge. The ceramic insulation is key though. I wish that I brought some. 20/20 hindsight.


You can make a small propane forge from a tin can, and using sheet rock mud/sand mix as a refractory lining. It is handy to have around for making small tools and blades, but the key word here is small. A charcoal forge is SOOO much better. Quiet, too.



Peen the nails to lock everything together.



I cut the wedge from more of than mystery ham-wood stuff that I suspect is something like Brazilian cherry.

Whatever it is, it's hard, finishes smooth as glass, and it's more than my crappy kanna blade can handle. Rather than re-sharpening every 10 minutes, I decide that it's finally time to open up my treasure chest of tools. It's time to pull out the big guns!

"Rashomon" kanna, by wholesaler company Cubs torosaburo. Our favorite luthier, Tanaka Kiyoto has a couple of these kanna and was surprised at the blade quality and toughness. He puts the steel toughness just shy of HSS and some of the "super" steels. He doesn't know how actually forged the blades, but he was impressed.


I bought this kanna from my Japanese tools pusher, Junji. It had a huge crack in the main blade and generally looked like hell. I showed some of the blade repair here, but haven't gotten around to fitting the blade into the dai....until now. It feels at least 4x more durable than the plain-Jane kanna that I have been using, yet the blade is still fairly easy to sharpen. Laminated blades are awesome!



The wood that I used for the wedge is probably too hard and slippery. The vise works wonderfully, 'cept the wedge likes to pop out at inopportune moments. I'll try roughing up the surface, see if that helps.

Next step....sharpening my old kataba saws. I plan on converting this old guy into a madonoko tooth pattern but first I will see how well it works as is, with the original modified rip tooth it has now. I've been thinking real hard about the mechanics of saw tooth design, and now is my opportunity to do a fun compare/contrast project.



Ellie is using the ugly saw, but doing great work. She's making a rabbit hutch.....more pets. Ellie, the rabbit farmer.

She did her layout using the bamboo sumisashi.



Focus and intent!



If you look closely, she's spot on the line.

That's my girl!



  1. I should have read your blog before going to the construction market for bolts today, love the peened nails. I finished gluing up the wood today and I hope tomorrow have the shaping finished. My plan is to show the guys next saturday how to sharpen a saw.

    Looking forward to your studies on teeth. I have a madonoko and a rip/diagonal in a similar size as yours, we could make some experiments...

  2. Well, now I know what to do with all the nails I have lying around! After the library and box bellows, I'm really hoping to make a saw vise. I have a 5tpi crosscut blade for my bow saw, crappiest blade I've ever seen, maybe I can file down the old teeth and file new ones... maybe make a no set plane makers saw and a flush cut saw.

  3. Pennies, Brilliant! I've been trying to think of what to use for an upcoming project that needs rivets, and you've solved one of the problems. Thanks!

    1. Hi Brian, and thanks for your comment, though can I claim no brilliance, haha!

      Before moving to Hawaii, I had a tolerably well equipped shop, and most any fastener that I required was at hands reach. That's definitely not the case anymore, with the nearest hardware store about 30 minutes drive away. Pennies are washer shaped at least, and not too difficult to drill with an egg beater hand drill. All of our coins are kind of case hardened, too, almost like a hard shell. The best Pennies would be pre-1982 dates, because they are actually copper, as opposed to the mystery alloy they are now. Some zinc compound with a coppery coating. I've got a little stash of the old ones, but can't remember if I have them here.....can't find them anyways, haha.

      Nails are handy, but not ideal as rivets. They are made from mild steel, and if you do a good job of the annealing, they peen over tolerably well. Not quite like a nice soft rivet though.

      I was thinking the other day.

      Way back when, I lived out in the back woods of Montana. I was building a door for my tool shed, a big honking thick monster door, but I didn't have any hinges. I climbed in my old Toyota landcruiser jeep, drove 45 minutes to town, bought the biggest hinges they had at the store, drove 45 minutes back, so....2 hours time, 4 gallons gas, $12 hinges, and the things were still ridiculously small. That looks like waste, no matter which angle you view it from. Why didn't it occur to me to just MAKE some hinges from wood, using branches or some such thing?! It's not like it was some pretty shed or anything. Hell, wooden hinges would've looked perfect, but the thought never even entered my mind. We are so accustomed to "buying" the solution, and even now, I need to force my mind to think of solutions that don't require purchase/stores/driving to get some necessary thing.

      Kind of sad, how challenging this simple thing can be, to not "buy", but to instead create something. legal department urges me to remind everyone that altering or defacing currency is a federal offense 😜!

  4. Greetings! Good to see someone else who desires a Japanese saw vise in their life. Thanks for sharing your process. Quick question: isn't your grain orientation weak like that? All the examples I've seen have the grain running vertically, I imagine for strength. True, you have to find wider stock to make a wider saw vise, so your solution has me curious. Does it feel strong enough?

    1. Hey Aaron!

      You are absolutely correct, the grain orientation is "wrong", and if I had been using thinner stock, I would've favored the more sensible route. This orientation has the wedge exerting a splitting strain on the jaws, but I was feeling too lazy to glue up wider stock that day, haha. My intent had been to give the vise more gravitas by using 1.5" material, but it doesn't seem to be worth the additional effort. My next vise (we all benefit from having more than one vise, right?) shall be a nice svelte 3/4" thick, 1" at the most, but will have the grain running perpendicular as it should. It'll also be bolted/screwed together.....assuming that I have some to hand.

      When building this style of vise, try to use a relatively stable species of wood, and choose the grain so as to minimize cupping (so ideally quartered or vertical grain). Also, don't make the wedge too slick! It's a great connection to tradition, and is very swift and simple to use, which makes it more like to *BE* used, a great thing all 'round, eh?

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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