Friday, August 21, 2015

A BIG madonoko saw!



So here is one of the saws that I have recently received.....a monster madonoko ("window saw", I believe....referring to the deep gullet that were cut into the saw plate to better facilitate chip clearance).


The original auction photo from Yahoo Japan auctions.



If you want Japanese tools, GREAT tools for WAY cheaper than anywhere else, it's the place to go. One small problem though....basically every seller will only sell within Japan. You need an agent. You can choose the official option, Buyee, but you will pay through the nose for the privilege, both in shipping and in associated incidental fees. A slightly cheaper option is to use.....


Murakami is THE MAN! and is a great guy, completely honest/truthful/helpful....the honourifics can go on, but he is a decent person. Be aware, though his English is good, it is a bit limited (although compared to my nonexistent Japanese....). He will find the cheapest options for shipping, advise on quality, and take a stab at what an item might sell for, so that you can best decide how much to bid. When you do bid, it will be a "sniper" bid, the only sane way that anyone should bid these thing, so there will be no foolishness about escalating bid wars. Just decide what you are willing to spend and call it good.


If you miss your chance, don't worry, because there will be MANY more opportunities. These old Japanese tools sell shockingly cheap (compared to if you buy your tools from catalogs), and there are LOTS of tools out there still. Also.....the general quality of the tools in the auctions will be much higher than most of what you can buy new. Hand crafted tools were the norm until just a few decades ago, so if you want a kanna that has a blade that was forged by an actual human being, sitting in front of the charcoal fire,'s not that hard to find.


The same goes for the Japanese saws. All the best saws are hand forged, have scarfed, forge welded tangs, and have been carefully shaped by hand, using a Sen. If you can, buy one new, because there are only a handful of guys who still know how to do that and we all need to encourage the preservation of knowledge, and.......SECRET......You can buy a decent, hand made saw for under $100 usd. Even I consider that an insane bargain.


If you are poor like buy old tools at auction, through Murakami. The standard disclaimers does apply here, though. Expect the worst, and you will probably be pleasantly surprised.




So, it arrived. got here in only 5 days! It's a big honking saw!


It came with an awesome wooden sheath (although the sheath needs some repair).



It's one of the bigger madonoko that I've seen come up at a auction.


It's in excellent straight condition, and sharp as hell. It continually amazes me how the old American tools you buy will be trashed and abused, while the Japanese tools are almost exclusively sharp and ready for use.


There must be a message there.



Signatures galore, but no idea what they mean. I should've asked Murakami how the kanji reads. Kanji is tough though, and many Japanese people can only recognize a relatively few characters, the others having fallen by the wayside hundreds of years ago. The hand carved kanji would be especially tough to decipher.




The flip side has more info, but the part I like.....that's the beautiful nearly-but-not-quite straight forge weld of the body to the tang. Evidence of the makers hand.


Really nice work. Maybe someday I can do half as well. Also interesting....notice the differing rates of corrosion, soft iron and hard steel.




This saw takes big bites, And is by far the largest saw that I've ever used. It has a pronounced tendency to dig in if you get the cutting angles wrong, so there is a level of skill to be learned. Once you get going, the sawing itself is easy. It's the holding down of the workpiece....that's the challenge.


The saw "dust" isn't actually dust per-se. It's more like long curled ribbons of planed wood.


You know that sound that a well tuned kanna makes as it rips off a perfect shaving? That "Skriieeench" sound? This saw sounds just like that, when things are working perfectly. I attempted to keep the cut on line, but I had to keep reminding myself not to pull too hard with my right arm, to balance the pull between both arms. The saw tried it's best to make up for my lack, but it was severely challenged.



The hardest part was the holding down the workpiece. The saw cut pretty fast, considering my struggles with jumping logs and my poor form. It took about 1 hour to rip cut this very hard and dense Ohia member. The cut was roughly 8" x 42" long. If I had a proper grip on the work it probably would've only taken 20 minutes.


I had made a saw horse for Renee, but the thing turned out so monstrously heavy that, rather than make a second "too heavy" saw horse, I took the one that was already constructed, ripped the thing in two, then cut some additional legs. That conserves resources, and the saw horses were too damn heavy to begin with.



I found it QUITE interesting, that despite my extremely poor form in using the monster madonoko, the surface that it left is generally smooth. Shockingly, considering how course the tooth pattern of is. The surface feels planed, or maybe more like sanded, about 60 grit.




The sawing itself was wonderful, much like working out on a rowing bench. For some reason, I've been craving exactly this type of movement, so not only will I be getting some much needed excercise, I'll also be gaining some wonderful new lumber. Productive excercise!


There is much skill hidden in this simple seeming task, so I expect to be writing more shortly. There are a few aspects of the madonoko saw design that I had been questioning, and even with my brief exposure to this saw, I'm getting it. If you look at the teeth of this saw, you will notice that the primary tooth pattern is two alternating knife-like teeth that score the wood fibres, followed by a third raker tooth that removes the waste. The deep gullet that gives this style of saw its name is necessary because the saw cuts so aggressively, it removes a lot of wood with each stroke and the waste needs somewhere to go without getting in the way.



At the front and rear of the saw though, the tooth pattern is the more standard Japanese crosscut design. That there are no raker teeth at the heel of the saw makes sense, because this is where you are starting the cut from. Rakers would make starting the cut nearly impossible. But why do you see the same thing at the front of the blade? Well, I ended up "steering" the cut quite a bit, using the front of the saw. Also, when there was something hanging up in the middle of the log, something that I couldn't see, I could pull most of the blade out and only use the nose to get the offending area worked down.


I have been holding off on buying a big "whale-back" Maebiki-oga (a special purpose rip-cut saw for big timbers) because I have been wondering if this style of saw would serve both purposes, cut both rip and crosscut. It's looking like it might work that way. This saw weighs about 7 pounds. A heavy maebiki might ultimately cut faster. What do you think Gabe? And what do your Maebiki-oga weigh?


I still want one though.

Oh crap, almost forgot. This saw cost about $40 usd, not including shipping (about $60 there) and there were no other bidders. Imagine what this monster would go for new.



  1. That is sweet! I too was incredibly surprised by how smooth my resaw was, especially concerning how poorly I steered it. No teeth marks at all!

    As relatively cheap these tools are, $100 in total is a bit much for me at the moment. The shipping is the big killer!

    Hoping to get a tax ID number and start selling some stuff, however!

    1. Yaaa, shipping hurts...the true price we pay, haha. Wait till you see the new batch of dozuki and kataba. $10 for the saws....and like almost $80 for shipping! Awesome old saws though, and there's no cheaper way. The funny thing is if you compare these prices to actually paying retail for nearly ANY tool, Western or Japanese, the price is embarrassingly low. Especially considering that these are are hand crafted, professional tools.

      You are on the right track though. The tools aren't as important as just actually doing the work. USE WHAT YOU HAVE! Learn how to sharpen everything, and the world opens up. That sounds trite, but it's true. Fancier tools will appear in time, but you might not want them anymore. In a very real sense, being poor has been the best thing for me.

    2. I was at Home Depot just today, and I could've bought a brand new Stanley "Professional" grade saw, stamped out in a factory in China but assembled in the good ol' USA....$32. Total POS.

      It's easy to stick my nose in the air, but it's still a better saw that I could make. What I really find sad is that these great old tools, culminations of lifetimes of experience, are available at all, much less something that can be bought for relative peanuts by some fool in Hawaii. It makes me feel very fortunate.....but also so small.

    3. Tax ID number for selling stuff? Funny guy...

    4. My mom wants me to get one, so I can sell on Etsy and in the markets. There's always one blacksmith and at least two woodworkers in the farmer's market!

      I also found a buyer for saws; I was showing the lady at Pittsford Lumber my resaw saw, she wants some hand forged nokogiri, also said they would sell them for me. Now to order some!

      I need to find a good source of files, though. I can't find a way to order from Tsubosan, and the Japanese auctions can be iffy...hows your filemaking going?

  2. more than a sawhorse looks like a quite sturdy sharpening station. Or a butcher's block for ellie's wild pigs.

    Man, that's a terrible post that you just wrote. Now I can totally see why I REALLY need a larger saw. That's like twice the size the largest I've got.

    As you say, that's what I've found too. For ripping anything that's wider than thick you need to hold real well the piece. A roubo veneer bench would be nice, or large clamps next to a massive beam.

    And look at the bright side, were not for us, those saws would remain unused and forgotten, maybe standing on a wall in a carpentry shop that only uses electric machines, as you can see in germany with their own old tools. Or worst, in a restaurant as decoration. Tools that were made to be used out in the air, to help to build lives near nature, are finding their proper place with us. We just need to be sure the knowledge needed to make them is found again in our lifetime so we are not the last one to enjoy such tools. Plant trees under whose shade you know you shall never sit in, that's the only way, isn't it?

    1. Or worse, as is happening with most saws I see here: bought and painted over, or drilled to mount a clock kit to...

    2. That's what friends are encourage you to buy more tools! Thanks again for you encouragement. This saw is a blast!

      The saw feels like it wants to be used with the wood oriented vertically, so that the sawdust falls clean to the ground. With the wood sitting horizontally, the ribbons of wood were often getting dragged back into the cut, causing more friction. As you say, the post/clamp combo would be perfect! I probably spent twice as long looking for something solid to anchor the wood as I actually spent cutting it.

  3. So excellent Jason! I have noticed the same thing with a bias pulling harder on my right hand, especially as I get tired. The funny thing is how the hand wants to twist as I pull back, which generates the saw wanting to cut to the right.

    I'm interested to see what you settle on for work holding. I ran right out and made that large 'A' frame horse, but its really still meant for cutting timber over eight inches and six foot long. But there's so much material I come across that's still good, but some fool has cut it up into shorter lengths. I can use my massive machinist vise out to about eight inches in diameter, so there a range there where its very difficult for me to cut. You don't realize how much strength you are putting into pulling the saw until you start dragging logs around. Once again, its really beautiful to see somebody else's hand sawn surfaces.

    The saw you bought is probably perfect for a lot of the material that one man can actually move around by himself without heavy equipment. I've often found myself wanting a saw half way between the maebiki-oga and my 350mm kataba, like the one Odate shows in his tool book of the wooden clog maker for cutting paulownia wood. Have you come up with a way of consistently gauging the depth of the raker teeth relative to the crosscut when you sharpen?

    Also, have you come across the technique Shou Sugi Ban / Yakisugi? I had seen it a youtube video but didn't understand its implications for preserving wood in exterior applications:
    I'll be trying it today with a couple different kinds of wood. Seems like it might be of use to you.

    That saw is going to be a love affair. How about making some log-dogs?

    1. Yeah, no kidding! That 100# chunk of Ohia was jumping everywhere. I was thinking, "If this thing were only 4' longer, this would be much more simple.". I was trying to think of something similar to your A-frame, or like a riving "break", but I was so eager to just lean back and cut some wood.....

      Log dogs have jumped way higher on my list of "To do". I got my charcoal kiln barrels, so very soon there will be charcoal.....then the bellows! The forge is easy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

      The sugi-ban is cool isn't it! I saw somewhere, a picture of a floor made using that technique. Presumably they used a wood species with a good hard annular ring, maybe something like Douglas fir, so the winter wood would be left proud, the wear surface. Generally though the charred wood is used for exterior siding.

      It is interesting, as I seem to remember reading a study that found that the tradition of charring wooden fence posts prior to sinking them in the ground imparted little towards the prevention of rot. Back in my homeland of Minnesota, I worked as a surveyors assistant for a while, and on more than a few occasions we were digging up 100 year old corners marks where all that was left was a bit of charred wood. Also, walking along the Oregon coast, there are numerous pieces of ancient charred wood that you find embedded in sedimentary deposits. It feels like there might be more to the story here. I'm looking forward to trying it soon myself.

    2. Oh yeah....rakers.

      In the western crosscut video series I was watching.....

      ....the presenter has a gauge block tool that he uses to reference raker height. If I remember right, he joints everything even, sharpens the knicker teeth, then files the rakers to be some-thousands lower. He goes into the rationale at some depth, and has some great video sequences and images. It's a great series, professionally done, totally up our alley. He's in Missoula, Montana. I could've visited him.....argh!


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