Thursday, October 29, 2015

Japanese saws– salvage the junk


One of my new favorite saws is an old piece of junk.



Found in a water filled wooden tray, out in the wilds of Hawaii, it had some unusual company. A good (albeit rusty) saw set, a pre-1917 Disston keyhole saw, a 1950-ish rip kataba Z-saw (stamped Honolulu), and a weird Swiss-army saw/multi blade thing, among other stuff.



Well, I cleaned off some of the rust and it's not so bad really.



It's no work of art, just a tool, but I'm liking it a lot more than I had expected. As a "cut down anything then forget it outside in the rain" kind of tool, it excels. I've found that it holds a good edge, and the spring and temper was well done. It had no kinks when I found it, and we haven't introduced any new ones, despite our best efforts. The saw back is taper ground to a knife edge, so much so that I can use it as a machete for thick grassy stems. It has proven itself to be deceptively capable.



As is expected, it could do with some improvement.



It has probably been sharpened a few times already, but the nib on the nose still stands proud of the teeth. It needs to be made even with the teeth. More importantly, the teeth height is uneven, one side being longer than the other. Whoever was sharpening it had a definite "strong side". I know that because I do, too. Because the teeth are longer on one side, the cut drifts to the longer side, binding the saw at about 2" deep.



And, as I was saying in the prior post, the saw teeth are still not as clean as they could be. Let's see if I can improve things a bit.


Scrape 'em clean.....



.....then polish 'em up a bit.



FYI, sandpaper isn't the best way to do this, but if you do, try to rub parallel to the tooth itself. If you rub back and forth, it mostly cuts up the sandpaper and rounds the tooth shape in undesirable ways. Anyways, the sandpaper method didn't totally ruin anything, and may have helped improve the teeth marginally.


I use the edge of a really hard oilstone instead. It's WAY better. I just do the minimum required to get the outer face of the tooth bright. No matter which method you choose, this does reduce the amount of set some (x)amount. The less you do, the better.



Sighting the length of the blade, you can see that the nib at the tail of the saw stands proud as well as a few odd teeth.





I joint the saw using a standard western mill file, running the length until I see a bright tip at each tooth.



I joint at each sharpening, because I'm training myself and my body. If I was REALLY good, I could probably get away with 1 joint/ 3 sharpenings, but what's the harm? You're only going to get better if you work on refinement, and in my head is a picture of a saw with teeth of a perfectly even height, not just "good enough".





And what do I get for all my high talk of standards?



Haha! Missed a big 'ol dip...whoops! I see a bunch of low teeth, mostly on one side, my "strong" side.



Maybe two. Jeez.....what a hack!



When I sharpened, I changed the tooth geometry a little bit, but that's for the next post. I've been thinking about and researching saw teeth for nearly two years now, but it's only recently that I've been able to test the saws so rigorously. Living this off-grid, extreme bush lifestyle, I am cutting live wood, green sticks and lumber, lumberyard "dry" Wood, and a fair bit of aged salvage lumber as well. And lots of it.


One of our new neighbors kindly offered to bring over his generator and a bunch of saws for me to use, after I told him that I was cutting everything by hand. You try to explain that you are actually enjoying the act of cutting the wood, and anyway, you can't easily cut much of this stuff with power saws get that half perplexed, "huh.... OK, whatever" look. It's good to have such generous neighbors though.



Even though the tooth height is less than perfect, it still cuts well.



The cut through this hard (wet) Ohia went faster than you'd think, and the saw tracked straight and true, no binding anymore. I guess that I improved it some.



The wet wood shows scars easily, but it looks like a couple of teeth are set a tad more than the others. The scars look worse than they are, and I can't feel them by hand, but it's not perfect yet.


Because the saw is severely taper ground, it probably had very little set initially, and after a handful of sharpenings, it's probably about ready for asari/setting again. The lack of set, combined with the light weight of the saw has the saw itself riding up at times, meaning that you need to maintain downward pressure as you are using it for a ridiculously deep cut like this. What's happening is that the improved saw teeth are cutting more efficiently and are making more sawdust in the process. The problem is that the teeth are still the same size that they were before, and now the gullets are too small to hold the additional sawdust. The next step for this saw would be to give it some raker teeth and a few deeper gullets, turn it into a little madonoko saw, maybe.


This saw is for smaller stuff, like 2" and under, but it's good to have the capability nonetheless. I was felling a couple of 6" guava trees yesterday with this little guy, and it was a bit of a struggle. Why I don't use my chainsaw is a mystery to me. Scares the birds, I suppose.


What I really want to write about are teeth. Japanese saw teeth.



  1. "FYI, sandpaper isn't the best way to do this, but if you do, try to rub parallel to the tooth itself."

    From my old repaired dozuki I've found that they scrape with a file (or rather with the tip of a file) lines that go from the base of the teeth to the point, mostly parallel but also some at an angle, like to touch the sides of the teeth too. Don't know it that's clear, once in Chile I try to take a picture of what I mean.

    Just wanted to say that what you recommend is "anecdotic-ally correct" at the very least.

    great little saw btw, I've got myself one like that too, maybe shorter, but no handle. Gonna check if the taper is a pronounced as yours.

    1. Yes Sebastian, that's a much better description you use, to go from the base of the tooth towards the tip. I try as much as possible to do that with the sandpaper, but it's difficult. Much easier to go lengthwise along the saw when using the stone or files.

      The poor little saw doesn't look so pretty anymore, after being used daily, out in the bush. I've forgotten it out, lying in the dirt and rain, more than a few times. Renee uses it to cut tree roots out of the ground, and Ellie runs away with it, to use in her pond-scaping projects. I've been abusing it, cutting branches and trees far in excess if it's intended use, that I've finally cracked the nice little handle. I've wrapped it up, using wire to reinforce the upper handle/tang area, then covered the whole mess with black tape. It's looking like a proper "ninja" saw now, haha.

  2. Nice saw!

    It seems soon you will begin trekking into the heart of the beast, to tear down the carefully cultivated myths!

    I think part of why people are drawn to hand tools, at least for saws, is that gentle woosh and rhythm...It calms the soul, reminding the sawyer of heartbeats heard long, long ago. My band director said the rhythms people like best are the ones that are the same to their resting pulse...I wonder if that applies to sawing, as well.

    Good luck with your Hawaii adventures, it seems in a world of talk, talk, talk you are actually DOING. It's great to see! Can't wait to see a tropical forge! And my word, are you blessed in the gardening department, the two months of gardening has been done for a while and the grey, muddy cold is back...this blog will bring some sun, no?

    1.'s REALLY nice here. It's warm every day and rains frequently, so it's very lush and beautiful. The people are just great too (aside from some mainlanders who just don't get it), genuinely friendly and good.

      Family values are VERY strong here, and people just don't really watch TV either. By not watching TV, you separate yourself from ridiculous frenzy of hyped up news and artificial "reality". The people here feel that the mainland is a scary, dangerous place, full of mean people, and if I accidentally happen to see a TV somewhere, I tend to agree. This side of the island is a little bit like going back to the 1950's. It's quiet....nice.

      The Samoans come here and say "Oh my god, this place is so crowded and busy! How can you stand this?! People here are crazy!"

    2. I just went into Downtown Rochester, to get my DBA to finally start selling all the ornaments I've been making...

      I had forgotten just how much I hate cities. Cold, grey, wet; angry people, buses crashing all over the place, crowded roads filled with people trying to be the fastest, loud noises. We've had our cars broken into a couple of times before, and when my parents lived in the city there were gunshots every night. Rochester is only the second most dangerous in NY, though!

      I am torn. I do not like the cold as it limits what I can do outside, but I love cross country skiing, and I love the Adirondack region. Every time we roll through that area, it's calm, beautiful, the people seem to be friendly and nice.


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