The practical handbook for woodworkers
In this manual you will find all the information you need to get straight to work with a Japanese saw. Suitable for more and less experienced woodworkers!
In this manual:
- What are Japanese saws?
- What are the advantages?
- How do you use a Japanese saw?
- How to choose a Japanese saw?
And much, much more!
What you need to know about Japanese saws
In this chapter we answer the question 'What is a Japanese saw?'
We will gladly explain to you how Japanese saws differ from normal hand saws and what the advantages are.
Let us begin!
What are Japanese saws?
If you are interested in woodworking, you have probably heard of Japanese saws.
Japanese saws are hand saws used by interior designers, furniture makers, carpenters, model makers and many other woodworkers.
The Japanese saw is used no differently than the western hand saw that most of us know well. Both are used to saw wood (and sometimes other material).
The big differences between the Japanese saws and the Western hand saws can be seen in the user experience and the sawing results. These are quite different from those of a 'normal' western hand saw. Read on quickly!
What are the advantages of Japanese saws?
Have you never used a Japanese saw? Then it is important to know that it works differently from a western saw. One of the most striking features of Japanese saws is that they are pull saws.
This means that you guide the Japanese saw with pulling movements and do not push it through the wood like a Western saw.
The pulling movement of the Japanese saws has several advantages over a pushing movement.
The advantages of a traction movement
The saw blade of a Japanese pull saw does not need to withstand any tension, which means it can be made much thinner. The result is a more accurate saw cut than with western saws.
The pulling movement prevents the saw from getting stuck in the wood or bending. This prolongs the life of the saw.
A pulling movement requires less force and therefore gives the user more control over the saw cut.
Japanese saws are also equipped with special toothing. The teeth are ground razor-sharp on three sides (the so-called 'trapezoidal toothing') and positioned extremely carefully.
This typical Japanese serration cuts so cleanly through the wood that sanding is often no longer necessary.
The difference to a normal western saw is clearly visible in the photo below.
Furthermore, it is very easy to change a saw blade on most Japanese saws. This means that the saw can quickly find another use.
Therefore, it is usually not necessary to grind the teeth. A replacement saw blade is easier and cheaper. Practical if, for example, you have overlooked a nail 😉
What types of Japanese saws are there?
Just like western saws, there are different types of Japanese saws. The most common types are the Kataba, Ryoba and Dozuki saws. We will be happy to explain the most important differences.
The Kataba is the strong all-rounder among the Japanese saws. These saws are used in Japan for carpentry and are the most accessible Japanese saws.
The Kataba models usually have a saw blade that is suitable for cutting and mitre work. Unlike Ryoba saws, the saw blade is toothed on one side only.
In some cases, the saw blade is equipped with special hybrid toothing (M-toothing). This makes it possible to effectively cut longitudinal cuts with the same saw blade.
This type of Japanese saw can be recognised by the saw blade, which is ground on both sides. Normally, one side is for cutting work and the other is specifically for longitudinal cutting.
Ryoba-saws are used as fine carpenter's saws and as workshop saws. For example, by furniture manufacturers and interior designers.
In Japan, the Ryoba is the most commonly used hand saw among woodworkers because of its various uses.
The Dozuki saws have particularly thin saw blades with very fine teeth. These hand saws are usually used for the finest sawing work (both cutting and mitre work).
With Dozuki saws, very precise saw cuts can be made for exactly fitting joints, such as picture frames and dovetail joints.
Dozuki-saws are also available with back reinforcement to additionally stabilise the sometimes only 0.30 mm thin saw blade.
In addition to the saws in their traditional form, there are also Japanese pull saws with a western design.
These are practically the same saws, but with an ergonomic handle.
The saw blade can also be changed easily with a handy push button.
How do you use a Japanese saw?
You saw a little differently with a Japanese saw than with a Western saw.
In this chapter we explain how it works and share our tips. This way you will be sawing like a Japanese master in no time!
How do you saw with a Japanese pull saw?
When you use a Japanese saw for the first time, you immediately notice that the saw blade is thinner and more flexible than on a Western hand saw.
It may take a little getting used to at first, but sawing with a Japanese saw is really not difficult. The only thing to remember is that you must never push the saw through the wood. Japanese saws are extremely strong, but that is the only way to damage them.
Below we explain the correct sawing movement step by step:
The saw cut of a Japanese pull saw starts at the back, close to the handle. Hold the saw at the point to be cut and use (carefully!!) your thumb to guide the blade a little way until there is an incision in the wood.
Calmly pull the saw towards you. Let the saw do its work and above all do not put too much pressure on the wood. This can be difficult if you are used to a western hand saw, as you actually have to apply pressure. Resist the temptation!
Finish the sawing movement smoothly and quickly, still without applying pressure and with attention to the pulling movement.
Move the saw back to the start position. Be careful not to push the saw into the wood during the forward movement. The saw blade must not be under tension while pushing.
Do not make the mistake of sawing too quickly or pressing harder during the first movements, but first calmly make a straight saw cut. This will not only ensure a perfect result, but the saw will also last much longer.
With traditional Japanese pull saws, you may also be able to hold the handle with two hands. These saws are equipped with a long handle that offers this freedom. Then make sure that you do not hold the saw too close to the saw blade.
Take your time to find the angle at which you are most comfortable sawing. We prefer a nearly horizontal movement because it gives us the most contact with the wood, and the saw can be held at a slight angle when cutting.
How do you care for a Japanese saw?
The Japanese saw owes its special properties largely to the high quality of the steel and the Japanese toothing. With careful use, it will provide years of good service.
We are happy to share a few care tips that will guarantee a long life and safe use.
Prevent accidents: Japanese saws are razor-sharp. Therefore, make sure that the saw is never left unattended. After use, it is sensible to store the saw in a clean and dry place.
Protect the teeth: Most of our saws are supplied with a tooth guard. This ensures that the teeth remain in top condition, even when the saw is in the toolbox. In addition, the use of the tooth guard prevents unnecessary accidents.
Keep the saw blade clean: Do not hold the saw blade with your fingers, but always use a cloth or glove. This will prevent the saw blade from getting dirty.
You can clean the saw every now and then. Use a clean cloth and a little oil for this. A multi-spray works well.
Practise using the Japanese saw: As a less experienced user, it is sensible to first get used to the sawing motion of the Japanese pull saw. This will prevent unnecessary damage. You can find more instructions here!
Frequently asked question: Do you have to sharpen a Japanese saw?
We recommend grinding the teeth (if necessary after intensive use) only on our traditional ryobas and dozukis. Their saw blades are not interchangeable. The teeth are therefore not specially hardened (unlike our other saws). This makes it possible to sharpen them.
How to choose a Japanese saw?
There is no one saw for all jobs. The secret of Japanese woodworkers is that they choose the best saw for each project.
This is the only way to get the best possible result.
Are you interested in a Japanese pull saw but don't know which one you need? Then this chapter is for you!
The teeth of your Japanese saw
The toothing of a Japanese saw is the most decisive characteristic for the sawing result. Therefore, make sure that the saw blade you choose is well suited to your intended use. We explain what you should know.
You can find the most suitable toothing for your intended use by looking at the number of teeth on the saw blade, given as the number of teeth per inch or TPI (sometimes also PTI). This number shows how coarse or fine a saw is toothed.
A saw with a low TPI has coarser teeth than a saw with a high TPI. See also the picture below.
But when should you choose which type of teeth? You will find our recommendation below!
Recommendation (very) coarse toothing
Choose a coarse toothing of maximum 13 TPI if you are looking for a Japanese saw that goes through the wood quickly. The coarser the toothing, the more aggressive the saw.
The very coarse toothing is also suitable for garden wood. However, choose a special pruning saw for garden work. This has a coating that protects against rust and resin.
Coarse toothing is not suitable for hard types of wood. The teeth may get stuck behind the wood fibres.
Suitable for: Soft wood, coarse craft, wet wood, garden wood
Not suitable for: Hard wood, fine saw cuts, detail work
Recommendation balanced interlocking
Japanese saws with 14 TPI, 15 TPI or 16 TPI teeth are the most balanced saws. The toothing of these saws is coarse enough to efficiently take off wood, but still fine enough to produce a very accurate saw cut.
We recommend these accessible saws for general sawing and more precise woodwork.
Suitable for: Soft wood, general woodwork
Not suitable for: Hard wood, very fine saw cuts, garden wood
Recommendation fine toothing
The most accurate saw cuts are achieved with fine toothing, from 17 TPI. These saws are particularly suitable for making the finest joints and the most beautiful finish.
Remember: The finer/harder the intended use, the finer the toothing you need.
Caution. A fine saw goes through soft wood less quickly than a coarse saw, but gives a much more accurate result.
Suitable for: Hard woods, very fine saw cuts, the most precise possible finish, detail work
Not suitable for: Quick wood removal, rough woodwork, garden wood
With these recommendations, you already know what type of gearing (coarse/balanced/fine) you need for your intended use. You choose the exact TPI yourself.
If a more precise saw cut is important to you, then choose a finer toothing. If you prefer to saw quickly, choose a slightly coarser toothing.
Are you planning to saw the wood lengthwise? Then it is best to choose a special toothing. Most Ryoba saws are equipped with these.
There are also Kataba saws with hybrid toothing, which are suitable for both cross-cuts and longitudinal cuts.
You will find all saws suitable for rip cuts here.
The length and thickness of your Japanese saw
For some projects it is good to also pay attention to the dimensions of the saw blade; the length and thickness. Ask yourself the following questions to be sure:
How long should the saw blade be?
When sawing beams, the saw blade must be long enough to be able to saw through the whole beam. Also, a little extra length is nice for an efficient sawing movement.
How thick can the saw cut be?
Sometimes it can be important to saw very precisely with a certain thickness. For example, when sawing the frets on a guitar neck or for precise joints for picture frames.
Together, toothing, length and thickness of the saw blade are the most decisive factors for your sawing result.
At this point, if there are still several saws that are suitable for you, then the best choice depends on your personal taste.
Do you prefer to saw with a Kataba or a Ryoba? Do you prefer a traditional saw or a Shark Saw? The choice is yours!
Sawing materials other than wood
Interior designers, furniture makers, carpenters and other woodworkers normally use their saws for dry wood.
In addition, Japanese saws are also used for other materials. For example, for iron, plaster and plastic.
Different rules apply to these materials than to wood. At Japansaegenshop.com we recommend some special saws for specific uses, which we have listed below.
Saw plastics such as PVC and Plexiglas effortlessly with a fine-toothed Japanese saw. The saws are also well suited for wood, parquet, laminate and panel material.
Use this short Kataba for sawing plasterboard, plaster walls and walls made of plaster blocks, board material made of wood, wood fibre or MDF.
First aid for beginners
For those who are less experienced in woodworking, it may be difficult to make a choice for their first Japanese saws.
Of course, we are happy to help you with this, so we have listed which four saws we think carpenters who are not yet familiar with Japanese saws should not be without.
Strong and versatile
This Shark Saw 112312 is one of our favourites.
The speed and efficiency of this carpenter's saw is well suited for general work.
The Shark Saw Pro two-sided saw 112440 is an excellent and accessible saw for accurate cross and rip cuts.
Use the Shark Saw Pro fine saw with back reinforcement 112410 when a perfectly fitting joint and a particularly clean saw cut are crucial.
The back reinforcement provides extra control during sawing.
Woodworking in small
The Shark Saw detail saw 112214 is a handy little saw. The flexible saw blade with 22 TPI works smoothly and extremely precisely. This makes it possible to make connections that fit with pinpoint accuracy.
Suitable for model and instrument making.
Each of these saws has its own purpose, but piece by piece they deliver a particularly clean saw cut. What's more, they all have an easy-to-change saw blade.
For the less experienced carpenters, this means flexibility and safety, because the saw blade can be replaced cheaply in case of any damage during initial practice.
How do you recognise quality?
Are you looking for a Japanese saw? A search on Google shows that there are various suppliers.
In addition to the high-quality options, there are also lower-quality alternatives.
In this chapter we explain how to make a good choice.
Finding a good Japanese saw: the checklist
Genuine Japanese saws are manufactured with special attention to quality. Above all, the processing of the steel and the teeth is essential for the characteristic saw properties.
Nevertheless, there are also Japanese saws that pay less attention to quality and more to price.
These saws are offered for low prices. For example, at cheap supermarkets. This sounds appealing, but the sawing result and the service life of these saws unfortunately leave much to be desired.
Fortunately, there are some tricks you can use to unmask poor quality. We share them in this handy checklist!
▢ Check 1: Processing the saw blade
The saw blade must be smooth and evenly finished. Check that the saw blade does not feel rough and does not show any visible irregularities.
▢ Check 2: Hardening method
In some cases, the teeth of Japanese saws are extremely hardened. The method of hardening is a good indication of the care taken during the production process.
If the teeth are hardened, then only the tips should be darkened. Excessive discolouration is not a good sign.
▢ Check 3: Quality of the gearing
Turn the saw blade over so that you are looking into the teeth. Can you clearly see that the teeth are alternately bent outwards (=setting of the teeth)?
With a high-quality Japanese saw, the settlement is difficult to see and very regular. Furthermore, no deformation should be visible on the upper side of the serration.
▢ Check 4: Handle
Finally, take a good look at the handle. Does the saw blade sit correctly in the handle? Is the handle well finished? Do you see a lot of excess glue residue? These features can indicate poor quality.
Don't forget that where you buy the saw is also an indication of quality. You are unlikely to find high quality tools at a discount store.
If you buy your saw from a specialist, such as Japansaegenshop.com, you can be sure that you are buying the best quality.