Illustration by Len Churchill
A Japanese saw is a finely crafted tool that creates a very thin kerf and cuts on the pulls stroke.
The are two main differences between Japanese and western- style hand saws; Japanese saws are much thinner and therefore leave a thinner kerf, and they cut on the pull stroke. Though there are many specific types of Japanese saws, there are three types which are most commonly used in the west. The dozuki is similar to a tenon saw. It’s single-sided and has a spine running down its back to add rigidity. The ryoba saw is double-sided, with one side for ripping and the other for crosscutting. A kugihiki saw has teeth with no set. It’s a single-sided saw without a spine, so it can be used for flush cutting. The teeth of a Japanese saw are much smaller and more numerous than a westernstyle saw. Some blades hinge out of the handle, while some other blades can be replaced.
Price: $40 – $300
Kerf: 0.015″ – 0.030″
Common Types: Dozuki, Ryoba, Kugihiki, Kataba, Azebiki
Always use a rip saw for rip cutting, a crosscut saw for crosscutting and the correct style of saw for the work you’re doing. It’s astonishing how poor they can be when mismatched with the task at hand.
An expensive Japanese saw isn’t always better than a cheaper version. Start with an inexpensive saw then add to your collection as your need and experience change.
The small teeth on Japanese saws (especially the crosscut versions, or when cutting in dense wood) can be damaged easily. Don’t work too aggressively.
Some blades can be removed from the handle and replaced. When damaged, a Japanese hand saw is only going to cause problems, so these saws are great to learn with.
When setting a saw down, ensure it’s not going to get damaged by hitting another tool, or allow you to brush against it and injure yourself.