I’ve been standing on top of my workbench again.
Strangely I’m up there quite a lot. Sometimes I just lay on there… and think.
I’ve been a long time obsessive of Japanese woodworking.
I find it truly fascinating and have promised myself if I make it to retirement, I’ll treat myself to a nice little rug for the corner of the workshop and give it a real go.
Strangely it’s my most researched field of woodworking.
Refined Disposable Saws
Japanese tools are of course very popular over here, and out of all of them I think it’s the saws that are used the most.
Japanese saw teeth on a whole are far more sophisticated than ours, and require extreme skill to sharpen. They’ve very delicate and the metal hard.
In a weird way, such well-developed teeth are surprisingly well suited to today’s throw away nature.
As a result there are many varied and cost-effective pull saws that are designed to stay sharp for a long time, and then be disposed of once blunt.
Unlike the crud that’s our Western disposable saws where you throw away the saw and the nasty plastic handle, Japanese saws can have surprisingly nice wooden handles that you keep and just replace the blade.
I’ve always felt dissatisfied with our Western ‘cut owt but nowt’ hard point saws, particularly for anything beyond rough cross cutting. So I’ve spent the whole of this year trying numerous Japanese saws.
I’ve tried various sizes and prices, and eventually I may come to some kind of conclusion that will be worth sharing.
Using A Japanese Saw
Now, as many of you will know, Japanese woodworking is a bit backwards compared to what we are used to.
They pull when we push. We stand at elaborate benches with snazzy vices; they often sit on a rug and hold things with a foot and an arse.
These are the differences that have encouraged me to save my exploration until I can give it some proper time. But the saws are too good to wait, even with my less than authentic approach, using my swanky vice and bench.
Crosscutting with these saws, with their highly developed single purpose teeth, was an instant pleasure. Very little practise was needed to adapt from my western methods.
The cuts tracked beautifully and were the cleanest I’d ever seen. Very close to a planed finish.
Small to medium joinery was also a faff free affair. The saws were intuitive and did as I wanted.
Long rips, particularly in thick ‘ish’ material were always less than satisfactory though. Rips needed for joinery were fine, but those for dimensioning were problematic.
I’ve tried various ways to work with the saws with the work held vertically in my vice, but with every saw tested I was dissatisfied with the tracking.
Fast, yes. But the cut would wander all over. I’d split the pencil line on the show face, but the back of the cut was a unpredictable cock eyed job.
Of course, I blamed the tool. What self-respecting English man wouldn’t.
But how could I conclude that they were shite when you see what the Japanese can do with them? I had to do them more justice. I had to become a wannabe.
So I clambered on to my bench, laid the work horizontally and stuck my gnarly toe on the work.
Not quite authentic, but now I could cut the work horizontally with the saw moving up and down almost vertically. Basically the saw was being used as it was intended.
Now the saw tracked beautifully.
Since then I’ve been using this method continuously and found it to be very effective and enjoyable. You also tire much slower, as you’re using more of your core muscles rather than just one arm.
The picture above shows a section of 4″ pine that I’ve just ripped with a 300mm Ryoba. I let gravity do the work and the tracking was perfect. I came in with cuts from both ends of the wood, and you can hardly see where these two cuts meet.
Now, I know that clambering on to your bench top isn’t the only way that Japanese saws can be used, but for myself at least it really transformed my perception of their capabilities when it comes to large rips. It just goes to show that you can’t make conclusions without experiencing things in the manner they’re intended.
I know many of you will be more qualified when it comes to Japanese saws than what I am (I bet you can even pronounce the names), so I wonder if you’ve come up with your own approach for using them at your bench.
Do you go at it with a very western approach or try to incorporate more authentic Japanese methods?