Tag-Archive for ◊ east meets west: my saws series ◊

• Friday, May 03rd, 2013


These saws solve problems.

The Japanese azebiki saw, at the top in the photo, has curved tooth lines designed to start a cut in the middle of a board. One side is rip, the other crosscut. The neck is thicker toward the handle, which, along with the short cutting length, makes this saw fairly stiff for a Japanese saw.

The azebiki works well cutting against a straightedge wood guide to make kerfs for starting grooves and dados, including sliding dovetail sockets. Use a chisel to clear the waste and a router plane to true the bottom. I prefer an electric router for this work but sometimes it is too risky or awkward, so it is good to have hand tool options.

For all sorts of odd small-scale sawing tasks, the azebiki saves the day. It is inexpensive and worth having in the shop.

The Z brand 6″ keyhole/compass saw (S-150), at the bottom in the photo, has Japanese three-bevel crosscut-style teeth (17 tpi) with variations in the set to help clear waste. This saw cuts more smoothly than other Japanese and Western keyhole saws that I have tried.

At .035″ thick, it is stiff enough to maintain control when sawing curves, as long as the stock is not too thick. Of course, it cuts on the pull stroke, which occasionally is a disadvantage when jabbing into a small hole to start a cut.

I bought the skinny keyhole saw with the wooden handle many years ago, and it hangs around waiting for an odd situation where there is only a tiny hole or narrow slot to sneak into with the nose of the saw. It would be expecting a lot for a saw of this size to cut smoothly, and indeed, it does not.

The little guy keeps his place on the roster because, though infrequently, he continues to make plays when needed. And he doesn’t take up much space on the bench.

Second from the top in the photo is a Z brand flush cut saw (S-150). You might not need this type of saw if you use the trick I discussed in an earlier post, but I still like having it as an option. The .016″ thick plate is very flexible, so it can be bent to allow the handle to be lifted away from the work surface, as you use the fingers of your other hand to press down on the saw blade.

To prevent scratching the work, the three-bevel crosscut style teeth (21 tpi) have no set whatsoever. I prepped the saw by lightly working each side on a medium sharpening stone to ensure that any trace of burr would be gone. As discussed here, binding can be a problem with this saw but it works well enough for shallow cuts.

Z brand saws are well made. The replaceable blades are inexpensive, so there is no worry if you occasionally abuse them when desperately trying to do an awkward job.

This part 8 concludes the My Saws series. Or does it? Our current woodworking world has some great saw makers at work, modern technology, and an expanding appreciation of the woodworking wisdom of our forebears, so a new saw for my shop is always a possibility. The bottom line will always be: how the tool can help me make things that I so dearly want to make.

Note: The entire series, parts 1-8, of “East meets West: My Saws” can viewed on a single page via this link.

• Thursday, April 25th, 2013


This coping saw frame is an old one made by Eclipse in England. The handle, threaded stem, proximal blade anchor, and the yellow tabs are transplants from an otherwise poorly designed $8 Irwin saw. The handle’s rounded triangular cross section and comfortable grippy material make it less fatiguing to use than the wooden original.

Small frame-type saws like these lack the robust rigidity of their larger cousins and thus perform better cutting on the pull stroke, which also happens to be more natural and efficient when it is used vertically.

I like Olson CP304 blades for general work (.020″ thick, .125″ wide, 15 tpi). The CP301 blades are slimmer (.018″ thick, .094″ wide, 18 tpi skip tooth) and may fit into the kerf of some dovetail saws when used for removing waste, though the total set of these blades varies from about .002″ to .008″ in the ones I measured. CP307 (32 tpi) are handy for the inevitable metal cutting that woodworkers do.

In addition to “serious” work, the coping saw is great for very young kids who tend to dig in and stall with heavier handsaws. The coping saw seems to avoid this because the blade is under steady tension, helped along by the pull stroke. The blades, of course, are inexpensive.

Clamp the wood firmly for the little woodworker, who should use two hands on the saw. You will be the only one who cares if the cut is straight. Even at younger than four years old, my son and daughter played in the shop with me, sawing little wood pieces, building little things, and making big memories.


Knew Concepts takes coping and fret saws to vastly higher levels. I have an earlier model 5″ titanium frame fret saw. This style is currently available in aluminum, in addition to the newer “bird cage” titanium model. They also make a similar coping saw.

These saws are amazingly light and rigid, plus offer a convenient cam lever tensioning mechanism and indexed blade tilt adjustment.

This saw is excellent for inlay work using #2/0 blades (28 tpi skip). Again, the pull stroke setup is best. I wrapped the handle in black friction tape.

It is by far the best saw I have used to remove dovetail waste. You can get very close to the baseline using a single cut. This makes chiseling the remaining waste faster and, with less push back of the chisel, more accurate. The fret saw blade easily fits into the kerf made by most dovetail saws, and can be redirected sideways within one stroke.

After experimenting, I found #3 blades (Pegas brand) to be the best for this task (.0118″ thick, .038″ wide, 19 tpi skip) – faster, narrower, and cleaner than the #5 (.0145″ thick, .043″ wide, 16.5 tpi skip).

Knew Concepts saws are examples of tools for which we might otherwise have complacently accepted the limits of the standard designs.

Next: miscellaneous saws that solve problems.

• Monday, April 22nd, 2013


Why part 6? Parts 1-5 were posted in 2010, and cover the main Western and Japanese handsaws and joinery/backsaws that I use. I have since added the Bad Axe dovetail saw to that group and it has risen to the head of the class. This post will cover bowsaws. Part 7 will cover coping and fret saws. Part 8 will cover miscellaneous accessory saws. 18 saws isn’t a lot, right? Right.

The Woodjoy bowsaw, pictured above, is my bandsaw without a motor. Glenn Livingston produces this thoughtfully designed and beautifully made saw along with other excellent tools. It is a very sturdy tool with about 16″ between the stiles. The toggle system easily permits half turns, which is important in properly setting the blade tension.

The “Turbo-Cut” blade, listed at 400mm (15 3/4″) long but with a comfortable 13 1/2″ of tooth line, has super-hard (>Rc 70) Japanese-style teeth, 15 tpi. The pattern, which could be considered a modified ikeda-me, is seven three-bevel crosscut teeth followed by a pair of special rakers that have their end bevels cut in the opposite direction from those of the crosscut teeth. It crosscuts fast, and seems to rip even faster.

The blade is about 5/16″ wide, .024″ thick, with the teeth widely set to a .048″ kerf. This makes it surprisingly maneuverable following curves, though the cut is fairly rough across the grain.

For power, comfort, and accuracy, I prefer to use this saw with a horizontal push cut, and the frame is plenty rigid enough for that. Some may prefer a horizontal pull cut, or a vertical push cut, though the latter may be difficult at typical workbench height.


This is a fairly heavy saw, so here is how I hold it for cutting curves. I grip the handle with my dominant right hand, similar to holding a straight-handle dovetail saw, and align it with my right shoulder. This reliably steers the saw while my left hand provides passive support near the end of the rail. The saw works best when you let it do the work and use as much of the blade length as you can with every stroke.

This saw could quite reasonably be used in a hand-tool-only shop in place of a bandsaw for roughing out curved table legs and other heavy curved work. It has the moxie and the control to easily handle 8/4 maple.

I like this size saw for curved work. Woodjoy also makes larger sizes, and Turbo-Cut blades are also available in 1 1/4″ width.

I bought the bowsaw pictured below more than 30 years ago. It was made in Denmark by JPBO but, as far as I know, is no longer available. This is the model of saw that was preferred by the late great teacher Tage Frid. He used it with a horizontal push stroke for joinery and crosscutting, and vertically for ripping stock.


Not long after buying it, I replaced the original blade with one labeled “The K and P Saw, Western Germany,” also no longer available. An excellent blade, it is tapered in thickness from the teeth to the back, so it can be prepared with very little set. The blade is about 19″ long and has 10 tpi, which I file rip. Frid advocated a rip filing for both ripping and crosscutting.

This saw is surprisingly light yet rigid, probably due to the width and orientation of the frame members – unlike most bowsaws, the wide dimension of the rail is horizontal. The toggle system is less refined than on the Woodjoy saw, but half turns are still possible by loosening and reinserting the toggle stick in the opposite direction, then retightening it.

I find I get the best control and endurance by holding it by the lower part of the fairly wide stile.


This saw does not get a lot of use in my shop now but it is still handy to have for various ripping tasks. I find it is especially accurate and comfortable for cutting tenons, though I’m in the habit of using the ryoba for that.

Because I like using my bandsaw so much (“the hand tool with a motor“), I also don’t frequently use the Woodjoy bowsaw. Nonetheless, I still want both of these hand tools in my shop – they give me options and they’re ready when I want them.

Next: the fret saw and the humble coping saw.

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• Saturday, September 15th, 2012

It is tempting to judge this saw on its looks, and there it is certainly a winner. Moreover, the range of choices available in the handle wood, saw nuts, and back allow the customized aesthetics of this tool to be especially pleasing. More substantively, the fit and finish are magnificent; there isn’t a hair out of place. My Bad Axe 10″ dovetail saw has a .018″ plate, 16 tpi rip teeth, set about .002 each side, with a mesquite tote, blued steel back, and brass saw nuts.

However, a tool must be ultimately judged by its performance, which simply means how it can help you make things out of wood. I’ve used this saw for about nine months now, and, despite some excellent Western and Japanese alternatives to which I had become accustomed, the Bad Axe has become my clear favorite.

When I pick up this saw and approach the wood, it feels just right in my hand. Though relatively beefy for a dovetail saw, the handle contour, low hang angle, and especially the balance work together to impart eagerness to go at the layout lines. When the saw does bite into the wood, the truly superlative sharpening completes the functional integration. In many side-by-side tests with my other saws, I  have gotten the most consistent accuracy and feel the most confident with the Bad Axe. It is now the saw I reach for.

A bit of relaxed tooth rake toward the toe of the saw helps start the cut. The tooth line is canted about 1/8 from toe to heel. These are both helpful features, though, to find quibbles with the design, my preference would probably be an increase in both of these.

The Bad Axe Tools Works website gives detailed technical information on the saws, and, ultimately, you will have to get one of these saws in your hand to appreciate how well it works.

There is something more important that I want to tell you about this tool. I think of it similarly as my Japanese Daitei chisels and French Auriou rasps. The Bad Axe saw is a tool with a soul, but in this case it is a characteristically American one. This is born of the personal commitment of its maker, Mark Harrell, a man who has spent much of his life serving America. Mark understands saw making history, listens to the input of many woodworkers (disclosure: including me), and is passionate about innovation, refinement, and excellence in producing a saw that you will not mistake for any other. Further, he allows for a range of your choices in saw plate, filing, handle size, and materials.

Yes, the soul of the tool is meaningful and I sense it when I bring the Bad Axe saw to the wood.

• Friday, August 20th, 2010

My long journey around the world of saws has come full circle.

In my youth, I enjoyed basic woodworking with low quality, dull handsaws thinking power tools must be better. I wondered if any serious work was done with hand tools, and, at 15 years of age, bought a jigsaw from Sears. Later, while learning more skills, especially joinery, I was experimenting and struggling with poor quality Western saws, especially backsaws, and inexpensive Japanese saws.

I recognized that the Japanese woodworking culture, unlike most of the West’s, had retained without interruption its support of the production of high quality woodworking hand tools by small-scale makers. My choices in the 1980s consisted mostly of Japanese saws which I had learned to use well and which intrigued me, vintage Western saws which I did not feel ready to research and rehabilitate, some European middling quality saws, and Tage Frid’s good old Danish bow saw.

Look at what is available today. We are so fortunate! There are Wenzloff, Lie-Nielsen, Gramercy, Bad Axe, Adria, Eccentric, Medallion, and others making saws that are surely at least the equals of historical Western saws. Furthermore, there are now many sources for wonderful quality handmade Japanese tools while technology has given us remarkable quality machine-made Japanese saws.

Ironically, it was the recent addition of a good old American Disston that was the last step to reach a feeling of ease with my eclectic bunch of saws.

My aim in these posts has been to tell you why I use what I do in the hope that this can help you find your own way around the world of saws. I will certainly continue to explore, and I hope your saw explorations are enjoyable and productive.

Happy sawing.

• Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

For breaking down rough stock into the approximately dimensioned components of a project, I usually go to the bandsaw. Big boards usually need to be first crosscut into manageable pieces. For that job, I use the Pony crosscut saw that I praised in an earlier post and is pictured below. It’s not pretty but it sure gets the work done. Specs: 22″ 0.040″blade, 8 tpi Japanese-style hardened crosscut teeth that cut primarily on the push stroke, set 0.004″ each side. Best of all: $15.99, from Woodcraft, item #149039.

Despite my affection for the bandsaw, sometimes I prefer to rip with a handsaw. Maybe I don’t feel like setting up the bandsaw for a few short cuts, just prefer the relative quiet, or even prefer the relatively slower cutting to give me a chance to think.

I had been using my Japanese rip saw (top photo) for this but was never really happy with its performance in this job. The main drawback was that I could not put my weight into the cutting stroke. This saw does, however, shine for certain other cuts, especially small resawing and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, for cutting some large tenons. It can produce surprisingly clean surfaces for these type of cuts. It is also a handy saw for shorter ripping at the workbench. For these reasons, it certainly earns its place in the shop. Specs: Z brand 300 mm (11 3/4″), 0.027″ saw plate, 0.036″ kerf, rip teeth grading from 8 tpi at the handle end to 4 tpi at the far end. It is available from Hida Tool. Their item #D-ZS-#300 is the crosscut version for $38.90 but the rip replacement blade is item #D-ZS-S300R ($21.30) which perhaps you can ask them to install instead of the crosscut blade.

Now for big ripping, I wanted a full 26″ Western handsaw which I could put my weight into with the classic position of my left knee on the board. After some hunting around I bought a Disston D-7 (top photo) in great functional condition from Jim Bode. This is a straight back workhorse saw marked 5 ½ ppi (it measures more like 4 ½ ppi), vintage 1940-47. The saw plate is about 0.037″ near the slightly breasted tooth line and is, of course, taper ground as you go away from the teeth and toward the toe.

And it rips big time – just what I was looking for.

Next: the final installment in the series – reflections on a long saw journey

• Saturday, August 14th, 2010

For general small to medium crosscut work, including precision cutting of tenon shoulders, the Gramercy crosscut carcase saw, pictured at top, above, is a great performer. I seem to always be picking it up for something or other.

Like other saws from maestro Joel Moskowitz at Tools for Working Wood, this relatively lightweight saw starts precisely and moves through the cut with smoothness and efficiency rather than brute power. I find the balance and feel of the saw give me a good sense of the vertical orientation of the blade. The blade is 12″ long, 0.020″ thick, and the 14ppi crosscut teeth are filed with a 14̊ rake and 20-22̊ degrees of fleam, and set about 0.004″ each side. It costs $189.95.

Note that the blade is “canted,” meaning that the depth decreases toward the toe. A feature often found on old saws, it is lacking in most new backsaws. I strongly favor this design. The workpiece being sawn with a backsaw is typically at workbench height. There your natural forward push stroke is augmented by the tooth line sinking deeper as the momentum of the stroke builds. This slicing attack gives controlled power to the cut.

Look at nearly all Japanese saws. They too are canted, but, of course, in the opposite direction since they cut on the pull stroke. The tooth line is not parallel to the handle.

Sharing some of the duties of the Western carcase saw is the Gyokucho “05” kataba (single-edge) 255 mm (10″) crosscut saw. This has a 0.020″ (0.5 mm) saw plate, 0.030″ kerf, and 20 tpi. It is available from Japan Woodworker for $36, item #19.105.0, with replacement blades for $20, and from Hida Tool for $28.40, item #D-GC-#105, with replacement blades for $19.50. This very clean-cutting saw tracks a line extremely well, but, unlike a Western backsaw I don’t get the same feel for vertical with the light, backless kataba. Because this saw is backless, it can make deeper cuts than the Western backsaw, but is not suited for shoulder cutting, a job handled by the stiffer crosscut dozuki or Western carcase saw.

These saws are often used with a bench hook and, as you might guess, my workaday version, seen above, (which really looks like it’s due for an upgraded replacement) accommodates both push and pull saws by having its fence in the middle. When cutting small work with a pull saw, I place the wood on the far side of the fence, and the bench hook itself is stabilized by leaning my weight on the heel of my left hand against the fence. Alternatively, for larger work, the bench hook is simply clamped in the front vise. The push of a Western saw automatically stabilizes the bench hook against the edge of the bench as my hand pushes the work against the near side of the fence.

Once again, we have more than one good way of getting a job done.

Next: handsaws for stock breakdown.

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• Friday, August 13th, 2010

I cut tenons with a Japanese ryoba saw, the larger of the two saws pictured above. The reasons are simple: I get excellent results and have been using ryobas for more than 25 years.

I have tried several excellent Western tenon saws from top makers and I must admit that I have not found the comfortable accuracy and reliably clean cut surfaces that I get from the ryoba. I concede this probably is a matter of habit and I would eventually become as comfortable with the right Western tenon saw as I am with my ryoba. So, rather than saying one type of saw is better than the other, I am sharing my preferences, and the reasons for them, in the hope that this may help other woodworkers find what works for them.

My saw is a Gyokucho model #611, 240 mm (9 ½”), available from Japan Woodworker, item # 19.611.0, $38. Replacement blades are $24.50. This saw has a 0.018″ saw plate, rip teeth that grade from 10 tpi at the handle end to 7 tpi at the far end, and 20 tpi crosscut teeth, both set 0.005″ each side.

I start cutting a tenon using the crosscut teeth to split the layout lines at the corners, establishing shallow kerfs. Switching to the rip teeth, I connect those starter kerfs across the end of the tenon. Once the rip teeth are buried, I cut on a diagonal on the layout line down the length of the tenon on one side, then the other. Finally, I saw away the remaining triangle of wood at the base of the tenon.

The backless ryoba, with a generous width of almost 4″ at its far end, gives excellent sight lines. The sawing is done with a surprisingly light touch since the progressively coarser rip teeth provide plenty of aggressiveness on their own. This allows me to watch the layout line when sawing diagonally down one side of the tenon while feeling the saw riding in the kerf that was established at the top of the tenon. The key point is that I don’t want to fight the kerf that was already established. The lightness of the ryoba and, paradoxically, its flexibility and aggressive teeth, convey excellent sensitivity to do this. (The eyes cannot precisely sight two separate lines at the very same moment.)

The low cost and replaceable blades belie the excellent performance of this saw. I suppose a handmade ryoba costing a few hundred dollars (that I would not have the skill to sharpen on my own) would be subtly better but I don’t feel compelled to go there, at least now. The quality control and value in Japanese machine-made saws such as the Gyokucho and Z brands are amazing.

The ryoba also does general small to medium scale ripping and crosscutting, such as cutting a haunch in a tenon. In my opinion, Japanese backsaws are the wrong tool for cutting furniture size tenon cheeks. However, a tiny tenon, such as in a small drawer handle, can be cut with a Japanese or Western dovetail backsaw. For very large tenons in low to medium density woods, a large Japanese single-edge (kataba) ripsaw is a good option. I will discuss such a saw later in this series.

The other saw in the picture is a crosscut dozuki saw which I like for cutting the tenon shoulders. It is a Z brand saw, 240 mm (9 ½”), 25 tpi, 0.012″ saw plate, 0.016″ kerf, available from Rockler, item #65607, for $44.99, replacement blades $27.49. (Why do they insist on calling it a “dovetail saw?” It is not.) It is thin, straight, and sharp enough to settle against a knifed and deepened shoulder line. A Western “carcase saw,” discussed in the next post, is another good option for this task.

Next: small to medium crosscut work and the carcase saw