Popular Woodworking 2003-10 № 136, страница 74

Popular Woodworking 2003-10 № 136, страница 74

Instead of benches, Japanese craftsmen use low trestles. Sawing a tenon with a Japanese saw this way is efficient and requires sawing at a less awkward angle than at a high Western bench. However, you need to be in good shape to work this way.


• Thinner kerf removes less wood, which means less effort.

• The inexpensive saws are of high quality and work very well right out of the box.

• The teeth are generally harder and can go longer between sharpen-ings. The best Western saws are 52-54 on the Rockwell "C" scale. Japanese saws are 51-58 for the handmade saws, and 61 and higher for the machine-made impulse-hardened saws.While the harder teeth stay sharp longer, they also are more brittle and prone to break.

• There are many manufacturers who sell a wide variety of saws with different teeth configurations (more than 100 kinds, by Harrelson Stanley's count) for every woodworking task and every type of wood.


• It's almost impossible for a woodworker to sharpen a Japanese saw. The teeth are too complex on handmade saws and too hard on the impulse-hardened ones. Handmade saws usually go to Japan for sharpening. Impulse-hardened saws become scrapers or go in the garbage.

• The crosscut teeth are more delicate. If you hit a knot or cut quickly into particularly tough wood, you could lose a tooth or two.

• The saws are easier to ruin. Because the blade is thin, you can bend it on the return stroke if you push too hard and the saw isn't aligned properly in the kerf.

• Japanese saws pull sawdust toward you, obscuring your line.

• Japanese saws made for dimensioning lumber (not joinery) have shorter blades than full-size Western handsaws. Depending on the saw, the pull saw might require more strokes to do the same work.

• Japanese saws are designed to be used in traditional Japanese fashion on low benches. When used in Western fashion, some Japanese saws are not always as effective as they should be.

"Here's a tip for starting a ryoba saw in a rip cut: Start the cut with the crosscut side (to begin your kerf) and then switch to the rip side."

— Fred Damsen, Japan Woodworker

sides of the blade) that allowed these thin metal blades to be used on either the push stroke or the pull stroke - much like a modern coping saw or bowsaw, according to "The History of Woodworking Tools" (G. Bell & Sons) by W.L. Goodman.

The frame saw might not have been invented by the Romans, but they certainly refined it and produced a wide variety of them.

This is an important fork in the road in saw history that affects us to this day. The Japanese developed pull saws like the Egyptians, but they never seem to have developed frame saws, according to several students of Japanese history (though a Chinese frame saw did come into use in 15th century Japan).

So the Japanese, with their scarce metal resources and their traditions of working low to the ground, stuck with the pull saw and refined it to a high art.

In the West, most of the European continent stuck with the bowsaw. But the Dutch and English took a different path. In the mid-17th century, wider steel blades became possible thanks to water-driven mills, and the modern handsaw that cuts on the push stroke was born.

The West Stumbles

The 19 th and early 20th centuries were the golden age of Western handsaws. There were hundreds of saw manufacturers, fierce competition, high-quality tools and a very hungry market.

But as the demand for quality hand tools declined, so did the number of manufacturers. And quality slipped dramatically.

"Western manufacturers thought it was OK to ship a saw that was poorly set, dull and had a handle that looked like it was made by a third-grade art student," says Thomas Lie-Nielsen, owner of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. "You couldn't use the saws right out of the box. It's no wonder the Japanese ate their lunch."

When Western saws suitable for cabinetmaking disappeared off the shelves, the Japanese saws picked up the slack.

"In Japan, the product lines have not been cheapened," says Lee of Lee Valley Tools. "Even products that have been mass produced have not been cheapened."

So while it was tough to find a decent new Western saw at almost any price, the Japanese exported saws to the West that were sharp, straight, perfectly set and inexpensive. A good Japanese backsaw still costs only about $40. So it's little wonder that the Japanese saw now is in many North American workshops. It was, in many ways, a simple matter of economics.

74 Popular Woodworking October 2003

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