Cutting With a Japanese Saw
Learning how to start a cut with a saw is the foundation to good sawing. Here, we will show a few basics on how to start properly with a Japanese saw.
Starting the Cut
For beginners, it is easier to learn with a fine-tooth saw, as snagging is minimized. Practice sawing with a piece of scrap clamped or held securely.
- Stand and position your body so the arm and hand align with the saw in a straight line. The dominant arm should be close to the side of your body (Photo 1). For precision and balance, many prefer to “choke up” on the handle. With a dozuki, you can either extend your index finger along the saw’s spine or wrap your hand fully around the handle – whichever is more comfortable (Photos 2 and 3).
Photo 1 – Proper body mechanics, with the arm aligned with the spine of the saw.
Photo 2 – Grip with the hand wrapped fully around the handle.
Photo 3 – Grip with the index finger extended along the saw’s spine.
- Begin by placing the saw blade against the far corner of the wood (Photo 4). Start cutting slowly at first, and using your finger as a guide, repeatedly pull to make a clean first groove. Another tactic is to make a short push stroke first to sever the wood fibers. Try both and see what works for your particular saw and the material you’re cutting.
Photo 4 – Starting a saw cut, using the thumb as a guide for the blade.
- When pulling the saw, apply light force, and when pushing back, do not exert force. Applying too much force can cause the blade to bend.
- When cutting with a ryoba or kataba, you can use a two-handed grip for greater power and to help reduce fatigue (Photo 5).
Photo 5 – Two handed grip for power cuts.
- Once you develop the muscle memory for cutting vertically, it’s often helpful to take a second and verify that your workpiece is clamped squarely. This helps to ensure you’re cutting perpendicular to the end or edge of the work (Photo 6).
Photo 6 – Using a square to ensure the workpiece is clamped vertically.
Because of their comparatively thin blades, Japanese saws have a reputation for being delicate, but in our experience, they don’t need to be looked after with any greater care than you would a fine Western saw. Keep rust at bay, don’t force the saw, apply wax periodically to help prevent binding, and ensure the teeth are protected – these will ensure your saw serves you well for many years to come. Japanese saws typically have more complex tooth geometry than Western saws, and are correspondingly more difficult to sharpen. In fact, Japanese woodworkers typically send their fine saws back to the smith or to a specialist for sharpening. Hence, many Japanese saws have replaceable blades.