Japanese Hand Saws | Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement

Learn about the different types of Japanese hand saws, how they differ from western saws, and their distinctive benefits.

Japanese Hand Saws

Japanese Hand Saws



Japanese saws (nokogiri) are available in a wide range of styles and configurations with names that you may not be overly familiar with, such as dozuki, kataba, ryoba and kugihiki. In this article we'll give you an overview of the most common styles of Japanese saws used in western woodworking shops.
 
Shogun
The Shogun saws shown in this article, are manufactured by the Miki Tool Co,located in Miki, a city in Japan's Hogyo prefecture. Miki has been an important blacksmithing and metalworking centre since the 15th century. The Miki Tool Co. has one of the widest range of hand saws available. They also manufacture chisels, hand planes and other woodworking hand tools. You can view their full catalogue online. For more information visit mikitool.co.jp
A major difference between western and Japanese hand saws is that western saws cut on the push stroke while Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke. Which is why you'll often see Japanese saws referred to as pull saws.
 
A second, though somewhat minor difference is the shape of the handle, which is almost always round or oval and straight. Wood handle are most often made of softwood (usually Paulownia), and frequently wrapped with rattan, which is a durable, flexible splinter-resistant natural material. Small hand saws typically have a beech handle. Non-slip elastomer plastic handles are available in a pistol grip and straight style. These are often found on carpentry and pruning saws. Overall, Japanese saws are lighter in weight than equivalent Western saws, and less tiring to use when you have a lot of sawing to do.

Japanese and western saws - different style of blades and handles

Various handle styles on Japanese saws - top to bottom: plastic; wood wrapped in rattan; softwood; beech
 
There are three broad styles of Japanese saw blades - those with teeth on both sides of the blade (ryoba, azebiki ), those with a blade spine or stiffener (dozuki), and those without a spine support or backless (kataba, kugihiki and mawashibiki).

Three blade styles (top to bottom): double edged, backed, backless 

Japanese saws are usually listed in overall length, which can be from around 180mm to 320mm for double-sided and backless blades and 150mm to 260mm for backed blades. The blades, at an average of around .50mm (.02"), are about half the thickness of western blades. A major advantage of a thin blade is that the resulting saw kerf is narrow - typically only one millimeter wider than the thickness of the blade. Attempting to push a very thin blade through wood would inevitably kink the blade. However, pulling the saw keeps tension on the blade. 

Quite often Japanese blades are taper ground - 
the blade is thinner at the back (the top of the blade) than at the teeth. As a result, the teeth can have less set (the amount that the teeth flares outwards), making the blade less likely to bind when sawing, especially for deep cuts. Japanese saws are also often hard chrome plated, which not only adds to the durability of the blade, but makes it rust-resistant. 

You'll see some Japanese saws described as classical and universal - this refers to the tooth pattern. Classic saws feature a traditional tooth style and usually have a rattan covered handle. Universal saws feature a modified tooth pattern that can be used for either ripping or crosscutting and usually have a softwood or plastic handle.
 
Rip teeth on Japanese blades have a chisel-like profile similar to Western saws but are typically longer and thinner. Longer blades will have larger rip teeth. Any Japanese rip saw with the name 'classical' attached will have this tooth style.

Rip teeth on a classical style Japanese saw

Crosscut teeth on Japanese saws have a knife-like profile that is more complex than found on most western saws. Usually the teeth are triple ground - the teeth are ground in three different angles - often with the point of each tooth chisel cut. The result is faster, smoother cutting. Longer saws will have larger teeth with greater tooth spacing. Because of the tooth configuration, re-sharpening these blades not only requires a special file, but takes a stout heart and a patient hand.

Crosscut teeth on a Japanese saw

You'll also find a universal-style tooth pattern on some Japanese saws. These blades have a series of triple ground teeth followed by a rip tooth that acts as a raker and a deep gullet to facilitate dust removal. These general-purpose blades can be used for ripping and crosscutting. 

Universal tooth pattern

Crosscut teeth are sometimes impulse hardened so they can't be sharpened. Impulse hardening uses a special high frequency heating technique that makes the outside of the teeth much stronger and able to retain their sharpness longer, while the inside remains somewhat softer for increased strength. Should you bend or break any of the teeth you'll need to replace the blade. Fortunately Japanese saws are designed for easy blade replacement (though a few have non-replaceable blades). 

Japanese saws are no more difficult to master than western saws. You need to use the proper technique, patience and practice that is required to master any hand tool. In general you always want to start a cut at the heel of the saw (closest to the handle), tilting the blade to about 15-degrees, and making long smooth strokes using minimal pressure, allowing the saw to do the cutting. These saws come with blade guards for a reason, and you should use the guards when storing the saws, The teeth are more brittle than on western saws, so you don't want to toss the saws onto a work bench or onto a toolbox.
 
While Japanese saws come in a wide range of styles the four basic types that are widely available from tool dealers are ryoba, dozuki, kataba and kugihiki.
 
 
Ryoba (Double-edge or double-blade)


Ryoba saws are equivalent to western rip and crosscut panel saws. They have teeth cut on both sides of the blade - one for ripping and one for crosscutting, so one saw does the work of two western saws. They're available in a range of lengths - longer blades will have larger rip teeth and are more suitable for carpentry work or initial stock preparation - dimensioning or resawing wood. Shorter blades are a better choice for general work trimming, squaring or sizing smaller stock. At the heel the teeth on the rip side are generally smaller, making it easier to start a cut. Typical blade lengths are 210mm/8-1/4", 240mm/9-7/16", 270mm/10-5/8" and 300mm/11-3/4". As mentioned earlier, some saws have traditional rip style teeth while others have universal style rip teeth.

Traditional style ryobi saw blade - crosscut teeth at top, rip teeth at bottom

Universal style ryobi saw blade - crosscut teeth at top, rip/crosscut teeth at bottom

 
Shogun Classical PRO
This is Shogun's professional line of ryoba saws with traditional style rip teeth. The replaceable high carbon spring steel chrome plated blades are taper ground, enabling the saw to cut more quickly and smoothly with less friction, hardened to about RC51, and the handles are rattan wrapped. Tooth set increases from the tip of the blade to the heel. The teeth are not impulse hardened. 
Models:MCS-24W, MSC-270, MSC-300 
Overall length:22", 26", 27"
Blade length:9-1/2", 10-3/4", 11-3/4"
TPI (X-cut edge):17, 11, 10
TPI (rip edge):6-8, 5-8, 5-8
Blade thickness (at center):.35mm, .50mm, .50mm
Kerf: crosscut/rip.75mm/.75mm, .85mm/.90mm, 1.0mm/1.3mm
 
Shogun Classical
This has the same style of teeth as on the Classic PRO above, but in a medium grade steel that makes it more economical. The impulse hardened teeth will last a long time. It has a replaceable blade and rattan wrapped handle.
ModelsMCZ-21, MCZ-24
Overall length:21-3/4", 22-1/2"
Blade length:8-1/2", 9-1/2"
TPI (X-cut edge):19, 17
TPI (rip edge):6-10, 6-9
Blade thickness:.50mm, .50mm
Kerf: crosscut/rip.70mm/.60mm, .70mm/.60mm

Shogun Universal
This saw is essentially the same as the Shogun Classical, except that it has a universal-style blade. The teeth are also impulse hardened and the handle is wrapped with rattan. I find these saws cut a tad faster than the Shogun Classical especially when making rip cuts. 
Models:MC-2421H, MC-2424H
Overall length:21-3/4", 22-1/2"
Blade length:8-1/2", 9-1/2"
TPI (X-cut edge):24, 19
TPI (rip edge):18-19, 16-17
Blade thickness:.50mm, .50mm
Kerf: crosscut/rip.70mm/.70mm, .70mm/.70mm


Kataba (Backless)

Kataba saws are similar to universal-style ryoba saws but only have one row of teeth annd are backless - they don't have a spine support. They can be used in place of a western panel saw and excel at making deep, long cuts in thick stock. The saws are available with either crosscut or rip tooth configurations and in a range of lengths. The kerf is typically wider than you'll get with a ryoba saw, but they cut a lot quicker. A folding version with plastic handle is also available.
 
Shogun Universal Kataba
This is a premium grade kataba saw. The replaceable blade is taper ground and the handle is rattan wrapped. It has a unique tooth pattern - 10 triple ground teeth followed by a rip tooth that acts as a raker and a deep gullet to facilitate dust removal. While you can use it for ripping, it excels at fast crosscutting. The teeth are impulse hardened and the blade is electro-less plated (which provides increased wear, abrasion and corrosion resistance).
Model:OKDX-270
Overall length:25-1/2"
Blade length:11-3/4"
TPI:14
Blade thickness:1.0mm to .60mm
Kerf:.85mm
 
Kataba blade: 10 triple ground teeth followed by a rip tooth and gullet


Dozuki (Shoulder cut)


This is likely the most popular style of Japanese handsaws. When it comes to fine, crisp, clean crosscuts, a dozuki is hard to beat. The blades are thinner than on ryoba or kataba saws resulting in very narrow kerfs - some dozuki saws have no set to the teeth for incredibly narrow kerfs. All these saws feature a spine that acts as a blade stiffener. They're available in a range of lengths, generally with blades from about 150mm/6" to 240mm/9-3/8". They excel at cutting fine joinery, particularly dovetails and tenons.
 
Shogun-Daiku Classical

This is Shogun's professional line of dozuki saws. The replaceable chrome plated blades are very thin and have slightly curved steel spines. Teeth are not impulse hardened. The handles are rattan covered. The MCS-18DF has no set to the teeth and produces a kerf of only .27mm wide. The MCS-PZF (bottom in the photo above) is a 2-in-1 saw: the back doesn't extend over the last 3-5/8" of the blade and the teeth at the end have no set enabling you to use the saw tip as a flush cut saw. I found that these saws cut amazingly fast and smoothly, requiring minimal chisel paring. 
Models:MCS-18DF, MCS-24DZ, MCS-PZF
Overall length:17-3/8", 22-1/4", 20"
Blade length:7", 9-3/4", 9-5/8"
TPI:34, 27, 27
Blade thickness:.27mm, .27mm, .27mm
Kerf:.27mm, .40mm, .40mm and .27 at the tip
Depth of cut:1-7/16", 2-1/4", 1-3/4"
 
 
Shogun Precision
This economy line of saws have a very traditional look. The non-replaceable blades have a rigid steel back and a dense tooth pattern with minimal set gives a narrow .40mm kerf. The blades are not chrome plated and the teeth are not impulse hardened. Softwood handles. They cut just as fast as the Daiku above, though the finish was not as smooth.
Models:MCD-150, MCD-210, MCD-240
Overall length:16", 19-1/2", 22"
Blade length:5-3/5", 8-3/8", 9-1/2"
TPI:24, 22, 22
Blade thickness:.30mm, .30mm, .30mm
Kerf:.40mm, .40mm, .40mm
Depth of cut: 1-1/2", 1-7-8", 2"
 
Shogun Classical Standard
Both saws have replaceable polished blades with a stout steel back for extra rigidity and rattan wrapped handles. The teeth on the MP150 (which Shogun calls a panel saw) are impulse hardened. Both cut quickly but the kerfs are somewhat wider than the Daiku or precision saws above.
Models:MC-24, MP150
Overall length:21-3/4", 15"
Blade length:9-1/2', 6"
TPI:20, 18
Blade thickness:.30mm, .30mm
Kerf:.45mm, .50mm
Depth of cut:2-1/4", 1-3/8"
 
Shogun Mini Precision
If you do exceedingly small work, then this precision saw will come in handy. It has a short steel back for extra blade rigidity and a non-replaceable blade. The back doesn't extend over the final 2" of the blade so you can use it for flush cutting. The beech handle is fixed to the blade with two brass rivets.
Models:FLB-120
Overall length:9-3/8"
Blade length:4-3/8"
TPI:26
Blade thickness:.30mm
Kerf:.45mm
Depth of cut:1/2"


Kugihiki (Flush cut)
 
 
Shogun Flush Cut/Trim
These flush cut saws are ideal for trimming dowels, tenons, and other protrusions flush with a surface. In a pinch they can be used for narrow trim cuts. The teeth on these saws are ground on two angles and are non-set, except for the double sided FLD-120 (middle in the photo above). It has teeth set on one side which makes it more usable as a trim saw than the other models.
Models:FL-150, FLD-120, FL-115
Overall length:12-1/4", 10-1/4", 10-1/8"
Blade length:6", 4-3/4", 4-3/4"
TPI:18, 22, 26
Blade thickness:.50mm, .50mm, .50mm
Kerf:.50mm, .50mm/.60mm, .50mm
 
Mawashibiki (Keyhole)

 
Shogun Keyhole
This backless saw has a very narrow blade so that it can be used for detail work in small awkward areas. As with the flush cut saws above, the teeth are ground on 2 angles. Beech handle.
Models:OKDX-270
Overall length:9-1/2"
Blade length:4-3/8"
TPI:18
Blade thickness:.70mm
Kerf:.90mm
 
Carpentry/Pruning

 
Shogun Universal Kataba
Plastic handles, thick blades, and triple ground impulse hardened teeth makes these saws ideal for use on a job site, around the home, and at the cottage. They cut very fast, particularly the OK-30FLD (second in photo above). Given their function, it's somewhat irrelevant that they produce very wide kerfs.
Models:OK-265FLD, OK-30FLD, PIS-265, MK-120W
Overall length:25-1/2", 25-1/2", 16-1/2", 10-1/4"
Closed length:13-3/4", 13-3/4", n.a., 6"
Blade length:10-3/8", 10-3/4", 10-1/4", 4-3/4"
TPI:16, 9, 16, 14
Blade thickness:.60mm, .90mm, .60mm, .60mm
Kerf:.90mm, 1.40mm, .90mm, .90mm
 

Sample of various kerf widths made with dozuki blades (first four) and ryoba blades (last two)


 
Author: 
Carl Duguay
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