japanese saws
Photograph: Plamen Petkov

Japanese Saws

If you've never picked up a Japanese saw, be prepared for a shock. Its floppy blade stuck on a rattan-wrapped stick may seem at first glance to be more toy than tool. But get down to cutting wood, and you'll ask yourself why you put up with traditional Western-style handsaws for so long.

Many traits distinguish saws from East and West, but it all boils down to this: In Japan, you cut on the pull stroke. Pulling keeps the blade straight, so it can be thin—up to 75 percent slimmer than a Western blade, which must struggle to resist bending with every push. And since thin blades produce thin kerfs, Japanese saws remove less wood, produce less sawdust, and need less muscle power. You can cut longer, more accurately, and with less fatigue.

Cutting wood the Japanese way is much easier for an amateur. Perhaps it's because you steer the blade with your fingertips rather than the heel of your hand. Or it could be all those tiny, surgically sharp teeth that make starting a cut so simple. Even a die-hard push-cutter can appreciate the silky surfaces those teeth leave in their wake: cuts that feel as if they've been smoothed with a plane.

True, those delicate teeth are no match for plywood or knots. But if a tooth or two does break, the blades can be replaced, which is cheaper than buying a new saw.

So go ahead: Put the samurai moves on a slab of cedar. You're in for a pleasant awakening.
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