Push-me pull-you saws – subtle changes?

For more information on saws, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

P1110513 I have taken a closer look at saws this year and thought I could share some thoughts on a few things in some posts. If someone walked into a big box store or even the local hardware store (if there is is such a thing any more) looking for a handsaw, what would they find? That’s right, they’d find a hard point, mass-made, plastic handled, ergonomic grip saw with rubberised inserts in a choice of high viz colours that would crosscut but not rip cut DSC_0061 . Most people would indeed accept these evidencing the advanced evolved handsaw of the day and of course a handsaw it is, kinda sorta. Look on ebay for a handsaw and you see the same thing unless you add ‘vintage’ or ‘old’ to your search. It is possible that in a decade or two the vintage saws we know now might be gone and a blue handled Bahco saw might well be there in its place. I don’t know. I do know that in my mind these saws don’t register as handsaws as such but a wooden handled Disston or Tyzack or Groves does. That’s most likely to do with my age, conditioning and so on. Compare the two below and see what you think. The blue one is the one you throwaway under the guise of recycling. The reason I mention this is because something shifted in our perspective  on what we might be seeing as traditional Japanese saws when in reality the same thing seems unwittingly to have happened to them too. Do what is being sold in online sales outlets around the world truly represent the acclaimed traditions of traditional Japanese saws or are they simply a new saw created as a hybrid for the mass markets beyond Japan’s shores? DSC_0071

DSC_0006 Go back three decades ago when Japanese saws sold could be resharpened and indeed you were buying both saws and the special feather files to sharpen them. I think back then proponents of finely made imported Japanese saws were eschewing western saws in favour of the traditions of Japan’s mastery in the art of saw making. P1120172 The greatest success story in woodworking marketing has been the sales transitioning from lifetime Japanese saws to disposable Japanese throwaway saws. I  found only one Japanese saw on the whole western market that was resharpenable in my search this week and we are talking massive regions here. Now that is a success marketing story failure  in that a whole tradition has been lost and possibly forever. Without being an absolutist,  I could find only one resharpenable Japanese saw on the internet. All of the Japanese saws sold can not be resharpened in the same way hard point western style saws can not be resharpened. “It’s a snap”, every one of the online catalogue adverts say, as you scroll down catalogs. Replacing the blades, they all mean. That’s the snappy answer to everything. You just punch the button, order online and your replaceable blade is there next day with free shipping (UK). And isn’t it wonderful that the blades can be recycled too? So when did Japanese saws silently and seamlessly slip from ‘resharpenable’ to ‘replaceable’?

P1120167 Yesterday I bought a pull-stroke Japanese saw with a second blade for £8 and it worked identically the same as my £50 one with its replaceable blade but no spare. Actually, I thought it cut faster and more cleanly. So, if I can buy a saw and a blade for £8 what are the real costs for Japanese disposable replaceable blades? And of course what is the cost in real terms. Notice all the advertisers proudly say, “replaceable” and not throwaway. Just reading between the lines and remembering when the same thing happened with the Spear & Jackson catalogue back somewhere in the early 1990s when they carried wording that said,”Lasts five times longer than conventional saws.” for their throwaways and, “Resharpenable.” for their still being sold conventional ones.

P1150474 There is a lot of information out there on saws, but mostly it comes from catalogue companies online. I have found some interesting things that changed my perspective so I will be sharing them this week alongside some good thoughts on a few new discoveries for the future of woodworking.


  1. Anytime I see or hear “ergonomic” I turn and run! It’s the same as 4G LTE. Ask the person touting it what it means, he will give you a blank stare and then say, “I don’t really know, but I can find out.” The grip on the “vintage” saw above looks more comfortable, in my humble opinion, and one with greater control, but I guess the craftsmen of old who designed those handles just didn’t know what they were doing. 🙂 I’ll stick with my poorly designed, un-ergonomic Distons thank you.

    “Ergo”, by the by, is from the Greek word meaning “work”, so what is “ergonomic”?

  2. Amen to that My Brother. Anybody who wants to trade in their old Vintage saws for a new Disposable Japanese or Western saw I;ll be happy to take the old ones off there hands. For a fee of course.
    A couple years ago When I first starting using Vintage hand tools, Handsaws were one of the tools that was on top of the List,

    After my first test drive— it was easy to see why the older Saws were sought out for so much by the seasoned woodworkers, so I didn’t hesitate and now I own over 130 Old Vintage Saws.
    Even though Im for from being a seasoned amature.

    I do own some New saws though Six Lie Nielsen and Five Bad Axe and I do like them very much but still there’s no comparison to my Disston, Simonds, Atkins, Richardson, Groves and Sons ,Older Spear and Jackson and even a Sorby. In fact a couple weeks ago I bought one of Disstons first Handsaws. Eagle in flight , 20″ 11 tpi with full etch and gave less than $200.00 . In my opinion , That’s A Saw.
    And If I cant find a good responsible home for these saws when I Leave this world then everyone will be buried along side me and If anybody tries to dig;em up I will Haunt them forever……. lol

  3. Hello Paul,
    if you do want to test a Japanese saw that can be resharpened, Dieter Schmid and Dictum sell some.
    Some of these are even handmade.

  4. James, I don’t see that it is the same as 4G LTE in any way. One is a clear improvement in technology for faster data speeds over mobile networks, the other is the pursuit of standardising sizes/dimensions and form to fit a wider variety of people. Of course you can’t beat custom fitting something to a person though. But pretty much everyone benefits from faster data speeds.

  5. i have two japanese-style pull saws: one a Fiskars pocket pruning saw, which was about £15, and the other a cheapo (£6 i think) with a rubberised plastic handle that’s not in line with the blade but is at about 60 degrees to it. the Fiskars one i use for outdoorsy stuff as it’s light as a feather

    the Fiskars is sharpenable and has no set to the teeth: and even though it’s about 6tpi it produces a cut you’d swear has been planed. the blade slides into the handle so the pull is direct. i keep it sharp and it’s a pleasure to use

    the cheapo one isn’t sharpenable, has too wide a set to the teeth, and the handle (before it broke) meant that the blade felt like it was dragging and twisting. it never produced anything like a decent cut. eventually i replaced the plastic handle with a straight piece of elm, reduced the set, and ran a grindstone along the outside of the teeth. it cuts ok now but i only use it for rough stuff as it the surface it leaves is flossy and scored

    i’m going for a decent ryoba (two-sided rip and crosscut pull saw) when i can afford it – a resharpenable one

  6. I am curious a bout your saw findings. For me in past four months, since learning to recut teeth and finding a saw set in a back bin at a feed-n-seed, has seen me restore 1 back saw so out of joint i just recut the teeth, 2 panel saws: a rip and a crosscut, with 3 more on my bench. And a lead on 2 more vintage saws from local woodworkers. I may have a saw problem…..

  7. Michael I was referring to the word “ergonomic” in the same sense that sales people throw around 4G LTE. In my humble opinion, 4G LTE and ergonomic are buzz words used to BS the public. Not everyone needs 4G LTE. It depends on use and needs. LTE is part of the 4G service. For some people 3G is adequate.

  8. Lately, I have been seeing ‘hybrid’ saws at some big box stores (USA) – western panel type saws with (large) Japanese style hardened teeth. The ones I’ve seen are typically quite thick. Interesting development…

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.