Why Pick a Pull or a Push?

P1160811It’s an interesting thing so many have converted to pulls when pushes work so well  and can be sharpened a thousand times when you own skill. Thankfully a Sheffield saw maker remains to still make only resharpenables and so too a Canadian maker and then American makers too. It warms me that they haven’t sold out. P1160812For me it would be a great sting to lose the gift of sharpening western saws and so lose the need for western saws under the onslaught so I do all I can to teach the craft of sharpening them to preserve it in the world’s generations.

P1160818I cut these dovetailed lines to defy the mindset that thin import Japanese saws work better or best, give the best or only good results, cut thinnest and work the easiest. It’s a question of mastering skills whichever way you work a saw. if you gave up on one for the other then you might well have missed the best of both worlds. Of course it’s not really altogether true that Japanese saws work better or are thinner or are easiest and I don’t believe it’s as simple as a one saw cuts all or an either or as some might hope or say or teach. I hope to expand on this shortly.P1160819

These saw kerfs shown show both sides of the saw cuts into and through oak. The arrowed line in the top image indicates the one cut made with the western saw and the others made with four different Asian saws. You can see the in- and out-cut results from new saws (bottom out-cut will be second from right in bottom image). Oh, and the saw I used for the western saw cost £17.79 brand new and I have used one of this type for two decades with no issues at all. Anyway, all food for thought.


38 comments on “Why Pick a Pull or a Push?

  1. Well done. I’m a Tennessee Wood Wright and have been a Lumberjack for a long time.
    I’ve changed to Japanese style saws for the most part even on fallen trees.
    When I cut tree crotches I find it much better to use pull saws, granted I burn through them faster on trees like Holly. In the workshop I use pull saws except for my self made frame saws, where pull action on logs is just too weak.

    • It’s interesting to see how Japanese saws are mostly throwaways these days, in that they cannot be sharpened anymore. It’s also interesting to see that a lot of the pull-stroke saws made for the western sales have backs on them more and more.

    • Well some of the pull stoke garden limb and lopping saws are remarkable. In many cases though it was an issue when western saws stopped making good saws for the task. Western pull strokes for limbing and lopping worked great and were resharpenable in a matter of minutes. Silkys are great but they come at a price to a western culture we may well lose altogether because people are losing the pride you get when you use sustainable skills in being able to sharpen your saws in a few minutes.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Your rip sharpening video has been a huge help to me, and I now have a nice collection of antique saws in good working order. I haven’t been able to find a video by you on crosscut sharpening, though. Do you have plans to do one of those?

    Thanks for everything you do. You’ve really opened up the world of hand tool woodworking for me.

    Best Regards,

  3. Aren’t there pull saws (Japanese) that can be sharpened? They may be new to you and me, but to the Japanese they have been using pull saws and pull planes for centuries. Most of the currently made pull saws have “impulse hardened” teeth, which can’t be sharpened, but if you look, I’m sure you can find pull saws that can be resharpened. Probably very expensive.
    As far as “pull or push”, I think there is room for both in my tool box.

      • For sharpening japanese type saws, they use adiffern’t file. It is known as a feather style file. I have not used one. But logic, says if the file exists, there must be saws that can be sharpened. Cheers Peter

        • Yes, we know the files exist, but 99.9%of Japanese saws available on at least a general basis are hardpoints and cannot be filed. It’s shameful really but it means people keep coming back for another saw and that’s good for sales.

    • There were Japanese-made pull-saws sold by Spear & Jackson under the “Predator” brand several years ago, which appear to have non-hardened teeth — at least I can’t see any hint of blackening anywhere on the tooth. They cut quite nicely too. But they appear no longer to be offered — I bought both of mine at Lee Valley five years ago as a “manufacturer’s closeout special”, so perhaps they were a mistake by someone somewhere, that LV bought up cheaply.

      • Any saw manufacturer that has to name its saw’Predator’ and ‘triplefast’ or even Professional cant be up to much. They still make the Predator Toolbox saw with hardpoint teeth but all of their saws are made in Taiwan not England.

  4. Paul, I have an 1880’s era Diston backsaw. It had a warp in the blade that made it almost impossible to use. I had consulted several “saw doctors’ about restoration. Yesterday while in the shop I picked it up looking longingly at it and remembered your trick of strcking it with the hammer. I banged it once…then the second time it is perfectly straight and says through wood like a hot knife through butter. THANK YOU……

  5. The teeth are so fine and closely packed together on Jap dovetail saws that you couldn’t sharpen them even if you wanted to. Whatever saw files they used to use probably doesn’t exist in today’s world, it amazes me how saw makers use to make fret saw blades for marquetry in the 18th century.

    The idea of a pull action is the Japanese mythical belief that the spirit resides in the wood and by pulling the saw or a plane towards you is that your pulling the spirit of the tree towards you. People once worshipped trees worldwide they all believed spirits resided inside the trees hence where knock on wood came from. The believer used to knock on trees to invoke the spirit and then would ask for such and such.

    The only benefit of a Japanese fine toothed saw is the thin plate and the clean surface it leaves behind but the speed of the cut is compromised.

    • Japanese files do still exist and are readely available. They are known as ” feather edge files ” Cheers Peter

  6. I am looking forward to receiving my book and dvd set . I have several crosscut saws to sharpen and after following your instructions on rip saws successfully , am sure your crosscut sharping method will be invaluable.

  7. I prefer the push style of saw but I do not see any backless crosscut western saws with about 12 to 14 tpi on the market. Are there any manufacturers that produce such saws at a reasonable price?
    Regards, Keith

  8. While I take my time to learn and acquire saws I really want and will really enjoy using, I picked up a couple of Japanese saws to hold me over for a couple of years.

    I made a particularly long rip cut with the rip side of a Ryoba saw (Paul Sellers walking cane shaft), and immediately had an oft-quoted problem seeing the cut from the blade entry side (the far side of the work. )

    Dollar Store time. For one dollar I picked up a plastic frame and handle rectangular mirror (the mirror is glass), bulked up the handle a bit with duct tape, and stuck it behind the work in a 3/4″ doghole. That way, I was able to see both sides of the cut simultaneously.

    That little itch was sufficiently scratched. I have heard that “Duck” tape also solves the problem, but I can only find Duck Tape in the big box stores. Ah, well, it’s an imperfect world.

  9. RE; Feather files,
    a while back, l bought diamond toothed feather files from “TOOLS FROM JAPAN”
    They can be used to sharpen hard toothed jap saws & western hard tooth saw equally well.
    There diamond files in machinist tool catalogs.

    “but i’m much better now”

  10. This very debate has me kicked out of the local woodcraft store. Apparently you’re not allowed to defend western tradition when eastern influence comes so cheap. I now boycott their stores and encourage everyone else too. Just another conglomorate with pencil pushers and accountants at the head rather than actual craftspeople. I also teach anyone willing to ask for help with their saw, and that is my rebel fist.

  11. One day folk will realise that push or pull doesn’t matter one bit, if it’s dam sharp and cuts straight then it’s a joy to use.
    The skills are also the same despite what people try to tell you, cutting straight to a line is a skill learnt not brought, and certainly not dependant on what way the teeth work.
    I think the turn to pull saws was due to the poor selection of good sharp off the shelf push saws.
    All in my humble opinion of course 🙂

    • I agree with you. I can not sharpen my high TPI saws now – my eye sight is not so good anymore. I’ve tried good Japanese saws, and if one put some effort in understanding what kind to use for the job, with little practice, they are really good alternatives. Replaceable blades are good to turning them into scrapers of all sorts.

      Key points are GOOD SAW and PRACTICE but that is same with all saws.

  12. Really good to see this has gotten so much attention.
    I’d like to add a few more comments concerning my own personal uses and decisions.
    Like many of you I have saws and Planes, etc,, which are more than a hundred years old.
    I’ve also got newer cheaply made saws with plastic handles that have remarkable blades on them, and in many cases when I riv a tree like Hickory or Beech I look at my cheap plastic handles and take them off, then make new handles from these lovely trees.
    One of the reasons I use Japanese saws at the bench are the precise control, as an example I recently took a small piece of Walnut and added a color to the magnificent Magnolia handle I had made for my Froe, the handle was slightly loose, the way I like them in case you get the blade stuck, but the blade could slide off the end, so a small circle of Walnut at the end epoxied on solved this, but I needed to use a very precise Pull saw to pull this off.
    In my own experience that circular section of Walnut would have cracked if I used a standard saw of any type because I’d be pushing the grain outward.
    I’ve also made my own Kerfing saw with a standard crosscut blade but at times find Pull saws better for Kerfing before using a hand router. It’s very easy with those to notch both ends of the cut then followup with the p[roper kerf cut.

  13. Hi Paul,

    I noticed the other day that Stanley now do a resharpenable saw, albeit one with a plastic handle and short blade. It’s listed on Amazon as: –

    Stanley 1-20-010 Universal Medium Handsaw with Resharpenable Teeth, 500 mm

    I don’t know if this is one you’re interested in reviewing, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on it.


  14. Thomas Flinn Customer Service has been very supportive when I’ve contacted them for ‘bespoke’ saws, including [backless] panel saws with 10 and 13 tpi for rip and cross cut, respectively. They charge less than the US manufacturers I know of and I’ve never been asked to pay extra for outside of the ordinary products.

    Kind regards


    • I must admit I had not thought of asking for a customised saw. In the meantime I have ordered a saw from Dictum here in Germany. They call it a “Turbo-Cut Hand Saw 330”. I shall try it out this week. I am not so interested in the “turbo” but it is a backless crosscut western saw – made in Japan! – with about 13 tpi. They also have a slightly longer version but I think the shorter will suit me better.

        • According to the blurb it can be.”Teeth can be resharpened (e.g. with sharpening file No. 712802)”. I guess I will find out eventually. I have no feeling for how often one would need to resharpen a saw.

  15. One thing that no one has mentioned is the brittleness of the eastern pull saws.

    I have had 2 different brands break teeth cutting across a knot in Spruce and Southern Yellow Pine. The teeth are very hard and brittle. Since the teeth are hardened and not the plate, the broken tooth leaves a “hangnail” of metal at the root of the broken tooth, causing the saw to bind forever more.

    • I think many makers have resolved this issue these days by a process that transitions between the hard point and the main plate so that cracking and breakage is much less. That said, no one will convince me that Japanese pull stroke saws are the only way to go. It does take more skill to master western saws but once you have it you have it for life and I do like saws you don’t have to throwaway over disposables. I have three disposable Japanese saws for my research and trialing and they will most likely be the last ones I buy. They do cut well but I cannot buy into the throwaway world. Surely that should be a thing of the past.

  16. hello Paul,
    I’m French and I’ve learned a lot from you, but I still need to lear even more.
    I’ve got one question regarding pull & push saws. I started to buy japanese (throwaway) saws. It was such an improvement comparing to throwaway push saws (like Stanley). And it helped me lot to learn to be gentle, not to force, while sawing.
    Recently I’ve bought a spear & Jackson 22″ to try better western saw. I’ll have to learn but it’s not comparable to throwaway western saws.
    My question is, while sawing in the vise I find it easier, more natural with pull saws than push saws. With pull saws you naturally pull the handle to the floor. With push saws my bench is more on my way and i need to put a knee on the floor. Also I find that I have to push harder because I have to counter saw weight.
    With push saw I would find easier to use a saw horse but my workshop is very small and I’ll loose the benefit of my vise.
    What is your opinion regarding this difference of use?
    Is the spear & Jackson 12″ tenon saw a good saw? Did you try it?
    What is the impact if we use a bigger file? I’ve ordered one double cut and big one (even if it is a 6″), I’ve done a mistake. Is it still usable to sharpen? It seems to enter and touch gullet, and both teeth correctly.

    Thanks a lot for all you give to us. I often come back to your book , your videos, your blog to read a see again to learn more details.

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