Western Saws . . .

. . . with a slight tweak here and another tweak there, you might just amaze yourself.

I regularly hear from people that they struggle to get their western saws to work smoothly. I have been preparing some saw articles to try to help. Many of you swear by your Japanese pull-stroke saws and say that they work better “for me.” This hasn’t bothered me much but the contradiction for me is this. They are 95-98% disposable saws because they cannot usually be sharpened by hand filing. The list of what people say usually go like this`: One, the kerf is much thinner. My research finds this not to be true at all. They are often the same or even greater and I accept that this could be the mass-made versions that most woodworkers buy. Two, they are easier to start because they work on the pull stroke instead of the push. Probably there is something wrong with how the western saws you may have tried have been sharpened. Three, Japanese saws have no back and so they are unlimited in any depth of cut. I can’t think of many cuts I make that need much more than a few inches. Working from both sides of a section of wood means that I could if needed, cut through a 5″ by 5″ section of wood. But I would most likely switch to a backless handsaw like a panel saw anyway which puts me into the unlimited depth of cut category anyway. And so the list goes on. The truth often is what we are introduced to first impresses us the most and we usually stay with what we know first.

I in no way want to pitch one cultural preference against another. That is not where my interest lies. I simply want to point out that a saw made for thrust cuts can be fine-tuned to suit every task with just one or two minor tweaks, once you understand some of the dynamics at play. Whether I am equal to the task will be for you to judge. Some of the things I do to my saws make them work like poetry in the cut. I might even say that you cannot help but cut straight and square using one, but that’s a little too ambitious. I think that I can say that they will cut with ease at accuracy levels you want in your work and that each cut you make will be exponentially improved multidimensionally. That’s what most woodworkers want. Let’s not just throw away our western resharpenables just yet. What if, like me, you might be using the same saw for 57 years and on a daily basis? I’m going to give this my best shot.

70 thoughts on “Western Saws . . .”

  1. Just in time I’d say.
    I was introduced to saws with push-stroke saws as boy. During the last 4-5 years i returned to hand tool woodworking an use push- as well as pull-stroke saws. Push-stroke saws are my go to saws for rapid and wider cuts. Pull-stroke saws are my go to saws for precision.
    As i don’t like the idea of disposing old pull-stroke blades i am in the process of switching over to push-stroke saws only.
    I am really looking forward to your tips and tweaks!
    Kind regards

    1. As I finally get around to reorganizing my shop for my retirement years, I have a saw vise (Actually, two!) and once I build my proper bench, I am going to learn to sharpen saws. I have at least a dozen to clean up, identify and sharpen to use.

      I have used Japanese style hand saws for years, and I like them, but I was raised on Western saws and I have dreamed of using one that has been properly sharpened.

      Best Regards,

      John Downing
      Amherst, NH

  2. “Disposable” is the critical factor in my choices. I own and use both types of saws and can use either with acceptable proficiency (I have quite low standards.). Yet, the disposability factor my greatest dislike. As my pull-stroke saws go dull, I am turning them into card scrapers and NOT replacing them.

    Thanks to your earlier saw sharpening lessons, I am constantly delighted with how well I can make my small collection of western saws perform. MANY THANKS for those, and future, saw sharpening lessons!

  3. I primarily use western saws. Most of them are junk store saws I’ve reconditioned and sharpened; a few I bought new; and a few I’ve made, using plates, backs, and saw nuts I bought here and there. I also own a 3″ ryoba saw, which I use for making fenced cuts such as dados and grooves. With no noticeable set, I can run it along an oak batten clamped to my work, pulling with one hand while I push the blade against the fence with the other. It’s a lesser-used specialty tool, like my keyhole saw, so the fact that I can’t sharpen it is less of a concern; I can’t sharpen my hack saw or coping saw blades, either.

    I wouldn’t buy a carcase, tenon, dovetail, or panel saw I couldn’t sharpen, although I’ve been gifted a couple of “radioactive-toothed” disposable saws. When they become unusable, I’ll cut ’em up for use as scrapers. Waste nothing, recycle everything, and compost whatever you don’t eat.

  4. Paul was kind enough not to mention the pomp and circumstant that goes into using a pull saw.
    It seems like every YouTube person that uses a pull saw has to go through a ritual when they use the saw – they lay down a “sacred” cloth roll, ceremoniously open the roll. They pompously contemplate the exact, perfect saw, for the cut at hand. Almost like a Samurai in the movies, bowing to his sword. Then they go about cutting a board in the same de rigueur fashion. Not my cup of tea…
    Yet, when finished, the cut doesn’t look any different than any other cut, made from any other saw, no matter the type. Even funnier to me is to watch some of them struggle to make the cut, because the saw buckles and bucks during the cut, but they continue to use that type of saw. probably thinking they look more “professional” because they use a pull saw and only lessor carpenters use a push saw.
    Yes, I have used a pull saw – I bought my first one in the mid-nineties when they were first introduced to me. I bought a second one a few years later because the first one dulled so quickly, and I was unable to sharpen it. I never liked the way they worked, so they haven’t seen much use (other than to cut some PVC pipe or the like – they still buck and bind with PVC, but I would not mess up one of my good saws for that use).

    1. Buckles and bucks? I am a hack when it comes to sawing. The ONLY saws I have seen buckle are push saws. I have kinked more than one push saw. I have kinked on pull saw, because I was STUPID and pushed it. Then again, I may have never had my hands on a proper one. Sharpening a saw is not woodworking, it is metalworking! If I have to resort to metalworking, I will junk hand tools and go full machine shop! For someone to gripe about throwaway blades, they need to back up a step and see that woodworking in its entirety is throwing away good stuff!

      1. So, Bruce, do you throw away your plane iron as soon as it’s dull, or your chisels, or throw away anything else that needs sharpening? According to you, that is metalworking and you shouldn’t have anything in your shop that needs sharpening (because you don’t want to “resort to metalworking”). You might as well go full machine shop – oh, but wait, that stuff needs sharpening as well – Or you might be that guy who has an unlimited budget and/or finds pleasure in filling the waste stream.
        I for one, think that maintaining (sharpening to you) your tools is part of the whole process, no matter what kind of shop you have. I also have a full machine shop and I try and keep all of those tools super sharp. I need to, to maintain optimum production in my construction business.
        In your last sentence are you eluding that we in woodworking are throwing away “good stuff”? Well, not so, we use the shavings and sawdust for other things and nothing goes in the waste stream except the actual garbage that comes into the shop from packing materials and the like that we have to deal with. The “good stuff” is being used for other “good” things.
        As for buckles, if you stay at it long enough you will see a pull saw “bow” (I used the word buckles) when you return it back in the kerf to cut again, for whatever reason. You do have to push the saw to start the next cut btw, and having the saw bow/buckle isn’t just being stupid; wood can bind just when you least expect it, or… just because. (see – “case hardening” and the like)

  5. The disposable Japanese saws can and do cut very well, but they give the real thing a bad name in the modern day. A proper blacksmith crafted Japanese saw is something that can be sharpened but has a much, much higher entry price and punishes you for abuse by snapping if you aren’t a competent user of pull saws.

    If we ignore the import costs for a moment, a blacksmith made Japanese saw is maybe 1.5 times the price of a big name posh brand of Western saw bought new. For a proper comparison of the two, it’s unfair to really look at the disposable saws and compare them to a quality Western saw or criticise them based on being disposable when you are comparing chalk and cheese. A fair comparison would be between an Irwin or Bacho saw with a plastic handle if you are to compare with disposable Japanese saws.

    1. I’m not really saying that you can’t get the good resharpenable Japanese saws, just that they are not so readily available to everyone. I was encouraging everyone that you can tweak western saws to cut as well as any imported pull stroke saws if you feel you want to not buy into the throwaway razor mentality and that the majority of ordinary western saws can be bought secondhand and new that can then be continually resharpened. I can buy a gents saw on eBay with a 10″ plate that can be resharpened easily in a matter of five minutes and it costs around £20. They could run this alongside a disposable Japanese saw selling for the same price and see how they feel but that they will need to learn some skills and techniques and that is not a bad thing because they will have these skills for life. It’s funny you mention Bahco as I just bought a new old stock wooden-handled Bahco for £20 on eBay too.

      1. I agree with C Gymer here. Yes, the “disposable” blade japanese pull saws are equivalent to the disposable hardware store push saws with induction hardened teeth. Every hand saw that Home Depot and Lowes carry are induction hardened.
        Yes you can get blacksmith made japanese saws that are sharpenable for a couple hundred dollars. Similar price range to Lie Nielsen, Bad Axe, Florip, etc. They are available from some of the standard “real” woodworker stores such as Tools For Working Wood, as well as online stores in Japan.
        I think in the middle ground are the Veritas saws, for between the low end and high end you get a great value saw.
        I have several Lie Nielsen saws, several old Disston saws, and some new Gyokochu saws and I use them all. I fit my saw to my mood and my work. I don’t know, sometimes tool collecting is as much a hobby as woodworking. You can build the skill to master any of these tools, and they all work just as well. I have even seen Richard Maguire create perfect joinery with a $20 Irwin saw. Its like my friend who races bicycles says, its 80-90% rider.

        1. I think I said it already but I will just say it again. There are a hundred western saws, old and brand new and then all in between, to be had for £20-40 and they are all resharpenable and will last for a couple of hundred years if cared for as they should be. My approach is to simply point out that no one needs to spend the $200 you mention on any type of saw. My Crown 10″ gents saw is 25 years old now and the plate is 3/16″ narrower than the same saw that is still being sold due to my sharpening it. The kerf is as thin or thinner than any saw I have ever seen apart from the ZONA and people can still buy the Crown for almost the same price I did. My main point is that anyone and everyone can sharpen a western saw with a common saw file and make it cut most favourably to create excellent joinery. Not everyone in the world is favoured with a dozen saws to choose from in a given day and so I cater to this by teaching others what I know to make their tools work for them–not everyone in my audience has access to so many choices but it is easy to assume that everyone does. I certainly do not think everyone can afford $200 to buy a single saw. I wonder if these considerations comparing Irtwins and such are necessary or helpful. I simply address sharpening as I see fit to explain the subtle nuances that change sticking and jarring saws, planes and chisels, spokeshaves and so on to take them from being awkward to passing into and through the wood like a swan gliding across a lake.

          1. I agree with Paul. I think the simple point is that there isn’t a burgeoning second hand market in Japanese sharpenable saws. If there was, there’d be a good argument for using those (if you prefer).
            I have a few Japanese saws that I use now and again. I bought them because I was essentially told to by a mixture of youtube and advertising. I simply didn’t need them if I was being honest with myself. I think that in all walks of life I’m going to have to take a lot more consideration over my purchases, large or small. We’re destroying much of the lived planet with rampant consumerism and I’m a part of that problem. It’s surprising just how few woodworkers of the youtube variety are willing to confront this and change the way they present content to us. It feels counterintuitive when teaching a skill that has DIY baked in.

      2. Andrew Churchley

        I love my Japanese saws. Here is what I particularly appreciate about them.

        The stance with which the work is addressed (feet well apart, slightly to one side) is particularly stable. The two-handed grip, for me, is more secure from unwanted deviation. The kerf is thinner than any of my western saws on which I was brought up. The cutting rate is faster. After years of use I have yet to blunt one of these saws. Despite the thin, flexible nature of the blade, the cut is remarkably straight. I think this may arise from the forward cutting point, which stretches the blade relative to the long, straight handle at the rear. The saw is lighter in weight and very handy. It takes up less storage space. As mentioned, it is backless, so the great depth of cut is there already, without having to rotate or re-jig the work, and with no 2x thickness limitation. I was so impressed with my Lidle Japanese saw that I bought an Axminster double-sided Japanese saw. Two saws in one, with coarse and fine teeth. And more space saved. I am no particular friend of Lidle, Axminster or the Japanese, but I know good results when I see them. That’s why I love Japanese saws.

        1. I think that there is obviously something confusing going on as I certainly wasn’t in any way comparing saws twixt Japan’s and England’s versions. I was simply telling people that I think I can help them to get truly great results if we want to find and work with resharpenables coming from western makers. I can do the same for Japanese saws too but I can’t actually find any at reasonable prices or that are resharpenable. The only issues I might address is that a vast % of Japanese saws are throwaway and cannot be sharpened. This is important to me as ~I want to equip those who DO want tp perfect their western-type saws. I don’t need anything faster or thinner and such things as that really, just a good and productive saw I can cut tenons and dovetails with and then rip and crosscut too.

          1. always struggled w/ push saws buckle & wobble, find pull saws cut straighter.
            here’s why: take 2-3 foot piece of chain; push on it, them pull on it. see what happens.

            think about it.
            ps: as often a my pull saws need replace vs
            the time spent filing. ah, time is money or got better things to do with my time. choice is yours, more than one way to skin a cat.

          2. Ah! Shame, never had your struggles. And I am afraid you might have missed the whole point of the blog post. I’ve used said push strokes for 56, nope, 57 years with never a single buckle or wobble. And worked alongside many a dozen others who never had such issues either. I don’t buy into the chain thing or the pushing and pulling bits of string either. A good saw keeps going straight so I won’t give it a second thought, Bill. It usually takes me about four minutes to sharpen a saw and I have some I have been using for over 50 years to date and looks as though they might just go for another couple of hundred if I take care.

    2. I use pull saws only , I work with cedar primarily , i started with an irwin (plastic handle cracked within a month )i replaced it with a bulky yew branch and it has been my best blade

      1. I have both and enjoy using both. I mostly use the pull saws mainly because I’ve found these are less painful on my hands and shoulder. I have a little dovetail saw that i started the process filing back to recut the teeth and am looking forward to the up coming articles so that I can finish it and use. Both styles are nice, I really enjoy restoring old and giving new purpose as well.

  6. I use western resharpenable saws normally. I use from the Spear and Jackson recommended by Paul in his videos to a Veritas dovetail saw that I bought to pamper myself. I use flea market saws, that work as a dream after restoring and resharpening them (my favourite is a 8 in 14 tpi Willuam Hall that I found almost destroyed for half an euro)… and I use a pair of japamese saws too. One of them is a cheap kataba saws bought in Lidl, not resharpenable of course but works very well; the other one is a Magma dozouki saw, wich cuts with a almost invisible kerf, that my wife gave me as Christmas present, and all I can say is that it’s incredible the precision on cut that I can achieve with it.
    All of them work very well and I enjoy when I use them at the workbench, but I think that there is no work that cannot be done with a decent western saw. As with the most part of things, I Really think that limitations comes more from the user than the tools. Meanwhile, I try to enjoy with all the tools I own.

  7. Steve, it appears to me that you and “C” above are missing the main point of Paul’s article.
    Here is what I glean from this article-
    You can get a good second-hand, sharpenable push saw for +/- $20. But, where can I get a good sharpenable $20 pull saw (second hand or otherwise)? I have never seen one, ever, listed anywhere – I would say they are nonexistent at that price.
    And C. Gymer, I don’t see this as an apple to apple thing-
    Most people are not privileged enough to afford a $100, $200, or a $300+ saw, pull or push. $20 for any saw might be a stretch. Read through most of the posts on this subject and you will see many saying they paid next to nothing for a good, used push saw (like the one above for 0.5 Euro! that’s about 75 cents in the states). I have yet to see anyone, anywhere post the same about a sharpenable pull saw. I think that is what is being said.
    Also, you don’t have to be “well-healed” to want sustainable goods. You can be poor and not like the throw-away concept.

    Paul, you must have the patience of Job, to constantly play the same beat on a drum and all the while, some think/hear you are playing the trumpet. Blinded by or ignoring the issue you are stating-

    1. I only use four saws, a Crown gents saw, a Spear and Jackson tenon saw and two Spear and Jackson panel saws, one converted to a rip saw. Thanks to Paul’s sharpening advice these are all I need and cost me about $60 dollars for the lot. Should last longer than my lifetime.

  8. And lets not forget…
    If you really want a pull saw, you could re-cut the teeth on a conventional saw from scratch to have the teeth facing the other way!

    1. I can take the plate out of my Crown saw and use it pull stroke with no issues. of course, there is no reason to as I can use either a pull stroke saw or a push stroke without reworking the teeth at all.

  9. Couldn’t agree more Paul, my western saws sing. I did try a Japanese style saw after getting sucked it to all the hype, I really couldn’t get on with it, my cuts were all over the place. It soon got donated as a saw for my son to use.

  10. I do love my restored backsaws, and have learnt a huge amount from Paul’s sharpening videos. I do have a Japanese saw but rarely use it. However, to add a bit of balance to the argument, it’s worth noting that resharpenable saws need sharpening files. These files go blunt over time and can not be resharpened, so are disposable. Thus, you are paying for some kind of consumable with either western or eastern saws: either a disposable sharpening file or a disposable pull blade. Seems like many people here are saying they can recycle the saw blades into card scrapers. Is there an upcycle option for the triangular files?

    1. I reckon to get at least 30 sharpening from a Bahco saw file. For some that will be a lifetime saw file, for me it is at least two years and maybe another. I don’t altogether know because I don’t date them. And yes, a triangular file can make an excellent detail chisel, a nail set, a burnished for you card scrapers. I usually hear from those who say when they wear out their disposable saws that they repurpose the plate into scrapers. I do question just how many scrapers a person needs. You can get half a dozen from a single saw but the effort it takes is really questionable? I think two to four scrapers is enough for any full time woodworker, no more really. Also, you can make an amazing float from a saw file too. Pretty easy to do.

      1. I’d enjoy understanding how to convert an old file into a float. Tweaking, adapting and repurposing tools is a fun diversion from other project work! I can’t see in my brain exactly how to get from file to float however.

      2. Several of my old punches / drifts were made from old files. I also made a chisel from an old triangular file for a particular job. I have also Made several approx 1/16″ chisels from silver steel.

  11. It’s >99% practice, <1% the gift. My first saws were the cheapest saws at Menards. And I used them to make lots of videos and projects. I also bout a similarly cheap pull saw and at first it was "better." Then I realized the weakness of that pull saw. For the first 5 years of my learning to saw, I never used anything that wasn't the cheapest available, and ones I made and "tweaked." And I did fine.

    Then I saw your video on a Western frame saw, that lead me to some videos on Chinese woodworking, then the Chinese master showed me Chinese frame saw. I then made Chinese frame saws a try and grew with practice and now love it. So now I have a pile of Westerns saw that I rarely use; two pull saws that I use even less. Of course all my Chinese frame saws are made from scratch, even the saw teeth is hand cut from 1095 carbon steel. The Chinese saw is held in an entirely different way, so my body had to be retrained. I have made at least 5 Chinese saws and never felt better about my woodworking.

    I wish it was simple as throwing money, and getting more expensive equipment to allow one to master any skill. I would definitely say anyone can learn and master enough of any type of saw; it just takes practice, a critical eye, and then adjustment. Though, old or young, these days people prefer quick, praise, and done.

  12. Paul
    Are the Japanese style pull saws more designed to the way the Japanese masters worked? Most of the best I have seen are sitting or in a position with their craft to better use a pull stroke. The Western method of working is based on a 30 in+ high workbench or shorter kneeling cutting bench. So if you are working in a traditional Japanese woodworking stance, I would say yes us a pull style of tool (saw or plane). But if you are using a Western style workbench/cutbench, then a Western style is better.
    Also, just like non sharpenable Western saws, I cannot imagine the Japanese craftsmen of 200 years ago having a non sharpenable pull saw. I really cannot imagine the Japanese craftsmen of today not having them either…..

    thank you for your time.

    1. I think this and other things have a bearing, that’s true. Mostly it is cultural I have stood and worked standing at a workbench for 57 years every day 10-12 hours a day six days a week. I have zero back issues as I did for a few years in my 30s when I used machine-only methods for half the time. Working at the bench with hand tools always corrected the problem but it is strange that this was the case don’t you think?
      Additionally, yes, saws were hand sharp[need until very recent decades. I doubt that most smiths making handmade resharpenable saws make as much money as those businesses mass-making a million of them a year. Sad reality. Also, there are many people between the smith and the sales outlets all taking their 100% markups. I found this out when I started to sell my own book through distributors and outlets. You can be charged for every forklift move and cubic foot of volume space. Then there are two or three moves in between before the book arrives. I made almost nothing from my first book but everyone else took a lion’s share. Thankfully I have that back and am rewriting the whole as a second updated edition to parallel my Essential Woodworking Hand Tools book that we now totally control and have cut out all those that really didn’t do that much.

      1. I agree on the cultural level and how the work posture is taught. This changes the tools used to meet that culture/posture.

        But I completely agree with you on the matter of wasting material. Thanks to you and others, I am looking into sustainable tools and not throwing away a tool because it is dull.
        thank you for your insight

  13. As example, my list of second hand and flea market tools: William Hall tenon saw 8 in 14 tpi, 0.5 euro; Joseph Tyzack tenon saw 12 in 13 tpi, 8 euros; Spear and Jackson tenon saw 14 in 10 tpi, 5 euros; Abraham Aston handsaw 26 in 5 tpi, 5 euros. I have been lucky in my “flea markets investigations”, I admit it. My last visit to one I found another S&J TS with 12 tpi for 5 euros, so as part of my poor-man’s-gear-adquisition-syndrome , I bought it and it is waiting to be restored in my shop now. But the thing is : fortunately, I can afford premium saws, but I’ve found that I can do what I want to do with the ones I have. Limitations come from me, no from my tools.

  14. Thanks Paul. The two things you’ve mentioned in the past that have really helped me with a western saw are:

    1. Use a relaxed rake on the first two inches or so.
    2. Using a file on the first inch or so of a freshly sharpened saw so the teeth don’t grab so much on the start of the cut (you have a video that shows this one).

  15. All of my saws (save one) are western and I am not the first owner. All have been restored to working status (not show status) and most are over eighty years old. The plates have been cleaned but still show the working years that these saws have been through. The only shine on them are where the teeth have been sharpened. Some of these saws were cross cuts and not in in the greatest of shape so they were re-sharpened to rip cut for different projects. The one Japanese saw that I own is a thin, flexible plate that I use only for flush cutting plugs and dowels.

  16. I’ve got a Japanese style saw: it’s called a coping saw, it cuts on the pull stroke. I use it to make coped joints on internal corners on skirting boards (base boards to you yanks) as you’re not supposed to mitre them at 45 degrees.

    1. You might try adapting to a push stroke so that swarf from the outcut is on the backside of the board rather than the front. Coping saws are meant to cut both ways according to need and you get double the power on the push stroke. Just try it for a little while, that’s all I ask.

  17. Dr. Christian Rapp

    How I like this fundamentalist topics! Nearly as good when I, living in the Land where Stihl chainsaws are produced, am coming along with my Husqvarna.

    Folks, let us not debate about Western or Japanese but let us get in every detail how to get the most out of every Western style saw! From tuning, the Eclispe Sawset to teeth geometry etc.

    Paul, give us the good stuff. We are ready. Folks, buy your files quickly as price will rise soon 😉

  18. michael michalofsky

    i thought the purpose of the pull saw was to make a thinner cut
    which it does
    a push cut saw cannot match the thin cut
    yes all the other pros and cons are probably correct and
    i never sharpened a saw in my life
    not even my table saw blade
    thanks michael

    1. I just wrote a comment that almost reached blog size regarding the citing of thinness of keerf etc. Just tell me why thinness of kerf is so critical to a woodworker. I think that my work and those that work alongside me is exemplary of the very finest woodwork and joinery yet the saws we use, western versions I should add, are just marginally thicker than the Japanese saws. Is there something I am missing here?

      1. Also, the pull stroke saws I have used, the kerf is too thin for a coping saw blade to fit into. I, like you, don’t understand the need for a super thin kerf

    2. I am an instrument maker and use push saws only. It all depends on how the teeth are set.
      My fretting saw has (almost) no set en makes 0.53 mm cuts.
      For any other use I doubt one needs a saw as fine a that: you always cut in the waste part anyway. I could cut very decent dovetails with about any saw. I saw tenons with a 600mm ECE framesaw… so does Paul with his home made frame saw.
      The blades of Japanese saws may be thinner (sometimes) but the width of the kerf is what counts. Most however are not!
      And with the saw dust coming out your way , it’s harder te see the line you are cutting to. The only saw I use on the pull stroke is my coping saw.

  19. mario augusto barroso pereira

    aqui no Brasil… há muito trabalho de marketing nas redes sociais divulgando marcas e produtos que, para nós, sai muitíssimo caro em relação aos benefícios de um “produto descartável”. Isso não faz muito sentido. Reconheço a qualidade des muitos destes equipamentos e marcas. Entretanto, o trabalho de divulgação acaba por focar na vaidade, consumismo, posse de algo icônico. Prefiro buscar ferramentas antigas e restaurá-las para meu uso.

  20. Bjørn Olav Monsen

    There is no problem buying a hand sharpen saw from Japan, its just not the most common type to find outside of Japan as the far majority of people buying tools are not able to sharpen anything. My finest Japanese saw has a kerf og 0,2mm, I think you would strugle to get that on a Western saw. If you want a quality Japanese saw that will last you a life time, no problem but you vant buy at at coscos

    1. I am not actually sure if anyone has any problem with buying and using a Japanese saw, BJØRN. On a global scale, you don’t say where exactly it is that you live but it sounds as though you are saying everyone anywhere can access a good resharpenable Japanese saw and with a fineness index of 0.2mm. I am surprised that the kerf size is cited by so many as if it is of immense significance because I am trying quite hard to think of a situation where I would actually need a kerf that thin. I wouldn’t imagine very many people looking for a kerf of this level of smallness. Now I just checked and a regular Zona (western saw) USA saw I own is 0.22mm, so not too far off your version I think. Perhaps you can clarify what cutting needs that level of fineness and tell us as to the durability, sharpenability, and so on with such thinness. Now in fairness let’s remember the issue is not to be in any way opposed to either Japanese or western saws but for me to say I want to and am willing to simply help everyone anywhere in the world to achieve an excellent outcome when and if you know how to file, set and refine the sharpening of a basic western saw. Nothing more than that. Anyone enjoying Japanese pull stroke saws is absolutely fine with me.

  21. Wow Paul,

    This blog got a lot of traction! I can’t resist my own comments on “Japanese” saws i.e. I don’t think they are really Japanese.

    Living in Japan from 2005-2010 I enjoyed frequenting the 100 yen store (like an American 1$ Store), the local DIY stores, and the high end tool stores. AFAIK you could only get “Japanese” non resharpen-able saws at the dollar store and made in China usually.

    The regular Japanese style pull saws – some with a back others without were in the ordinary hardware store and right below them were the beautiful practical fine files to sharpen them. So my impression is that disposable saws are a western idea.

    Others have mentioned expensive Japanese woodworking tools and like some of the fancy high end western brands they can set you back a lot and are only available from specialty tool shops in Japan. Beautiful but I’d be afraid to use them as an amateur.

    Locally I can only buy used reusable saws and after Paul’s distilled sharpening lessons that transformed my work. It took a lot to find files but with trial and error I was able to get a handful that will last my lifetime.

    I have learned to sharpen even induction hardened teeth. I have one such saw picked up in the ditch somewhere with a straight blade and ugly plastic handle. I sharpen it with a diamond triangle file and use it when working on questionable material that may contain steel.

    Finally I’m sensitive enough now that sharpening my Nth hand used and new western saws that I’m starting to sharpen from both sides of the saw. The burr raised by sharpening in one direction pulls the cut in that direction. I’d like to hear more about this topic as perhaps a refined technique on sharpening.

    1. I had developed a senstivity to that issue myself. I have taken to running a stone done the side of the teeth to nock the burr done.

  22. I am new to woodworking, and even more yousing hand tools, well actually for the past two years im using just hand tools (95% of the time). My firs experience with hand saw was Ryuba: i enjoyed using it, teached my self how to use it correctly, build my firs English joinery bench cutting and dimensioning using only the Ryuba and my no 5 and no. 4 planes, but with the time i have understood that it didn’t suit for all the joinery types, cuts and even all the type of trees i added a Duzuki ( for fine joinery with a rigid back) it cut finean very clean ( like) but still it behaves like the Ryuba, maybe it was my technique… And i was intimidating by using western saw because of their prices…( For the good saws) , and watching the wrong YouTube channels).. until i saw Rex Krueger YouTube channel and in one of his videos he showed how to make an affordable Tenon saw but doesn’t preformed good to a good one that can cut like the high hand saws, Rex said in the video to watch Paul Sellers videos on how to sharpen, geometry and after watching Paul videos i bought A Spear and Jackson , corrected the setting, and the geometry of the teeth and made a better handle….after the first cut i felt in love and the rest is history: bought a cross cut saw, bought in a fly market a rip saw Distton 23 ( from the 40s’) restore it, and bout an old Tomas Flinn dovetail saw ( i think befor ww2). It doesn’t mean that I won’t use my Japanese saw, i will, but there are tasks that the western saw is shining over the Japanese. But i can say that for my opinion uf you know how to cut with a pull saw you will know how to cut with a push saw i am using the same technique..the geometry of the teeth for riping and cross cutting are basically the same in both methods woodworkers in the west and in the east are using with those tools for centuries ( if not thousands of years) and
    they all a creating and accomplished the tasks they were supposed to do. So which one is better….i think the one that you mostly feel comfortable with

  23. I;ve stayed with my western saws. I’ve learned to sharpen and set them. I set them when they need set with a punch. I ruined a few saws early on but stayed with it and learned how to use them. I own maybe 12 15 saws, practiced on them all and have my favorites. All from habitat humanity stores or garage sales. I have disston saws atkins saws kromedge saws nicholson saws. The more you practice using them and maintaining them, the more fun you’ll have using them. That’s why I own so many saws. Soon, I’ll give my least favorites away and keep my favorites because a lot of practice has allowed me a certain degree of mastery over saws and sawing. I built a lee neilson style saw vice, like a box, the saw fits into. A b & d workmate will also hold a saw to work on sharpening.

  24. Dozukis are backed, just as western backed saws are. My experience with the unbacked Japanese saws is that all in all I prefer the western model. Partly that is simply because I am used to the western model, and partly because I find Japanese saws, other than the dozuki, to be nearly as vulnerable to kinking as unbacked western cross-cut, panel, and rip saws. They aren’t quite as liable because the “push” stroke has less friction riding on the backs of the teeth, but where there’s friction, there’s a way to kink a saw blade. The other thing I like is that western saws, properly, sharpened, set, and used, clear the saw dust from the line as you cut. This is not an issue if the cut is on a board held in a vise, but on a saw bench, its a nice little feature, and reduces the need to blow the line clear as you cut. Ripping a board on a saw horse with a pull stroke pulls the dust up onto the surface of the board being cut.

    1. I’m a little confused by the comment, “I find Japanese saws, other than the dozuki, to be nearly as vulnerable to kinking as unbacked western cross-cut, panel and rip saws.” In my 57 years of daily woodworking fulltime at the bench and on site I have never even come close to kinking any western hand saw. You give the impression that this is indeed a common occurrence when in reality it is an extremely rare and scarce thing to witness anywhere and even in the most amateur of realms. Your comment also infers that Japanese saws are less likely to kink than western saws (that in my experience don’t kink) when in reality one of the often-cited criticisms by regular users of Japanese saws (which are actually mostly China-made these days) is that Japanese saws, because of their thinness, tend to kink on the return or push stroke that reverses the saw ready for the next cut. I am saying this here because I don’t want anyone out there to think what you are saying is factual and that western handsaws readily bend or worse still, kink. They don’t.

  25. dear paul,
    I am wondering if I should maybe upgrade to a digital read out for my 2 handsaws?
    doesn’t seem to matter if I use eastern or western, they all seem to cut slightly off axis… 🙂
    merry xmas to you and all,

    1. Yup! I remember those days when the men I worked with could crosscut any section of wood dead on ninety in both directions and I couldn’t do it with lines placed by square. . . Then George showed me the trick!

      1. What is the trick? I think the comment about western saws kinking may be describing when the handsaw warping out because of being not sharp or in my case, not having enough set. I think. Just a guess. I wonder what opinion on these things a Japanese woodworker would have?

        1. the ‘trick’ is to look at the reflection of the wood in the saw. try it: with a bit of practice it’s possible to cut 45 degree mitres by eye as well as square cuts

  26. I had heard so much about Japanese saw and how great they are, I purchased 3 of them. Frankly, I wish I had my money back. My first complaint is for sure the lack of sharpening ability. I do not like the idea of a ‘throw away’ tool. We throw to much away now, I don’t need to add to that. I am using some saws that are over 100 years old and they will serve my grandchildren if the are interested. That is enough to stop me from ever buying another Japanese saw. Second is they brag about a thinner kurf. If you have so little wood for your project that a wide kurf is going to stop it, you should have bought another inch of wood. Third, I can cut a given piece of wood with my western saw much faster than the oriental ones. I realize some people use them and I am happy for them. Let us all use the kind of saw we like. I will stay with my western saws thank you. I am not saying western is better than eastern, but I do feel like western fits me better.

  27. Many years ago whilst working in the Ambulance service Ifound out that one if my Co workers was an apprenticed trained saw doctor. I asked him if he would sharpen a couple of zaws for me. He readily agreed to do this for the princely sum of £1 each. What are you going to cut? Are you ripping or cross cutting he asked. When they came back the following week I used them on a job at home. They had gone from a Ford to Rolls Royce. He did say anyone could learn to do this but for a pound!

  28. tayler whitehead

    to all the detractors in the comments here. there is nothing sadder than listening to people justifying their beliefs and opinions, even if it has nothing to do with the topic of conversation. if your fragile ego cannot handle the idea that buying disposable saws is not good for the planet, or that there are other opinions and views, then you need to take a look at yourself. i guess so much of this has been started by youtube “experts” who have learnt by watching other youtube “experts”, who have never earned their living by actually making and selling a product and so often openly display their lack of real knowledge. personally i feel japanese saws are just a fad, like having the latest nike shoes. i am not saying they cannot do the job, i am saying that people give them importance for the wrong reason.

  29. In my opinion they both have pros and cons. I tend to prefer pull saws for finer work, I feel it gives me more control to pull the saw and push against the workpiece. I also like the direction of the handle. With push saw I am more dependant on backing piece for stopping the workpiece from sliding away. But it depends on the workpiece and grip I can get on it.

  30. I hurt my right shoulder two years ago and was forced to use my left for most, if not all my projects. Strangely enough I could plane with my left hand but sawing was something that did not work – not even close. So I purchased a couple of relatively inexpensive Japanese saws that could be used with both hand and that did work. At 72 years old I found using them clumsy at first but later got the hang of it. But, even when I got good I found them terribly slow for any larger cuts.

    Recently I bought a 300 mm Ryoba designed for the work site and the work shop and it is a monster, cuts amazingly fast and easy to use and all for 40 Euro which included the postage. I am now 74 and will use by new Ryoba for the larger cuts but have returned to my Western saws for the fine work. It it time to re-watch Paul’s sharpening videos.

  31. I use both types depending on the task: a panel saw for anything bigger than 2×4, and a tenon saw for tenons or similar cuts at the bench. I find that japanese saws are useful in tricky situations (I often work on site doing finishing jobs and bespoke work) and they’re very versatile in positions where a ‘western’ saw would be hard to use – especially flush cuts, where I use a pull saw with a flexible blade and no set to the teeth

    I’m not ‘wedded’ to one or the other and it can sometimes feel like a ‘holy war’ but it’s about the right tool for the job

    1. Totally agree, Richard. I think people should just enjoy their preferences. The blog post was not about choosing one over the other either though, just about how to finesse resharpenable saws which comprise most western saws and only a very few Asian saws. I’m afraid this got hijacked by proponents for using Japanese saws that’s all.

      1. I wish my ‘shop’ japanese ryoba (a Gyokucho, which apparently is widely used in Japan) was resharpenable on both sides. the rip side doesn’t have ‘hardpoint’ teeth and can be sharpened with a thin diamond file like an EZ-Lap. it’s a really nice saw that’s a pleasure to use

        the crosscut side is ‘hardpoint’, however, has 12 tpi and I’ve tried to sharpen similar saws with a 1000-grit diamond stone on the outside of the teeth, which works after a fashion. the problem arises when it comes to getting the very small burr off the part of the teeth that turns inwards. the teeth are simply too small to allow anything into the notch. that problem solves itself with a western crosscut saw, of course – the wood removes any burr. I’ll continue experimenting

        I never touch the Irwin/Bahco (western-made) pull saws: my opinion on their quality isn’t fit to print

        on site I use a cheap ‘Takagi’ (Japanese) brand ryoba which has a similar plastic handle but a far superior quality. they cost about the same (£17 or so) and I find they last about a year before they become dull and need to be replaced. I don’t throw the old ones away because occasionally I need to cut something like cementboard which kills saws

        incidentally, I’ve sometimes had conversations with other woodworkers on site because I tend to use hand saws. they say that an electric chop saw cuts faster – which it does – but they soon notice that they spend a lot of time going back and forth to it with bits of timber while I stay in the same place with a trestle or two and couple of quick clamps. oh well…

  32. I freely admit I’ve never tried a pull saw so I won’t knock them. I can get all I want from a push saw. There are several issues I had to overcome but they simply needed practice. Sharpening simply needs to be learned and done. The “starting a saw” difficulty as a beginner was helped partly with a relaxed rake toe but the revelation for me was practicing taking the weight of the saw initially. I practiced ‘fresh air’ cuts lowering until I kissed the wood. Soon when you address the wood it becomes natural. (It also helps avoid those nibbly strokes I dislike and encourages making the cut with decent strokes. Even the best golfers like.a practice swing.) Flexing in the cut was mostly a power issue for me, particularly when resawing – ease up. Kinking? Sounds like an abusive relationship with the saw.. Plate thickness? I’m loathed to comment because I don’t even notice it as a thing. But as I’m one of those without ‘power’ (although I don’t begrudge power for those wanting it) I’m frequently wielding 3 & 4 tpi saws so I’ll take out as much wood as I need. I’ve got Sorbys, S&Is, Disstons, Crowns, Bowdons, etc and manage just fine.
    Sawing for me is simply the most effective way of sizing wood parts so I’ll just push on.
    (Admittedly, another factor for me was simply using my father’s tools and the unintended benefit of bypassing the dementia to engage with him on that shared felling of tools we both wielded – he pushed, I push)
    So the point remains. You can do all you want with tools readily available, in plentiful supply and cheaply just by practicing your craft.
    Paul’s blog is simply a reminder you don’t need to and that the barriers to success may be in other skills rather than increasing your spend or gazing over at that green green grass..
    Don’t shoot the messenger.
    But if making requires you to pull then pull.

  33. Thanks Paul, I look forward to more blog posts on saw sharpening etc.

    I started off using Japanese pull saws, and I still have a few. However, I’ve slowly trained myself to use western style saws and I notice it’s easier to cut with them. Like you, I hated the disposable nature of pull saws (that are readily available, anyway).

    Love your work, Paul! You’re a real inspiration and a great teacher!

  34. I use push saws, though with only modest proficiency, and generally prefer them to the Japanese pull saws I have. I have what is probably a pretty nice dozuki which I believe to be sharpenable. (I do not necessarily want to buy Japanese files and learn to sharpen a Japanese saw, but maybe someday.) I do not know the brand since it is all in Japanese. And I have a Suizan ryoba (the double sided saw). That is one of those saws probably made for westerners that some comments disparage, but I have seen people do good work with them I have just a few thoughts. First, a few negatives. First, I find pull saws very hard on my somewhat arthritic hands. Push saws are no problem at all. That is a pretty good reason to prefer push saws.
    Second, when I first got my ryoba, I tried cross cutting a piece of two inch thick white oak. Disaster. It cut very slowly and the cut was terrible. I gave up and pulled out my handsaw. In fairness, I have seen references to Japanese saws designed for hardwoods, so maybe this one was just designed for softwoods? I believe most Japanese woodworking is softwoods, though I could be wrong. Maybe with practice I would do better. Maybe the Suizan saw is not a very good saw, though again, I have seen people online using them to do nice work. Now a few positives. First, I have found my suizan ryoba to be very good for ripping narrow pieces from thin stock, say 3mm or so. And I found my dozuki to be very good for cross cutting that very thin stock. Paul at some point recommended a little craft saw for cross cutting thin stock, I think it is called a zona, but I like the dozuki better. However, that might have more to do with the fine teeth than with the fact that it is a pull saw. Still, that is how I use it.

  35. Bought a traditional. Western type dovetail saw from ebay. Its a pretty little thing 10″ long. Had it for a couple of years, it needs a sharpen.
    Just watched all of Paul’s videos on the subject, ordered a saw file from Axminster tools and ready to give it ago. Like Paul I don’t care for throw away anything and certainly not tools.
    My little dovetail saw has the possibility of being here years after I have gone! Don’t want to go for a while yet though.

  36. One post and sixth-right comments, all dedicated to the fetishism of one type of tool over another. Saws are tools to cut wood, there is no moral or spiritual aspect to them. Western saws may or may not last longer, but they use more material, so the trade-off is negligible ecologically. Use the ones you prefer, that do what they’re supposed to do and leave it at that.

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.