I would never call myself a woodworking purist. I have never flattened a broad plank of white oak with a scrub plane or hand cut a chest full of dovetails. That’s what power tools and jigs are for! But every once in a while I marvel at the efficiency of a beautifully designed hand tool. If I were a millionaire, I might just abandon my power tools and head off to the woods with some of these Japanese handsaws in my tool chest.There are a number of differences between Japanese and Western (European and American) style saws. First, Japanese saws have teeth oriented to cut on the pull stroke. Second, the handle is long like a tennis racquet, as opposed to a pistol grip typical of Western models. Lastly, Japanese saws have a super-thin kerf. In my opinion, all of these factors give Japanese saws superior performance. The pulling action ensures the blade remains taut when starting a cut. The super-thin blade is really light, and the angle of the handle makes it easy to control the pressure of the blade.There are many different sizes and types of Japanese saw, and I have found two that I turn to time and again; the Ryoba and the mini-Dozuki. The Ryoba is larger, and has teeth on both edges of the blade; coarse teeth for ripping and fine teeth for crosscutting. The length of the blade makes for long pull strokes and therefore fast cutting — cross cut a 2 x 4 in 30 seconds! The mini-Dozuki (there is a larger, less nimble full-sized Dozuki as well) has a small sharp hook at the end of the blade for cutting into the center of a panel of wood. It also has a stiffening rib running 3/4 the length of the blade which make it excel at fine joinery like dovetails.
What I like most is that they don’t require a cord. I use them all the time around the shop and I tuck them in a tool bag whenever I go for an on-site installation. The thin kerf means they make a negligible amount of dust, and accurate cuts. The saws come with a comfortable, bamboo wrapped wood handle; the Ryoba only costs $45.00 and the mini Dozuki is less than $31.00. To make a great thing even better, replacement blades are available when the blades get dull or nicked.
Ryoba. Around the shop, the Ryoba is perfect for finishing stopped cuts on the table saw. I drop the ripping side of the saw into the table saw kerf and finish the cut to the line. The handle and pulling motion make it easy to hold the saw to one side of the wider table saw kerf leaving just a little cleanup with a chisel.
Then, I flip the saw over and crosscut the rest of the waste out. The cutting is fast and accurate. I don’t have to get out my jigsaw or fish for extension cords. Heck, I don’t even have to put on my ear protection. Awesome!
The flexible blade on the Ryoba makes it ideal for trimming dowels or through tenons. I hold the blade flush with two fingers and gently bend the handle away from my piece. Three or four short strokes and the dowel is lopped off clean.
I do a lot of one-of-a-kind furniture where setting up a jig on a power saw takes too long. For tenons, I grab the mini-Dozuki and trim them lengthwise with a couple quick pulls, even in hard woods like maple.
With two more quick pulls, I finish the tenon. I use the shoulder to guide the blade for the quickest, safest tenon cutting around. No whirring blades, jigs, or ear protection, just pure woodworking performance distilled down to a bamboo handle and a thin blade. I’m not ready to drop all of my power tools, but these saws connect me back to the purity of silent woodworking.
Photos By Author
Takuma 240 mm Ryoba Saw
Mini Dozuki Panel Saw