A Beginners Guide to Japanese Saws


In the last few decades, Japanese handsaws have become massively popular woodworkers in the rest of the world. In fact, you may have been living under a rock if you have not heard of them. Please review your tenancy agreement if this is the case.

At Timbecon, we think Japanese saws are the bee’s knees. In a recent informal poll, Timbecon employees expressed an almost unanimous preference for them over their Western counterparts (with the exceptions remaining diplomatically neutral).

But what makes Japanese saws so good?

Japanese Saws: The Basics

The first thing you’ll notice is that Japanese saws are simply a different shape. The handles are long and straight. But this most obvious difference from Western saws is a result of a more fundamental design feature: Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke, not the push stroke.

This pull-cut action is the key feature that underpins the popularity of Japanese saws.

When a push-saw begins to cut, the blade is compressed against the workpiece. It therefore has a risk of bending and buckling under this compression. To compensate, the blade must be thickened and/or reinforced with a heavy spine or back.

By contrast, when a pull-saw begins to cut, the blade is being stretched between the user’s hand and the workpiece. It therefore has a tendency to straighten – in the same way as pulling a piece of string taut will make it straight. The blade does not need to resist compressive forces and so it can be made much thinner.

A thinner blade has a couple of advantages over a thicker blade. Firstly, it simply removes less wood when it cuts. In technical jargon, it has a thinner kerf. Less effort is needed, which is important when you’ve got a lot of cuts to make. Secondly, the overall saw is lighter. Some of the Mitsukawa saws we stock are frighteningly light by Western standards – but they are very, very effective.

Three Main Types

There are plenty of Japanese saws designed for specialty purposes, but there are three main kinds of standard blade:


Dozuki: These are very fine blades that are supported by lightweight backs. Perfect for delicate joinery and trimming operations. They are usually around 0.3mm thick.

Kataba: Unsupported blades that are standardly around 0.6mm thick. Great for deeper cuts where the blade will be buried in the work.

Ryoba: the iconic double-edged blade. These are most often filed with a rip-tooth pattern on one edge and a crosscut pattern on the other. They’re perfect for switching between ripping the cheeks and cutting the shoulders of a tenon without swapping saws.

Replace or Resharpen?

Sharpening any saw, especially Japanese cross cut saws, is a fiddly business. Luckily you can buy disposable saws in both western and Japanese styles. However, Western-style disposable saws must be thrown away entirely, whereas the Japanese style saws retain the handles to which a new blade can be fitted. We’d like to think that the old blade will be recycled – but the plastic handles of disposable Western saws will not be so lucky.

Resharpenable Japanese saws are of course available. They tend to be more expensive as they’re almost completely forged by hand, but they offer a whole new level of refinement. See for example the Mitsukawa saws we stock.

As for how to sharpen your Japanese saw - you’ll want to seek out some professional assistance there. Our friendly staff can help you find a trusted supplier to sharpen your blade and make sure they’re in top working condition.

A Final Word on Japanese Saws

Something we hear periodically from Australian woodworkers is a certain scepticism that Japanese saws will perform well in Aussie hardwoods. After all, most woodwork in Japan is in softwoods and relatively soft hardwoods. Their tools must be optimised for those conditions, and therefore not suitable for ours. Right?

On the contrary. We can vouch for the fact that Japanese saws are happy and deadly effective in Aussie hardwoods, all the way up to Gidgee. If you haven’t tried one yet, we do recommend giving it a crack. There’s a slight learning curve if you’re accustomed to push saws, but we can almost guarantee you’ll come away with a smile on your face.

Shop Japanese Saws Now!