Woodworking saw types – a primer
There are two major classes of saws: Japanese and western saws. As the name suggest Japanese saws originate in Japan and wester saws in ‘the west’, namely Britain and north America.
Japanese saws cut on the pull stroke, unlike most western saws that cut on the push stroke. Cutting on the pull stroke tends to make it easier for the beginner woodworker to master sawing. Also, due to their thinner blades, Japanese saws leave a narrower kerf (cut width).
There are three main types of Japanese saws:
The Japanese equivalent of a backsaw and with very fine teeth. These characteristics make them ideal for fine work such as dovetails and other joinery.
Dozuki saws are a type of backsaw. The Japanese term means “attached trunk”, thus a saw with a stiffening strip attached, i.e., a backsaw. The tool of choice for making dovetails, mortise and tenon and any other fine joinery.
Multi-purpose saw with two cutting edges, one for cross-cut and one for rip cut. This makes them very convenient as you do not have to change saws when cutting workpieces to length and width.
Ryoba are multi-purpose saws with two cutting edges which means you get two saws in one. The Japanese term indeed means ‘double blade’. Ryobas typically have trapezoidal teeth for cross cuts on one side and triangular teeth for rip cuts on the other. The teeth are fine enough for very precise cutting—the next-best thing to a dozuki saw for joinery work.
A handsaw with only one row of teeth filled to rip or cross cutting, and a wide blade to help keep the saw on track when doing long cuts.
Kataba are precision saws without back and with teeth on one side only. Used for cutting to length, deep cuts, where a Ryoba double-sided design would not work as well. Thanks to the flexible blade also ideal for working in hard-to-reach places.
Small, specialist backsaws for dovetails. Dovetail saws have a high number of teeth per inch (15-40 T.P.I.) with teeth sharpened in a rip tooth pattern and minimal set to leave a narrow kerf. This rip tooth pattern also performs well in cross-cutting operations in dovetail-making.
Used for cutting tenons for mortise and tenon joinery, tenon saws typically come in either rip and crosscut teeth filing. The teeth pitch tends to be relatively fine (although coarser than dovetail saws) at 13 TPI to ensure a balance between finesse and speed of cut.
Handsaws have been around for thousands of years. Today, both rip and crosscut, re-sharpenable handsaws are essential items in the modern woodworker’s toolbox.