i saw that

[estimated reading time 21 minutes]

this isn’t just something beginners ask. but it’s something every beginner asks. so i’m starting woodworking — what saws do i need? well, the simple answer to that is actually incredibly controversial. but here’s mine. and it really is only the beginning of the discussion but it’s a good place to start. you need two. get a rough saw and a joinery backsaw. specifically, buy a silky gomboy and a (preferably folding) dozuki with a replaceable blade. in practice, these are the two saws i tell people to get when they’re just starting to think seriously about taking up the craft. if they never go beyond that first stage, they’ll serve them well in life — especially the gomboy as it’s an awesome tool to take camping or for home repairs and simple projects. if they go beyond that, these are two saws i use literally every time i build a project. ok, sometimes i do all my roughing with machines. but if i’m going to use handsaws, this is where all the cuts start. so it’s an excellent investment either way. just so you don’t have to go digging, here they are. (note, i don’t get commission from purchases made here so you can click without worry and buy from anywhere you like and know it’s not helping or hurting me — i do this because i’m a teacher. writing articles isn’t my job. unless it’s hard to understand or, as is sometimes the case, not in english, i always try to link to the manufacturer’s site rather than a store so you don’t feel pressure to buy from a particular location — these tools are available everywhere so shop around and get a good deal, free shipping, whatever. yes, you can buy from amazon. but realistically if there’s a local store you can support i strongly suggest you do that instead because… well, if you don’t, there won’t be a local store much longer.)

  • [silky gomboy]
  • [suizan dozuki]

that seems like the end of the article — my shortest woodworking post ever. but there’s a lot more to be said about it. actually, i haven’t even said anything yet. you already knew what my recommendations would be for an absolute beginner cause i’ve said it a thousand times before, many of them on this site.

but what if you want to build a larger stable of saws. where do you go from there? or what if you know you want to dive into the craft and you’re not just dipping your toe in the water? is this really still the best place to start? well, perhaps. but let’s take a deeper look and i’ll start with some basic questions to guide the ideas.

eastern or western?

the first question you want to ask yourself is which family of saws you want to buy into. and it’s really not quite as simple as it first appears. the obvious answer, if you haven’t wandered around the youtube community hearing ridiculous opinions for a while or dived into online forums and watched the strikingly mindless debate about what is better, is that you should get a western saw if you live in the west or want to follow the western tradition and an eastern saw if you live in the east or similarly enjoy eastern things. that’s a bad way to make the decision, though. there is, however, a much easier way.

there is a tradeoff between western and eastern saws.

western saws are faster and have more comfortable handles for most people but cut more roughly and are heavier, more expensive and cumbersome or expensive to sharpen. eastern saws are slower but cut far more finely, are lighter, cheaper and generally (if you’re paying attention) have replaceable blades that you’ll never need to sharpen and will feel like they last forever anyway. western saws cut wider kerfs while eastern saws have thin blades that can more easily bend out of shape. while both types of saws are strong, western saws are generally more rugged with the exception of the very-rough japanese bush saws (which i’ll talk about in a minute), though i don’t think this one really becomes a consideration unless you’re actually a barbarian and live in the forest without a place to keep your tools safe between uses. really the tradeoff comes down to two things, though — speed and precision. a japanese saw will cut a more precise line more slowly while a western saw will cut a rougher line more quickly. yes, there are ways to mitigate either but this is for equivalent saws, not “all japanese saws are more accurate” — a 200mm dozuki will cut a finer, more precise cut than a 200mm dovetail saw given the same level of expertise and take maybe 30-40% longer to do it. the choice is up to you.

the other thing you might want to think about is body mechanics. actually, one other thing. before we go on, i’m using the words “eastern” and “japanese” interchangeably here. this doesn’t mean all eastern saws are japanese but all “eastern” saws are now made in the japanese style. they weren’t always made this way but anything in the twenty years (and that’s all that really matters in this case because nobody’s going to have old stock lying around longer than that for you to buy) will, whether it’s made in china, korea, vietnam or actually in japan — these are all japanese-style saws and generally get called by their japanese-language names. body mechanics, though, are important. eastern saws work on the pull-stroke while you push western saws. what this means is that, while western saws may feel more comfortable, japanese saws require less strength and energy (they’re also often used with two hands, though i rarely actually do that and most serious practitioners learn a one-handed grip over time) and put less stress on the body. that’s not a recommendation one way or the other, just something to help you make a decision.

there’s no right or wrong answer. both styles of saw will let you cut the wood and you’ll get the same result. a western saw will necessitate more cleanup but leave you more time to do it because it works more quickly. which works for your hands, your body and your workflow is a personal choice. my recommendation in general is that if you don’t know which you want you should start with eastern saws. they’re cheaper, easier to learn to use and physically less demanding so you’ll be less exhausted after each cut. if you have a strong preference in either direction, though, go with that. if you want to try them out, perhaps there’s a local event near you. but if you’re going to try for the purpose of making a decision of eastern or western, don’t just try one or the other and see if you like it. you’ll be shocked. you’ll like both. so make sure you give both a shot before deciding if experience is your guide.

here’s a cheap way to get some experience with both, though. go to your local big-box store and get a $10 construction saw — maybe a bahco because they’re good quality and cheap. and get a silky gomboy. your total cost will be pretty low and honestly that silky is the most versatile saw i’ve ever used — if you never go out in the forest or leave the city, it’s not nearly as useful for general non-woodworking life but i suspect if you’re thinking about woodworking you like outdoor life and you’ll find excellent uses for it in the next few decades — it doesn’t wear out its usefulness and if you wear out the blade that’s a really cheap replacement. now buy a couple of boards of construction lumber. if you’re in most of the world, a couple of 2m lengths of 50x100mm. if you’re in america, 6-8’ 2×4”s. and a couple of cheap clamps. clamp the board hanging off the end of your workbench of choice (picnic table works — so does dining table but i suspect there’s someone in your life who’ll be pissed if you cut through the wood and hit the table so make sure it’s actually hanging off the end far enough!). now cut off a piece a few centimeters long. do it again. keep doing it until you’ve chopped that first board into segments about the size of packs of playing cards (50x100x30mm) — you’ll make about fifty cuts. it will take some time. put the tools away. the next day (or whenever but wait at least a day or two) do the same with the other saw. which do you prefer? which makes you feel happier? that’s your answer. total investment? not much. total sawdust? tons. now you know.

what about both?

you can definitely go with both types of saws. there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. but i wouldn’t start there. why? because they have totally different working strategies and body mechanics. you’re trying to learn not only a mental skill but physical movement. you’re training your body like learning to play a sport or musical instrument. this takes practice. if you try to learn two different styles at once, it’s more like simultaneously trying to improve your skills in soccer and tennis or piano and trombone. that’s not necessarily a bad idea — and once you have the basics this might actually be an excellent plan of attack and it’s what i did. but i would suggest starting with one and making sure you have a firm grounding in it before even attempting to learn what i call “basic mastery skills” of the other. your body and mind will probably reward your commitment at the beginning and you won’t be dividing your practice — if you’re anything like most hobbyist woodworkers, you’ll already have little enough time in the shop and you won’t want to dilute that more by learning two different styles of cutting the wood.

the other argument against this multidisciplinary approach is simply cost. if you want to learn both styles of sawing, you’ll need both styles of saws. so you’ll have to buy a set of each and swap between them. saws aren’t generally treated like library books, sadly enough. you’ll need your own — even medieval craftspeople tended to have their own collections of saws and that’s in collaborative shops where they were working with others. this is where the standardized notion of the locking toolchest came from — you didn’t want someone to touch your saws. they got dull, bent, broken and worn-out with use. and nobody’s nearly as careful as you are with something you take pride in. these things aren’t delicate like ceramic dishes. but they’re not hard to break if you’re not careful. invest wisely. the cost isn’t trivial — as you’ll soon discover if you haven’t looked at the prices for good-quality saws yet.

does my bench determine my saw choice?

in a word, no. while there are many different styles of western workbenches, most used in the last five-hundred years are about a meter high and deep and twice as wide. this is approximate. japanese workbenches were far more varied and most woodworkers had several at different heights and widths ranging from nearly-on-the-floor to well-over-a-meter. it reflected a different approach to using body energy to saw and chisel. this might lead you to believe that japanese saws are best used on a japanese workbench. that’s not true — actually, the fact that people saw this is misleading. a japanese saw is actually a hybrid of many old forms and these forms coalesced into a single pattern of use that was specifically designed to work on benches of varying heights and dimensions.

while western craftspeople worked nearly exclusively in workshops, japanese joiners and cabinetmakers often had to shift locations and work onsite. transportation of finished products was far less expected and much was done on-location and in-realtime. so the notion that a japanese saw should be used on the one western-perspective-popular low bench you see in bad samurai movies and that’s its native environment is as silly as saying nobody in tokyo eats anything but rice noodles, everyone in paris exists on a diet of baguettes and the entire state of texas runs on steak without exception. generalizations are present in all aspects of life. they’re usually unhelpful. this one isn’t even true.

yes, there are some workholding considerations when using western or eastern saws but there is absolutely nothing you can’t do if you have a workbench with a serious vise (face or end is totally fine) and some holes for dogs inline with and perpendicular to the force of the vise. if you don’t have this, clamps and extra boards for bracing will get you through even the most complex of sawing tasks. and a couple of sawbenches are brilliant for some of the heavier milling operations regardless of the east-west question. so no. your workbench doesn’t make this decision for you any more than living in new york tells you you have to buy a ford and can’t contemplate a nissan.

do i really need a bushcraft/green/rough saw?

well, no. but you should have one.

if you’re a woodworker, you like wood and trees. this might be obvious but i think it bears repeating. you like wood and trees, right? i mean, if you didn’t, you’d probably be working in metal or ceramics or something. maybe fixing cars or building robots. not that people who do those things don’t love trees or even wood. or that there’s no crossover. but we have a passion for our material. that means you probably enjoy being out in nature.

if you like spending time in nature, as time goes on, you’ll probably enjoy doing things with greenwood. trees. cutting them down, turning them into rough objects. making shelters — especially if you have kids cause treehouse or small-cabin construction is, as far as i’m concerned, a necessary feature of a complete childhood. every child wants to build things. and they want to build things with their parents. if their parents are woodworkers, this should be even more possible and an obvious family outing on a regular basis.

if you take your dozuki to the woods, you’ll probably regret it. it has fine, thin teeth and you’ll break them. and it’s not useful in greenwood because it’s just so wet. plus you’ll likely rust the thing before you get it home. the same goes for most fine saws. they’re meant for a purpose and you should use it that way or it won’t be happy with you. the spirit of the saw will haunt you at night.

but a bush saw is meant for rough tasks. you can build a whole treehouse or cabin structure with that (and perhaps, if you want to do it quickly, a hatchet and a big mallet). you’ll probably need to clean up trees if you own significant land — it’s like a manual chainsaw as well as a roughing saw. anyway, i think everyone who has any interest in working with trees at any stage should own at least one of these and my recommendation for everyone is generally the same. there are some others to add to your collection if you use it frequently — the gomboy has a big sister called the katanaboy and it’s awesome but you don’t need that unless you’re really serious about bushcraft. but this will get you started.

backsaws or flexible saws?

the back on a saw keeps it straight, which is awesome, and allows it to be far thinner, allowing it to cut finer joinery with less effort. this is true for both eastern and western saws. but the back gives a hard-limit on cut depth and it’s usually a pretty short span. practically speaking, if you’re doing serious woodworking, you’ll need both. but the backsaw is easier to learn with and will cut most fine joinery well so your first saw, regardless of push/pull, should be a backsaw. this will be either a dozuki or a carcass saw. practically-speaking, this might be the only backsaw you ever buy. not likely, though, if you want to keep going. and you’ll probably end up with at least one of each because the single best place to start if you want to explore the other tradition after some time is to get this basic backsaw from the other side of the east-west divide. by the way, backsaws are also harder to damage by accident because the back keeps the saw stable against bends and kinks in the plates. so, if you’re thinking of sharing your woodworking passion with your kids, knowing most young people have about as much interest in being careful or respecting tools as a crazed baboon seeking fresh fruit in the forest, this is a serious consideration. actually, come to think of it, just give your teens the gomboy and tell them to cut dovetails. it’s possible and they’ll never break it.

what about a dovetail saw?

while we’re on the subject of “the joint of champions”, i suspect the question that comes to mind is whether you need a dedicated dovetail saw. most modern manufacturers sell something they call “the dovetail saw” and this is a bit of a historical misnomer. people for hundreds of years have cut dovetails with lots of things. usually a fine backsaw, though that’s not always the case because not everyone could afford one. if they had one, though, that’s what they used. but having a dedicated saw for cutting dovetails? that’s a very contemporary thing, something that’s appeared since the wars. and it’s not a sensible use of money. dovetail saws even from relatively-affordable manufacturers (as in, not handmade, custom saw brands) like veritas and lie nielsen cost as much as a far-more-useful saw, often more. if you’re cutting joinery in the eastern tradition, a dozuki is excellent for dovetails (or even a ryoba but use the dozuki and save yourself the flexibility hassle). on the western side, use your carcass saw. it’s the first saw you bought and there’s no need to use anything else. the dovetail saw is simply not going to get you better results and it’s both slower and a big financial outlay for nothing. this isn’t me saying don’t buy a veritas or lie nielsen saw. just buy their carcass and tenon saws instead — unless you already have them and, in that case, you’re done and you should spend the money on buying some wood. or a nice plane. cause there’s always a nice plane to buy.

how important is brand? can i have specific recommendations?

sure. no problem!

we’ve already started down this path. brand is incredibly important. there is a lot of shit out there. seriously. like so much you’ll think there was an army of dogs specifically dedicated to the purpose of producing it simply to provide enough for the saw-manufacturing world. there are few really bad chisels and even pretty-much every cheap plane will function if you pound on it long enough and have enough time on your grinder and stones. saws, though, are very simple. get it right and you’re golden. fuck it up and you’re … well, let’s just say the world is imposing its fornication desires on you despite your lack of willingness.

so let’s talk about brands. this isn’t a historical exploration. if you want to buy an old saw (don’t buy an old saw), this doesn’t apply to you. and i’ll talk about that in a minute. mostly to tell you you shouldn’t buy one. but when you buy a new saw you should pay attention to brand. it will guarantee quality. and here’s the most important part. good quality isn’t more expensive. shit saws aren’t cheap. they’re just shit.

there is an exception to that. there are the saws you get in the hardware store. if you go to home depot or lowe’s and buy a saw, that’s a carpentry saw. it’s not for woodworking. you can use it but it’s not going to be a happy experience. they’re not meant for the task and you’ll be disappointed with the results. yes, you can modify them and resharpen and grind and reshape handles and everything. but you’ll still end up with a cheap, usually-plastic piece of shit in your hand and you want this to be an enjoyable part of your life.

it might not necessitate a couple of grand of investment. but you can get a good saw for a lot less than you might think and you don’t need ten. you just need one if that’s what you can afford. better to have one good saw and that be the only one you have for the next year before you can afford another than to have five shit saws and … well, your woodworking be so annoying you give it up in favor of basket-weaving or doily-design (two totally legitimate crafts but definitely not woodworking).

so what brands? i’ll give you four from each tradition. these aren’t the only good brands out there but they’re the ones i recommend without question or compromise. i believe razorsaw and lie nielsen are price-inflated but they’re excellent-quality tools. if i was going to buy my first joinery saw, though, i wouldn’t look beyond suizan or veritas.

eastern saws

  • [suizan]
  • [zetsaw (z-saw)]
  • [silky]
  • [gyokucho (razorsaw)]

western saws

  • [veritas]
  • [lie nielsen]
  • [bad axe toolworks]
  • [florip toolworks]

should i sharpen? (spoiler — fuck no.)

one of the big differences between modern, high-quality eastern and western saws is the way they are maintained. western saws are meant to be sharpened. they have larger teeth and they’re not difficult to maintain with files. eastern saws have far more, much smaller teeth and are not meant to be maintained by the user — they’re typically hardened and simply won’t sharpen with standard files anyway, even if you want to give it a shot. the blade is easily-removable and meant to be replaced — you can even replace it with a different, more or less aggressive plate if that’s what you’re looking for.

this might sound like a huge difference but i propose it’s not. you shouldn’t sharpen your saw.

i know. there are many people out there on youtube and in magazines who say this is a vital skill for any traditional woodworker. and they might be right that it’s one you should cultivate and learn. but it’s a bit like riding a fixed-gear bicycle. it’s an excellent place to start so you can learn the basics but if you’re still riding one when you really get going there’s a specific and very specialized reason.

you’re not going to become a saw-sharpening expert unless that is your passion. assuming your main passion is making furniture, you’re probably not going to spend the time or effort to sharpen enough saws to become a serious master at it. if you were, you wouldn’t have time to build things. your saws won’t dull that quickly. you might sharpen a few a year — maybe a dozen. one saw a month won’t teach you all the nuance and skill required to become a professional. and it’s slow, physically-annoying, auditorily-painful and requires the frequent replacement of disposable files that cost nearly as much as just taking the saws to a professional sharpener, saving yourself both time and effort.

if you want to learn to sharpen a saw, there are many excellent videos out there, though the ones made by [james wright] are leaps-and-bounds better than any others i’ve seen, even ones by professional saw-sharpeners who do nothing else. it’s not a bad skill to learn. but i see it much like making bread — most people really don’t want to put that much effort into something they can easily pay someone else to do, not pay very much and generally get far more predictable, satisfying results.

assuming you’re with me on this, the difference disappears. either you have to replace the blades on your saws, which is easy and takes no real time or effort, or you have to send your saws to be sharpened maybe once a year, which takes realistically no time or effort as long as you don’t do it one day before you start a big project and suddenly end up with no saws in your shop.

so the maintenance cost for a saw is, if you use it a lot, maybe twenty or thirty bucks a year either in sharpening or blade-replacement. if you don’t use it a lot, you might have it three or even five years between them. either way, it’s not a large cost. but it’s something to be aware of. you’ll have your chisels twenty years and do nothing more than sharpen them. you’ll need to clean and oil your planes (ok, maybe but i suggest it’s good to take this precaution). but saws actually have cost associated with them either way — even if you sharpen them yourself you’ll have to buy files and those are, practically-speaking, disposable.

should i restore an old saw?


no, you shouldn’t.

put down the old saw and walk away. it’s not worth it.

i mean, there’s an exception to this. you might be passionate about tool restoration. you might really love fixing up old shit and making it usable. is that part of woodworking? absolutely not. is it possible a woodworker likes it? certainly. i abhor fixing things. if it’s broken, i’d much rather have a working replacement. it doesn’t have to be new. it doesn’t have to be fancy. but it has to work. a broken tool, as far as i’m concerned, regardless of how broken, is useless. if it’s not in an immediately-usable condition, it’s just a barrier to me producing furniture and that’s unacceptable.

let’s look at the possibilities. you could get an old eastern saw or an old western saw. those are the only two that really function in the used market, right? i mean, we’re not talking about a saw that’s a year or two old. those are realistically just like buying new ones and you should definitely do that if someone’s selling one cause you’ll save money and it’ll still be a new saw. but old ones? let’s take each option and look at it.

if you get an old eastern saw, it won’t have a disposable blade. that is a hard-no in my books. non-disposable blades on eastern saws are twitchy — you have to get them sharpened by a serious professional and the entire convenience of having a replaceable blade is lost. the saw is, therefore, as far as i’m concerned, completely worthless. you’re just throwing good money after … well, nothing. because you’ll give up and get a new one with a replaceable blade as soon as you can do it. they are dissatisfying and your results will show it. in short, if you even contemplate getting an old eastern saw, you’re making a mistake. there’s no exception to this if you’re thinking of using it. if you want to put it on your wall as a decoration, this might be a good option for you. but i suspect that’s not why you’re reading this.

if you get an old western saw, it will be dull. it will need to be sharpened. it will probably have a handle that needs to be sanded and refinished — and that’s if it’s not broken, needing repair. or, as in most cases, it’s just cracked and split and nasty and you need to make a new one, simply using the old as a template so you can shape it with chisels and rasps and files and sandpaper and spend the next week of your life making something other than furniture.

and if you think that old saw is a good deal, unless you’re really planning to invest the time and money in sharpening and buying sharpening supplies, you’ll need to remember the cost will be increased by the price of professional sharpening.

here’s one other thing to consider. modern spring-steel is uniform, stable and uniformly good quality. it’s not perfect but it’s pretty good even in a cheap saw. chisel steel can be expensive to make well. spring-steel isn’t and it’s a simple process. whoever makes a new saw is buying good quality steel because there’s simply no advantage to buying anything else — they won’t really save much because it’s so cheap to start with. old steel isn’t necessarily like that. you will find some old saws with excellent steel but many will be rusted messes of non-uniform plates made from what is realistically no better than scrap by modern standards. an old saw will take an investment of time and money. and you’ll end up with something that simply can’t compare to what you can get for less than a hundred dollars from veritas. is it ever worth it? in a word, no.

if you’re a collector or you want a display-piece, get an old saw. if you’re a woodworker, buy new. every time. you won’t regret it.

what’s a saw made of?

it’s known as spring-steel. the metal, that is. handles are made of wood or a composite material we can think of as plastic. the handle material isn’t really all that important because it’s not cutting the wood. the really significant part of the handle is that it must be comfortable. if you pick up a saw and it’s not immediately nice to hold in your hand, put it down. don’t buy it. walk away. the steel will realistically be the same saw-to-saw. you’re buying for comfort. there are other saws and they will be more comfortable.

i say this particularly because there are a few brands out there that make saws that cut perfectly well and are reasonably-priced but have handles that feel like they were shaped for the hands of another species. two come to mind — pax and crown. i have no idea who did the testing on their handle designs or what happened in the process. there’s nothing specifically wrong with the way the saws are made. but they will make your hand ache if you even look at it from across the room. these could be great saws to get if you were looking for quality manufacturing except the handles are absolute shit. given that you can get a comfortable handle, there’s no need to put up with that nonsense. find a comfortable saw. don’t assume you’re going to fix it or put up with it. this is your hobby. it shouldn’t be tedious or painful. it should be a joy to engage in every time you pick up a tool. you owe it to yourself to find a comfortable saw. go to a store and try a veritas or lie nielsen or premum saw. that’s what comfort feels like. don’t compromise. it’s not worth it to save thirty bucks on a tool that will last your whole life. you’ll replace it and spend the money anyway next year. might as well do it now.

is handmade worth it? what’s the difference?

well, no. it’s not worth it. but you might want a handmade saw anyway. if you’re talking about eastern saws, handmade is going to mean a massive increase in price. there are some serious saw-makers in japan, korea and china. they do excellent work. and if you are truly committed to the craft you probably already know who they are. they are not making entry-level tools and if you’re a beginner you won’t get any benefit from them.

actually, if you’re a professional you won’t get any benefit from them. i’ll say that again so there’s no confusion. these are not better tools. they don’t cut the wood better and they don’t leave a better edge. they aren’t more precise and they won’t give you a better experience working with them. they are beautiful. they are works of art. if the enjoyment you get from the craft is aesthetic and visual, you’ll love them. if what you want to do is make furniture and you don’t care what your tools look like, you won’t notice a difference.

this isn’t like buying a quality handmade chisel or plane. it won’t give you that kind of improvement in production quality or usability. saws are very, very simple tools made from inexpensive materials. yes, you can get a handle specifically-shaped to your hand. but the handle on a production saw is so close it will feel like it is already. so make your choice based on budget and aesthetics. but don’t make that choice as a beginner. start with a production saw (like one from suizan or z-saw) and wait a few years before you even think about switching it. if you’re anything like me and the goal has nothing to do with beautiful tools, you’ll never switch.

handmade western saws are a little different for two reasons. the first is there are no large-scale producers of most western saws. veritas and lie nielsen will sell you joinery-saws but not big panelsaws. they just don’t make them. there is very little opportunity in the western woodworking market to sell large saws so the big manufacturers simply don’t offer them. you have, therefore, no choice. if you want a panelsaw and you don’t want the absolute shit they sell at your local box-store (which you don’t, i promise), you have to get something from a small manufacturer like bad axe or florip.

the other difference is that handles on western saws are actually much more complex. an eastern saw will have a handle that’s an oval in cross-section. if it’s round, this isn’t great. but it will generally be rounded but stretched in one direction. it’s a very simple shape. a western handle is more like holding a gun. it’s molded to the hand and this isn’t something you can easily do on a machine unless it’s a very complex machine. a standard three-axis cnc isn’t going to come close to duplicating a well-fitting handle for a western saw. that means the thing needs to be shaped by hand. this handle is the real reason you’re buying your saw of choice. there’s nothing about choosing a saw that’s all that important other than how comfortable the handle is. the teeth are only the result of the most recent sharpening. the handle’s forever.

can i have a table of recommendations? (sure!)

yes. here’s the explanation, though, before you take a look at it. there are two possible paths — eastern and western saws. but there are two possible ways to approach each path — using saws for joinery or using them to seriously dimension all your stock from rough to finished products without using machines. these are two very different ways of woodworking and the split isn’t just in what saws you need. i’m actually working on an introductory book about becoming either a machine-friendly handtool user or a handtool-only woodworker. and that should be out next year (ask me for details — seriously, the publisher would love to know people are interested and so would i, especially as there’s a huge q&a section and i’d be happy to include your questions if you have any).

but chisels and planes and benches aside, there’s a big split between saws for joinery and saws for complete handtool-only woodworking. so it’s a four-way division in the table.

let’s look at some of the saws, though. i’ve detailed these in specific articles about eastern and western saws. but here’s the stripped-down version.

basic eastern saws are a fine backsaw (dozuki), flexible large saw (kataba), flexible double-sided saw for joinery (ryoba), grooving and detail saw (azebiki) and large rough saw (anahiki). there are certainly others but these are the only ones i’m going to mention in the table.

standard western saws are (i’m intentionally leaving out dovetail saws because they’re useless because carcass saws do that work perfectly fine and you shouldn’t get one, which i’ve said in more detail already today) carcass and tenon saws, panelsaws and framesaws.

if you’re curious what each of these are used for, check out my other articles on saws or send me a question — seriously, i’m happy to get messages by email and i’ll always answer if you ask a question — criticism or whining will simply be ignored so don’t waste your time as these are filtered before i even see them. without more delay, though, here’s the table…

saweastern joineryeastern handtool-onlywestern joinerywestern handtool-only
eastern-specific saws
western-specific saws
tenon-saw (or sash-saw)yesyes
fine crosscut panelsawmaybeyes
rough crosscut panelsawmaybeyes
fine rip panelsawmaybe
rough rip panelsaw (handsaw)yes
specialty saws
large framesaw or bowsawmaybeyesmaybeyes
bushcraft/pruning saw for green/rough cuttingmaybemaybemaybemaybe

i came, i saw…

i finished. probably with shellac, as that’s what we do here. that’s it. simple. now go make some stuff.

i really do invite your questions, though. if there’s anything about saws (or other tools or even woodworking in general) you want to know, just ask. i might answer your question by replying or i might just write a whole article about it. either way, you’ll get your answer — and i write those whose questions become articles and tell them which article so you really will get an answer. thanks for reading! i really do appreciate it.

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thank you for reading. your eyes have done me a great honor today.