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Japanese saws: The definitive guide to Japanese pull saws

Gyokucho Japanese saw set

Every woodworker needs a good hand saw, and Japanese saws are easily among the best you can buy. They’re versatile, thin, sharp, and most importantly, cheap.

Whether you’re a beginner woodworker or you’ve been building projects for a while, Japanese hand saws are an excellent investment. For less than the cost of one good western saw, you can get a nice Japanese saw set to tackle any woodworking project that comes your way!

Read also: 12 basic woodworking tools for beginners

I’ve been using Japanese saws for years now, so I put together this guide with everything you need to know before (and after) buying your first Japanese pull saw.

Low on time? Check out the quick picks below!

Affiliate disclosure: Articles on Tiny Workshops may contain affiliate links.

Best Japanese saws for woodworking: Quick picks

Mini Dozuki

Mini dozuki saw

  • Very easy to use
  • Perfect introduction to Japanese saws
  • Comes with replacement blade
  • Inexpensive

Suizan japanese pull saw ryoba

Suizan 9.5″ ryoba saw

  • Versatile tool
  • Both cross and rip cut teeth
  • May struggle with thick hardwood stock
  • Large 9.5″ replaceable blade

Japanese set of 4 saws garrett wade

Garrett Wade Japanese saw set

  • Best Japanese pull saw set in the US
  • Includes 4 saws: Dozuki, ryoba, flush cut saw, and trim saw
  • A step above “beginner” saws

Why should you get a Japanese saw?

Japanese ryoba saws
Photo credit: John W. Schulze

Traditional hand saws are one of the few tools where the old adage “they don’t make ’em like the used to” holds true.

Most saws sold at big box stores are really intended for construction use, and while they cut well at first they simply aren’t made to last. And for fine woodworking, you might as well be using a chainsaw instead of these cheap construction tools.

There are, of course, good western saws on the market, but they’re very expensive. Most are custom jobs that are more like heirloom pieces for collectors. Vintage saws from Disston and other manufacturers are also a great choice, but they’re not always easy to find and will probably require some maintenance before use.

Japanese saws, on the other hand, are a fantastic purchase for woodworkers of all skill levels. They’re inexpensive, easy to use, and come ready to cut.

The hardened steel blades last a long time, but they can’t be sharpened. Once dull or damaged, it’s easy (and inexpensive) to remove and replace the blade. This also makes them easy to store in any toolbox or tool cabinet (even more so if you opt for a Japanese folding saw).

Types of Japanese saws

Gyokucho types of Japanese saws
Photo credit: Gyokucho

There are four main types of Japanese saws, each with a different design. Many of them can be used for the same cuts, although each type offers unique benefits.

First up is the dozuki, which is essentially a Japanese dovetail saw. Like a western back saw, it has a stiff rib along the top of the blade to prevent flexing. These only come in crosscut configurations, and the rib prevents them from cutting too deep.

Next is the ryoba, which features two sets of teeth on either side of the blade: crosscut and rip cut. This makes it a great all-purpose saw, capable of tackling just about any job with ease.

The kataba is another versatile option, with the shape of a dozuki but without the rigid back. This allows it to have both crosscut and rip cut configurations, and excel at both.

The last main Japanese saw type is the flush cut saw (or kugihiki), which is significantly smaller than the other options. Like the name implies, it has a thin, flexible blade for flush cuts.

There are a few other types that I won’t get into for this guide, but here’s a breakdown of all types of Japanese saws for reference.

Types of Japanese pull saws

  • Dozuki: Japanese backsaw for dovetails and joinery.
  • Ryoba: General-purpose saw with crosscut and rip cut teeth.
  • Kataba: Flexible finish saw for long or deep cutting (no back).
  • Kugihiki: Japanese flush cut saws for dowels or trim.
  • Azebiki: A two-sized saw with curved blades for starting cuts in the center of a panel.
  • Mawashibiki: The Japanese version of a keyhole saw.
  • Oga: Large, two-person saw for large lumber (pre-power tool era).

Best Japanese saw sets

If you don’t want to sort through different products and want to get right to work, there are a number of great Japanese saw sets that come with everything you need.

These can be relatively inexpensive or quite pricey, but any of them will get the job done. Here are my top picks!

Japanese Set of 4 Saws

Japanese set of 4 saws garrett wade

For all the American readers out there, this Japanese saw set from Garrett Wade is one of the best you can buy. It’s a cut above the “beginner’s” saws on the rest of the list, although it does have a slightly higher price tag.

This set comes with a 9.5″ ryoba, a 7″ dozuki, a 6″ flush cut saw, and a small detail trim saw. While all of the tools can perform well, the detail trim saw is the real game changer for small model work.

Each of these saws is available individually, which might be a better option for those on a budget. Still it’s one of the best Japanese saw sets you’ll find on the market.

Gyokucho set of 3 Japanese hand saws

Gyokucho set of 3 Japanese saws

For those of you in the UK, this slightly less complete set of saws from Gyokucho is a fantastic option. Gyokucho makes fantastic, affordable saws that are perfect for beginners and experts alike.

This Japanese saw set includes three saws: a dozuki, a ryoba, and a kataba. The kataba can be used as both a normal saw and a flush cut saw with a flexible blade and sharp teeth.

Those of you not in the UK can get this Z-Saw set from Lee Valley, although you might be able to save money buying the saws individually from other retailers. More on that in the following sections.

Best dozuki saws

One of the most useful (and common) Japanese saws is the dozuki. It’s great for all kinds of joinery work, with a razor-thin blade that’s superior to western backsaws in many ways.

Dozuki saws are the perfect Japanese saws for dovetails. With a thin kerf and a rigid spine, it’s fast and easy to saw to your line.

If you just want to try Japanese pull saws as a supplement to what you’ve already got, a dozuki is a great place to start. They’re exceptionally easy to use, so no matter what your skill level is it should slot right into your workflow!

Mini dozuki panel saw

Mini Dozuki

For those who don’t want to spend a lot of money trying Japanese saws, this mini dozuki is a dream.

It was the very first Japanese pull saw I personally purchased, and it still has a permanent spot on my workbench. It’s my go-to Japanese saw for dovetails.

It’s smaller than other dozuki saws with a 5.9″ blade, but that’s more than long enough for most precision joinery work. The back ensures that you get a straight cut on your first or thousandth time using the saw.

This particular listing includes a replacement blade. You can swap it with a gentle tapping motion when the time comes, but unless you misuse it that will be many years from now.

Suizan 9.5″ Japanese dozuki saw

Suizan 9.5 inch japanese dozuki hand saw

Next up is one of the best mid-range dozuki saws you can get. It comes from the trusted brand Suizan, a name you will read again and again on this list.

It’s a full-size Japanese pull saw, measuring 24″ overall with a 9.5″ blade length. The blade is razor sharp out of the box, and it leaves a miniscule 0.016″ kerf.

Given the size, it’s understandable that it’s more than twice as expensive as the mini option above. If money (or size) is a concern, Suizan makes a 6″ model that’s every bit as excellent.

Gyokucho Folding Japanese Dozuki Razor Saw

Gyokucho folding dozuki razor saw

My last pick for the best dozuki saws is a bit more expensive, but for a good reason. In addition to razor-sharp teeth, tiny kerfs, and a durable blade, it also folds into a near little package.

This folding dozuki saw from Gyokucho (again, a fantastic brand) features a full 9.5″ blade that folds neatly into the beech handle when not in use. The spline runs the entire length of the blade, so you will never have to worry about flexing again.

In truth, the only real downside here is the price. If space is at a premium in your workshop or toolbox, this is more than worth the extra expense.

Best ryoba saws

Ryoba saws are by far the most versatile Japanese pull saws you can buy. With both cross-cut and rip-cut teeth, you can use them for all kinds of tasks. Thanks to the thin kerf and sharp teeth, even very long rip cuts are not off the table.

The main thing to consider with ryoba saws is size. You can get a very large saw for quick resaws or a smaller saw for tenons and other joinery work. I’d recommend larger options, leaving smaller tasks to dozuki or kataba saws.

Either way, a single ryoba can reasonably replace several western saws in your kit. Here are my picks for the best ones to buy.

Suizan 9.5″ ryoba saw

Suizan japanese pull saw ryoba

Suizan is back again, this time with a 9.5″ ryoba. Like all ryobas, it has two sets of teeth, one for crosscuts and one for rip cuts.

This single saw can fill just about any role you can need out of a hand saw. The long cane-covered handle is also comfortable for one- or two-handed use.

Although this set doesn’t come with a replacement blade, they’re available for less than half the cost of the tool. All you need to replace it is a simple screwdriver.

Gyokucho razorsaw 9.5″ ryoba for hardwoods

Gyokucho razorsaw 9.5 inch ryoba for hardwood

While most Japanese pull saws are designed for use with softwoods, this Gyokucho ryoba is made for hardwood. It will saw through all but the hardest materials like butter.

This is the model I’ve personally used for more than five years now, without having to replace the blade. Any time I need a quick cut, whatever the orientation, this is the saw I reach for.

As always, replacing the blade is easy and the blades themselves readily available.

Suizan folding ryoba Japanese saw

Suizan folding ryoba pull saw

True to form, my last pick is yet another folding Japanese saw. It doesn’t fold quite as neatly as a dozuki (it has a sheath for the exposed teeth), but it can save valuable space in tight workshops.

This Japanese pull saw cuts just as well as its non-folding counterparts, but it has a few other design quirks. The handle is significantly heavier and you will need to be careful when it’s folded as there are exposed teeth.

That said, it’s a hugely versatile tool for both fine woodworking and rough carpentry work.

Best kataba saws

At first glance, the kataba might seem like a less useful ryoba with just one set of teeth. The missing back rib also makes it less accurate for fine joinery than a dozuki.

But my kataba quickly become my favorite saw to use. It leaves a cleaner rip cut than a ryoba, cuts deeper than a dozuki, and can be gently bent for easy flush cuts. Plus, they work great with magnetic guides of all kinds.

I still wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying one as your first Japanese pull saw, but if you want a single saw that can produce super-clean cuts in many situations, here are my picks.

Gyokucho Razorsaw kataba no. 410

First up is another great saw from Gyokucho. It’s 9.5″ kataba, which is large enough for just about any cuts you need.

With just a short spline to hold the blade in place, you have nearly the full blade at your disposal. It takes a bit more finesse than a ryoba or dozuki, but it can do the job of both with some experience.

This particular saw has crosscut teeth which are sharp enough to cut through just about anything. It may not be the best choice for very long rip cuts in thick stock, but just about anything else is fair game.

Suizan 10.5″ kataba pull saw

If you’re looking for something a bit longer, this 10.5″ option from Suizan is a great pickup. It won’t fit as well in tight spaces, but it’s great for larger stock.

Like the option above, it’s light and features a cane handle. This is standard for Japanese saws in this price range, although it can fray if proper care isn’t taken.

And as always, replacement blades are inexpensive and readily available.

Best Japanese flush cut saws (kugihiki)

The last Japanese saw I want to highlight here is the kugihiki. It isn’t much of a departure from the previous saws on the list, but it has a very specific purpose.

Basically a smaller kataba or ryoba, these saws are extremely good at what they do. With a flexible blade and teeth that are tightly set into the kerf, you can cut dowels or other small protruding pieces without damaging the main piece.

Here are a few recommendations, but this type of saw isn’t too hard to find in big box stores.

Suizan 5″ flush cut saw

My top pick is this double-sided Japanese flush cut saw from Suizan. It has two sets of teeth, one for softwoods and one for hardwoods. They’re even labeled for your convenience.

Both work like a dream, and the flexible blade is perfect for trimming dowels without marring your work.

Unlike the other Japanese saws on the list, you won’t be able to replace the blade on this one. Thankfully it’s inexpensive to replace years down the line.

Gyokucho Razorsaw flush cutting double-edge saw

There aren’t a lot of differences between this saw and the previous one. It also has a double-edged blade that can cut through any material with ease.

The teeth have virtually no set whatsoever, so you won’t have to spend time sanding afterward.

If you are worried about damage, you can slip a piece of paper between the blade and the piece to prevent any scratches.

How to use Japanese pull saws

How to use a Japanese saw
Photo credit: Suizan

If you’ve never used a Japanese saw before, you’ll be happy to learn that they’re incredibly easy to use. Thanks to sharp teeth and a thin blade, they glide through just about any type of wood with minimal effort.

The first thing to know is that they cut on the pull stroke, rather than the push stroke. This doesn’t afford quite as much raw power, but it does make them easier to control. If you’re having trouble following cut lines, using a Japanese pull saw might help.

More great hand tools: The best Yankee screwdrivers

Much like a western saw, the first step is always marking your cut. Make sure the mark is square, and for extra accuracy create a knife wall with a marking knife and chisel for your saw to slot right into.

Ease into the cut with short movements to ensure alignment, looking straight down the blade. Japanese saws are typically quite reflective, so if you can see a straight, continuous line across the reflection you’re in good shape.

From there, just gently saw the wood with a smooth, pendulum motion. Under no circumstances should you put downward pressure on the cut. This will cause it to bind, bend, and veer off course. Let the saw do the work!

As mentioned above, it’s best to get some experience with a cheaper saw before you even consider buying an expensive model. High-end models have usually been hardened along the entire blade (instead of just the teeth). This makes them more prone to snapping if abused or used incorrectly.

How do you store Japanese saws?

The best way to store Japanese saws is by hanging them. Often they have a strap (or hole for a strap) at the base of the handle.

You can also store them like you would any other saw. They can be hung from the handles or laid down (with the blade standing). Just make sure that the blade itself isn’t under any pressure or strain. This will lead to bending over time.

It’s also worth noting that you can store Japanese saws disassembled. Taking the blade off significantly reduces the saw’s footprint in a drawer or toolbox. It takes just a few seconds to reassemble when you need to use it.

Other FAQs

Are Japanese saws better than western saws?

Japanese saws have both advantages and disadvantages over western saws, but neither is truly better. That said, they are a better choice for beginners since they’re easy to use and relatively maintenance free.

What is a Japanese pull saw used for?

Pull saws are used for the same tasks as push saws: cutting to length, rip cuts, and fine joinery. Depending on the size and design, they can be extremely versatile tools.

How do you sharpen a Japanese saw?

In most cases, you don’t. The teeth are tightly set and hardened, making them sharp and resistant but impossible to sharpen. Buying a replacement blade is almost always a better option.

How do you replace a Japanese saw blade?

Generally, blades can be removed either with a small bolt at the base of the blade or with a gentle tapping motion. Replacement blades typically come with instructions printed on the packaging.

How long do Japanese saw blades last?

Depending on how well you take care of them, they can last for years. Even cheap blades are built to last, and shouldn’t break unless misused.

Which Japanese saw should I buy?

The best “starter” Japanese saws are the dozuki (a backsaw) and the ryoba (with two sets of teeth). Both are easy to use and can fit right into your normal workflow with little adjustment.

What is a Japanese dovetail saw called?

A Japanese dovetail saw is called a dozuki. This is fairly similar to a western backsaw, but it works on the pull stroke. This offers more controller, a thinner kerf, and more.

Header image credit: Gyokucho

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