Japanese saws: The definitive guide to Japanese pull saws

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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’ve just started your first woodworking class 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!

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 our top picks below, and visit our guide to other basic woodworking tools to complete your workshop!

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

Suizan japanese pull saw ryoba

Suizan 9.5-inch ryoba saw

  • Versatile tool
  • Both cross and rip cut teeth
  • May struggle with thick hardwood stock

Japanese set of 4 saws garrett wade

Garrett Wade Japanese saw set

  • Best Japanese pull saw set in the US
  • Includes four Japanese saws
  • A step above “beginner” saws

Why should you get a Japanese saw?

Japanese saws miscellaneous featured
Photo via Nick Rowan (Tiny Workshops)

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

Most saws sold at big box stores are primarily 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).

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Types of Japanese saws

Japanese saws types square
Photo via Nick Rowan (Tiny Workshops)

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-sided 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-inch ryoba, a 7-inch dozuki, a 6-inch 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, but at that point I’d probably recommend buying the options I’ve outlined below instead. Still, it’s one of the best Japanese saw sets you’ll find on the market.

Set of 3 Japanese hand saws

Z-Saw Japanese saw set Lee Valley

It isn’t easy to find Japanese hand saw sets online (most are sold individually), but this set of three Z-Saw brand saws sold by Lee Valley is a great option.

Z-Saw is an excellent brand of saws made in Japan, and this set includes just the basics: two katabas (one crosscut and one rip cut) and one dozuki. I would have liked to see a ryoba included, but there’s still plenty of versatility in this kit.

Keep in mind you can also buy Z-Saw saws individually and save some money, although similar options from Gyokucho or Suizan tend to be more readily available in the US. All three brands make great, affordable Japanese saws for beginners.

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. They also leave a very clean cut!

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

Japanese saws mini dozuki product
Photo via Nick Rowan (Tiny Workshops)

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 years ago, 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-inch 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 inches from end to end, with a 9.5-inch blade length. The blade is razor sharp out of the box, and it leaves a minuscule 0.016-inch 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-inch 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 neat little package.

This folding dozuki saw from Gyokucho (again, a fantastic brand) features a full 9.5-inch blade that folds 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 easily achievable.

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-inch ryoba saw

Suizan japanese pull saw ryoba

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

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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.

KLRStec Japanese pull saw with nylon bag

KLSRtec Japanese pull saw with bag product
Photo via Nick Rowan (Tiny Workshops)

I don’t typically recommend western versions of Japanese pull saws, but this ryoba from the German brand KLRStec really surprised me. Even better, it’s significantly cheaper than options from more popular brands like Suizan.

The 9.5-inch blade is perhaps a hair thicker than the option above, but it still cut through everything I tried smoothly, leaving a nice, clean cut. I personally prefer the wrapped handle of the Suizan, but the rubberized non-slip handle on this saw affords much more grip.

My favorite part of this saw is the included nylon bag. Once you use the simple thumb screw to remove the blade from the handle, the saw fits neatly into the case, which includes a belt clip. Combined with the price, that makes this a great Japanese pull saw to take with you while on the job.

Gyokucho razorsaw 9.5-inch 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 was one of the first ryobas I bought, and I still use it more than six years later, 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 are 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. If price is a concern, I’d recommend the KLRStec model with the nylon case I’ve listed above instead.

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

gyokucho razorsaw kataba

First up is another great saw from Gyokucho. It’s 9.5-inch kataba, which is large enough for just about any cuts you’ll 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 that 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-inch kataba pull saw

suizan 10.5 inch kataba

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

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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-inch flush cut saw

suizan flush cut japanese saw

My top pick is this double-sided Japanese flush cut saw from Suizan. It has two sets of teeth, one for softwoods and another 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

gyokucho razorsaw flush cutting double edge

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 scratched surfaces.

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.

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?

Japanese saws types detail
Photo via Nick Rowan (Tiny Workshops)

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 can’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 control, a thinner kerf, and more.

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7 responses to “Japanese saws: The definitive guide to Japanese pull saws”

  1. Rod Avatar

    Thanks for the great explanation of the different styles and uses of these saws. Definitely helped me pick out my first Japanese saw ..

    1. Nick Rowan Avatar

      Glad I could help, Rod!

  2. Steve Avatar

    Thanks for a great article. I’ve been planning on getting a set of Japanese saws for a while now and was uncertain about what types to buy. Your article sealed the deal and I’m really looking forward to giving them a spin

  3. Wayne Avatar

    Who makes the kit with the red storage case?

    1. Nick Rowan Avatar

      Sorry for the super long delay, but that set is from Gyokucho. It’s an older 5-saw set that included a bag, but unfortunately it’s no longer available anywhere. Real shame because it was a great set!

  4. Paul Dalton Avatar
    Paul Dalton

    Just curious. Have you been able to evaluate the quality of the saws in the GW set vs the several brand name saws also mentioned?

    Specifically, I’m wondering whether (other than cost) there’s any reason to consider “making up” a mixed set of the same types of saws contained in the GW set from from Z-Saw, Suizan, or Gyokucho, or instead to make up a mixed set containing whichever brand you feel makes the best of each different type of saw?

    1. Nick Rowan Avatar

      Hi Paul! Sorry for the late response.

      The quality of the GW set is comparable to brands like Z-Saw or Suizan. Or maybe a bit better. They’re very similar (if not identical) to saws offered by Gyokucho under the Razorsaw brand.

      The nice thing about the GW set (aside from the quality) is that it includes japanese flush cut and keyhole saws, which can be difficult to find on a lot of retailers. They also sell a beautiful suede case for them, although it’s a bit pricey and more of a show piece.

      If you want to save some money though, you’ll get a virtually identical experience purchasing any of the individual saws from other top brands and making up your own set. This is certainly how I started, and in fact a single ryoba can get you through just about any project under the sun!

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