Pleasures of a pull-stroke saw
by Leon A. Frechette
On any fine woodworking project, the time will come when a handsaw
will be required. If you have been there, then you know the problem
of selecting the right saw for the job, especially with all the
different types of saws on the market today!
How pull-stroke saws work
Perhaps you have noticed the Japanese-style saws; if not, take
some time to investigate. Unlike their Western counterparts (push-stroke
saws), they work exactly opposite of what we learned growing up—they
cut on the pull stroke.
If you observe your own behavior,
you'll notice that a majority of your everyday gestures involve
a pulling motion. If you don't believe it, then think about how you open the door to your car or home, or better yet,
when you slice a tomato or cut a steak. Do you believe me now? How
about when you take a tissue out of the box?
The idea of pulling a saw—rather
than pushing—may be new to us, but the Japanese have successfully
used this technique for hundreds of years. Don't get me wrong; there
is a time and place for both types of saws. But once you become
hooked on the pull concept, the chances of your going back to a
push-stroke saw will probably be very slim.
Advantages of the pull-stroke
The difference between the two saw techniques (pull vs. push) is
rooted in the thinness of the blade metal which produces a narrower
kerf (width of cut), thus the saw requires less effort to use. The
blades are uniquely designed so each tooth has three cutting edges
(except the rip tooth; it only has two). This allows the saw to
cut straighter, faster, smoother, and cleaner and yet still be able
to rip and crosscut.
With this tooth design, it appears as though the teeth would clog
with waste material during the cut. Not so! Every time you pull
the saw to cut and return with a push-stroke, the blade cleans itself,
and it really works. The two inside edges clean while the point
does the actual cutting—not tearing, but slicing. And that's important
when precise and detailed cuts are required for a fine woodworking
project. What is unique about this design is that even a general
or rough-cutting blade can produce the same results as a fine cutting
blade. Of course, this depends on the amount of downward pressure
you apply as you pull, and it doesn't require much.
Correct use and care
One thing that will take some getting used to is sawdust covering
the cutline. It needs to be blown off during the strokes. Also,
the blades (depending if it is a traditional Japanese saw or the
new breed with its Western design for the American market) are 50
percent thinner than blades on push-stroke saws and it takes some
practice to get used to the flexibility. It is important to follow
the cutline and to stay on that line within the first 1/4"
of the cut. The teeth are set to a minimum (not much more than the
thickness of the blade) so if you get off the cutline, it will be
difficult to get back on track. Just like anything else, it takes
All these blades are extremely sharp, so blade guards are essential.
When installing the blade guard, always slide it on from the toe
(nose) of the blade and not the heel (rear) because the teeth point
towards the handle. You will want to exercise care when using and
storing these saws. Their steel blades are much harder and the teeth
are longer so they are very susceptible to damage. These saws are
fine instruments and need to be treated as such.
Try a traditional Japanese saw
The traditional Japanese saw has a combination hardwood and wrapped
bamboo handle. The blade is slightly thicker than the new breed,
but these saws are the ultimate when it comes to achieving the best
cut possible. If you are an artisan, I highly recommend trying your
hand at one. Garrett-Wade offers a fine collection of traditional
Japanese saws to fit any particular need including flush, keyhole,
trim, tensioned tenon (or back saw), two-sided, hardwood, dovetail,
power tooth, slotting, and folding. These saws range in price from
$13.60 to $65.45. While some of these saws come with replacement
blades, others do not, so decide what is best for you. Sharpening
these blades is somewhat difficult and takes lots of practice. However,
they do manufacture a deep gullet file (feather file) to help you
sharpen your saws. While master Japanese carpenters sharpen their
own blades, I find that replaceable blades work best for me. If
you choose to use a traditional Japanese saw, then I recommend you
only use it to cut clean, nail-free material so as to avoid damaging
Sharksaws by Shark Corporation
Shark Corporation manufactures Japanese-style saws with replaceable blades and weather-resistant high-impact ABS plastic (encased in rubber) handles designed to fit a particular application. The idea behind the handle design is to permit the saw to deliver the same fine cut as a traditional Japanese saw while providing a comfortable Western-style pistol grip design (10-2312, 14 pt.). It works well when cutting 2 x 4s, 2 x 6s, ABS, or PVC plumbing pipe. For some cuts, however, such as cutting a sheet (4 x 8) of plywood, the handle can get in the way. That is when the straight handle model (10-2440, 17 pt./19 pts.) really comes in handy. Its flexible blade is great for under- and flush cuts such as casings or dowels, or wherever your imagination turns. Their Model 10-2410 17 pt. saw is ideal for precision cuts because its blade is extremely thin.
Choosing the right saw
When choosing a saw, keep in mind that "pt." ("points")
means the number of teeth per inch. The higher the number, the finer
the cut will be. Some saw blades have combination crosscut/rip teeth
while others have crosscut only and still others have crosscut on
one side and rip teeth on the other (a double-edged blade).
As mentioned earlier, Shark saws have replaceable blades that slide
in (or out) when you push a small button on the side of the handle.
This makes disengaging the blade a cinch, and the saw compacts for
easy storage in most tool boxes. The blade is made of high-quality
spring carbon steel and the teeth are hardened by electric impulse
so they will last longer than conventional saws. Of course, this
depends on what you're cutting.
The cost of the blade is two-thirds more than a conventional handsaw
sharpening, but the pull-saw will last much, much longer. Only you
can judge which is a better value for your situation. The Shark
Saw pull-saw has a suggested retail price ranging from $20.99 to
For better control over your cut when using either a traditional
Japanese-style saw or the Shark Saw, simply put the straight handle
between your thumb and forefinger (for the pistol grip, grab the
handle lightly with your index finger riding on the side) and pull
with a full stroke—firm but with a light downward pressure. Remember
to utilize a pull technique so begin at the rear of the blade (closest
to the handle) and pull. Don't push! Pretend you are cutting a tomato.
Always start your cut by placing the saw at a 10º angle to
the front or rear of the material (not at the 45º angle commonly
(but incorrectly) used with a conventional saw).
If you are using a double-edged saw to cut a dowel and you do not
want the teeth to scratch the finish surface, then you will need
to knock the set down a little. The best way to do this is to place
the blade flat on a piece of hardwood (like oak), not on
a concrete floor or on any metal surface, and lightly hammer the
teeth the full length of the blade with a smooth-faced hammer. Turn
the blade over and repeat the process. Take care to not pound too
hard and knock the set completely out—it will make the saw difficult
to use. Don't worry about dulling the teeth because their cutting
edges are on the inside. If you are going to try this, I would recommend
trying it on a replaceable blade
For more information:
Click here to read customer's feedback. If you are open to trying a new concept (the pull-stroke) in handsaws,
then check out the Japanese Saws we offer by clicking the purchase button below!
Copyright © 1994,
1998, & 2006 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. The previous
in whole or in part, appeared in the November/December 1994
issue of Woodworker.
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