7 Best Japanese Pull Saws for Flush Cuts and Dovetails

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The Japanese have long held proper woodworking as an art form. Many temples and other wooden structures have stood firm for hundreds of years, even through earthquakes. A major part of this comes down to working with the wood grain instead of against it. Another major part comes from using dovetails, dowels, or butterfly joints to avoid the use of nails entirely.

The best Japanese saw (or nokogiri) can run circles around the best American or European saws when it comes to precision work. This is in no small part due to the way the teeth are designed to cut on the pull stroke, resulting in a thinner, straighter kerf.

Owning a Japanese pull saw is a treat, and a properly maintained one can last for generations. Here are seven of the best pull saws Japan has to offer.

Our 7 Favorite Japanese Pull Saws

 ProductStyleBlade LengthBlade ThicknessTeeth/Inch
best-ryoba-sawSuizan RyobaRyoba9.5".020"9 & 15
best-dozuki-sawGyokucho 372Dozuki9.5".012"20
best-japanese-sawGyokucho 650Ryoba9.4".020"8 & 15
japanese-saw-reviewsSuizan DozukiDozuki6.0".012"25
best-kataba-sawSuizan KatabaKataba10.5".024"14
top-japanese-pull-sawZ-Saw DozukiDozuki9.5".012"26
saw-for-dovetailsGyokucho 770-3600Ryoba7.0".020"9 & 19

Japanese Saw Reviews

#1 – Suizan Ryoba 9-1/2″ Japanese Pull Saw

best-ryoba-sawCrafted from 0.02 inch thick high quality Japanese steel, this is the best ryoba saw for precision crafting. As with other Suizan saws, the super sharp blade is easy to replace when it wears down. This saw also comes with a vinyl cover to keep it clean while in storage.

Once you get used to using a ryoba, this saw can cut faster and cleaner than many power tools. The higher tooth count and sharpness means you can crosscut with much less force. The crosscut side has a 15 TPI tooth count while the rip side has 9 TPI.

Suizan Japanese pull saw review

The long rattan-wrapped handle gives this saw an overall length of 24 inches, making it easy to shift your fulcrum as needed. The blade is stiff enough to be functional, while being flexible enough to be versatile.

A lot of customers have been surprised to see the teeth are heat treated. The process helps teeth keep a sharper edge for longer, but can also make them more brittle. Also, be sure to check for damage upon arrival, as the packaging is very simple.

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#2 – Gyokucho 372 9-1/2″ Dozuki Takebiki Saw

best-dozuki-sawWhen you want a perfect dovetail every time, only the best dozuki saw will do. The 372’s thin 0.012 inch hard coated blade has 20 impulse-hardened teeth per inch to ensure maximum durability.

Its traditional rattan-covered handle provides a firm grip and allows for easy blade replacement. You can use this Japanese saw for a variety of cuts, including cross, dovetail, miter, and tenon with a smooth-as-glass finish.

You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a dozuki as good as the 372. Owners can’t stop boasting about the precision and quality of every cut, and the smaller number of teeth compared to other dozuki actually reduces the risk of catching.

Once you’ve used this saw, you might find it hard to go back to using a coping saw for your precision cutting.

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#3 – Gyokucho 650 9-1/2″ Double Edge Razor Saw

best-japanese-sawThis Japanese hand saw has a kerf of only .5mm and a 9.4 inch blade, making it a great choice for cross cutting large pieces of lumber or performing accurate detail work.

The teeth are impulse hardened for improved sharpness,and the handle uses a traditional rattan wrapping for improved grip and comfort. Its TPI is 14.9 for the crosscut side and 7.5 on the ripping side.

The smoothness of cuts by this saw has to be experienced to be believed. Due to the ultra-thin blade (0.02″), you can actually flex the saw to follow lines as needed. The overall quality has made this saw a true winner for most users.

Mastering a ryoba can be a little difficult for those used to push saws, and this has left some owners disappointed. Give it a little practice before giving up, as this is an excellent tool once you get used to it.

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#4 – Suizan 6-Inch Dozuki Pull Saw

japanese-saw-reviews

Arguably the best Japanese pull saw for precision dovetail work, this dozuki has an incredibly thin kerf. The handle is wrapped in traditional rattan, making for a surprisingly comfortable grip. Additionally, the teeth are heat treated to retain their sharpness longer.

Owners of this dozuki love the ultra-thin kerf (0.016″) and ability to cut oak and other hardwoods with ease. A light grip is all that’s needed, and the shorter blade is perfect for beginners and experienced craftsmen alike.

Its 0.012″ blade has a 25 teeth per inch count will allow a finer and more accurate cut than most any other Japanese saw which makes it ideal for cuts which require the highest levels of precision.

The biggest problem users of this saw have are with the teeth. Heat treating may hold sharpness longer, but it can also make the teeth more brittle. Be prepared to buy replacement blades as needed.

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#5 – Suizan 10-1/2″ Kataba Pull Saw

best-kataba-sawSometimes a ryoba is too limited for the crosscut you need. That’s when you need to have the best kataba saw possible on-hand. This kataba can cut even the toughest of woods with ease.

The hand-wrapped rattan handle provides superior comfort and the teeth (14 TPI) are heat treated to hold their sharpness longer. With an overall length of 23-1/2 inches, it’s the longest Japanese saw on our list.

It can be tough to find a good quality kataba, making this saw all the more impressive for fans of Japanese carpentry tools. Owners have used it to cut hardwood lumber of various sizes with ease, and the teeth arrive incredibly sharp.

If anything, the only drawback is that most beginners won’t need a kataba in their collection, making this tool more appealing to seasoned craftsmen.

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#6 – Z-Saw 9-1/2″ Dozuki Japanese Saw

top-japanese-pull-sawZ-Saw claims this is the best selling saw in Japan and who are we to argue.

Nothing rips like a well-made dozuki. This one by Z-Saw boasts a tensioned high carbon steel blade with 26 teeth per inch and a blade thickness of only 0.012 inches.

The bamboo-wrapped handle is a dream to handle, and the 9-1/2 inch, 2-3/8 inch tall blade won’t bend, thanks to its rigid back.

This saw cuts extremely well, and has served its owners in a wide range of tasks. It has just enough flexibility to aid in cutting without the risk of bending off the line. The overall quality is also excellent, making this an excellent dozuki for beginners.

While misuse can cause teeth to wear or break prematurely, there is some evidence that a small percentage of consumers have received their’s refurbished. Be sure to examine the saw thoroughly upon arrival to ensure you’ve gotten a new one. Also, be aware that this saw isn’t good for making blind cuts.

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#7 – Gyokucho 770-3600 7-Inch Ryoba Saw

saw-for-dovetailsThis Japanese razor saw is a modern take on the classic ryoba design. The .5mm (0.02″) thick blade has 19 teeth per inch on the crosscut side and 9 teeth per inch for ripping.

Unlike traditional ryoba, this version features a handle which can be tilted or rotated to allow for cuts in difficult to reach spaces. All of the teeth on the 7-inch blade have been impulse hardened to help prevent dulling.

Using the 770-3600, many owners have noted it outperforms their powered saws in both speed and accuracy. The cuts are extremely clean, and it works equally well on just about any type of wood. The low cost and overall quality make this saw an excellent gift idea.

The key feature of this saw is also its main weak point. Several users have complained that the handle becomes loose after several uses, resulting in problems retaining the blade. While this hasn’t happened to every user, it leaves room for some concern.

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Japanese Pull Saw Guide

As mentioned, a skilled Japanese craftsman avoids metal nails and screws, building almost entirely from jointwork. Besides the specialized kanna (plane) and nomi (chisel), a good nokogiri (pull saw) is essential to woodworking.

There’s a lot to learn about Japanese saws and their uses, and a bit of a learning curve when actually using one, but here’s an overview to get you started.

Types of Japanese Saws

There are several types of nokogiri, each of which has its own special uses. Most can be classified into either kataba or ryobi styled blades.

Anahiki

anahiki saw

Designed primarily for general construction work, the anahiki is a beam or log cutting saw that can be used on both green and seasoned woods. In a workshop, it can be used for rough-cutting pieces of rough-sawn lumber.

Azebiki

azebiki saw

This short, curved-blade saw is usually available as a ryoba-style. It’s most often used for starting cuts in the center of a panel. It can also access tight spots more easily due to the shorter blade length.

Dozuki (“tenon”)

dozuki saw

This kataba style saw has a stiff spine which ensures straighter cuts at the cost of depth.it’s the most popular nokogiri for both hard and soft woods, and has some tooth similarities to a crosscut saw.

Kataba

kataba saw

This is a single-edged saw that is perfect for general-purpose use. The lack of a back means it can make deeper cuts, although the blade itself is thicker. Its teeth are filed for ripping and crosscuts. The ripping version may include a set of smaller starting teeth at the rear and larger teeth towards the tip to allow for faster cuts.

Kugihiki (“to cut nails”)

kugihiki saw

The teeth on this saw have no set, allowing it to flush-cut wooden nails or dowels. The tip is thinner and more flexible to allow flush cuts at odd angles with less risk of damaging the surface, while the rear is thicker to allow for more aggressive cuts.

Mawashibiki (“turning cut”)

mawashibiki saw

This narrow, thick-bladed saw is ideal for cutting curves and keyholes.

Ryoba (“double-edged”)

ryoba saw

These saws have cutting teeth on both sides of the blade. One side is generally filed for crosscutting, while the other side are used for ripping. On some ryoba, the teeth on one side will be used for hardwood and the other softwood. The blade is thinner in the middle to help prevent binding, and the number and size of teeth will vary based on the blade length

Sokomawashibiki (“bottom”)

sokomawashibiki saw

This curve-cutting saw was originally used for crafting the bottom of wooden buckets, hence the name. The curvature allows you to cut curves in both hardwood and softwood.

How to Use a Japanese Pull Saw

Many of the techniques you use for Western saws can also be used on a nokogiri. You will want to grip further down the handle (the exact pivot point will vary from person to person), and starting a cut should be done with the rear of the blade, since the saw works on the pull stroke.

Always start off slow and gentle, building speed and pressure slowly to avoid a jam. You will also want to finish off slow and gentle to prevent splintering.

As with other types of saws, you want to store you nokogiri in a dry place, as the blade can rust and avoid trying to cut on the push, as this can break the teeth.

Using a Japanese Saw

Can You Sharpen a Japanese Saw?

The answer to this depends largely upon whether or not the teeth were impulse-hardened. Hardened teeth cannot be resharpened, as they are harder than the feather files. Feather files are available in a few sizes, but 3 (for dozuki) and 4 (for ryoba).

Clamp your saw in a vise and sharpen every other tooth with the feather file. It will take three to four pushes per tooth, unless severely damaged. Then, flip the saw and file the remaining teeth.

As a finishing touch, file secondary bevels to kelp prevent breakage along the tips.

Japanese Saw vs Western Saw – What’s the Difference?

The most obvious difference between the two styles is the handle. Nokogiri tend to have longer handles and the blades often resemble that of a machete or chisel in shape, whereas Western saws usually have a grip handle and long blade that tapers slightly or has an attachment point at the far end.

Another huge difference is the direction of the teeth. Western saws are designed to cut on the push stroke, whereas nokogiri cut on the pull stroke. While the latter seems counter-intuitive to those used to Western carpentry, nokogiri can become a fast favorite due to the precision and control they offer.

It’s interesting to note that some of the best pruning saws are also made in Japan and do most of their cutting on the pull stroke.

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Comments

  1. Hi Chris. Thanks for a superb article about Japanese saws.

    Since they’re hardened, do you have any suggestions for drilling a couple of holes to accept a depth stop? I’m afraid to damage the saws so would appreciate your advice
    Thanks again

    Gordon Nicol

    Reply
    • Thanks Gordon. A cobalt bit is probably your best bet (both 5% or 8% should work). Use a center punch first to make an indent to prevent the bit from sliding around. Then a drop of oil and drill at a low RPM. I can’t say I’ve ever drilled into a thin hardened steel blade so take my advice with a grain of salt.

      Reply

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