Home #Makerspace: How to Saw (for Young and Beginning #Woodworkers)

I use Japanese-style saws exclusively in my classroom and home shop because I have young makers.  I love the quick bite and accuracy of a pull stroke, the low cost and high quality, but mostly, enjoy handing my saw to young apprentices and watch them succeed, no matter what their size, shape or need might be.

In general, beginning students, especially young makers and makers with physical challenges, find the Japanese-style saws easier to use successfully.  Japanese craftsman developed methods and techniques which centered around very low workbenches, short saw horses and a comfortable seated posture.  If you are a young maker, or use a wheelchair, traditional Japanese craft mimics your natural physical position.  Straight handles mean you can grasp your saw in multiple ways and still be successful.  The pull stroke maximizes the maker’s leverage without needing strong, heavy arm stroke.  Lastly, the workbench on the floor is always at the right height, just about waist high…even if you are knee-high to a grasshopper!  Lastly, high-quality Japanese-style saws are half the cost of similar Western-style saws.  The main disadvantage of Japanese-style saws is that they cannot be sharpened .  

How to Saw

Sawyers (ye olde term for a person who saws…) use clamping pressure and body position to saw a board safely and squarely.  If you want to cut a board using a workbench or table, position the cut line so it hangs off the bench.  Use a bench hook to make accurate crosscuts, a cut across the width of the board or across the grain of a board.  A miter box can be used to increase accuracy.  Then clamp the work piece down to reduce movement.

Next, set up your body.  Keep your shoulders square to the work.  Place your non-dominate hand on the work, away from the cut line.  Use your body weight to hold the workpiece down. Now, grasp the saw handle firmly and line the saw blade to the cut line.  Move yourself so the cutline, saw blade and your forearm form a single line.  Lock your wrist to keep your saw blade perpendicular.  Now, push the blade slowly forward, concentrating on moving your blade and forearm in one line.  Pull the blade back, again concentrating on keeping your arm and blade in-line.  Once you’ve cut a small groove in the wood, speed up and saw away.  If you find it hard to pull or push your blade, your blade is binding in the cut.  Slow down, straighten your arm and twist your wrist until the cut becomes easier.

If the workbench is too high, try working on a knee-high bench or the floor.  Set up is similar to the table, except you place your knee on the work piece instead of a clamp.  This increases the clamping pressure and frees a hand to help guide the saw.

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