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If You’re Looking For Information on Japanese Tools…

I’ll admit my experience with hand tools is almost exclusively limited to those from the western tradition.

Until this week I had only one pull saw. It’s and inexpensive flush-trim cross-cut that I use for trimming draw bore pins and occasionally cutting off the bits of chair parts that stick out past their mates. And I don’t think I’ve ever even touched a Japanese plane.

This bias became obvious to me when I rewatched the overview of the Foundational Tools and realized I hadn’t even thought to mention a japanese ryoba as an alternative to the more expensive and harder to get Hybrid Saw from Bad Axe.

I thought maybe I should correct this omission.

So I went to the only person I trust for information on Japanese tools… Wilbur Pan.

Wilbur’s blog, giant Cypress (not to be confused with the hybrid bicycle by the same name), has been going strong for more than 12 years. It’s a wealth of knowledge on Japanese tools in particular and woodworking traditions from Asia in general (Wilbur is of Chinese descent).

I’ve wanted to purchase a Japanese saw for a while, but I’ve never been able to get over the anxiety of stepping into a world of tools that I know nothing about. The last time I did that I ended up with a small collection of useful tools and a whole bunch of shiny objects that I never really use. I’ve also got a very large pile of rusty objects that aren’t worth cleaning up and and a much smaller pile of money with which to spend on more shiny objects.

So I told myself that I let you down. That I failed you by not fully exploring the world of worthy hand tools. I took those feelings and used them to get over the anxiety. And it was just the excuse I needed to buy another tool.

But only one. And it wasn’t easy.

I had to resist the urge to simply buy them all. I had to do my research.

Just like western handtools, it seems there’s a tool for every specific application in Japanese woodworking. So choosing a tool (in this case, a saw) for general purpose involves plenty of reading, a little bit of hand wringing and, ultimately, a small leap of faith.

Thankfully, I found the guide I needed in Wilbur. I was able read one article and make my decision. I ordered my chosen saw from Hida Tool and moved on.

The Gyokucho #611 Ryoba (Double-Sided) Extra Fine Saw (#NeverSponsored) arrived early this week. I’ll give it shot and let you know what I think.


If you’re thinking about exploring Japanese tools, here’s the article I used to decide on a saw and a list of other helpful articles you might want to read:


As a junior co-host of the Modern Woodworker’s Association Podcast, I had the privilege of speaking with Wilbur this week during the recording of a future episode.

He was on to promote his virtual class: Introduction to Japanese Saws. It‘s part of a series on Japanese tools that’s being offered by Kezurou-Kai USA. (#NeverSponsored)

In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he thought most woodworkers took their edges down way too far during the course of regular sharpening. His practice is to sharpen far more frequently and typically only with his finest stone. Of course I took this as a challenge. So I’ll have to give it a shot and report back.


While we’re on the topic of sharpening…

I should mention I got some generous and thoughtful comments from a former coaching client, now friend, in Belgium. He writes…

To me, it was also quite clear what you meant about double-sided water stones and stones that require soaking, and why the spray-and-go stones are preferable. However, there are other spray-and-go brands than the Shaptons, and here I felt left more in the dark as to why the Shaptons in particular are the bee's knees.
So far, I have been using the Ohishi stones marketed by Lie-Nielsen, and have been reasonably happy, but have been thinking about at some point switching to the Shaptons, so I think my reaction here is partially based on a "oh, I wish he would have talked more about what I'm wondering about" situation.
Still, there are many other brands out there. I have used a combination King Tiger stone a little bit, enough to know why I'm not going with [what] you might class the classic type of waterstone, but there are also Naniwa, Cerax, Bester and several other brands that I think are mainly spray-as-you-go, and I think it might have been useful for others as well with a bit more of an in-depth discussion on why you prefer the Shaptons over other brands in the same line.

This is a completely fair question. And it brings up a valuable point.

It’s important for me to state (and maybe I should do it more often) that I haven’t tried everything out there. I started with a Naniwa stone primarily because it was spray and sharpen and I thought it would be less expensive to go with a single, two sided stone rather than a set of three, single grit, stones. The Naniwa seemed to be doing a suitable job until I had the opportunity to try a set of Shaptons while I was attending a class. The difference in speed of cut, especially at the low end, was striking. And stepping through three grits, even thought it seemed it would take longer, produced a finer edge in less time. I immediately ordered a set.

Since then I have had the opportunity to try the two sided stone offered by Lie-Nielsen when I exhibited at their Hand Tool Events. A two grit system was calling to me again. So I gave it a shot for several weeks with my Shaptons. I set the medium grit “Wine“ stone aside and jumped directly from 1000 grit to 8000. Against all logic, it took longer to get a durable, polished edge with two stones than it did with three.

I‘ve tried other brands as well, but I wasn’t impressed, so I didn’t bother to find out who made them.

Have any of you out there switched away from the Shaptons?

If so, I‘d love to hear about it. Hit reply and send me a note.

Until next week…

Enjoy your time in the shop!


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