I’m very tired today from sawing lumber by hand. Maebiki Oga, whale noko, whale back saw, its all the same. Tools the kobiki shokunin wielded with great skill and energy to saw lumber before power mills took over.
Just got a new puppy, Darla. She’s some kind of a husky lab mix and is 100% adorable hanging out in my shop.
The tools of the trade, two maebiki oga and three Japanese cross-cut saws for taking the limbs off trees and cutting logs to length. I ordered these from a seller on ebay for $300. Not bad eh? Of course they arrived covered in rust, without handles, teeth in a shambles, and bent from god knows what kind of horrors in shipment.
All of these saws with the exception of the shiny new one had the bends and twist beaten out with a hammer on an anvil. Talk about a black art. There’s really no other way to learn hammer correcting a saw these days than to get some cheap steel plate or cheap old bent saws to practice on. The maebiki oga on the left most is still too twisted to use. Because the plate for the saw is quite roughly hammered, its too difficult for me to tell where most of the twist is. It seems like the plate was hammered thinner in the middle as well. It is very easy to ruin a saw by beating on it with a hammer. I know, having ruined several. You need to know why you are hitting, every single blow, know why it is needed and where. Until I understand the saw better, it will hang on my wall and relax. When my skill is ready and the saw is ready I will come back to it.
Like I said, I had to make new handles for most of the saws. Its a pretty straight forward process. Trace tang on one half of handle blank, carve recess, glue hand blank together and shape. I feel like I’m using Toshio Odate’s “Japanese Woodworking Tools” as a bit of a bible for my shop these days. I’ve read it countless times, but you never really get it until you try it for yourself, until you hold a saw like this in your hands.
One of the maebiki came with writing on it. I like to imagine it says something wonderful about its history or the sawyer who used it, and it almost feels like a shame to take it off, but there is too much rust under the laquer and paint on this thing. I don’t collect tools, I acquire tool to work. Work keeps tools fresh and not rusting away on a barn floor. The original owner of this saw would probably be amazed at it having traveled to the other side of the world to be put back to use. I think after I am gone this saw will still be traveling, looking for the next craftsman with skill.
Would anyone be able to translate some Japanese?
Securely clamping this saw for filing was necessary because I had to take a good deal of metal off to bring the teeth back into shape after jointing. Its always interesting to joint the teeth of an old saw for the first time. It always surprises me how poor the jointing is for the tooth line. These saws especially depend on efficiently translating a humans energy into cutting force. Joint the saw every time you sharpen and you’re insuring that every tooth on the saw is doing as much work as possible. I’m sorry I don’t have more photos of sharpening this saw, it took several hours and I was too in the zone to stop at the time. Suffice it to say, you need the largest feather file you can get your hands on.
The Larger teeth on both maebiki oga have “chone-gake” chipbreaker teeth. I actually used a small square swiss needle file to freshen the angles. I tried to keep the angles on the teeth the same as they came, but honestly even my meager skill with metate was able to even things up a bit. The teeth on these saws are the hardest I’ve ever filed. It makes lie-Nielsen saw plates feel like mild steel. Seriously, I was worried my feather file would go dull before I finished. A few of the teeth in the middle of the tooth line were so hard the file wanted to skate without substantial pressure.
Its been raining every day here for the past couple of weeks so instead of sawing outside I brought a small piece of elm in to try the saws out. The actual mechanics of sawing are pretty easy, if enormously hard work. Its much harder to mark the log, snap your lines properly, and hold the log securely to be cut. My work-holding here was pretty shoddy, I need some real log dogs and saw horses.
But the teeth on this saw are f**king laser beams. It sounds like a zipper being pulled when you pull back and saw dust streams from the cut. I was quite methodical to use the fullest length of the saw possible in the cut. Not just for using the teeth as evenly as possible, but to help clear the saw dust from the cut. With such a deep cut you need to worry about chip clearance at least as much as pulling the saw with power on the tooth edges.
The milling marks left from the saw are barely visible. It took more than a couple of hours to saw these boards and I’m definitely feeling it at the end of the day. All I can think of to add is that wedges are your friends. Use wedges! Don’t let the plate rub and slowly pull your work bench across the shop floor like me!
I’m deeply happy to have these saws. They represent something wonderful, being able to start with the fresh raw tree and work to something so finished. I don’t have the time to saw lumber by hand often, but what can I say? For some reason it brings me peace. Or maybe I’m just really, really tired.