What must it have taken?


I’ve been sawing over the past week the sections of big tree that by some miracle was able to be loaded in my truck. I started with one of the smaller sections, marking at 1-3/4″ on center, so making boards of 1-5/8″ after the kerf is considered. Really I think of this cut as 6/4, the thickness I need for shoji rail/stile. I was amazed to get such a good mark of the ink-line for the ouside boards. Some of it had to be marked in by eye with the sumisashi.



And, after a day of sawing, I came to the parting off. I’ve been told that the maebiki-oga looks almost cartoonish in scale. It starts to make perfect sense when you’re cutting through more than 12″. This log was heavy enough that I had to waylay my brother into helping me lift it onto the horse. It almost tipped over the whole affair in the process. I guess that’s how you know that the log is getting heavy enough to mill horizontally. Ideally one person can accomplish any of this stuff with a bit of ingenuity.

The sawdust makes sitting on the ground quite comfortable. Or kneeling for that matter.


If you understand the possibilities of the ramp you’ll save yourself a great deal of back ache. I almost, almost had a dumb moment and tried to lift the log up onto the cradles. Apparently I can learn!I keep on putting my cant hook in photos as well, hopefully you can understand how fucked you’d be not to have this tool and try to move heavy logs. I need some heavy towing chain and a couple log hooks though, I could definitely use some more tools.


For the next log I picked the largest one. Since it was slightly oblong in cross-section I marked my boards to maximize accurate marking surface as opposed to width of board. Somebody linked to a great video of a Japanese carpenter sawing a log: http://www.en.charpentiers.culture.fr/treesintohouses/fromtheforesttotheworksite/pitsawing/pitsawinginjapan?media

I want his trestles! Next time I pick up some timber I’ll be getting something smaller I can hew to boxed heart 8×8 for heavy trestles. Oh, wait that wasn’t the link that I was thinking about. In any case I used a guide for the start of the cut.

Should I point out how epic it is to be sawing horizontally? I don’t know, it like a revolution for me, not to be vertical. It really changes everything.


To cut off one board at a time, to really be able to focus on each board face cut, its dramatic. And useful! Not to be constantly moving the log. I’m cutting this one to 2″ slabs.  It took me quite a while to get a proper posture for holding the saw. The hand higher up the handle holds the saw plate itself. For the best control I laid my thumb along the back spine of the plate. Doing anything the same way for a long time gets fatiguing, so you have to change it up every once in a while, try new things. Your body figures it out or you injure yourself, so its fairly self correcting.


I was worried that having the plate ride against the lower side of the kerf would make it difficult to cut to the line. Oddly enough its actually easier to be accurate sawing horizontally. I mean, dramatically better quality of cut. Perhaps it is harder to put power into the cut with the loss of gravity assisting in the vertical orientation, but practice and training can overcome.


So, which direction do you start the cut from? I’ve tried top to bottom, bottom to top, it doesn’t matter from the saw’s perspective. What does matter is not pissing into the wind. What I mean is to saw such that the wind carries the saw dust away from the  plate. If it blows back onto the top of the plate it creates friction in the kerf, and that makes for a terrible time sawing. Binding of any kind, avoid it like the plague, be it from pitch build up, wandering off the line, warping boards, poor wedge technique. The sawing is fun and easy when the plate rides lightly in the kerf.  The only time its impossible to avoid a bit of binding is sometimes at the start of the cut before the plate is deep enough to get wedges in there. Sometimes the boards just really want to clamp together, other times its because you didn’t start the cut in plane and bind as you correct back to the line.  In any case, its a serious pain in the ass with the super deep plate of the maebiki-oga. A frame saw has its advantages too.


How could I not talk about sharpening the saw? I thought I had a grasp on edge wear with my maeiki-oga. The 16″ cuts for this log taught me a serious lesson. With an eight inch cut the maebiki-oga eats through that shit, even when less than perfectly fresh. Its a question of force per unit area, you know? So for a heavy cut, you feel it right away when the saw is a little dull. It took at times several sharpenings to get through a board, simply because a saw that is a little bit dull is no good in a heavy cut, it just doesn’t remove the material the right way. The knots are not kind to the edges of the saw either. Not to mention how much effort it saves. And my body always appreciates the rest to sharpen the saw.


Going through a knot? The saw will not let you miss it. I can almost draw the board for you while I’m sawing it.


Well, there’s more to it then that which I had hoped to convey. I guess in the end you’ll figure it out if you put the time into it. I struggle at times to find a context for the amount of time I’m putting in to learning the use of this saw. As hard as the work is physically, its almost beside the point, I just seem to love the kobiki work. My bandsaw blade gave up the fight today and I just sighed, went back to the wall and picked up my maebiki-oga. A century of life for a tool that just keeps on giving with every sharpening.

10 thoughts on “What must it have taken?”

  1. It is a very difficult thing to explain to people, why we “waste” ridiculous amount of time in these “simple” processes. We generally choose to use the most efficient means possible that will result in an exceptable product. What can’t be conveyed is that all of this time that you are investing is actually a very specific and intense type of knowledge, and is sort of rewiring your brain, in a way. You are learning to “read the tree”, better than anyone who is just using a chainsaw mill ever could. Soon you will be cutting for specific grain patterns and everything!

    More to my point though, is that your mind and body are learning to work with the materials. Once we learn to stop fighting ourselves, the speed really increases because we aren’t “thinking” so much. The tools seem to nearly do the work themselves. It’s really quite amazing. Think of how much faster you are now than even six months ago (if your development is anything like mine. Heck, you’re tons better than me to begin with, haha.). Now that you know what’s involved time and effort wise, you truly can just grab the saw and cut something faster than it might take you to set up the tablesaw /jigs/etc. Beyond the speed though, is that the quality of your work REALLY gets better, I suspect because you have chosen to fully involve yourself in what you are doing. As you point out, the dull tool cuts poorly, so it just makes sense to sharpen the tools because the work becomes faster, easier, and the quality improves. I feel that this works as an analogy for skills as well.

    I was wondering about the horizontal sawing, thinking that there would be a pronounced tendency for the saw to dive into the cut. I’ve seen so many pictures of Kobiki sawing flat, that I had been wondering if they might be using an asymmetrical set to their saws, but you are putting this to rest, thank god. I had been planning on buying a whole mess of maebiki just to confirm/deny my suspicions, so you’ve saved me money, haha.

    I can tell that you are really getting into the groove, based on your pictures alone. This is like tool pron for sawing nerds, haha! The full gullets, the beautifully even crosshatching of the saw marks, and the lines from you sumitsubo…..just wonderful! Thank you for this.

    And……The economy of this is just incredible isn’t it. Hundreds of years, and it’s that simple a thing.

    Really great work.

    1. Thanks Jason! About the saw tracking to the line when cutting horizontally, I notice after finishing a cut that there’s a bit of sawdust that sits on the bottom board surface of the kerf. Perhaps the plate rides the sawdust and it helps hold it in plane. In any case, I could have almost gone asleep and kept on sawing accurately, which for some reason is not the case for me when using the saw vertically. It does seem to help to pick a point on your body to pull the saw to consistently. You feel the plane of the cut on the return stroke and try to pull back in the exact same orientation to your anchor point.

    1. Thanks for the comment Ernest! I really love reading your blog, you know you can trust the knowledge of a man that wears a good hat.

  2. Wonderful, simply wonderful! It seems to me, it’d make sense to have multiple maebiki saws, sharpen them all, then one gets dull, switch to the next, then the next. Can’t wait to see you with some hardwood, although I think most species in Colorado are softwood, aren’t they?

    1. Thanks Steven! I’ve seen a few photos where the guy sawing has an extra fresh saw in waiting, it sounds like a good idea. You’re right about the wood too, most of the native species large enough to turn into lumber are softwood, different pines, juniper, cedar, aspen. In the urban and suburban areas there is hardwood though, black walnut, Siberian and American elm, honey locust, white oak, where people have planted it for landscaping. I’m not that high in elevation for the mountains so I want to try and see if I can get some black walnut to survive, that would be cool. An even better bet for a fast growing hardwood would be black locust, the perfect rot-resistant pole wood!

      1. That reminds me, when I went to Colorado years ago I got homesick. Very few trees, very little water, it was a little strange how far in one direction I could see. The mountains were nicer, but still not the hardwood forests I was accustomed to.

        When my little cousin came to visit New York, she had the opposite problem: She couldn’t stand all the trees! She refused to believe Ontario was a lake, she said it was an ocean…Then she went on to say she will cut down all the trees, apparently there are ‘too many’ and it blocks her sight.

        There’s some nice genetic engineering going on with trees lately, mainly trying to bring back the American Chestnut. Perhaps, you can get enough Colorado woodworkers to fund a project for fast-growing Alpine walnut.

    1. Excellent video, it always amazes me the range of stuff at giantcypress.net, not enough time in the day to find it all, thank you. Of course, now you’ve got me thinking how badly I want to get my little forge set up!

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