Song of the Maebiki-Oga

The process of sawing a beetle kill pine log into 4/4 (1″) thickness boards, using an antique Japanese hand saw known variously as a Maebiki-Oga, Whale Back Saw, Whale Noko.

The work was accomplished over two days, starting with peeling and marking the log. It produced 58.78 Board Feet of lumber, a value of $165.76 at my local retail price of $2.82 per BF. For two days of labour, ten hour days, that works out to $8.28/hr of value produced. Not too bad for a hand saw, right?

Shooting and editing a video takes a great deal of time! Let me know if you want to see more, otherwise I have some sawing to do, haha.

You know, I feel I am standing at a cross-roads looking for where to head next. If I want to truly make a living doing things like this it means studying with the right person, an apprenticeship. I don’t mean that I want to apprentice as a kobiki, haha, I love it but no. I’ve realized that shoji probably will not work for me as well, the local market is simply not here and crate shipping large items is a serious hassle.

I’m a tool maker at heart, and I love the nokogiri. Maybe there’s something in that.

15 thoughts on “Song of the Maebiki-Oga”

  1. Epic Gabe!!!!

    I CANNOT wait to do this:-)))))

    Metate is it? Move to Japan and find some awesome dude. Isn’t there a guy in the states? Mark Grable?

    I’d love to make some saws. Maybe one day. Gonna start with a Keshiki first I think (or Kebiki? Is one the name for a splitting tool?, I know what they do, just not what they’re called).

    1. Thank you! Kebiki are great, I’ve made a bunch, much better than pin type marking gauge for a lot of stuff. You nailed it, I dream of apprenticing with Mark Grable, making some nokogiri. I would gladly chop the guys charcoal for a year just to watch him at work.

  2. Perfect!

    I have sympathy with you and your crossroads; for me, it feels more like a can of worms!

    Metalworking is something I love, almost more than woodworking; My great-grandfather was a metalworker (It seems like Polish people have an affinity for metalworking, doesn’t it?), so I use a lot of his tools. I was very sad when I found I couldn’t make tools due to my eyes…

    Although, I am making a flush-trimming saw out of a 5tpi bow saw blade (700mm of crap, it was awful, but the rip blade works well), for my tech teacher. I just love how nice filing is, it’s very relaxing and satisfying, like planing but it just feels much more natural.

    I wish you the best, the road rise up to meet you, the wind at your back, and the sun smiling on you.

      1. Thanks Steven, I was hoping somebody thought my video editing wasn’t too terrible. Horizontal milling is next on my list if I shoot more video, but I need to make some trestles to support the log at the right height, and test out my ideas for loading heavy logs into my truck (without killing my back or crushing a leg). Thanks again!

        1. Do you happen to know what the right height would be? I think it would be where your arm is horizontal when you are at a comfortable seating position; and the proper seat height is the height of your knee, isn’t it?

          I started working on some trestles when I have the time. Nothing like unwinding from school with axework!

          1. That link didn’t work for me, I just get the main youtube page, maybe you could check it? I’m not really settled on a trestle height. Based on my limited experience sawing horizontally I wished that the log was on trestles about knee height. I used lower and smaller logs to sit on either side as I cut boards from top to bottom, it seemed to help to keep the seat adjustable. I’ve sawn also just sitting on the ground and end up using my back too much, whew sure am glad to get through my last log, it had a good deal of butt flare that added a bunch of time to the sawing, really heavy resin content in the sapwood at the bottom as well. It was a bit of a banana and even though it took an extra day to saw produced less board foot of eight foot length than the log from the section right above it. Don’t get me wrong, there was lots more wood there, but too many pieces that tapered from, say, six inches at the top to twelve inches at the bottom. I should have started by cutting it in half symmetrically through the bow along its length, then the boards sawn from each half wouldn’t have suffered from so much taper. For a board foot calculation I can only measure from the narrowest point along the total length of the board. I wish I could saw the same log twice and compare the usable board feet! I’m trying to derive some good general principles for maximizing the efficiency of board foot recovery from the log and so far watching internet video of commercial sawyers has been really the best way to pick this stuff up.
            How awesome is it that you can actually do some physical labour, keeps the mind running at its best and you get skill and something well made and useful? I wish the same could be said for more of our peers. Honestly can you imagine what most tea cup parents these days would do if their child came to them and said they wanted an axe for hewing logs? Haha, don’t know about that!

  3. I noticed that at various points, the angle of attack that the toothline was making with the log changed — sometimes it was more perpendicular to the log, and sometimes it was at a more acute angle. Did you find a particular angle that worked the best?

    1. Now that is a good question. The most effective angle of sawing is when I’m behind the log at a little bit less than perpendicular angle, such that the saw is cutting down the grain (much as a western pit saw might). Any other angle is cutting back against the grain to some degree, just like the normal action of using a nokogiri. I use a quite acute angle as a kerfing cut on one side of the log, and then switch to the more perpendicular cut on the other side. I think an angle somewhere in the middle of the two is quite normal as well, say 30degrees off from perpendicular, which I’ve used when sawing horizontally. Really the saw is amazingly effective at any angle as long as its sharp. Its easier to notice a dull saw cutting down against the grain because it starts to hop and takes more hand pressure to keep the cutting edges engaged.

  4. As I tell my students, the tool is not the object but the relation between the object and the subject, the dance the two make when at work. Beautiful dance that of yours. (Isn’t it cool to start a sentence like that, “my students” jajajjaja)

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