Making a Saw Setting Spider


Time for working with a new saw! This time its a 5-1/2′  two man cross-cut for felling and bucking, cuts on the push and the pull, with four cutter teeth to every raker. I’d been needing the use of a larger capacity saw for bucking logs prior to ripping with my whale noko, because my madonoko isn’t really meant for cuts over about half a meter. Now, I’ve made some pretty epic cuts larger than that with time and patience, but even after careful straightening by metate Mark my madonoko still wanted to wander on the opposing side of the cut, and it gets to be a real struggle to layout for boards on the end of the log when the surface of the end grain is concave.


I’ve resisted the idea of two man saws for the simple reason that its damn hard to find another guy to get on the other side of the saw. If you do, damn, that’s a good friend, I tell you!

But a saw like the one in the picture above can be used by one person quite effectively as long as the cut is plumb.


And! There’s some very interesting tools used in dressing these large saws accurately. The jig at the top of the picture above does three things. First, it can hold a file in a curved shape for jointing the tops of the saw teeth to the same level. Second is a pin gauge for setting the height of the raker teeth when peening over the hook. Lastly is another height gauge for finish filing the rakers to a consistent height, accurate to the thousandth of an inch. The tool at the bottom left is the setting spider, the subject of today’s post. How about some instructions?

Simmons Saw Sharpening Guide

And learn from the master filer I learned from, a fantastic set of videos that include a bit of hammer straightening of saws.

The spider is used as a gauge to accurately determine the degree of set in each tooth. Simple and brilliant, it immediately struck me that such a tool could be easily made and used on maebiki-oga.


You’ll catch this if you watch through the videos above, but basically the spider has a small difference in height between the long arms. Placed on the saw you see how it rocks back and forth. If the long arms rock the tooth needs more set, if the short arms rock the tooth is over set. Its important to note that this tool only works if the plate of the saw is quite straight, flat, and even of thickness.


I started by cutting a cross out of some mild steel a bit thicker than 1/8″.


I stuck it in a vise to bend the edges over, filed a flat land on all the feet, and leveled them to the same height on my diamond stone.


Then one leg could be lowered by grinding with part of the spider off the stone, checking how much material had been removed with a feeler gauge.  For the large cross cut saw the spider was set at about .012″, for my maebiki-oga I adjusted the spider to gauge .010″ of set, which with a plate thickness of .085″ gives me a kerf just under 1/8″.


Luckily the plate on my saw is pretty consistent and flat, so I got right to work checking my set. Up to this point I’ve been setting by eye by sighting along the plate held flat. If you have an oga saw with a rough hammered surface you’ll have to depend upon setting by eye. I still don’t completely trust the spider, but it is a great analytical tool to gauge how well I’m setting, and weather I’m actually seeing the degree of set correctly. As it turns out, I had over set one side and under set the other, probably due to the change in orientation of the saw when flipping it to peen the teeth over.


For setting teeth you need a small anvil, mild steel is okay, as long as it has a rounded edge that allows the tooth to make contact in the right spot. The teeth of a whale noko are hard enough that if you were to strike the tooth while unsupported you run the risk of breaking it.


With the plate held in your lap at a lowered angle to the flat  you can place the tooth line on the anvil and strike the upper third of the tooth.


I’m using a new hammer for setting, a cross peen with a ‘v’ shaped edge, not rounded, that is basically a large single edge version of a Japanese setting hammer. If you use too light of a hammer you find yourself whacking the tooth with a rather random amount of force. Adjusting the set within a thousandth of an inch requires control. Also, bending teeth back that have been over set on such hard steel is not an option, they just break off, so get it right or you’re stuck with an over set tooth until you sharpen it down a bit.

Happy sawing! I hope more people now are getting these big saws ready for the cut and avoiding the hassle of a chain-saw.

Practicing Hizumi: Hammering saws flat

Most woodworkers that are interested in hand tools manage to collect a fair number of saws that have seen better days…That’s a polite way to say they were beaten the hell out of, bound in a cut and bent, kinked, or otherwise mangled. A bent saw will give no end of trouble when sawing, basically relegating it to a wall ornament. That is, unless a little love and care can straighten them out.

Rather counter intuitively the best way to remove distortion from a saw is beating on it with a hammer, the process that is known in Japanese as Hizumi. Apparently hizumi also refers to working the kinks out of peoples backs and body, should give you some idea that this is analogous to massage. Hizumi is used in almost all of the blacksmithing trades dealing with tools, from knives to chisels and kanna, all require a bit of straightening after rough forging and tempering before the final work can be done profitably at the grinding stone. With saws metate take the art of hizumi to a whole different level, as a saw often comes out of hardening shaped like a potato chip.

One of the biggest reasons I endeavored to make my way to Vermont and Mark Grable has been to study hizumi, as I have no shortage of saws that need straightening, and metate is close to becoming a forgotten skill in this age of power everything and disposable blade culture.  Of course, you know better, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So where to start?


How about cleaning up that rusticle you just found in grandpa’s old barn or on ebay? Mark’s approach is to use 40 grit sand paper and a tool made by Yataiki that lets you apply a lot of pressure and control as you work off the rust.


It consists of a sen like handle with a piece of bicycle tire nailed on to grip the sand paper. Simple and effective. The point here is not to sand out all of the pitting and restore the tool to a bare metal fine finish, merely to render it free of rust and to a point where the saw plate can be viewed well in the correct light condition.


So, take one potato chip…I mean saw blade and sit back in some indirect diffuse light and get the shape of the saw in your head. The whole shape of the saw, its not enough to merely notice a bump here or there. The thing about distortions in a saw is that they have a habit of relating to each other, a certain balance of forces and tension that is effected in the saw as a whole. Attempt to remove one problem and you might just make another worse.

Its better to start on thicker western style saws, and better yet to practice on stuff like the above photo of an old circular saw blade that’s been annealed (a bit over annealed, I’d say).

Flex the saw lengthwise between your hands and listen for the dreaded nuki, poka-poka, or oil-canning. That consists of a section of over tensioned metal that wants to pop back and forth in its unrequited state of inbalance with the rest of saw plate. If that’s apparent you need to put the saw away and not work on it until you have quite a bit more experience, but at least its a problem that can be dealt with. Just today somebody sent Mark a ryoba saw with the worst twist and nuki I’ve ever seen in a saw, and Mark got right to work hammering that shit out, not that I could tell exactly how he went about it.

The first tool you’ll employ looking at the saw’s condition is a straight edge, with the saw held up to the light in such a way that you can see the line of light between the saw and the straight edge. First look along the width of the saw on both sides, then both directions diagonally, and finally along the length of the saw. Remember, you’re trying to get in your minds eye the total shape of the saw, not merely a localized spot or two.

Next you look at the saw along its width and length at a low angle to the incoming light. Its hard to describe what the right angle is like, but you’ll know it when you start picking up the surface topography of the saw. A cold beer is appropriate at this stage as you contemplate the saw and your local universe, the birds and the mountains, and the wind rippling the pond. If its late in the evening you put the saw down and go enjoy the sunset, maybe practice some calligraphy, hew a beam, or get stoned and enjoy the company of your friends.


Back in the shop the saw awaits and the anvils and hammers are positioned. In the Japanese tradition you work seated, maybe with the anvil tilted to return the light to your eye at the right angle to allow you to see your hammer strikes on the lightly oiled surface of the plate.


Hammers for major distortion are any heavy round faced hammer at hand. More refined and focused work involves a cross-peen hammer.

The hammer strikes the high spots, with the cross peen edge perpendicular to the length of the bow. Try to connect areas of distortion, and notice how working on one spot effects the others. Work both sides of the saw, an absolute necessity with removing twist that consists of concave bows that oppose each other diagonally. Strike blows hard enough to remove half of the distortion, and then half again, and so forth.

Flex the saw constantly to check for the pop of oil-canning, which can happen from working one spot too intensively. If you catch it early its much easier to remove.

A word on nuki. I don’t know enough at this point to give any advice should you find yourself with a saw that has this problem, but from what I’ve seen it involves working the periphery of the nuki on both sides of the saw, evening the tension and pulling it into the rest of the saw with a large round faced hammer.


At first, to put it bluntly, I was beating the hell out of this saw blade, and left a pretty crappy surface as a result.


But it is a lot straighter, no? If you just read this whole blog post and realized I didn’t really tell you how to straighten your saw, good point. Its not so simple as a prescription for hit here and the problem will be solved. If I can say one thing it is this, something Mark told me when I first arrived in Vermont, know when to stop.


Making a Seiro Rice Steaming Box


If you’re steaming large quantities of rice for making koji, mochi, or miso there are a number of routes you can take, including making a traditional Japanese rice steaming box known as a seiro.

I used plain sawn white cedar from northern Vermont, and the satisfaction of not having to buy one of these is immense. But lets step back a moment for a little explanation.


There are tons of good ways to cook rice, but sweet glutinous rice is at its best when steamed above a pot of boiling water. In Thailand you might see a woven bamboo basket, in China perhaps a round stacking bamboo basket on top of a wok. I’ve been using a colander inside of another pot, but it doesn’t cook the quantities of rice that I need for making other fun foods, specifically for mochi tsuki. A good explanation of what the deal is with pounding mochi can be found here.


This is a book that Mark pulled off the shelf for me, and I fell in love with the mysteries of miso.


It had a good drawing of seiro, though being a woodcrafter I upgraded the joinery a bit based on other pictures I’ve seen of seiro online.


The critical dimension that you might plan making one of these around is the size of the bamboo mat that sits inside. Cedar is wonderful, lovable, excellent working wood, but you shouldn’t feel bad about making one out of pine if that’s what you have available.


I’ve been getting better with ripping the tenons bent over a low saw horse. White cedar is so soft that I use the cross-cut side of my saw for everything. Give this sawing position a try! Its not easy on the back but you gain freedom from a bench vise which you might not have access to in a lot of places you’d find yourself working. Free yourself from the “I must build a massive European joiners bench” mentality that we all start out with!


I also like holding material with my foot vertically against the end of my planing bench. This works for sawing the waste with a fret saw on dovetails too. And of course you’re feet are much faster acting clamps than a screw vice so you waste less time screwing shit. Just another little bit picked up watching shokunin on YouTube.

I borrowed some of Mark’s chisels for this work. Cedar being so soft requires exceptionally sharp chisel to pare end grain, and the steel in some of my chisels is kind of a joke. I still work with a few Harbor Freight chisels…


These are the chisels I’m talking about, Kiku Hiromaru. You can get them from Japan Tool for a mere 85,000 yen (about $750 USD at todays exchange rate). I’m not joking when I say ‘mere’, these nomi are dreamy. Literally, I dreamed about them last night.  The modern one’s are made by the son of the smith who made these, but I’d wager that the quality is still exceptional and you may even be able to find old stock to buy.


I made the hole on my steam board a bit large and added a shallow frame to help distribute the steam before the box that holds the rice.


I also let in the tenon sides of the box an eight of an inch to help restrain the wood from warping and help keep the sides steam tight. You’ll see in the line drawing from the book of miso that they can be made with a single wedge pinned through tenon, but a double tenon, though harder to cut the mortises for the wedges, resists the movement of the wood much better. Two battens mortised into the the sides hold the bamboo mat which the rice, inside of a cotton cloth, will sit upon while cooking.


And of course, with a soft wood like cedar there’s no better way to finish it off than a sharp hand plane. I’m getting some rice soaking tonight, by tomorrow I’ll be ready to pound some mochi. Maybe I’ll make some koji trays and try cultivating my own strain of mold for making sake and miso! Mark is working on a round bottomed plane for hollowing the inside of barrel staves, cedar barrels being preferred for fermenting miso.

Turning Bombs into Anvils


I’ve been gaining immense enjoyment out of working white cedar and a dovetail kanna, in this case classing up my washing water bucket with a Japanese style lid with sliding dovetail battens, made from some scraps that came off the deck I put down for Mark’s wife.

I suppose this being a woodworking blog I should show a few more shots of how this goes together…


Take one dovetail kanna for the male side of the joint. What an excellent tool! All of my joinery planes are western push style and really need two hands to operate well, which is fine, especially working hardwoods that require more force and control. Japanese joinery planes on softwood are fast though, one handed, and no dogging the work to the bench as its enough for the other hand to hold things steady. It takes strong hands though.


I love this shot because it sums up all of what I love about the Japanese approach to woodworking. Such a tight, controlled, and productive little space. I used the dovetail kanna to make a guide for my dozuiki noko so that I could saw the dovetail slots in the top of the lid.

Sitting in seiza can take some getting used to but I really feel the dozuki performs at its best like this.


I don’t have crane neck paring chisels for cleaning out long sliding dovetails, but even better is a router plane with cross grain blade for cleaning the waste. I switched to a straight edge blade when close to the bottom of the groove because the spear tip doesn’t leave a flat bottom. It doesn’t hurt that the router plane is easy to use with a pull stroke.


And how about a bunch more use of the dovetail kanna!

I’m making a traditional Japanese rice steaming box out of more of this excellent cedar. The one with the hole in it sits on top of the pot of boiling water and permits the steam to rise into the rice. Mmm…tasty steamed rice which will faintly have the aroma of cedar.


It was oddly warm for March yesterday, Mark and I took the opportunity to move a canoe he’s restoring over to his shop on a piece of land he bought when first moving to Vermont. The amado Mark is pulling off have two inches of poly-iso insulation inside the frame, good idea!

Now, this structure isn’t much to look at, but there’s some treasure inside.


How about an anvil made from an old naval artillery shell? Its not hardened, but the bounce is good.


And as if that wasn’t enough, how about some Japanese forging anvils? You rarely see them not planted in the ground. The one on the right is about 250lb, to be place next to the smith at the forge. The smaller one is used to beat on rough forgings, something for between forging and hizumi. Yataiki really had a lot of faith in Mark to send him all of this steel half way around the world.


One of the more important elements to hizumi of saws is the correct light condition. Here with the light coming through the south facing shoji you can see what  Mark might see while seated working on saws. The anvils are tilted so that the light is returned to the eye at the right angle.


Also something I’ve not seen discussed is the fired clay tuyere for a fuigo. This is the bit that sticks into the forge proper, another carved piece of kiri would be used to connect the fuigo to the tuyere. The opening at the forge end is about one inch.


The opening at the back is about three inches. The taper inside is not straight the whole way, it necks down to the exit diameter about three inches from the end and I suspect produces a bit of venturi effect.


Spring is almost in the air, plenty warm for dipping my feet in the creek and getting grounded to mother earth.

The Pain and Pleasure of Sawing While Seated


Continuing from my last post, the rotten heart of this pretty little piece of Black Locust. There was a knot that healed over and decayed into the heartwood, something I didn’t think could happen with Black Locust given its reputation as exceptionally rot resistant.


So now I have slabs that are exceptionally…artistic. What would Nakashima have done?


And when you don’t sharpen your saw the cut can cup in the middle and binding, chaos, and pain in your arms ensue as you curse the very existence of the tree you’re sawing.

Mark Grable is fond of saying, “Know when to stop”.

And, “Sharpen your saw, its so easy, its a rip saw”.

Okay, okay, I’ll sharpen the damn saw when it needs it.


You may find yourself in a pickle needing to snap a line off the end of the cosmic void…I mean off the end of the butt of the log. Get creative with a level batten and some marks and you’ll be fine.

And finally, some video of sawing horizontally, sorry it took so long to the guy who asked.