Japanese Saws: The Ryouba

If you can’t stay young, you can at least stay immature.

Red Green

The Ryoba saw is certainly the best-known woodworking saw in Japan if only because of its unique shape. Indeed, for as long as your humble servant has been rattling around on the earth, it has been the single tool that most represents the Japanese carpenter in the public mind. It is probably the best-known Japanese saw outside of Japan too, second only to the Dozuki saw.

In this post we will discuss the Ryouba saw in general, and the Ryouba we provide to our Beloved Customers in particular.

Definitions

The full name of this saw is “Ryouba Nokogiri” written 両刃鋸 in Chinese characters, and pronounced “ryoh-/bah/noh/koh/giri.” Ryou means “both,” “Ha” means “blade” or “cutting edge,” and “nokogiri” means “saw.” In other words, a “double-edged saw.”

The word is almost always spelled “Ryoba” in the English-language alphabet, but the “o” in “Ryo,” in this case, is actually pronounced a little longer. When I was young man first learning the Japanese language on Shikoku Island, the convention was to express this longer pronunciation by adding a straight line over the letter “o” to look like “ō”, but with the wide use of computers nowadays, the trend seems to have shifted to adding a “u” after the “o,” which is perfectly consistent with how it’s written phonetically in Japanese (りょうば ). But I digress.

History

Being double-edged, the Ryoba has a set of rip teeth on one edge and cross-cut teeth on the other. It is a relatively recent invention, first appearing around 1897, instantly gaining tremendous popularity throughout Japan.

While the invention of cross-cut teeth is at least several hundred years old, archaeologists and researchers have postulated that they are a recent development, at least in Japan.

Why a Double-Edged Saw?

Because the Ryouba saw combines both a rip-saw and crosscut saw into a single saw, it has the following advantages over single-edge saws:

  1. More efficient use of expensive steel and labor than a two-saw set comprised of a single-edged crosscut saw and single-edged rip saw;
  2. Reduced weight and space requirements, especially important before people generally had automobiles to help carry the load;
  3. Fewer saws to keep track of, and less time spent switching between them.

But all is not blue bunnies and fairy farts because, compared to the single-edged saw, the Ryoba saw has a few disadvantages Gentle Readers should be aware of:

  1. While the blade of a single-edge saw (kataba nokogiri 方刃鋸) is thickest at the teeth, and tapers thinner towards the back of the blade to reduce friction in the cut and to prevent the blade from binding, the Ryouba saw is thickest at both cutting edges and thinnest at the centerline of the plate between the teeth. The result is that, if one makes a cut using a Ryouba saw in a timber or board deeper than the thin centerline of the plate, friction in the saw kerf acting on the blade will increase as the cut approaches the offside teeth. The result is that the Ryouba saw is not ideal for deep cuts;
  2. If one uses a Ryouba saw to cut into a board or timber deep enough that the teeth from the opposite edge fall into the saw kerf, the opposing teeth will tend to score the surface of the wood surfaces inside the kerf. While these scratches may be of no consequence for many types of cuts, the Ryouba saw is not ideal for some types of cuts.

The Ryouba saw is perfect for many other applications, especially when working in the field.

When doing cabinet or joinery installations I always have a Ryouba saw on-hand simply because a single saw that can make shallow rip cuts and crosscuts is simply more time and cost efficient. The one in the photos below is my favorite.

Fine-toothed Ryouba saws like the one above were once common but are difficult to find nowadays.

The C&S Tool’s Seigoro Brand Ryouba Saw 清五郎印両刃鋸

We carry two ryouba saws, a 270mm (teeth length = 255mm) and 240mm (teeth length = 230mm). The longer of the two is well-suited for general carpentry, while the 240mm is better suited to finer work.

C&S Tool’s Seigoro brand 270mm Ryouba saw
C&S Tool’s Seigoro brand 240mm Ryouba saw

Our Seigoro brand saws were made by Azuma Kenichi 東賢一, the third generation Nakaya Choujiro in Nagaoka City Japan.

I have been using Choujiro brand saws made by Mr. Azuma’s father and grandfather for many years and have been absolutely satisfied with their quality and performance. We are thrilled to be able to offer a limited number of his Ryouba saws to our Beloved Customers.

These saws were a special order Choujiro filled using the last of his stock of Shirogami No.2 steel some years ago. We purchased the remainder of this order from the wholesaler who originally ordered them. There will be no more.

Choujiro no longer makes saws this large, having since shifted his focus to smaller saws used by European luthiers and model makers.

Of course, used Ryouba saws are available on the auction sites. The problem with used Japanese saws, however, is that it is impossible to judge the quality and preservation of a saw from photos alone. The only way to tell if a sawblade is kinked, warped, or oil-canned is to hold the saw up to the light, bend the blade, examine the reflections and feel the teeth. And the teeth of used saws are always dull and often damaged. Caveat emptor, baby.

These are new, high-quality saws made by a well-known blacksmith still working, perfect in every way, and backed by the C&S Tools warranty, so the risk of wasting money on an old saw you cannot examine in-person (assuming you have the expertise to examine Japanese saws to begin with), made by someone who’s name you cannot read, bought from someone that won’t give you back your money if the saw is not as good as it looks in the photos or even damaged before you receive it, is not a problem. (Wow, that was mouthful)

If a saw you purchased from us needs sharpening or repair, simply ship it back and we will arrange for a professional saw sharpener to restore its beautiful smile and revive its voracious appetite for sawdust, or even have Azuma-san repair it, if necessary, for a reasonable fee. Unlike thee and me, he doesn’t work for free. (Ah, poetry!)

Specifications

The specifications of the saws are listed below.

  • Blade Steel: Hitachi Metal’s Yasuki Shirogami (White Label) No.2 (1.05~1.15% carbon content)
  • Tang Steel: SK No.5 (0.80-0.90% carbon content)
  • Tang/blade connection: TIG weld
  • Thickness/taper: Thinnest at blade centerline
  • Finish: Buffer
  • Tension: Hammer tensioned
  • Rip teeth: Standard (increase in size progressively from heel to toe)
  • Crosscut teeth: 3-facet “edome”
Size
Edge LengthBlade
Steel
Tang
Steel
Quench Temper HardRip TeethCrosscut
Teeth
8 sun230mm Shiro 2SK5800°C (1472°F)305°C (581°F)Rc60°3T/cm
7.7T/in
6.5T/cm
16.5T/in
9 sun255mm Shiro 2SK5800°C (1472°F)310°C (590°F)Rc60°2T/cm
5T/in
6.3T/cm
16T/in
Saw Specifications

Ryouba saws are not specialist saws, but excellent general-use saws. If I could have only one saw in my workshop, or could take only one saw to a jobsite, it would be a Ryouba saw.

They are especially handy for general carpentry tasks and ideal for cutting tenons and many other joints in timber framing.

If you are interested, please check out the folder at this link containing pricelists and photos for most of our products, and drop a note in the contact form below.

YMHOS

If you have questions or would like to learn more about our tools, please use the form located immediately below titled “Contact Us.” Please share your insights and comments with everyone in the form located further below labeled “Leave a Reply.” We aren’t evil Google, incompetent facebook, thuggish Twitter, or an IT manager for the US Congress and so won’t sell, share, or profitably “misplace” your information. May I swallow a thousand needles if I lie.

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