Chris Schwarz's Blog

The Venerable and Inscrutable Shinto Rasp

The Shinto “Saw-Rasp” has always been a curious thing to me. I first spotted it years ago hanging on the wall of our local Rockler store in the sandpaper section. It looks like (and probably is) a series of 10 hacksaw blades that have been bent and riveted together. It looked so unfamiliar to me , not a rasp, not a saw , that I never had the urge to try it.

But then I saw how furnituremaker Glen Huey uses the tool on his cabriole legs and decided to try the Shinto out on the legs for the Creole Table. I’m glad I did. The Shinto has turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the project.

There are two parts to the Shinto: the blade and the handle. The blade is about 10-3/8″ long, 1-1/8″ wide and vaguely boat-shaped. One side of the blade has coarse teeth (11 tpi) and the other side has fine teeth (about 25 tpi). The handle ingeniously grips the blade by hooking over the rivets that pass through the blade. And then you lock the blade by turning a screw up by the hot-dog-looking handle.

The handle is nicely finished, much better than what you’d expect, actually. But you don’t need the handle assembly. In fact, I think this tool works better without the handle attached (and you can save some money as a result; more on that later).

The Shinto is an “intermediate” shaping tool , what I would call a “medium” tool in the “coarse, medium and fine” classification system I use for most tools. It is best used after the coarse shaping of the band saw, jigsaw or turning saw. The rasp’s long length allows you to true a curved surface up and remove the coarse marks from the saw blade. But it won’t produce a ready-to-finish surface at the end, even with the fine teeth. After shaping the legs with the band saw and Shinto, I took them to their finished state with a cabinet file and a little scraping (files and scrapers are classic “fine” tools).

The Shinto is as fast at shaping as any traditional rasp I’ve used, and it leaves a remarkably nice surface for a hacksaw-based tool. One of the reasons it’s so fast in use is because you have both teeth immediately available to you when you use the tool without the handle , just flip the blade over and go to town.

I also really like its price. The Shinto with the handle is $25.99. But I recommend you skip the handle and just buy the blade and save about $10. Our Rockler retail outlet sells the replacement blade for about $16, though I cannot find the replacement handle for sale on Rockler’s website. However, Highland Hardware will sell you just the blade for $15.99.

As a couple readers have pointed out, there also is a version of this tool that has a handle on the blade and looks more like a traditional rasp. It’s available in 9″ and 11″ lengths from Japan Woodworker. Of course, buying the blade alone is still the best value.

The “Shinto” name is curious to me. In college I took a fair number of classes on Western and Asian religions, including several classes on Buddhism and Shinto, the two religions that are intertwined into Japanese culture. In my studies, we learned that the Shinto religion considers all natural objects to have their own spirit, which should be revered. So, my professor said, a Shinto shrine or other structure wouldn’t use any nails or metal in its construction because that would be offensive to the kami (or spirit) of the tree.

I wonder what the kami in my legs thinks about the Shinto hacksaw tool that chewed it up pretty good last week.

- Christopher Schwarz

4 thoughts on “The Venerable and Inscrutable Shinto Rasp

  1. Alan DuBoff

    Chris,

    In reading this, it made me think of a conversation I was having last night with a friends. That being that many of the Japanese toolmakers have and did build temples/shrines in Japan. During the 5 years I lived there, the shrines were one of the peaceful and pleasant places to visit, especially in Tokyo (i.e., Meiji Shrine between Yoyogi and Harajaku).

    I can’t help but wonder if the name is somehow tied into that tradition, or if it’s believed and/or meant that there’s truely a GOD (or being) within the tool. Shinto is an interesting way of belief, and most of my in-laws are Shinto. The Shinto have a spiritual belief which I tend to favor over western religions, although I’m not religious by any means. It is no surprise that there is such a spiritual following to woodworking in Japan, or that such a name would be tied to a tool, but it makes sense.

    It is most interesting that there is little to do with woodworking tools from this company, and would be most interesting to know how it evolved. Please let the rest of us know if you find out!;-)

  2. Bill Owens

    There seem to be two other styles, if you search for ‘shinto’ at japanwoodworker.com. I think I’d like the straight-in handle better than the clamp-on affair.

    Bill.

  3. Robert Butler

    Chris, your mention about the "coarse, medium, fine classification system" reminded me to thank you for discussing this concept. It is so simple that it seems ridiculous that I hadn’t considered it before. But lately, when I have been working on various projects, I have kept it in mind and it has been really helpful.

    It came in handy lately when I was getting rid of some nicks in my jointer blades. In the past, I would have worked away for a long time with fine grit and then, once I was both exhausted and frustrated enough, I’d reluctantly go back to something a little more coarse and work my way back to the finest grit. I know, sounds ridiculous but it’s true. Keeping your "coarse, medium, fine classification system" in mind has saved me a lot of work. Thanks for pointing it out!

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