Big Teeth, Little Teeth - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Big Teeth, Little Teeth

 In Chris Schwarz Blog, Sawing Techniques, Saws, Woodworking Blogs

I have three favorite jokes. One of them starts out with, “What’s brown and sticky?” The second one is from journalism school. It goes like so:

“People complain about bias in newspapers. That they never tell the truth. To that I say: What the heck do you want for a (expletive deleted) quarter? The truth costs at least $10.”

In other words you get what you pay for, which is probably not a good aphorism to repeat on a blog.

In any case, my e-mail box has been deluged during the last few months about handsaws. People want to know which saws to buy because (if you haven’t noticed) there are more kinds of saws on the market than there are planes or chisels or rasps.

I’ve tried to help the individuals, but it is frustrating. Why? Because people don’t like the same saws as I do. When I teach sawing classes, I load up my car with every distinct saw I have and offer them freely to the students. What is surprising is how often they disagree with my preferences and the excellent results they produce with saws that give me trouble.

I have concluded that there is a good reason that there are so many darn saws out there.

So let’s say that you were to e-mail me today and ask what you should buy if you wanted to dip your toe into the world of saws but didn’t want to spend a lot of coin. I would pause thoughtfully for a few minutes (actually I probably would be going to the little editor’s room; coffee is a diuretic).

And here’s what I would say: Start with one saw with little teeth and one with big teeth. Get comfortable with them. Then you’ll know where to go.

Little Saw
My first “little-tooth saw” was so bad that I don’t think it would be able to cut spoiled ham. It was a miter-box saw I bought from Furrow’s hardware in Lexington, Ky. I cut everything with that saw and hated its guts. The kerf was wide enough for a sloppy drunken llama to spit through. The black plastic handle was as slippery as an eel working at a payday-loan store. And the teeth were too tiny. But what the heck did I know?

Then I bought a cheap dozuki and it was so awesome I wanted my wife to start calling me Chris-san. Wow. Cheap dozukis can change your life. What was the tpi of my saw? I don’t know and don’t care. Every single dozuki that I’ve used that was made in Japan and cost more than $30 has been a world-class saw , for some joints.

You can cut dovetails or any joint in thin stock with a dozuki. But try to cut a decent tenon and you’ll be eating a sandwich with one hand while you saw with the other. They are slow in cuts that are deep and wide, especially in dense woods.

There are other Japanese saws that are good for these types of cuts, including the ubiquitous ryoba, but I haven’t been as successful with these forms of saws.  So if you want to cut bigger and deeper joints, you need a bigger saw with bigger teeth and deeper gullets. Hence…¦

Big Saw
A bigger saw for bigger joints, such as tenons, is a good thing. A typical dozuki is too slow to cut American hardwoods and American tenons in face-frame stock. I had a student once with a very nice dozuki who took hundreds (no lie) of strokes to cut a cheek that was 3″ wide and 2″ deep in yellow pine. I think he went out for a bite to eat in the middle of the cut.

You need a coarse saw to make deep cuts. But which saw? Well, I’ve recommended a few saws in my post on the new Lie-Nielsen 16″ tenon saw, but there other options. If you like that cheap dozuki, you probably will like the Multiwindow 240 mm saw from This $55.50 saw has a stiff sawplate but lacks a back. Ignore that fact. It’s a great saw for cutting all joints bigger than a drawer dovetail. I was able to cut almost any joint with immense speed and accuracy. We bought one five years ago and recently sold it. I miss that saw.

If you have a yen for Western saws, that’s OK. I do, too. Get on over to and talk to Mark Harrell about getting a dovetail saw and a tenon saw. Get the dovetail saw filed for 15 ppi rip. Get the big saw (14″ long or longer) filed for 10 or 11 ppi rip. Mark is a fair guy and his saws are very sharp and well set.

And here’s the final option: Go to a woodworking show and try all the saws you can get your mitts on. In about 1998 I had a day where I learned more about saws than any other day. It was a Friday, and the whole staff of the magazine was bored and in the shop. So we started swapping saws and trying out all manner of different forms with different woods and different joints. I used at least 10 different dozukis that day, plus a passel of Western carcase and tenon saws.

After trying all the forms side-by-side, I knew that I preferred Western saws with a coarse tooth and a long (but thin) sawplate.

If you have a chance to try out the saws in someone else’s collection, do not pass up the opportunity. The right saw in the right hands can do incredible work. It’s just a matter of matching the right saw with the right woodworker.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 17 comments
  • Old Baleine

    My current favorite:

    What do you get when you put five lady pigs with five gentleman deer?

    Ten sows and bucks.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    My third favorite joke begins like this:

    "What’s the last thing that goes through a bug’s mind when it hits your windshield?"

    "Its butt."

    Some day I’ll post some of my collection of haikus about mullets.


  • Jonas Jensen

    One could also buy a bow saw and then a couple of different blades to go with it, then the balance needed in order to do the sawing is more or less the same all the time. Personally I have never been especially good at using the bow saw, but the video with Frank Klausz cutting dovetails, shows that some people can do it.
    To my knowledge it should be as good for tenons with the correct blade as other saws.


  • Chuck Nickerson

    I was in Adam’s class that Jim mentions. One of the many benefits of that class was the willingness of teacher and students to share saws for testing. How often can you use a dozen plus saws from different makers in a morning’s time?

  • kees

    Adam Cherubini has to write the defenite article about "howto make your own handsaws" with loads of templates, pictures, youtube etc. So he can return to the woodshop and not worry about the timeconsuming metalworking. I insist on that 🙂 To start with handlemaking in the White-form to customize the saws we already have.

  • Mike Siemsen

    Finding the right saw is not so much a matter of brand and type or even price point. It has to do with the hang of the saw, the size and set of the teeth, and how sharp they are, then comes the angle of fleam and rake into the mix and the thickness of the saw plate. It is nice to have a decent handle too. To confound matters more there are saws with progressive pitch and progressive fleam and progressive rake as well saws with a tooth line that is straight or breasted. Finding the right saw conformation is best done by testing what others use and like and then repeating what works for you on your saw. Other than the raw materials used to make a saw, (and all high end saws are comparable in my opinion) it comes down to a matter of who sharpened it last. Chris has done of good job of bringing out this information and opening up the discussion as to what works. It is more important to know why and how a saw works than what brand it is because like all edge tools you need to sharpen and maintain it and tune it to your needs. I don’t have a copy of "The Village Carpenter" at hand but he alludes to this when he goes to town to get a new saw. He remarks that it will take several sharpenings to get it into proper form. Enjoy the journey!

  • Christopher Schwarz

    I decline to squabble in the comments section.

    It would have been better to settle this via e-mail, but you post anonymously here. Drop me a line if you like.

    This is my last off-topic comment on this issue.


  • Auguste Gusteau


    I have never insulted no one here and I defy you to prove the opposite by publishing the comments that you have censored.
    If you say that I have insulted someone without demonstrating it, you are insulting me.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    A rip dozuki can also present problems. The filing on the tooth is important, yes. But what I’m trying to explain (and perhaps failing) is that it’s the size of the tooth and gullet that are key.

    Once the gullet fills with sawdust, the tooth will not cut again until it is cleared. Doesn’t matter if it’s rip or crosscut.

    That was my point. Sorry if it is causing confusion or consternation.


  • Manny Hernandez

    I agree with you Auguste.
    Sounds like they were trying to cut tenon cheeks with a crosscut saw. Clearly a misapplication of a tool. It’s like trying to cut a tenon cheek with a Lie Nielsen carcass saw. You can do it but it will be so slow.

    By definition "dozuki" would imply a crosscut pattern, but I think these days most people think of it as a visual style of saw. Both crosscut and rip dozuki have been available for years as evidenced by the Nami Carpentry Tools catalog from ’86 and the Mahogony Masterpieces catalog from about the same era. Both US merchants of Japanese tools. As far back as I can remember Fred at the Japanwoodworker has carried a rip dozuki. There are main stream (not specializing in Japanese tools) tool stores that advertise crosscut dozuki as "dovetail saws" which implies they can be used for ripping. My view is that you have a merchant that doesn’t know the product they are selling. It’s like going to Tokyu Hands department store in Tokyo and seeing an LN carcass saw on display with the kanji equivalent of "dovetail saw".

    If you do get a rip dozuki you can cut a tenon cheek but it will be limited in depth by the spine of the saw, just like an LN or Adria dovetail saw. You
    can get a dozuki from 150mm to 270mm and perhaps beyond if custom made. As Chris says "A bigger saw for bigger joints, such as tenons, is a good thing." So, in the Japanese tool world you would want to go with a Ryoba or Kataba style saw. I use both Western and Japanese tools. I haven’t been successful with the Stanley tenon saw I bought at Home Depot. I can hear people through the ether say "NO!!! That’s not a good representation of a proper Western saw!" That’s the opinion I have of these ubiquitous roughcut ryobas made by Gyokucho and the Multiwindow brand. I have those brand and use them regularly to trim tree branches. I’ve also seen a cheap non-replaceable blade ryoba at one of the national chain retailers that can’t cut any faster than a butter knife. They’re probably selling it because it’s at the right price point as opposed to being a saw up for the task.

    The LN, Adria or Wenzloff equivalent Japanese tool available here would be the Mitsukawa brand. There are others that I won’t mention because you can’t get them from a US retailer unless you specifically ask for a special order. But don’t let that stop you because there is an equivalent in the Mitsukawa lineup that is readily available from Hida Tool or a merchant in Osaka, Japan that regularly ships to US customers. The Kaneharu brand are decent too.

    What’s nice about a properly tuned 210 or 240mm ryoba is that you can use that one saw for your dovetails and tenons instead of needing multiple saws.


  • Christopher Schwarz


    Using a 24 ppi dozuki for tenons is not a good idea. That’s all I’m saying above.

    The reason I deleted some of your earlier comments is that they were personally insulting and not really about woodworking.

    People are critical of what I write all the time, and I freely allow criticism of ideas here on the blog. But when you take a shot at me (or anyone else) personally, I’m not going to allow that.

    If you’d like to rip me a new one, you’ll find a more welcome audience on some of the woodworking forums. If you’d like to discuss woodworking, you are welcome here.


  • Auguste Gusteau

    If you need litterally hundreds of strokes to cut a tenon with a japanese saw, means that there is something wrong with the saw, in his choice or in who use it.
    Yes, because the pull movement is lighter then the push one, you need some more stroke with a japanese saw, but
    you take the advantage of a smoother cut and less tear out.
    Probably you need a minute longer to cut a teneon with a japanese saw compared to a western one of the same quality.
    But is a minute a problem when working with hand tools?

    Changing speech, I noticed that you censored many of my comments, perhaps because too critical or perhaps why too sarcastic, in any case is not a problem for me since however I say the same things on my original tongue blog, but I think it is important that your readers know your behaviour.

  • J Nelson

    Or, if you don’t have lots of money you can practice like crazy with the saw you have. Just getting familiar with a tool can make a big difference in your cuts.

    Learning how to set and sharpen a saw can make a big difference as well. You can make adjustments to the teeth that might make a saw more comfortable for you.

  • Bob Demers

    Interesting write up and very true, no two saws will handle the same in two pairs of different hands, never mind in two different species of wood or thickness.

    Hence we all need more saws 🙂

    Chris, now that your workbench, and then your handplanes books are out, how about one on handsaws?


  • Matt Kleinschmidt

    Old Baleine, what do you get?

    And Chris, what is your third favorite joke?

  • Old Baleine

    I can’t even tell a joke in print. That should read five lady pigs.

  • Old Baleine

    Brown and sticky is one of my favorites, too. So, what’s your third favorite?

    You are absolutely right on the matter of saws. In fact, the more saws I have, the more differences I recognize among them. A saw that will cut beautifully in hardwoods is a struggle in SYP, where a subtly different saw handles the SYP with ease. I have come to see saws as being very much like fly rods: you cast as many as you can and look for the ones that suit your own technique and style. There will be many, and what suits me may not suit you very well at all.

    Do you know what you get if you put five ladies pigs together with five gentleman deer?

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