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Nokogiri: Mark Grable's Japanese Handsaw Sharpening Service

Mark Grable
607 Highland Rd.
Springfield VT 05156

noko.metate.ya '@' gmail.com

Note: The instruction below is the result of discussions with Mark Grable and of information from Mark's old Nokogiri website, which no longer exist. If you find any error or omission, please contact Bob Le.

Mark Grable is a metate, who is someone who tunes up nokogiri (Japanese handsaws).

Call Mark before shipping your saw. Phone communication is more preferable since Mark checks his email at most once a week.

Each saw Mark works on will be priced to reflect the time spent on it. The increased cost of files is also a consideration. Many saws are beyond dull, and these will cost more. Many saws have been abused. Good tools are rarely abused, they are cared and provided for. Those that are good saws and have been abused need restoration, which means Mark has to see it to judge the price.

To ship your saw, first remove the handle (Western saws also). Lay the blade flat on a heavy benchtop with the handle perpendicular to the edge of the bench, so that when slid into the benchtop, the inertia of the blade gradually pulls it out of the handle. For dozuki, it's better to ship it with the handle. Mark will take the handle off for sharpening and will put it back on before shipping it back to you. Then oil the saw prior to wrapping it in paper. Finally, pack the saw in an oversized cardboard box (approximately 8"x10"x26") or a wooden box with cardboard box skin. You can also check UPS' web site for packing advice.

Be sure to include the cost of return shipping, UPS or USPS. Payment can be made by check.


Basic Sharpening

Note: The cost for basic sharpening applies to saws which are in good shape that only need light filing and tuning. If you are a frequent customer, this is something you can judge. If you are new to nokogiri, send Mark your saw, he will look at it and call you with the total price.

Custom Works

Nokogiri Notes

"This saw doesn't cut right - it needs sharpening" translates into, "This saw needs Metate." The man who does the work is also called a Metate. He removes the distortions, so that the blade is straight and flat. He files new cutting edges, and sets the teeth.

Saws can be divided into three grades:

  1. The best saws have hard steel bodies with soft steel handles welded on. These are the saws used to make the Great Eastern Temple, Himeji Castle, and thousands of Shrines and Temples dating from the 13th century. Some of these are made of tamahagane, a very valuable handmade steel; these are not meant for beginners, but for artisans with a developed sense of feel.
  2. Middle grade saws are made of one piece of steel and are softer. The neck is thicker than the body, and the body may also be thinner at the center. Shindo makes the best of the middle grade saws, a 270mm ryoba with the dragon etching cost $250.00 in 1987.
  3. Lower grade saws are one piece, not hardened, and uniform in thickness. These are made by machine, even "finished filing" is done by machine. Some of these are not worth sharpening. Some of these saws are good for training, and for beginning metate. My first saw, from Garrett Wade, a 270mm ryoba cost $50 in 1980. It holds an edge as well as any Stanley.

Saws come in many shapes and sizes in Japan, and in addition to rip teeth and crosscut teeth, there are also teeth especially for crosscutting at an angle; for cutting kiri wood; and for cutting branches off living trees; and for cutting bamboo. Some dozukies have no set, to reduce or eliminate paring the shoulder cut with a chisel. A saw set up for cutting soft wood should not be used to cut American Oak, because the ring porous wood structure will grab, twist, or break off the teeth.

Raker teeth (ala Robert Meadow) are specified as one-and-two, one-and-four, or one-and-eight. This is recommended for those learning to saw, those with saws less than $500.00 in value, and those working with woods such as ebony, Doug Fir, Southern Yellow Pine. The recommended saw for cutting dovetails is a dozuki with one-and-two rakers, and no set.

The cost for sharpening a kataba is similar to that of a ryoba. This may not make sense but this is how it is done in Japan also. The reason being half the work is required to make the saw flat and straight. This is critical since a flat and straight saw will improve performance by about 30%.

Nokogiri Caring Instruction

To care for your saws, oil them before you rest. Roll up a clean piece of cotton into a roll 1-1/2" in diameter by 4-5" long and tie with string. Keep this standing in a tin can. Keep another can with a brush and 10W30 oil in it, and a clean smooth maple block 4"x14" surface area, and a cloth. Dust off your saws, lay flat on the block, brush on some oil, wipe well with the wick, and wipe off with the cloth.

Never leave a dozuki laying flat, because once the back is bent, it must be replaced. The reason for this is that the back should spring - clamp the blade all along its length, so that there is no rattle if you tap against it with your finger. If a bend is introduced to the already folded back, the only way to correct it would be to fit a new back. Make it a habit to stand your saws up during working hours. Dozukies are sensitive!