All the carpenters in the shop have a rolling toolchest, about waist-high, with little drawers for tools and a flat top for drawing and reading and writing. It’s a lot like having an R2 unit.
I had one too, bright red. It was amazing. Then, the workshop hired another professional carpenter so now I have a great box on a rolling table. I like my box and table setup but I’m hoping I’ll get to make my own toolchest soon.
Inside the my box I have all the tools the carpenters have though. Everything you need to make whatever you want (can?) by hand. First there are the saws. I have a ryoba noko (“double-bladed saw”). It has, well, two blades, and it’s bendy. The blades are called the tatebiki and the yokobiki. “Biki” means “pull”. “Tate” means vertical and “yoko” means horizontal, but in this case, “tate” means ripcut and “yoko” means crosscut. My teacher’s name is Tateshita-san but all the carpenters call him Tate-san: “Mr. Ripcut”. It’s the most excellent nickname ever.
A ripcut goes along the grain, in the direction the fibers lie. Each tooth of a ripcutting saw (on the right in the photo above) looks like a tiny chisel: sharp, flat blades, with cutting edges perpendicular to the direction of the cut, that “rip” the fibers up in long strips. The ripcutting saw’s teeth are set slightly off-center, alternating to the left and to the right. That’s so the cut’s width (the “kerf” in English, maybe the best word of all the words) will be slightly wider than the saw—otherwise, the saw would get stuck in the kerf
A crosscut goes perpendicular to the grain. Each crosscutting tooth (on the left in the photo) looks like a tiny knife, cutting edges parallel to the direction of the cut. The crosscutting teeth slice the fibers. They’re set off-center too, more dramatically than the ripcutting saw’s are, and for a different reason: the reason is that it takes two teeth to slice a tiny segment out of each fiber, one cut on the left and one cut on the right. A crosscut is many, many of these tiny segments, sliced out of the fibers all the way across and through the board. That means the crosscutting saw makes much finer sawdust than the ripcutting saw.
My second saw is called a dozuki noko. It’s a crosscutting saw with finer teeth than the yokobiki side of the ryoba noko. “Noko” means saw and “dozuki” means a tenon shoulder (that’s a tenon and in the photo, the chisel’s on the shoulder). So, a dozuki noko’s a saw for cutting tenon shoulders. Tenon shoulders have to be super precise and neat or the joint’ll look messy and won’t fit. That’s why the dozuki noko’s teeth are finer than the yokobiki’s, and why the dozuki noko has a metal spine that keeps the blade straight. The spine’s wider than the blade, though, so you can’t use the dozuki noko to make through-cuts in boards that are thicker than the blade is wide—that’s what the yokobiki’s for.
That’s what’s so exciting about the ryoba noko! To make through-cuts in boards that are thicker than the width of the blade, the blade needs to be thinner than the width of the saw’s tooth setting. Otherwise, the blade’ll get stuck in the kerf and the cut will stop. No spine—so the blade’ll be skinny and flexible. Perfect for two sets of teeth! American saws just use one side for teeth. I guess you could use the flat side as a straightedge, as long as it’s really straight—like, mark then flip the saw ninety degrees and cut (you could even maybe have a handle that works like a square and keeps the flat part of the blade perpendicular to the board’s edge while you’re marking). Dangerous though because when you put the saw down on the piece to measure, the teeth might scratch the surface.
Okay, enough about saws. My toolchest also has chisels in all different sizes and a bunch of kanna—two finishing kanna (I don’t need two, I just have an extra), a roughing kanna and a kanna with an adjustible base for making various shapes on a board’s edges. There are also two kanna (“kiwa kanna”) with diagonal blades that stop at the base’s edge, instead of in the middle. These kanna are for internal angles in joints—they make rabbets, tongues and tenons: the base meets the shoulder, keeping the blade perpendicular to the shoulder, and the blade planes all the way to the corner.
There are also two hammers (“ryouguchi genno”, double-sided hammer—it’s the one all the way to the left), large and small. One side of the hammer’s head has a curvy face and one has a flat face. There’s a nail set too (“ponchi”). I have wirecutters (“kuikiri”), for removing nails. The wirecutters have a curvy nose you can use to get good purchase for pulling a nail out, works just like a hammer’s claw. Then there’s a kind of gimlet called a “yotsume giri” (second from the top in that image). Its tip has four faces that end in a point—head-on it looks like a square-based pyramid. It’s for drilling. You hold the yotsume giri between your palms and rub your hands back and forth, moving them down the handle. It looks like you’re trying to stay warm or like you’re using an electric hand dryer or like you’re starting a fire with a spindle. The yotsume giri’s handle’s angled away from your body slightly when you’re drilling, so you’re pulling the drill into the wood as your hands move down the handle.
I have a few measuring tools. There’s the “kebiki“—literally, “hair pull”, for making lines parallel to edges and for drawing tenons, and the “shiragaki”, a marking knife. I also have a small steel try-square, for right angles and checking that surfaces are flat, and a carpenter’s square (“sashigane”). The sashigane’s incredible: on one side, the numbers give you the length you’re measuring but on the opposite side the numbers give you the length times root two, so you’re measuring the leg of an isosceles right triangle but you’re reading the length of that triangle’s hypotenuse. All I can say is: holy moly. There’s a wonderful website about Japanese tools (a few of the links on these posts send you to its images) called dougukan.jp, the website of the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum. Here’s an excerpt from the page about the sashigane:
“Japanese carpenters elevated its usage to a systematic theory called kiku-jyutsu, which allowed carpenters to deal with complex angles in rooftop corners. Its mastering however was extremely difficult, and the saying ‘carpenters and sparrows cry in the corners’ comes from this.”