Woodworking in Japan has a vibrant history of detailed craftsmanship. Timber structures built centuries ago have stood the test of time and are a testament to their woodworking and joinery methods. Japanese woodworking tools have followed suit and are well known for their quality and precision.
Trained Japanese woodworkers are taught that every cut is of the utmost importance as every cut is permanent. This means carefully laying out cuts with quality marking knives. Using thin-kerf pull saws to create precise cuts for joinery. And reaching for sharp chisels and planes for finishing cuts and smooth finished surfaces.
Browsing Japanese woodworking tool sites can be, at times, a shock to the wallet. You can easily spend thousands of dollars on a high-quality, handcrafted chisel set!
The $35,000 Scissors!
If you want to get a feel for the level of craftsmanship that goes into handcrafted tools in Japan, this video is a great introduction.
You know that if customers are willing to pay for a $35,000 pair of pruning scissors, then there are also woodworkers willing to pay thousands for hand-crafted chisels, hand planes, hammers, or saws.
Where to Find Japanese Woodworking Tools
It is often said that in looking for any type of rare item that the hunt can be half the fun.
A few sites have come and gone over the years specializing in selling rare and handcrafted Japanese woodworking tools. Some that are still around and specialize in shipping to the US are:
There used to be a site called Japan Woodworker that looks to have been bought out or partnered with Woodcraft. Browsing their site, it looks like they have a few very nice (and expensive!) handcrafted Japanese chisel sets for sale. Although finding a set may be a matter of luck as most look to be sold out.
As of this writing, there is a set of Tasai Damascas Pattern Blue Steel Japanese Chisels with Ebony Handles selling for a cool $4,240.99!
They also have an excellent write-up on some of the best traditional Japanese chisel makers. So if you are looking for a set that will easily be in the $1,000 plus range, look for these artisans’ options.
If vintage tools are your thing, then eBay is another option for finding Japanese woodworking tools. There are always plenty of listings for vintage, or even brand new, Japanese chisels, planes, and saws.
If you want to get started working with Japanese woodworking tools and aren’t quite ready to spend in the 4-figure range, there are still plenty of options available.
Types of Traditional Japanese Woodworking Tools
Japanese chisels are an art form that, in some cases, result in tools that are almost too beautiful to use. There are dozens of different varieties of chisels but the most common are the oiire nomi or bench chisel. These chisels are designed for everyday bench or construction work and come in sizes ranging from 3mm to 40mm.
Most Japanese chisels are layered with a high strength blue steel for the cutting edge and a softer steel for easier sharpening and strength.
Wooden Japanese block planes may look simple but, when correctly tuned, make for an incredible tool. These planes are designed to be pulled towards you versus pushed away like a western style plane.
Japanese planes are typically made from oak, with the only other components being the blade, chip breaker, and holding pin.
While most block planes look similar, there are actually several different styles designed to do either roughing or finishing work.
Styles of Japanese Block Planes
These plane styles are used in order for roughing work down to the final smoothing of the near finished piece.
Most Japanese block planes are shipping at 80 – 90% ready for work. Usually they require some flattening of the sole and sharpening of the blade.
Sharp, precise marking knives are essential for laying out cut lines with traditional woodworking joinery methods. These knives are traditionally forged out of a single piece of steel using traditional sword-making techniques.
The marking lines are used as a reference for saw or chisel cuts and are far more accurate than following a pencil line. Japanese marking knives feature a flat back and ultra-sharp blade, ensuring your lines will be precise and joinery tight.
Like the Japanese plane, Japanese pull saws are designed to cut on the pull versus the push as on most western saws. This, along with their thin kerf, make these saws excellent for detail work. Pull saws are one of my favorite tools to keep around the shop as they are cheap and can be used to quickly break down boards. Often when I need to make a rough cut on a piece of lumber I find myself reaching for one of these saws rather than set up the miter saw.
These saws come in several different configurations with rip and crosscut tooth patterns, stiff and flexible backs, and straight or curved layouts.
Our Favorite Japanese Woodworking Tools
Here are a few of our favorite Japanese woodworking chisels, saws, planes, and hammers that can be delivered to your doorstep and won’t necessarily break the bank.
Japanese Chisel Set – KAKURI 6-piece Damascus Chisel Set
This 6-piece Damascus chisel set was crafted in Sanjo City, Japan. It is both beautiful to look at and will be a pleasure to work with. The process of layering Japanese Aogami Steel with wrought iron steel creates this stunning visual pattern and results in a chisel that will stay incredibly sharp. This set includes chisels in 6, 12, 19, 25, 32, and 38mm.
Marking Knife – Right Hand 24mm Kiridashi Knife
This marking knife by Tomerri features a traditional hammered steel surface and precision cutting edge.
If you’re looking for a really high-end version, then take a look at this handmade Japanese marking knife made by craftsman Hiroyuki Nagaike.
Japanese Pull Saw – KAKURI Japanese Dozuki 7 Inch Pull Cut Saw
These Japanese pull saws, with their interchangable blades, are one of my favorite hand tools in the shop. They are easy to cut with and make extremely quick work of cutting through hardwoods. The blades are cheap to change out as well if they become dull or damaged over time.
Japanese Block Plane – Wazakura Japanese Block Hand Planes Blade (50mm)
A finely tuned Japanese block plane can create a finished surface that will rival or beat any sanded surfaces. These places require a bit of setup work to flatten the sole and get the blade tuned up, but once they are ready to go, they are an excellent tool to keep on hand.
Final Thoughts on our Favorite Japanese Woodworking Tools
Japanese woodworking tools can be a wonderful compliment to any woodworking shop. The high quality craftsmanship makes all of these tools a pleasure to use.
Drop us a line and let us know what Japanese tools you keep around your shop!