My last entry was about table saws, and the fact that they are not, in fact, essential to being a woodworker. This is the tool that convinced me that was true. OK, that's hyperbole. I was already convinced, but this was a nice supporting argument.
Where, and how much?
I got mine at Sears, and I paid around $20. I've seen them at Amazon for the same, so I'd say that's the going price.
What is it?
The other difference between Japanese-style and European-style saws is how sharp the teeth are. On a well-sharpened European saw, you can hurt yourself. Get your finger in the way of the stroke, and you're going to know it. But it's pretty hard to cut yourself with it other than that. This saw is razor sharp. Each tooth is like a tiny little knife blade, and it WILL cut you if you grab it wrong. Get used to that.
Some more details: The cutting edge is around 9 1/2" long. One edge has about 9 teeth per inch, and is intended for ripping, while the other is around 17 TPI, and is intended for cross-cutting. The blade widens towards the tip, and is narrower near the handle. It looks odd, but is standard for a Ryoba.
What's the construction like?
It's not bad. There were some corners cut, no doubt about it, but they were in the handle, not the blade. The handle is plastic, and the knob to fasten the blade in place is also plastic, and starting to wear. I figure I have, at most, another year before the knob gives up and I have to find a way to replace it. I'm willing to take that sacrifice for the price.
The blade is an interesting question. The teeth are cut, not stamped, which is a plus. It feels (and cuts) like it's fairly high quality, but it has impulse hardened teeth. That means that the teeth will hold their edge for a long time, but can't be sharpened when they dull.
For all that I like it, this is essentially a disposable tool, and I'm not a huge fan of that.
How does it work?
You might have guessed from the beginning that I like this saw. You'd have guessed right. I bought it on the grounds that, first, I wanted to see what cutting with a pull-saw felt like, and second, it was cheap. It cuts extremely well. Not "extremely well for a twenty dollar saw," just "extremely well." I've crosscut and ripped both pine (ripping 1x6 on this is remarkably simple) and red oak. Pine it had no trouble with: Chopping up 2x6 is easy, and ripping 1x6 width-wise (I needed a piece 5" wide by 1/4" thick) was no problem at all. I've also cut plywood from 1/4" to 3/4", PVC pipe, and plastic gutter. It had no trouble at all with any of those.
Red oak is, perhaps, the one place this fell down. Cross-cutting a 3/4" thick piece was fine. Slower than pine, but it's a much denser wood. It was still easy. Ripping across the 3/4" dimension was also fine. Then I tried ripping on the 5" dimension. That... wasn't so easy. I don't have a good European rip saw, so I'm not sure how much easier it would have been, if at all, but I don't recommend it with this saw. Now... this is a fine cut saw. I'll talk more about final surface in a minute, but the point of this saw is to allow precise, smooth cuts, and it delivers. Ripping hardwoods is hard. This saw was able to do it: If I was willing to devote the time, I would have made it the full length of the board. That wasn't the problem. The problem was the amount of time. I figure I spent about 20 minutes, and ripped about four inches. I needed a two foot long board cut, and I just didn't have that kind of time. Shark does make what they refer to as a "carpentry saw", which they claim is set up for more aggressive cutting. It's likely that that would have worked a lot better, but I haven't tried one yet, so I don't know.
For detail work (it is called a "finecut" saw, after all), it's superb. I used it for my first hand-cut dovetail, and it was quick and easy to control. I've done the same with an inexpensive (I'm tempted to say "cheap") backsaw from Woodcraft, and it sucked. That one may just need sharpening, and I'll review it once I've given that a try.
The final surface left behind by this saw is superb. The cuts are, in general, smooth enough that they don't need much further treatment. I can get a cleaner finish with a chisel, but not with any saw I've ever used. I don't think I've seen any finish from a saw smoother than this, either. Yes, it will still need a little sanding, planing, or scraping, but not much. I decided to smooth a cut from this, and started at 220-grit paper. It didn't take much work to completely erase the saw marks.
For $20, I got a decent dual-purpose saw, without having to compromise on a single edge that tries to both rip and crosscut. It cuts smoothly, cleanly, and, when I'm not trying to rip oak, quickly. It leaves a nice surface behind, and is comfortable to use.
My only real reservations about this saw are the quality of the grip and the impulse hardened teeth. If you need a saw and you don't mind that it's disposable, you could do a lot worse than this for the money. If you want a tool you can re-sharpen... you're going to need to spend some more money. It depends on how you look at things whether this is worth the tradeoff.
Would I do it again?
Probably, with reservations. I'm currently looking for a good-quality used European saw. I've never used one that was in good repair, so I don't have a lot of comparison. I'm really not excited about buying more disposable tools, so I'd really prefer to spend extra money to get something sustainable. In a pinch, I'd buy one of these in a heartbeat, over any big-box offering at a similar price. There's no question in my mind that this is a good tool. It's just not a long-term purchase.
UPDATE: June, 2014. I'm still using this saw, with the original blade. Yes, it cuts noticeably slower than it used to, but this saw is well over two years old (I think I'd actually had it about a year when I wrote the original review), and the cut is still smooth and straight. I'm even more inclined to recommend it now than I was then. The knob I was worried about still holds just fine, though it feels looser every time I use the saw. Seriously... despite the low price and impulse hardened teeth, it looks like they only cut corners in places it didn't really matter.