Hands & Objects


Wedging and Sawing

Let's see it in action.

July 26, 2018

In the last post, we discussed the two modes of cutting: wedging and sawing. Now let’s look at them in action to really appreciate the difference.

If you click on the GIFs, they will take you to the full-length videos that I pulled from. Watch out - some of the videos have very loud sound!

SQUASH: Here’s classic wedging, firewood-and-ax style.

SASHIMI: The king of sawing. Look at that long, singular stroke. The “sae” (sa-eh, keenness) of the sliced section is the criteria that sushi chefs use to evaluate their skills. The extraordinary length of sashimi knives gives you the “sae” that back-and-forth sawing never will.

On the other hand...

TOMATO: Here, a chef shows how to use the back-and-forth to your advantage. A single zig and then a zag slices the tomato while keeping it in place, allowing a quick and beautiful plating afterwards. Also, by dragging the tip of the knife back across the board, this technique leaves no chance for any section to be left uncut.

GRAPEFRUIT: The same technique, with grapefruit. Isn’t it amazing that we can slice something so squishable and juicy without turning it into a pool of liquid? Truly, the power of sawing.

CHESTNUT: I love this example. When we’re peeling something, we tend to treat it as wedging, because we’re so focused on where the knife is going...but there’s an easier way. If you follow the red dot on the knife above, you’ll see that peeling can actually be sawing. Try it - the difference you feel will be tremendous.

How about non-food material?

FOAMCORE: This gentleman demonstrates exactly the paper cutting technique I was describing in the last post. Here, he’s cutting foamcore, which is a great example of a material with cell structure. You can easily picture the micro teeth sawing through the air pockets of the foam. And see how clean the cut is at the end? No squishing and no dragging. Beautiful.

RAVIOLI: ‍One of the best ways to decide between wedging or sawing is to ask: which one deforms the material less? Ravioli needs to be cut with wedging, since sawing would only pull and stretch the dough. The downward force of wedging ensures that the flat dough will stay put while it’s being cut, keeping the square square. So if you’re cutting pasta dough: wedge, wedge, wedge away.

ORECCHIETTE: See, nonna knows.

CHEESE: What about cheese? Neither wedging nor sawing deforms it. But there’s no cell structure to benefit from sawing...so wedging it is. What kind of wedge, though? When you try to cut cheese with a knife, the wide surface contact creates a vacuum, making it hard to keep moving. A wire has minimum contact area while being thin enough to act like the edge of a knife. It’s a wedge that doesn’t look like a wedge.

For the next three, I’d like you to guess: wedging, or sawing? Find the answer by selecting the hidden text underneath.


Wedging. That’s an easy one.


Sawing. You see the knife moving forward as it lands?


Wedging! This is a tricky one, because with a rotary cutter, the hand is moving horizontally, so it might look like sawing. But the cut is actually made by the blade wheel, which is always pressing down even as it rolls forward. When cutting fabric, the same rule applies as with ravioli: avoid stretching at all cost, so the quilt doesn’t come out askew.

How did you do? Any surprises?

Okay, one last question: Does this scare you at all?


No, of course not, because ‍cutting tofu only takes wedging, but to cut a hand, you need sawing.

Thank you for playing along! I hope you had fun as much as I did.

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