From the most respected imperial foreman to the rudest provincial journeyman, a minimum tool kit was required if one would call oneself a carpenter, or mujiang 木匠. Each wooden piece was given the correct shape through the skilled use of tools. In China, advanced metallurgy for tool production is of the greatest antiquity. Bronze, the alloy of copper and tin, was well developed for tools and weapons by the second millennium BCE. The exploration for these metals, along with the timber harvest, contributed to the continued expansion of the empire into the surrounding hinterland. Wood as a raw material has always required for its practical use a sharp blade with which to, at first, split or rip between the grain and, later, to cut crosswise. The development of bronze allowed for the manufacture of rudimentary edges for swords and axes, but it was the introduction of iron and its alloy, steel, that gave the Chinese carpenter an almost perfect toolkit by the time of the first century CE. Although blades would increase in hardness and strength, the basic tools would remain unchanged until the twentieth century.
As metallurgy advanced, steel saw blades were made increasingly thin, which made for an easier and more accurate cut. In addition, craftsmen learnt to set subsequent saw teeth at opposing angles to remove the cut material faster. The problem to overcome with thin saw blades, however, was that they need to be held in tension so as not to buckle. In China, early experiments with a bow saw gave rise to the frame saw, which tensions the blade by means of pivoting arms held tight by a rope and toggle. Frame saws came in various sizes up to and including the larger board saws that were five or 6 feet long and were used to rip raw logs. Although these larger saws were also known in the west, there were subtle differences. The Chinese did not saw the logs over a pit, as did Europeans, but rather elevated the log on trestles, allowing the lower sawyer to stand on the ground below or beside the saw. Larger saws also had teeth that reversed direction at the midpoint, allowing two men to work with equal strength on the pull stroke. As important as the cutting itself, proper placement of the timber piece was accomplished by clever use of trestles and benches with dogs and wedges ready to hold the peace fast. Sawhorses were known as muma 木马 or ‘wooden horses’.