Japanese woodworking is an art that dates back to the 12th Century when Japanese woodworkers started practicing this technique. It is a unique form of woodworking that uses wood as the base material and only wood.
Japanese woodworking is a woodworking technique where the woodworker works on the wood in such a way that nails, screws, various fasteners, and even glue aren’t used to construct wooden items. As you can imagine, the main attraction of Japanese woodworking is the joinery where sections of wood are joined together without using any fasteners or glue.
The woodworker cuts the sections of wood with notches, grooves, and slots that interlock with each other forming a sound, glue-less joint. Japanese woodworking features various styles of joints that require a high level of skill to execute.
Japan being a country with an abundant supply of lumber made it the natural construction material to use for various applications.
Tools of Japanese Woodworking
The tools that we use in Japanese woodworking are mostly similar to regular Western woodworking tools with a few exceptions. There are a few differences in the construction of some of the tools.
Japanese Hand Saw (Nokogiri)
We cut with a Japanese saw by pulling it towards ourselves rather than pushing it forward. The cutting direction makes it possible to use extremely thin saw blades as compared to traditional Western saws.
Japanese saws are double-edged, with two types of teeth on each edge. There is the yokobiki (crosscut) and tatebiki (rip). We also call this type of saw “ryoba” which means “dual-edge.”
You can also find saws with a single cutting edge with each cutting edge containing the respective types of teeth, kataha nokogiri. Then there is the stiff-backed saw called douzuki meaning “attached trunk,” which we use for fine joinery.
Other types of Japanese saws include the osae-biki “press-cut saw” and the azebiki, which means “ridge saw.”
Most Japanese saws are hand-forged, created through a laborious and time-consuming process rather than the mass-produced saws from the West with induction-hardened teeth.
The traditional Japanese vise consists of a post with a wedge tied to it. We insert the workpiece under the wedge and hammer the wedge down. As the wedge moves downwards, the coil of rope tightened around it and it holds the workpiece firmly in place.
Vises are not used as frequently in Japanese woodworking as in the West due to the large sizes of workpieces that are typically worked in the course of the woodworking processes.
Because of the orientation of the Japanese woodworking vise, the woodworkers’ saw horses in Japan have a lower height than the Western ones. It is also because the woodworkers have to hold a position above their workpiece. Woodworkers usually adopt a seated position while working on a Japanese vise.
There is not much to be varied in this timeless, basic measuring device used for centuries by woodworkers. The square used in Japanese woodworking is much similar to the type used in traditional woodworking.
In Japanese woodworking, the hammers differ in that they have a flat face on one side and a curved or convex face on the other. Framing or claw hammers do not form a part of the Japanese woodworking toolbox.
We use chisels in Japanese woodworking for cutting and carving and will not vary from the traditional woodworking chisels. You get chisels in the range of 30mm to 42mm but they can be as narrow as 18mm.
We call the plane in Japanese woodworking as kanna plane. The primary difference between the conventional plane and the kanna plane is that in the case of the latter, you pull it towards you to shave the wood. On the other hand, with a conventional plane, you push it away from yourself when you use it.
No surprises here – it is a natural or diamond stone. The function is the same – we use it for sharpening all the cutting blades.
So, there you have it. These are mostly the collection of tools that a Japanese woodworking toolbox might contain. They are basic tools, and you may find the same tools repeated in different dimensions. But in Japanese woodworking, you only get these few types of tools.
Types of Joints in Japanese Woodworking
The types of joints used in Japanese woodworking are similar to the joints that we use in regular Western woodworking. The difference however here is that we use regular joints like a dovetail joint, tenon and peg joint, or a mortise joint.
The difference with Japanese woodworking is that there are no metallic fasteners or glue. The only material used in the entire procedure is wood, except for the metal in the tools that we use to work on the wood.
Japanese woodworking is a great craft for DIYers. You get closer to nature as you bond with the wood without getting involved in hammering in nails, driving screws, and dabbling with various types of glues, clamps, and so on.
Here are a few of the primary joints that we use in Japanese woodworking:
The Ari Shiguchi is a version of the dovetail joint. Here, we shape the wood into a flared “V” at the end of the section and it fits into an opposing section at a right angle. The two sections of the wood have male and female joints that fit into each other. The Ari Shiguchi is the basic joint of Japanese woodworking.
We can best describe a Kane Tsugi joint as a three-way pinned corner-miter joint. So, here you have two pieces of wood joined together at 90° at their extremities.
But one piece has a square section and it slides into a female-shaped opposing piece. On the top, there is a round or square hole into which we hammer a tenon to prevent the sections from slipping away from each other.
Sumidome Hozo Sashi
The Sumidome Hozo Shashi is a miter joint with a tongue and groove. With this joint, you don’t need to add a tenon to secure the two pieces together.
We force both sections together so tightly that it is difficult to separate the pieces without damaging the wood.
Pros and Cons of Japanese Woodworking
As in all art forms, Japanese woodworking has a few downsides in addition to its advantages. So, let’s take a closer look at both these aspects of Japanese woodworking.
Japanese Woodworking: Pros
It is a very cerebral form of art that challenges your intellectual capacity as you work.
Although the joints created in Japanese woodworking contain no fasteners or glue, the bond is extremely tight. Any attempt to detach the pieces joined together would probably damage the wood.
Free of Fasteners
This form of art does not make use of fasteners. You won’t be foraging around for screws, nails, or getting into the details of different types and sizes of fasteners.
Japanese Woodworking: Cons
Here are a few of the basic drawbacks to Japanese woodworking:
Precise Construction Required
We need to construct the sections extremely precisely, particularly where the joints fit into each other. We need to be much more accurate than when we use metallic fasteners or glue.
Understandably, this form of woodworking is very labor-intensive which makes it a time-consuming process. There is no possibility of mass production with Japanese woodworking.
Because the tools have specialized functions, most of the tools used in Japanese woodworking are quite expensive.
We hope that this post has sufficiently explained Japanese woodworking to understand how it is done and the tools involved. As a woodworker, it’s good to know about the different styles of woodworking. Japanese woodworking is one of the primary types of woodworking in the world.
Why not give Japanese woodworking a shot today and experience the intricacies of this exquisite form of woodworking?