Even with all the right tools and materials, undertaking a woodworking project that requires crafting the most effective joints can be fairly complicated. But, did you know that hundreds and hundreds of years ago, Japanese woodworkers were pulling off magnificent feats of wood joinery even without most of the fancy tools that we have today?
Japanese woodworking is fascinating in its style and form, and in this piece, we will briefly examine the art of Japanese joinery as well as several other Japanese woodworking techniques that are still studied and used to this day.
What Is Japanese Joinery?
Used to construct everything from temples to cabinetry, Japanese wood joinery involves the elaborate process of slotting pieces of lumber or timber together to produce interlocking Japanese wood joints.
Materials such as glue, stitching, or nails are not required in this process. Japanese joints can take on a number of different characteristics, from durable and tough to flexible to aesthetically intricate. It really all depends on the materials used during the process as well as the specific purposes of the joint.
For example, mortise and tendon joints are fairly common when it comes to joinery construction and are typically used for various pieces of furniture, while Sampho-Zashi joints are far more complex and intricate and are used to support large temples or houses.
Even though it’s been around for a number of centuries, Japanese joinery is a somewhat mysterious method, though it has experienced something of a resurgence in recent years.
Other Japanese Woodworking Techniques
While Japanese joinery is certainly impressive in its own right, there are several other Japanese woodworking techniques that are especially known for their intricacy and beauty.
Take Japanese Inami wood carving, for example. In the same way that Japanese joinery does not require any nails or glue, Inami wood carving is done completely without any files whatsoever. It’s hard not to be completely blown away by this technique when considering that is done completely through the use of wood carving knives and woodworking chisels. The craftsmen who engage in this technique are particularly precise and skilled, so this is not a method that you can simply pick up and master on your first try.
Initially used to create sculptures and portraits that decorated massive Japanese temples, Inami wood carving can be seen these days in intricate design throughout Japanese homes and is also utilized in the creation of figurines and nameplates.
While not as complex as Inami wood carving, Japanese lacquering can be used to give your piece that gorgeous finish. There are several different types of Japanese lacquering techniques. Kijiro lacquering, for instance, is a fairly basic and traditional method that involves spreading a transparent lacquer over your completed product, while Kamakura-Bori lacquering necessitates etching an image into the wood piece before applying levels of lacquer made from different colors.
4 Japanese Woodworking Products Available for Purchase
If you are looking to learn more about the art of Japanese woodworking or even to attempt some of these techniques yourself, here are a few products that you can purchase online.
1. “The Art of Japanese Joinery” by Kiyosi Seike
Available for around $21, this book examines the history surrounding Japanese woodworking and presents many important secrets of Japanese joinery. Written by late Professor of Architecture at the Tokyo Institute of technology Kiyosi Sieke, the book looks at 48 distinct Japanese joints and contains 64 photographs for your viewing enjoyment.
2. “The Complete Japanese Joinery” by Hideo Sato
With a plethora of detailed drawings and diagrams exhibiting the finest examples of Japanese joinery, this book is a must-have for any workbench and is well worth the $20 investment.
3. Dai Dogyu Chisel Hammer
With a handle made out of Kashi (which is a Japanese white oak) and a head forged from durable, high-quality steel, this 300g, 13.2” hammer is available for slightly less than $20 and is perfect for smaller chisels and making light and delicate cuts. Dogyu also makes a heavier hammer, ideal for larger chisels and heavier cuts.
4. Gyokucho 770-3600 Razor Ryoba Saw
With a blade length of 7”, this 15” saw allows you to get into those hard-to-reach places thanks to the small and durable blade teeth and a handle that is tilted in relation to the blade.
At around $20, this saw will serve any dedicated craftsmen well.
Appreciating the Impressiveness of Japanese Woodworking
No matter what your woodworking experience level is, it’d hard not to seriously appreciate the intricacy, precision, and beauty of Japanese woodworking. Considering the gorgeous aesthetic and the few tools used throughout the process, it is no wonder, then, that it takes craftsmen plenty of practice and patience to truly master the art.
Whether you are looking at tackling a project that requires you to use a Japanese woodworking technique or are simply just studying up for educational purposes, having even a cursory understanding of the facets of Japanese woodworking could serve you well in your woodworking endeavors.