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Oriental Hand Tools

Although I currently use a Fuji X-Pro 1 as my main camera, I...

Giant Cypress - Thu, 07/13/2017 - 7:28am

Although I currently use a Fuji X-Pro 1 as my main camera, I learned photography on a Nikon F. I still have that camera and the 50/1.8 lens it came with.

(Picture from and poster available from Level Press, along with other posters of iconic Nikon cameras.)

NYC KEZ, August 5th, 2017

Giant Cypress - Wed, 07/12/2017 - 4:08am
NYC KEZ, August 5th, 2017:

Just a reminder that Yann Giguère is hosting the 4th annual NYC KEZ. It’s a full day of Japanese tool fun, with plenty of opportunity to try these tools hands on. There is a planing contest for those who are interested, and classes throughout that week as well as a one day workshop on Friday. Click on the link above for the full schedule.

Tickets are limited, but still available. I’ll be there Friday and Saturday, and hope to see you there, too. 

Cracked ice, East to West

Giant Cypress - Thu, 07/06/2017 - 3:28am

I’ve written an article on Chinese furniture for Popular Woodworking which should come out at the end of the year or the beginning of next year, if all goes well. One of the things that I didn’t have space for in the article was a motif called “cracked ice”. It’s a random pattern of triangles and other polygons that is mounted on the inside of a frame. They can be small scale as in the window above, or larger, as in the panel below.


They can incorporate an interior frame, as seen below.


The cracked ice pattern shows up in furniture pieces as well.


This pattern is meant to resemble cracks that form in ice covering a pond as the temperature goes up. This pattern also appears in other Chinese art, most notably in ceramics. In this case, the glaze naturally cracks during the firing process, resulting in the pattern on this vase.


Besides being a design motif that I find very attractive, I’m also intrigued by the process of laying this design out. Intrigued in the sense that I’ve been thinking about how I would lay out a pattern like this for at least 5 years now, and I still have no idea how to do it. It’s easy to lay out a random pattern of triangles and polygons. It’s much harder to do that in a way that looks good, and in the case of woodworking, good enough so that you can look at it for a few decades and not find it annoying. 

I’ve had a number of conversations with George Walker over the years, and more recently Jim Tolpin, about this design. They haven’t figured it out, either. We’re all sure that there are some sort of guidelines that can direct how to lay out this pattern. We just don’t know what it is.

Two weeks ago I was on vacation in Barcelona. And when you’re in Barcelona, you wind up looking at a lot of things built by Antoni Gaudí, designer of the  Sagrada Família, the Park Güell, and other famous Barcelona landmarks. One of the buildings we visited was the Palau Güell, which is a fabulous seven-story mansion in the heart of Barcelona. As we headed to the top, I was quite surprised to see this.


These are interior stained glass windows that face the top of a hall used for social events and musical concerts. It is said that Asian design was an early influence on him, but I don’t have any evidence that Gaudí deliberately was using the cracked ice design. In any case, Gaudí wasn’t the only Barcelona architect to use this sort of element in his architecture.


This is a stained glass panel in the Palau de la Música Catalana, designed by Lluís Domènech I Montaner, Unlike how Chinese woodworkers used this pattern, the cracked ice pattern is identical from panel to panel. In Chinese design, each panel would have had its own cracked ice pattern.

Even if Gaudí and Domènech I Montaner weren’t cribbing directly from Chinese design, they both were interested in incorporating design elements from nature into their work, so it may not be completely surprising that this design pops up in turn of the century Barcelona, given the natural inspiration for this design. 

Some woodworkers like to keep the hollow on the back of Japanese...

Giant Cypress - Wed, 07/05/2017 - 3:08am

Some woodworkers like to keep the hollow on the back of Japanese plane blades and chisels as wide as possible, resulting in the outside edge being really thin. Apparently this blacksmith wanted to frustrate those woodworkers.

(Photos from Nobori Hamono.)

Why A Workshop of Our Own is a Necessity (and Needs Your Support)

Giant Cypress - Thu, 06/29/2017 - 8:48am
Why A Workshop of Our Own is a Necessity (and Needs Your Support):

Megan Fitzpatrick:

Right now, A Workshop of Our Own has the opportunity to buy the building in which it’s located – but time is short. The collective needs to raise $100,000 overall and there are five days remaining in the Indiegogo campaign. Not only will you be supporting a good and necessary step toward equality, you can get some cool stuff in return. Check out the rewards, check your checkbook, and see if you can’t find a few dollars to help.

I sent in a contribution a while back. I hope you all can do the same.

What woodworking has done to me: I’m walking down a lovely...

Giant Cypress - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 4:38am

What woodworking has done to me: I’m walking down a lovely tree-lined street in Barcelona, notice this tree, and all I can think about is veneer and bowl blanks.

Variations on a theme

Giant Cypress - Tue, 06/20/2017 - 3:48am

Here are two planes that are designed to do the same thing: cut a 3/4″ groove into a piece of wood. Both of them are designed to cut across the grain, as they have nickers for scoring the wood. But the implementation of the nickers is quite different between the two planes.

This a closeup of the bottom plane. You can see the nicker on the left, which will score the wood ahead of the cutting blade and the chipbreaker. There’s a matching nicker on the opposite side. This arrangement of a pair of nickers ahead of the cutting blade is pretty common in Japanese planes that are used to cut across the grain.

This is a closeup of the top plane. Here it might look like the cutting blade is on the bottom and a chipbreaker that is advanced too far is on the top, but something else is happening here. What looks like the chipbreaker are actually nickers.

This is the complete assembly of the cutting blade, a pair of nickers that rest directly on the cutting blade, and a chipbreaker that fits between the nickers.

Close up of the business end. Here you can see more clearly how the nickers protrude past the main cutting blade.

Here are the separate parts. From the top, the chipbreaker, the nickers, and the cutting blade.

Clearly, the manufacturer of this plane went to a lot of trouble. Not only are the nickers more trouble to manufacture than a pair of separate nickers, but the nickers are held together with a pin so that they can pivot like a pair of scissors.

I have no idea why anyone would go to the trouble of making a plane with nickers in this fashion. In the years that I’ve been looking at Japanese planes, I have never seen one with this sort of nicker/blade set up. But it is cool. Maybe it just goes to show that there’s always someone in woodworking that’s looking to come up with a different way of doing things, and that just like in western woodworking, there isn’t a single way of doing Japanese woodworking.

Here are some Asians who rock covering AC/DC’s “Back in...

Giant Cypress - Mon, 06/19/2017 - 7:48am

Here are some Asians who rock covering AC/DC’s “Back in Black” to start your week. Bonus: a vocal performance that rivals any metal band I can think of.

Ridiculous Woodworking Books (Give me More!) - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Giant Cypress - Fri, 06/16/2017 - 3:58am
Ridiculous Woodworking Books (Give me More!) - Popular Woodworking Magazine:

Thanks to Megan Fitzpatrick for the shout out. Check out the titles, and submit your own for a chance to win a copy of David Denning’s The Art and Craft of Cabinet-Making, which is a great read, as well as one of those high quality examples of book printing that seem to be harder to find these days.

Anon that asked about the 'beyond repair' chisels here. I've not seen any japanese chisels with no sign of any lamination remaining, but I have seen many on ebay with the hollow smaller than a framing nail head and the lamination line on the edge of...

Giant Cypress - Thu, 06/15/2017 - 3:38am

Got a link to an example? I’d love to see it.

Without actually seeing it, and having seen a lot of used Japanese chisels, my guess as to what you’re seeing is a combination of really aggressive working of the back to make the hollow get that small, and a sharpening method that obscures the lamination line at the bevel. This deserves a more detailed discussion, but I’ve found that sharpening with (some) man-made waterstones tend to make the lamination line disappear, whereas sharpening with natural waterstones really brings that detail out.

Apparently you can ask Nick Offerman woodworking questions on...

Giant Cypress - Wed, 06/14/2017 - 3:58am

Apparently you can ask Nick Offerman woodworking questions on Twitter. I might give this a try.

(Thanks to Matt Cremona for the link.)

Making a Dovetail Kanna

Giant Cypress - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 6:48am
Making a Dovetail Kanna:

There’s a decent amount of information out there on chopping out a dai for making your standard Japanese plane. Not so much on the specialty planes. Gabe Dwiggins has a terrific write up here on making a Japanese dovetail plane.

Get to Know Japanese Handplanes - FineWoodworking

Giant Cypress - Fri, 06/09/2017 - 5:08am
Get to Know Japanese Handplanes - FineWoodworking:

Speaking of Andrew Hunter, I found that I completely forgot to note his excellent article in Fine Woodworking back in February on seeing up a Japanese plane. It’s well worth the read. And if you’re curious, here’s my take.

Interlocking Chinese Joinery - FineWoodworking

Giant Cypress - Thu, 06/08/2017 - 12:18pm
Interlocking Chinese Joinery - FineWoodworking:

Follow the link to see Ben Strano and Andrew Hunter’s video on Chinese furniture joints. It’s terrific.

I should also mention that Andrew also has an article in Fine Woodworking on how to construct a frame and panel, Chinese style. That’s also a terrific article.


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