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Pete Wells, in the New York Times:
Ed and I, having eaten a pizza and a half each, shared a single panna cotta. Then he asked me again: “Are you going to say that the best pizza in New York is in New Jersey?”
I am, Ed. I am.
Reason #62 why New Jersey is better than New York.
Sho Spaeth, in his article “Obsessed: The Fight for Real Cheese” on the Serious Eats website.
One of the themes I come back to when thinking about the differences between Japanese and western tools is that the differences aren’t because Japanese toolmakers came up with a wacky plan to use laminated construction in chisels and plane blades. That same approach was used by western toolmakers back in the day.
The difference came in how the western world embraced the Industrial Revolution. Laminated steel construction for edge tools couldn’t be easily automated in a factory production environment. So instead of continuing to make a high quality tool, compromises were made in the name of ease of manufacturing.
This year’s Kezurou-kai USA will be held on the weekend of October 21-22 in Oakland, CA. Looks like it will be a great time. Andrew Hunter, Jay van Arsdale, Matt Connorton, Makoto Imai, and Yann Giguère are among the presenters. I wish I could make this one.
I visited the George Nakashima compound last weekend again for the first time in a while, which included a lovely tour led by Mira Nakashima. I told Mira that every so often I’ll have a fantasy about getting a plot of land and building a house, most likely a timber frame house, in an area like this. I also told her that my wife’s usual response to this idea is, “Right. Where are the Chinese grocery stores?”
Mira told me that there’s an H Mart about a half hour drive from the Nakashima compound. Looks like the plan has a second life.
Hello Wilbur. I recently discovered your blog. Amazing and informative. I was wondering if you can provide me some advice. I'm interested in purchasing my 1st kana but i'm rather hesitant as there are so many choices to choose from. Do you...
Thanks for the nice comments. I really appreciate it.
My usual advice for the “How should I choose my first Japanese tool?” question, whether it’s a plane, chisel, saw, or what have you, is to contact the various Japanese tool sellers out there (here’s a list of all the Japanese tool sellers that I know of who know English well), explain what kind of projects you want to make, what kinds of woods you use, and see what their responses are. One of those responses will resonate with you. Buy your tool from that seller. You’re going to get a good Japanese plane regardless of which tool seller you work with. What you’re also going to get is a relationship with a tool seller that understands your needs and who you can work with, which will pay off in the long run.
As far as the blue/white steel issue, I like blue steel overall better for planes, and white steel for chisels. That’s because blue steel has more resistance to abrasive wear, which is what plane blades have to deal with. White steel, on the other hand, is generally easier to sharpen. For a chisel, I’m not as concerned with edge life as I am with being able to restore the edge more efficiently. But overall, the choice of steel is not as important as the blacksmith. Despite what I said above, my favorite finish plane is made with white steel.
If you are having trouble wrapping your brain around what I said about the white steel/blue steel issue, think about it this way. Choosing a Japanese tool based on white steel/blue steel issues is like deciding whether cherry or walnut is better for making a dining room table. The real answer is that Frank Klausz will make a better dining room table than I will.
Overall, a crack in a dai forms because there isn’t enough allowance on the sides of the blade to accommodate wood movement with seasonal changes, especially overall shrinkage of the dai year over year.. As long as you set up your dai so that isn’t an issue, I think you’ll be fine. What I would do is set up your plane as you normally would without worrying about seasonal movement to start. There will be a little side to side play. If the dai shrinks too much, use chisel on the side slots that hold the blade to provide a little more room for movement. Eventually you’ll get to a point where you won’t have to worry about it any more. There may be a little more side to side play than one of my planes, but your plane will work just fine.
One last thing to keep in mind is that the dai is going to move regardless. My shop is in my basement, and we have central air conditioning and heat, so it’s as climate controlled as it can get. I still have to tune up my planes every so often. So even if your dai isn’t going to crack, you still have to deal with movement.
Chairs at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, by Gerrit Thomas Rietveld and Gerard van de Groenekan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Hans Wegner, Charles and Ray Eames, George Nakashima, and Samuel Gragg.
Samuel Gragg’s chair was made in 1808. It was in no way the first bentwood chair ever made, but he did use some sort of patented technology to make it.
This video from the Victoria and Albert Museum shows lacquer craftsman Lee Kwang-Woong using traditional Korean techniques to create a lacquer box with an inlaid shell decoration. There are many parallels between the techniques used in this video and the western traditions of marquetry and animal glues, not to mention the fine abrasives used for the final result. One thing that is underplayed in this video is the perfect surface needed on the box itself prior to the application of the lacquer. Any imperfection in the box surface will telegraph through the lacquer.
The other thing that strikes me is that the work area looks more like a laboratory than a workshop. I can see why, however, as the smallest stray bit of dust would telegraph through the lacquer finish on the box as well.
(Thanks to the Sturdy Butterfly for the link.)
Woodworking projects from the kids at the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp. I think these are terrific examples of the finest of woodworking.
What kind of edging tool? Can you be more specific?
We’re back at the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp again, where I’m doing the volunteer doc thing this week. I usually bring a gift, so I fired up the lathe. It had been a while since I made a bowl, so I gave it a shot. This bowl is from a piece of box elder burl. It turned out thicker than I usually like, but that inclusion was making me nervous. Still, I think it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
For those of you who don’t know, the Hole In The Wall Gang Camp is a camp for kids with cancer and blood diseases, such as sickle cell disease and hemophilia. It’s an incredible organization that provides these kids a week where they can be kids and forget the cares that they have in the outside world. I’m lucky enough to have the privilege to volunteer there for the tenth time this week.
As you might expect, supporting an effort like this takes resources. If you would like to make a donation, or to learn more about Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, click here. Thanks in advance.
Side note: the Anarchist’s Daughter Soft Wax is a great finish for bowls.
Peter Follansbee, saying this better than I ever could:
Like I said, I can get past a lot of stuff. But…not racism. Not Nazis marching in the streets of 21st-century America. That shit doesn’t fly. Everyone should be against that…none of this “many sides” crap.
So…in the hopefully unlikely event that some of my readers are sympathetic with the KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, etc that were on display down in Charlottesville this past weekend, – if that’s you – please un-subscribe to my blog. Please stop following me on Instagram, FB…please don’t come to my classes. Please don’t buy my book, videos, spoons, etc.
Among the Japanese tools I’ve seen over the years, I haven’t seen much in the way of drills in the sense of the brad point/auger/twist bit drills that we’re familiar with in western woodworking. There are Japanese gimlets, small hand held tools used to make small holes. These holes would be used to make pilot holes for metal, wood, or bamboo nails. The business end of the tool has a square profile, and the four sides come to a point.
In use, you would hold the Japanese gimlet vertically between the palms of your hands, and roll your hands back and forth to make the gimlet spin clockwise and counterclockwise.
There’s also a version with a three pronged tip (sort of like a very aggressive spade bit, or a flat cross section of a brad point drill bit) that can create a slightly bigger hole for dowels, but it seems that the largest of these topped out at around 1/4″.
Getting ready to go over all the types of Japanese saws at Frank Klausz’s shop.
Thanks to Edith Klausz for the treats!
Getting ready to do my best to convince woodworkers to use Japanese chisels.
My car is all loaded with tools and props for shooting Japanese woodworking tool videos with Popular Woodworking Magazine this weekend at Frank Klausz’s shop.
I hear you singing through the wire.
My relationship with the oak tree in the garden is the same as the cypress tree in the yard.
On Saturday, at 3:25pm, just prior to the planing contest at NYC Kez, I was feeling pretty good. My blade was sharp, my practice runs at home that morning went well, and it had been a fun and very educational day up to that point. The one thing I noticed was that the day was quite humid, and that was causing some movement issues with the body of my plane. Throughout most of the day I decided not to deal with it too much, opting to tweak the sole of my plane right at the time of the planing contest, since doing so earlier would have just resulted in the body moving again by the time the planing contest rolled around.
Then, disaster. I needed to remove some of the wood right behind the mouth of the plane, and I forgot to back the blade a bit so I wouldn’t accidentally nick the edge of the blade. I then proceeded to accidentally nick the edge of the blade. It wasn’t much, but I could feel the nicks with the edge of my thumbnail.
This was bad. To fix this, I needed to resharpen the plane blade. If this was in my shop, that’s all that I would do, and I would move on. But for a planing contest, the alignment of the blade and body of the plane needs to be more precise, which meant that I had to redo the sole conditioning of the plane as well. And I only had five minutes.
Earlier that day, I had met Joshua Villegas. Joshua is a terrific woodworker, and all around great guy. He had the opportunity to apprentice in Japan in a chairmaking shop, where he had an immersion experience in Japanese woodworking. One of the lessons he learned was that despite the common conception of Japanese woodworkers working in a calm, zen state, the shop he worked in was all about speed. It was expected that sharpening would take five minutes, tops. I channeled my inner Joshua, and blew through the sharpening as fast as I could in five minutes. I then quickly went through the sole conditioning steps, much more quickly than I had ever done before.
When it came time for me to pull my shaving, I was pleasantly surprised. I knew I wasn’t going to win, and I knew that there were still some small nicks that would result in the shaving falling apart on the left side, but my shaving was only 8 microns thicker than the winning shaving, and that was without having the time to do a test run. The photo at the top of the post shows a shaving I took once I got home. The only additional tweaking I did was to adjust the position of the blade some more, which was the only thing I didn’t get to do at the planing contest.
My take away lesson from this is that setting up a Japanese plane doesn’t have to be a time-consuming affair. I was able to go from a nicked blade to a Japanese plane that was serviceable in 5 minutes. This jives with other aspects of Japanese tools that are thought to be finicky and takes up a lot of time. I can fit the bed of a new Japanese plane body to the blade in about 30 minutes. Conditioning the sole is pretty fast for me now, taking 10 minutes or less.
If you might be worried about using Japanese planes because there’s so much subtlety and nuance, and because using a Japanese plane takes so much dedication and attention to detail, don’t sweat it. It’s easier than you think.
Over the past weekend, I sent out a good number of photos and videos from NYC Kez, the excellent gathering of fans of Japanese woodworking and tools hosted by Yann Giguère. I used Instagram to post those photos/videos so I could send them to my blog, Twitter, and Facebook. [Insert criticism of crossposting here.] For whatever reason, the video embed didn’t want to play nicely with my blog theme, and so videos showed up as blank space if you’re looking at the desktop version of Giant Cypress.
I think I’ve fixed it, so if you scroll back, you should be able to see the videos now. Sorry for the inconvenience.