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Giant Cypress

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A monk asked Joshu, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming to China?” Joshu said, “The oak tree in the garden.”A monk asked Zhaozhou, “What is the living meaning of Zen?” Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in the yard.”
Updated: 54 min 41 sec ago

Hand colored albumen print of two Japanese woodworkers slabbing...

Fri, 03/31/2017 - 3:28am

Hand colored albumen print of two Japanese woodworkers slabbing up some logs with maebiki, c. 1890. I like to think it’s the same two guys in this photo, after they got tired of having sawdust fall on them all day.

(Photo from Flickr / Okinawa Soba (Rob).)

This is a stereoview (c. 1870) of two Japanese woodworkers...

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 3:18am

This is a stereoview (c. 1870) of two Japanese woodworkers slabbing up some logs with maebiki. It’s hard to see the saw being used by the woodworker on the left due to the angle of the photo.

(Photo from Flickr / Okinawa Soba (Rob).)

Some pages from (Shoshoku ehon) Katsushika shin hinagata, a book...

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 7:38am

Some pages from (Shoshoku ehon) Katsushika shin hinagata, a book by Katsushika Hokusai, 1836. A Japanese plane, square, and sumitsubo, which is like a chalk line but with ink, can be seen in the top photo. The bottom photo shows a Japanese adze and a kick-butt mallet.

(Photos from the British Museum, where you can also find the rest of the book.)

Bookboards II

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 3:18am
Bookboards II:

Don Williams, at the Library of Congress rare book conservation lab: 

I let them try any number of re-sawing methods, ranging from my vintage 4tpi carpenter’s rip saw, my own bow saw or their bow saw, a range of Japanese saws they had in-house, my French style frame saws, etc.  I have to say that by nearly unanimous confirmation the Japanese saws came out the favorites.

Completely unsolicited comment, I swear.

Hi Wilbur: When it comes to making chairs, what is the japanese equivalent tool for a TRAVISHER? Thanks

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 4:38am

I’m not sure there’s a true equivalent, since traditional Japanese woodworking didn’t involve making chairs with sculpted seats. Having said that, there are Japanese planes with convex soles that can be used for that sort of task. They are sometimes referred to as “spoon planes”.

They are made in various sizes ranging from large block plane size to finger planes. Here’s one that I have that’s on the finger plane of the spectrum.

If I was to try to make a chair seat with Japanese tools, I’d probably start by using a gouge to get rid of most of the wood, and then use an appropriately sized version of one of these planes for the finishing steps. If you want to see how someone who actually knows what he’s doing did this, Brian Holcombe has a great article on how he made a chair using Japanese tools.

Go Johnny, go.

Sun, 03/19/2017 - 10:48am

Go Johnny, go.

Hello Wilbur. What do you think about hollow on the back of the blade (urasuki?) being non-symmetric? There's a blog post of yours from about 6 years ago where you restored a plane blade and flat portions of the back had a very artistic profile. I'm...

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 5:48am

Ideally, the ura should be symmetric. If you’re rehabbing a used chisel, there are going to be some factors out of your control if you’re trying to accomplish that. First, you don’t know how well the chisel was made when it was new. If the hollow wasn’t symmetric to start, maintaining a symmetric ura as you use it is going to be difficult. 

The second factor is how well the previous owner(s) of that chisel maintained that ura. They may not have been particularly careful about that.

Having said that, the primary purpose of the ura is to ease sharpening by keeping a small area of steel at the cutting edge. Whether the rest of the ura is symmetric or not doesn’t affect this function of the ura. For me, I try to maintain the ura on my chisels and plane blades to look as nice as I can, but I don’t worry about it too much if it’s not perfect.

In any case, I think the attention paid to the appearance of the ura is a relatively modern phenomenon, especially when you look at lots of examples of used Japanese tools.

Using proportions for design: it’s not a bunch of constraints

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 3:08am

One of the essential books that any woodworker should have is By Hand and Eye, by George Walker and Jim Tolpin. I learned how to use proportions for design from this book, and also from being lucky enough to hear George talk on this subject.

One of the common misconceptions about this approach to design is that it’s a bunch of rules and constraints. I’ve heard woodworkers say that they don’t want to use a formula for designing their projects. The reality is that using proportions to guide your design decisions is a quick and easy way to help you make something that looks good.

Here’s an example. I’ve made some legs for a stool, and I want to make some chamfers in the section between where the stretchers will go. In the picture below, there’s my leg, a chunk of pine milled to the same dimensions to serve as a prototype, and the ruler I’ll use for figuring out proportions.


First, I needed to figure out how far in the chamfers would go. I could try some direct measurements: 1/4″, 1/2″, 5/8″, and so on. But it’s not clear that any of those measurements would look good. What I learned from By Hand and Eye is that the human eye seems to be naturally drawn to whole number proportions. So I decided to start with 1:6 for my chamfer lines.

To do this, I used a technique to quickly divide the width of my leg prototype into even parts. I laid the ruler down so that the end was at one edge, and angled the ruler until the 6 cm mark lined up with the other edge. I made a mark at the 1 cm mark and the 5 cm mark, which made the edge of the chamfer 1/6 of the way across the face of the leg.


I struck some lines parallel to the edge, and took a look. It looked nice, but I wanted more chamfer and less midsection.


So I erased the lines, and repeated the process, only this time I used a 1:5 ratio. I divided the width of the leg into 5 using the same technique as above, and struck the lines again.


This looked real good to me.

The other proportion that I needed to figure out was the bevel at the end of the chamfer. For this, I tried a 1:8 proportion, dividing the length of the section between the stretchers into 8 parts, and going in 1/8 of the distance from each end.


I got luckier this time. A 1:8 ratio looked real good to me right off the bat. So I whacked away at the waste to get the prototype in the photo at the top. I was pretty pleased with the result.

The beauty of this method is that I didn’t have to use any math calculations. It’s not like I measured the width of the leg, divided by 6 and 5, and measured in that amount from the edge. All the layout was done without any arithmetic.

And this was also far easier way to decide where to place my lines for the chamfer than arbitrarily picking a measurement that might not look very good. That 1:6 ratio that I started with wasn’t terrible. It was just not enough for the look I was going for. 

So for your next design project, give this a try. It’s quick and easy, and not limiting by any means.

(Note: the link to the Lost Art Press website above is for convenience only. If you happen to buy the book, and you should, I don’t get anything from the sale.)

Wife: He makes everything into a wood pun.Me: This couch has such great lumber support.Wife:...

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 3:18am

‘Kids Today…’ (Oh Shut Your Pie Hole)

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 3:58am
‘Kids Today…’ (Oh Shut Your Pie Hole):

Christopher Schwarz:

[T]he only difference I see between [younger woodworkers] and the older generations is the younger woodworkers are apt to use materials in addition to wood – metal, plastic and ceramics. And they are more likely to adopt technology into the things they make – robotics, 3D printing, CNC, laser cutting.

I’ve found this to be true as well. A few years ago I gave a woodworking talk at Maker Faire New York. The demographic there definitely skewed younger than what I see at woodworking events, and there was interest in woodworking, but more so as a means to an end rather than a pursuit that was exclusive of using other materials. 

I used part of my talk to spread the woodworking gospel. At one point I mentioned to the crowd that even if one wasn’t particularly interested in making furniture, woodworking was a great skill to have, pointing out that If one needed to make an enclosure for their Raspberry Pi, wood was lightweight, strong, and easy to work with, and that it was much more fun than shaping aluminum plate or sheet metal.

I also remember that the number of woodworking representatives was pretty scarce there. There was me, Nicholas Phillips, Tools For Working Wood, Garrett Wade, and that was it. If the woodworking community wants more younger people to take up woodworking, maybe we should do a better job of going to them.

And there’s this:

One of the things that makes me nuts about woodworking shows is listening to older woodworkers complain about 20-year-olds and how they (among other vices) have little interest in woodworking.

This weekend’s Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event was no exception. What was exceptional is that I listened to much of this drivel while people in their 20s and 30s wandered around Braxton Brewing, used the hand tools and talked to the makers. (Emphasis mine.)

Maybe the older folks like their alternative facts.

For Marc Spagnuolo: this is a nice video of a trestle table...

Sun, 03/12/2017 - 8:38am

For Marc Spagnuolo: this is a nice video of a trestle table build.

For Matt Cremona: this is a nice video of designing with live edge slabs.

For Shannon Rogers: this is a nice video of a project with contrasting woods.

For Christopher Schwarz: this is a nice video of some chairs made with staked legs. (Wait for the end.)

For readers of Giant Cypress: this is a nice video of a woodworker who doesn’t know you can’t use Japanese tools on hardwoods. Also, he never sits on the floor.

(Thanks to Jeremiah Rodriguez for the link.)

Rehabbing a Japanese plow plane

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 3:28am

I had a project that required me to make a groove about 3/8″ wide. Luckily, I had this used Japanese plow plane that I found on eBay a while back.

Japanese plow planes, unlike western plow planes which typically have interchangeable blades, do one thing and one thing only: cut a groove the width of the blade it has. This one has a 9.1mm blade, and should do the trick.

Except for one thing. The plane needed some work. It was used after all.

Here are the cutting blade and nickers of the plane. In between the nickers is a wooden spacer that goes between the nickers. The blade and nickers certainly needed sharpening and some rehab. There was this coating on parts of the blades that looked like lacquer that had yellowed over time. I used lacquer thinner to get rid of it, then set about sharpening the blade and nickers.

Much better.

After reinstallation of the blades and nickers, I discovered another issue. The nickers sat too low relative to the blade.

What had happened was that the wood spacer that sits between the nickers and/or the body of the plane had shrunk over time, making the spacer too thin and the opening in which the nickers and spacer sit too wide. 

To fix this, I added some thickness to the nicker. I took a thick plane shaving off of a scrap piece of red oak, and glued it to the spacer. After the glue dried, I shaved down the excess part of the shaving until the spacer had its original shape back, but it was now a little thicker.

When I reinstalled the nickers, they stopped short of their previous position. I was then able to tap the nickers down to the depth that I wanted. It’s not real obvious in this photo, but the nickers do sit higher than they used to.

If you’re tuning up your own Japanese plow plane, at this point I’m sure you’re real interested in the thickness of the shaving that I made. The answer is, you want a shaving that’s thick enough. If your shaving winds up not being thick enough, you can always glue another shaving on. My shaving was a thin 1/32″ thick, but your mileage will vary.

In use, I set the cutting blade to take a shaving of the thickness that I want, and I position the nickers so that they are a little bit deeper. This allows the nickers to sever the fibers ahead of the blade, which is especially important if you’re making a groove that runs across the grain.

I tested my newly rehabbed plane on a piece of scrap poplar. Not bad!

Hi, I'm the owner of a lovely 180mm ryoba. When cross cutting, even though the near side of the cut follows my guide line perfectly, the cut on the far side wanders. Is this a technique issue or a saw tuning issue? Thanks in advance.

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 10:28am

It’s most likely a technique issue, unless you got your saw used, or you remember banging it up.

It’s easy to tweak the saw to one side or the other when cutting one handed. You might want to try clamping down the board you’re cutting, start the cut just enough to get it started, and make the rest of the cut with both hands on the saw, positioning yourself so that the center of your body is in line with the cut.

One thing to consider: how big is the cut you’re making with this saw? 180mm is pretty small. For dovetails in 3/4″ material, I’m using at least a 210mm saw. I could see using a 180mm ryoba for small-scale joinery, but if you’re using it for crosscutting, using a bigger saw will help.

How good is the four volume set of The Woodworker: The Charles...

Wed, 03/01/2017 - 3:38am

How good is the four volume set of The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years from Lost Art Press? Put it this way: these books have almost 1500 pages of woodworking information, and as far as I can tell, there’s not a single mention of a Japanese tool. I love these books anyway.

Japanese woodworking’s version of the Festool Domino.(From The...

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 3:18am

Japanese woodworking’s version of the Festool Domino.

(From The Joinery, on Twitter.)

Western Saws or Japanese Saws for Beginners?

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 3:08am
Western Saws or Japanese Saws for Beginners?:

Bob Rozaieski:

I am by no means an expert on Japanese tools. I own a few, and I have had the opportunity to try many different Japanese saws, chisels and hand planes. However, I do not work with them enough to consider myself worthy of giving you advice on them.

Bob then proceeds to show that he’s a fibber by making a lot of smart observations about Japanese saws. He also made me blush.

(Bob, if you’re reading this, for some reason my RSS reader lost your feed. I fixed that, and I’m having a good time getting caught up on your blog.)

Well-known Japanese saw aficionado Ron Herman, at the...

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 4:28am

Well-known Japanese saw aficionado Ron Herman, at the Woodworking Show in New Jersey last weekend, explaining how he sets up saws and scrapers (!) differently for softwood and hardwood species, with an example of some of his crosscut saws. 

And you thought only crazy Japanese woodworkers would go to that much trouble tweaking the setup of their tools.

The Woodworking Show, Somerset, NJ

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 6:18pm


In case anyone is going to the Woodworking Show in Somerset, NJ, on the weekend of Feb. 17, my woodworking club, the Central Jersey Woodworkers Association, will be there. We’ll have a booth there and an ongoing series of demonstrations.

I’ll be there all day on Friday, Feb. 17, and Saturday morning (Feb. 18) demoing Japanese tools (of course). I’ll be showing how to use Japanese tools to cut joinery, even if you have a workshop already set up in the western tradition.

Hope to see you there!

Just a reminder, if you’re in the area. See you tomorrow!

Feeling validated. If Christopher Schwarz can teach Chinese,...

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 3:18am

Feeling validated. If Christopher Schwarz can teach Chinese, then I can do the same for woodworking.

(Photo from the Lost Art Press blog.)

Psychologists Explain Why Ikea Is a Relationship Death-Trap

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 11:58am
Psychologists Explain Why Ikea Is a Relationship Death-Trap:

For your woodworking Valentine’s Day pleasure, here’s Cari Romm on how Ikea breaks up couples:

The Ikea website currently lists more than 30 different types of side tables alone, and a side table’s one of the least consequential types of furniture you can get. And once you land on the model you want in the price point you want, there are supplementary decisions to make — size, color, etc.

There’s some debate surrounding the concept of ego depletion — the idea that you have a finite amount of mental energy to spend before you become decision-fatigued — but even for someone with infinite willpower, making all those choices with a partner can be a fraught, highly delicate balancing act, says psychology professor Julie Peterson, who leads the Self and Close Relationships Lab at the University of New England. Shopping for a high-stakes item is stressful even when you’re on your own, “but then you add a relationship partner to that — who you care about, love, ostensibly want to please in some way — and it it just compounds it even more,” she says.

And it gets even worse:

Here’s the cruelest of all the cruel jokes Ikea plays on its customers: If — if — you and your significant other still make it out of there with minimal strife and all the furniture you need, you still have to go home and assemble it.