Building a Japanese Style Bench

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Blog entry by BenhamDesign posted 11-18-2018 10:08 PM 1717 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

In this project I design and build a bench incorporating Japanese style architecture, as well as in lay some bow ties/butterflies along a crack I carve as a decorative feature.

Depending on how you argue the semantics of what joinery is, their are 5 or 6 different types of joinery in this project.
you watch be built or read about it below

Video Recap

Today I’m building this Japanese inspired bench where I carve a crack and hand inlay some bowties. I also get into 3 or 4 different types of Joinery.
So let’s get started. I started out cutting the boards for the top of the bench to their approximate length. Even though the end design idea will have bowties joining a crack I decided to use standard 8/4 cherry opposed to a slab. Mainly because it is much cheap, and I don’t always find a slab with a crack in just the right place to fit my design vision.
So after I milled the pieces for the top, I took a few minutes to deciding which edges to put together to hide the glue line so the grain blinds together.
Once I found a combination I liked, I put the two together and used some tracing paper so I could see though to the grain and started plan out where the crack I was going to carve needed to be.
I tried following the grain the best I could so it would look as natural as possible. I did a couple of variations tracing different parts of the grain until I settled on one.
I also tried to pay attention to the direction of the end grain and used it to determine which direction the crack will go vertically through the wood.
Then I used some carbon paper to transfer my drawing to the work piece. Yes it still exists.
Then I went to work with a power carver on my angle grinder, working to the line and on the top and then trying to follow that line I worked my way down to the bottom.
Then I used a soft pad on my random orbit sander to smooth out the grinding marks.
Now onto the other side I started at the bottom, removing the bulk of the material and feathered it up to the top until I met my layout line.
Once I was happy with the shape I moved onto a little faux finishing to make the crack stand out and look weathered, like it had been their awhile.
I used a dark brown die stain and coated the crack, since it is water based I was able to sprits it with water while I buffed off the excess which created a nice weathering look.
Time is money so I sped up the drying time with a heat gone. Once it was dry I sealed in the brown die with some shellac so when people sit on the bench they won’t get any brown stain from the crack on their cloths.
The shellac was a little to shinny so I knocked the sheen down with some 4 ot steel wool.
Once I was happy with the look of the crack I mortised the edges for floating tenons to help with alignment during glue up
Now it was time to move onto inlaying the bowties. I used some paper to cut out a few different sizes and shapes and starting laying them out until I was happy with the look.
Then I used some spray adhesive to attach the chosen ones to some scrap walnut, and cut them out at the band saw.
I attached some double stick tape to the bottom of each one so I could stick them down to the bench top preventing them from moving around while I carefully traced around them with a razor blade. This transfers their exact shape to the workpiece and gives the tip of my chisel a place to register when I chop out the waste.
When I start chopping out the waste I start about a 1/16” in from the razor blade line, removing a little material before I go right to the line. This prevents the wedge shape of the chisel from compressing the fibers along the razor blade line, which will make the fit of the bowtie look sloppy.
As I worked my way down I did several gentle test fits and made adjustments as I went. I never want to force it until I’m sure I will get a good fit. If the fit isn’t right I risk not being able to get it back out without damaging something and will be stuck with a bad fit up.
Once I was satisfied with the fit I glued it up and drove it home, then planed off the excess until it was flush. I did have a small area on the bottom where I compressed the fibers with the chisel, so I used a wet rag and steam to swell the grain back up to tighten the fit.
Once I had all three bowties inlayed it was time to move onto milling the legs.
To get the thickness I wanted I laminated some 8/4 lumber together. I took my time matching the grain before glue up to help hide the glue line.
I used my favorite wood glue to glue them up.
Now that the glue is dry, I used the chop saw to square off the ends and moved over to the table saw to cut the bridal joints.
I used my shop made sled to hold the legs square to the blade. Since I’m making the dados almost as deep as the blade will cut I took a few shallow passes so I wouldn’t over tax the blade, having the workpiece drift out of alignment.
I also flip the piece around and made a second pass so the dado would stay centered on the leg.
The leg is going to get tapered on all four sides so I took a piece of scrap plywood and made a quick tapering jig for the band saw. It mainly consisted of a sled and a few registration blocks glued to it.
Then for the opposing side I saved a cut off to take up the space where the leg was tapered. I ripped it to a more manageable width and slid it in the jig
To clean up the band saw marks I ran each leg over the jointer.
Now to fit the top rail in the bridle joint I just kept running the board through the planer taking a little off with each pass until I had a snug fit
Now to cut the curved shape of the upper rails, I made a template and used some double stick tape to attach the pieces to it
I took the bulk of the material off at the band saw. Then routed one end flush. I then raised the router bit to expose the lower guide bearing and routed the other side. By using a bit with bearings on top and bottom I can always route downhill with the grain, avoiding tear out.
Moving on to the lower stretcher, I found the center of the leg and marked out for the lower mortise.
I don’t use this mortising attachment very often, but since I already tapered the leg it seems like the fast most accurate way to cut a few mortises. To get the face of the leg square to the chisel I used one of the offcuts to shim it up.
Then I went to work Chopping out the mortises. I used an air hose to help clear the chips as I worked and the smoke you’re seeing is totally normal when you’re tools are dull.
The moister left the walls of the mortise a little rough so I just used a mallet and chisel to clean them up.
To cut the tenons on the stretchers I used an angle finder to find the angle. Since each leg was cut on the band saw and then cleaned up at the jointer, there is about a half a degree difference between each leg, so I measured and cut each tenon to match is corresponding leg.
I first cut the angle on the stretchers and then adjusted the miter gauge at the table saw to match, cutting a rabbit on both ends
Since the tenons have a slight angle to them cutting the top and bottom shoulders at the table saw would have been a huge pain so I just finished off the joint with a hand saw.
I marked out my layout line, between the shoulders
Scribed with a razor and used my chisel to make a notch for the sawblade to track in,
Then did the final cleanup with a chisel before test fitting.
I’m down to the final piece, but before making the trestle I wanted to get the spacing of the legs right, so I set them up and took a step back to see how they looked. This is what determined the length of the trestle.
To make the trestle I found a piece with a nice curve in it. I used the curve in the wood as a guide to create the curve in the trestle. I tried to find a balance between the proportions of the piece and the grain in the wood.
For the angle cut on the ends I just picked an arbitrary angle that looked good to my eye and the corresponding arch in the trestle.
I found the center point and drove a nail in it, and then using a thin piece of wood I bent it around the nail creating the arch.
To make the top of the arch match the curvature of the bottom I set my scribe to the thickness I wanted and drew it in following the lower curve.
Before cutting the curve I laid out the half lap joints to connect to the stretchers. I set up a dado blade in the table saw to cut them. This was a 2 pass operations so I just carefully lined up the blade with my layout lines.
I did the same operation for the stretchers.
I did a quick test fit and headed to the band saw to cut out the curve.
To smooth the band saw marks off the outside of the curve I used the disk sander
And then switched to the spindle sander to smooth the inside
There are always a few little divots or misshaped parts of the curve left over from the spindle sander so I cleaned them up by hand using a flexible sanding strip.
Then a final test fit before adding the glue and finish.

Thanks For watching
Brian Benham

-- What I do in and out of the shop at

6 comments so far

View NormG's profile


6507 posts in 4165 days

#1 posted 11-18-2018 10:27 PM

Wow, thank you for sharing

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View waho6o9's profile


9036 posts in 3739 days

#2 posted 11-19-2018 12:23 AM

Good video thanks for showing how to do fine joinery!

View 000's profile


2859 posts in 2061 days

#3 posted 11-19-2018 12:33 AM

Nice little bench,
Great work.

View MrRon's profile


6089 posts in 4405 days

#4 posted 11-19-2018 03:37 PM

Nice looking bench, but a Japanese craftsman would not build it like that. he would never use glue or power tools. I really couldn’t call it a Japanese style bench, but a nice bench never-the-less.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4496 days

#5 posted 11-20-2018 03:17 PM

Enjoyed the video, your work methods and the excellent commentary that went with it Brian and of course the beautiful project result too. Entertaining and educational!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Aj2's profile


3952 posts in 2960 days

#6 posted 11-22-2018 04:54 AM

I like it. If the Wabi Sabi was natural it would be better.

-- Aj

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