Japanese tools #5: Sumitsubo I (Japanese ink pot)

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Blog entry by mafe posted 09-24-2011 04:00 PM 22388 reads 4 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Japanese chisel box (urban recycle project) gift... Part 5 of Japanese tools series Part 6: Sumitsubo II (Japanese ink pot) »

Sumitsubo I
Japanese ink pot.

The Sumitsubo is the Japanese counterpart to our chalk line.
Here a drawing of how I wanted mine to look.

It is used to mark long straight lines on wood, and used together with the sumisashi (pen made of bamboo) the Sumitsubo was traditionally made by the carpenter himself, and where the Japanese tools in general are really simple and free of decoration, the Sumitsubo is usually a carved and even ornamented tool. It origins from China and perhaps this is why it has it’s form, or perhaps the Japanese woodworkers just needed this one piece to show his skills to the colleagues since he’s other tools were all simple and only the quality and making of the iron in the plane really made it stand out. At least it could provide a young carpenter or apprentice to show his skills and stand out if he could not afford the more expensive tools, but this is just me guessing.

I choose the fish shape because I once saw one with this shape, and found it a elegant and more simple shape than the often seen dragon by the well, and I have a soft spot for the ocean and the fish so it had to be so.

So as so often before this project is made of inexpensive wood, in fact a piece of beech found in my friends firewood pile.

Re sawing the firewood into a fairly straight sided piece of wood.
Just free handing since it will be shaped later.

With a pencil trying to imagine how it could look in plan and side view before I take some final decisions.
As you can see I try to play with different tail shapes, but I usually like to make the final lines in the cut and sanding, to follow and read the life of the wood, and where it want to bring me.
What is important is to make room enough for the wheel and the Ike (ink pot), this to make sure I will not cut or drill too deep later.

Once the shape is there, I mark the center so I am sure it will be relatively equal on both sides.

Could have carved out the holes for the Ike and the wheel but since I am still lazy and only have limited amount of energy a Forstner bit and a drill press comes in handy.
Set the deepness so it will not go deeper than needed, perhaps a little less than needed and then clean up later.

Drilling and the dust control is on (I usually always forget this).
Holes as close to each other as possible without the drill slips.

Larger hole, larger bit.

And the cleanup of the holes.

Now it’s getting fun, the first shaping, I use the band saw, and this is probably the moment where you can make the worst mistakes, so keep that tongue straight in the mouth.

And we have a fish!!!
(Or kind of…).

The real shaping starts, I like to use drawknife for rough shaping, spokeshave to close in, rasps and files.

My Supersander as always…
And then just sandpaper.

Thinking of Wayne and rolling out the carving tools.
No plan just that I want it simple and clear since I will color the Sumitsubo later and this will make the lines less visible.

A hole with a long drill for the line.
You can see I did not clean up the drilling marks in the pot and the hole for the wheel – later you will see why.

A dummy string and a dummy wheel to settle with the last design details.

Cutting a piece of wood for the wheel.
My lathe was not set up so it is faster.

And we have a wheel !!!

A hole in the center with an invisible drill…
Pure magic.

On my quick and dirty circle sanding jig I round the wheel.
But you can also do this on your drill press, lathe or even by hand.

And with something under you can even chamfer the edges like this.
If you hold the wood gently against the sandpaper it will spin.

A screw through the wheel and a spin on the drill press – holding a file against the wood.

Then sandpaper.

Now I can drill a hole for the pin for the wheel.

And put the handle through.

I made the handle simply by bending some brass rod , and a small piece of alu tube for the finger part.

We got a Sumitsubo – more or less.
Man I did it!

I will split the blog here for the once that have a slow web.
Press here for next part:

Japanese carpentry tools museeum:

Sumitsubo set up and use:

Hope this blog can inspire others to make a Sumitsubo, or perhaps just to have been an interesting reading for someone interested in the Japanese tool culture,

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

14 comments so far

View meikou's profile


115 posts in 4442 days

#1 posted 09-24-2011 04:14 PM

Nice work Mads!

I do Japanese joinery but I use a modern sumitsubo as they’re generally a bit less messy. Are you going to use the proper silk line for it or something else?

You’ll need to make a sumisashi next :)

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 4905 days

#2 posted 09-24-2011 04:39 PM

Looks pretty cool. Looking forward to seeing it in use.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View woodzy's profile


418 posts in 3486 days

#3 posted 09-24-2011 04:43 PM

Looks great.
I never really thought about the history of the chaulk line.
It only make sence that if your going to take the time to position and measure out 2 points in the hopes of joining those 2 points with a straight line that one would have a tool for such a task … ...

and more to the point i’m now sure (thanks to Mads) that Stanley didn’t invent the chauld line : )

Can’t wait to see the sumisashi that accompanies this great little tool.

-- Anthony

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3462 days

#4 posted 09-24-2011 05:33 PM

Mads caught a fish…or did the fish catch him?

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Bertha's profile


13588 posts in 3501 days

#5 posted 09-24-2011 05:41 PM

Awesome ink pot! You know I love the fishies. The “pulley” made on the drill press is a stroke of genius.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Don W's profile

Don W

19653 posts in 3375 days

#6 posted 09-24-2011 06:55 PM

Mads, you are amazing. I wouldn’t even think of making my own chalk line. You’ve turn a simple un-thought of tool into a piece of art. I’m in awe of your imagination.

I’m Smiling here!

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View Brit's profile


8120 posts in 3650 days

#7 posted 09-24-2011 07:04 PM

Fantastic Mads! I love your wheel making jig. I can’t help thinking it would have been quicker for you to set your lathe up though. :-) At least those of us who don’t own a lathe know how to do it now. Can’t wait for part 2.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View racerglen's profile


3112 posts in 3588 days

#8 posted 09-24-2011 07:40 PM

Beautiful ! (but you are BUSTED ! A Surform.I think it was WayneC that got an antique Millers Falls surform and promptly tossed it.. ;-}

-- Glen, B.C. Canada

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

24974 posts in 3913 days

#9 posted 09-24-2011 08:25 PM

That is a cool tool,Mads. Your collection is getting close to priceless!


-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Sodabowski's profile


2388 posts in 3640 days

#10 posted 09-24-2011 09:16 PM

Wow that’s a very nice and useful carving!

-- Thomas - there are no problems, there are only solutions.

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 4905 days

#11 posted 09-24-2011 09:45 PM

[email protected] :)

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View daltxguy's profile


1373 posts in 4722 days

#12 posted 09-24-2011 09:59 PM

The trick with the invisible drill bits is to keep them sharp!
So long and thanks for all of the fish :)

-- If you can't joint it, bead it!

View 58j35bonanza's profile


395 posts in 3500 days

#13 posted 09-25-2011 05:08 AM

I love it!
Great topic to do a blog on.
It was a new one for me.

-- Chuck

View Schwieb's profile


1902 posts in 4269 days

#14 posted 09-25-2011 12:52 PM

good work as always, Mads

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

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