Tiger Top - Japanese Kodansu / Suzuribako

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Project by madburg posted 12-04-2020 06:01 AM 881 views 4 times favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Thanks to Brian Johns for prompting me to post this after seeing his Keepsake box.

Those of you who follow my posts will know that I’ve been in Japanese mode for a couple of years now. I love the ingenuity of many Japanese style boxes, which have no parallel with usual western style boxes with hinged lids. This one is based on a style used by the Japanese for storing incense and items to do with Kodo – the incense ceremony, or as a ‘box’ for writing/calligraphy paraphernalia. Mine is for calligraphy paraphernalia.

There’s lots of ideas here on one of my Pinterest pages. Covered Kodansu

The outer lid/cover is made from veneered plywood – which looks like walnut but isn’t, and no, I don’t know what it is. The interior and everything else is made from walnut and bits of jarrah for some of the frames.

The ‘lid’ is held on with Japanese Sanada Himo tape.

Not having mastered the art of makie yet – Japanese ‘gold sprinkled’ lacquer decoration. I’ve used some shell inlays as decoration.

This is where it gets its name from – the Tiger on the Top.

Take off the outer lid/cover and you get to this …...

Below the internal lid are four stacking trays on a base which acts as another tray. Each tray has different items of Calligraphy paraphernalia.

The top tray holds a circular inkstone and water dropper.

The next one down has, brushes, an inkpot, a brush rest and a seal.

Then we have an ink-stick in a small paulownia box, with two inlayed Jarrah paper weights.

The next one down has two seals, and the vermilion ‘mud’ pot.

Finally, the base holds different coloured ink sticks.

The shell line design on the outside of the trays was done as a way of making sure the trays were replaced in the correct way – alas they weren’t accurate enough for their positions to be interchangeable – must do better!

It was great fun sourcing all the bits and pieces for the trays, and working out the small frames to hold them all. Most came off AliExpress and the whole lot probably didn’t cost more than Au$70.

To give you an idea of scale, this is it with a ruler, and one of my other Kodansu Carp Islands

Yes its quite small, which means is relatively quick to do, and fiddly at the same time, which is what I like.

As ever thanks for looking. If you’ve any questions then please do ask.

-- Madburg WA

24 comments so far

View bobasaurus's profile


3711 posts in 4160 days

#1 posted 12-04-2020 07:09 AM

This is a really spectacular creation with amazing attention to detail. Never seen a box like it before. What is your process for doing the mother of pearl inlay?

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View therealSteveN's profile


7013 posts in 1550 days

#2 posted 12-04-2020 07:12 AM

WOW Such a splendid post. Incredible box, and the orderliness, if that is a word, of everything is crazy wonderful.

Thanks for the post, and to Brian if he motivated you to make it.

-- Think safe, be safe

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1124 posts in 3288 days

#3 posted 12-04-2020 09:26 AM

Another miniature masterpiece! The inlays and decoration are quite superb.


-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View madburg's profile


313 posts in 1819 days

#4 posted 12-04-2020 09:53 AM

Thanks Jim – you are on the ball!

Allen – An answer to your question What is your process for doing the mother of pearl inlay?

The shell inlays were purchased from De Paul Inlays in Vietnam though they are based in the USA – check them out here At the price they charge I wouldn’t dream of trying to make them myself. The shell strips are cut from a laminated sheet (.7mm) purchased from The ‘picture’ inlays are let in once everything is finished. That way when the inlays are sanded down to the finished surface the shell dust doesn’t fill any open grain. I then apply more finish – always polyurethane, and build the finish back up. The inlays are held down with my fingers and then drawn round with a pin fixed in the end of a piece of dowel – it scratches the finished surface. I then use a scalpel to cut into the wood or veneer and then use a small bent ‘chisel’ or a mini hand held router plan to dig out the waste. Some people use a dremel with a router bit – risky!! The small bent chisel is actually a bent nail, that is ground at the end to produce a flat bottom and then a cutting edge on top. The inlays are glued in with superglue. I put a bit of polythene sheet on top, then a clamping block and clamp – super glue doesn’t stick to plastic! If my hole isn’t such a good fit then I mix the appropriate sawdust with superglue to fill in any gaps.

The straight inlays are cut in with a scalpel and ruler and dug out with the ‘nail’ chisel as above. I’ve have a few nail ‘chisel’ or different widths for inlaying straight strings! Hope this helps.

-- Madburg WA

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

6673 posts in 1558 days

#5 posted 12-04-2020 10:11 AM

Such a detailed project writeup of a wonderful project! And then the writeup of the MOP inlay process in the comments as an addition. Thank you!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Redoak49's profile


5026 posts in 2964 days

#6 posted 12-04-2020 11:46 AM

As running piece of art.

View Tim's profile


7 posts in 2121 days

#7 posted 12-04-2020 12:14 PM

I’m speechless – what an astonishing piece. Thanks for sharing it with us.
PS – I’m not rendered speechless very often, I almost alway have something to say!

View mikeacg's profile


1807 posts in 2033 days

#8 posted 12-04-2020 12:24 PM

I am totally in awe of the work you do!
Thank you for your inspirations…

-- Mike, A Yooper with a drawl,

View Eeyore's profile


92 posts in 192 days

#9 posted 12-04-2020 12:40 PM

You need one of these Japanese inlay “clamping” frames. I have seen the same technique used (on a larger scale) for boat building.

Thank you for including the note about Sanada Himo to placate those of us with fiber obsessions.

-- Elliott C. "Eeyore" Evans

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4321 posts in 4085 days

#10 posted 12-04-2020 12:47 PM

Yes, that is quite inspiring. Beautiful!

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View tt1106's profile


228 posts in 4044 days

#11 posted 12-04-2020 01:11 PM

Phenomenal. What an amazing piece of craftsmanship. Thank you for all the pictures.

-- -Todd

View jeffswildwood's profile


4802 posts in 2953 days

#12 posted 12-04-2020 01:24 PM

This is an absolutely incredible box. Such detail! This makes the transition from wood work to artistry.

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3639 posts in 4413 days

#13 posted 12-04-2020 01:53 PM

Okay, besides being just fantastic, it makes me dizzy thinking of all the intricate detail you had to deal with. I am very humbled.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View MrWolfe's profile


1412 posts in 1099 days

#14 posted 12-04-2020 01:59 PM

I’m speechless.
Its not enough to say how fantastic it is.
All the details are incredible.

View recycle1943's profile


4954 posts in 2598 days

#15 posted 12-04-2020 02:19 PM

WOW is not adequate but WOW !

-- Dick, Malvern Ohio - my biggest fear is that when I die, my wife sells my toys for what I told her I paid for them

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