Suzuribako with katamigawari pattern

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Project by madburg posted 01-06-2021 05:15 AM 1806 views 2 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Yes another Japanese style box. This one is a classic writing box design, a suzuribako. It is complete with most of the accoutrements of the Japanese brush writing technique. These elaborate, luxurious boxes decorated with a range of lacquer techniques become very collectable items for ‘westerners’ from the mid 1800s onwards. You can see more of them here where I got my inspiration from.

They command high prices today. A suzuribako was often made as part of a set together with a writing table -bundai, and a letter/document box – fubako. I may get round to making these as well to complete the set!

The design style of this box called a katamigawari pattern. Essentially a lighten bolt divides the surfaces in two with different veneers on each half. It is also found on the interior as as well.

Its quite a simple box veneered with contrasting red maple burl and birds eye maple. Traditionally it would have been different lacquer designs on each half, though they were often red and gold. It was constructed as a sealed plywood box and then cut in half. Splines were used on the corners. The inside has the same katamigawari design as the outside but with the addition of sprinkled gold dust. This was done beforer the box was glued together.

To get the pattern to match on the outside, I didn’t apply the veneer until after the box had been cut in half and the lid fitted accurately. Cutting it after veneering would have meant the line of the ‘lightening bolt’ would have been off-set as some would have been lost in the cut.

More difficult than making the outer box was, the removable tray for all the calligraphy tools. It is made from jarrah strips with small halving joints, housings and the odd mortice and tenon.

The tray holds most of the classic accoutrements associated with writing boxes of the 1800’s

The tools are:
Suzuri - ink-stone The most prized item.
Fude - brushes. Three of these have a common handle that the tips screw into.
Fude oki – Brush rest
Kogatana – paper knife
Kiri – pricker
Suiteki – water-dropper

Unfortunately I didn’t have room for a Sumitori - ink-stick holder, or the ink stick – sumi. I found all these items either on eBay, AliExpress or Etsy.

The box is finished with around 10 brushed on coats of polyurethane, sanded down between coats, and then finished with a small orbital sander working through from 600 grit through to 3000.

Please ask if you have any questions.

Thanks for looking, hope you enjoyed it.

-- Madburg WA

11 comments so far

View woodbutcherbynight's profile


10906 posts in 3906 days

#1 posted 01-06-2021 05:22 AM

That is some amazing work!!

-- Live to tell the stories, they sound better that way.

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1137 posts in 3809 days

#2 posted 01-06-2021 08:54 AM

Another beautiful example. Great workmanship, as usual!

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

View Peteybadboy's profile


4951 posts in 3446 days

#3 posted 01-06-2021 09:44 AM

Really cool! A lot of work in that box. Well done

-- Petey

View Eeyore's profile


142 posts in 713 days

#4 posted 01-06-2021 12:27 PM

Wonderful detailing and completeness. I’ve made a couple of much simpler ones, but you set the bar much higher, as always.

When I bought a water-dropper in Iga Ueno back in 2019, they were confused when I called it a suiteki. They sold it to me anyway, but suggested calling it a mizuhashi. :shrug:

I confess that I was unaware of the paper-pricker before. What is it’s use? I don’t really do calligraphy, but I have spent some time tracing emaki illustrated scrolls.

-- Elliott C. "Eeyore" Evans

View MrWolfe's profile


1980 posts in 1620 days

#5 posted 01-06-2021 01:34 PM

Gorgeous work and very intricate detail on the tray for the accoutrements.
Amazing pieces and the write up of the process is very illuminating too. The veneers you’ve chosen are fantastic especially with the gold dust added to the finish. The little flourishes really bring this box together.
Thanks for sharing.

View Bobsboxes's profile


1674 posts in 4161 days

#6 posted 01-06-2021 02:10 PM

Great attention to detail, and write up. Thanks

-- Bob in Montana. Kindness is the Language the blind can see and deaf can hear. - Mark Twain

View Eeyore's profile


142 posts in 713 days

#7 posted 01-06-2021 02:18 PM

suggested calling it a mizuhashi.

Ah, please excuse my bad memory and limited Japanese language skills.

It’s mizusashi, not what I wrote above.
Mizusashi is also what they call the cold water container used during the tea ceremony.

-- Elliott C. "Eeyore" Evans

View wildwoodbybrianjohns's profile


3306 posts in 1044 days

#8 posted 01-06-2021 04:41 PM

Another fantasic production. I will bet that interior divider took some serious planning.

Some questions, if you dont mind answering.

You are using plywood cores and then veneering, but the antique Japanese boxes would have been made from solid wood. Any idea what type of wood they used for those?

The brush-rest is opal?

Are you using real gold dust? I have looked up prices for that, vury spensive.

Why is the inkstone prized?

Have you developed your own “tool” for sprinkling the gold dust? Or using traditional method?


-- WWBBJ: the first to compare a woman´s cheek to a rose was a poet. The second, an idiot. Dali

View madburg's profile


367 posts in 2340 days

#9 posted 01-07-2021 01:02 AM

Hi Bryan,
Some answers
Yes I usually use plywood. For the bottom and top I tend to make my own as local commercial stuff is too thick. But I have also used solid wood and then just veneered the outside.

From what I’ve read the predominant wood for Japanese boxes is Paulownia or Kiri. A bit like balsa wood – soft! I’ve found it very hard to work, as unless everything is razor sharp the grain tears out. It’s very stable and and doesn’t seem to expand/contract at all. My sea captains chest was made from it, as were some of the storage boxes (kiribako) for some of my last Japanese boxes.

The brush rest is ceramic.

I use real gold dust and also ‘gold’ effect dust. The amount used is minute so even though the real stuff is expensive it goes a long. long way. On this one I used ‘gold’ effect dust. Its quite coarse and stays as a sparkly individual grains. With some of the super fine dust you can get, real or otherwise, when you sprinkle it on the wet poly it all merges together and looks as if the surface has been painted. Which is where the gold painting – makie, sprinkled picture technique comes from. You need to buy/make a sprinkler

These are a tube (bamboo)or otherwise. with some very fine gauze over the end. Different sized perforation holes give different effects. Here’s a great article on the whole makie technique though you might need to use Google Translate to read it – scroll down the page for details. I bought some on a trip to Japan but have also made my own.

The one on the left with the green end was bought, the small one on the right in the petri dish I made. The petri dishes hold real and or fake gold/silver dust.

It seems the quality (coarseness?) of the inkstone determines the quality of the ink. Brushes wear out, the inkstick gets used up, but the ink-stone can last for ever! It’s therefore the most expensive and valued piece of calligraphy kit.

-- Madburg WA

View Eeyore's profile


142 posts in 713 days

#10 posted 01-07-2021 06:24 PM

brian johns:

You are using plywood cores and then veneering, but the antique Japanese boxes would have been made from solid wood. Any idea what type of wood they used for those?

Sugi (a type of cedar, often listed as “cryptomeria” in books) was also common for smaller items like this.

-- Elliott C. "Eeyore" Evans

View Calmudgeon's profile


719 posts in 2924 days

#11 posted 01-11-2021 01:05 PM

Lovely work.

-- "As are the things we make, so are we ourselves." - Lin Yutang

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