Japanese Woodworking (Observations)

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Forum topic by MrRon posted 08-15-2016 06:15 PM 630 views 0 times favorited 0 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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08-15-2016 06:15 PM

I spent a couple of hours watching how Japanese woodworkers work. It was fascinating to watch how they cut wood with a saw, chisel and plane. They use the draw technique when sawing and planing. Their chisels and plane irons appear to have much less bevel than our chisels and irons. Ours are much more acute. Probably a factor is the steel in their tools. While in Japan many years ago, I watched a crew of 2 men building a typical small house. The only tools I could see they were using was a pull saw, chisels, hammer (for the chisels, not for nails) and a marking tool. In all, their tools were all manual and very few compared to what our carpenters have at their disposal. Japanese construction depends on joints and very few mechanical fasteners. At present, I have a couple of pull saws that I go to when sawing by hand. The “Western” style hand saws no longer have a place in my shop. Once you use a pull saw, you can never go back to a traditional saw. I would like to get a Japanese plane. It appears that there is more control when pulling rather than pushing a plane. Planes used in this country back in the 1700’s appear similar to Japanese planes, in that they were made of wood. They may have even been used to “pull” rather than push, but that I don’t know; maybe they could be used both ways.

Today in Japan, the use of power tools is common, but the old way of woodworking has it’s value. It is a skill that is treasured, recognized and kept alive by Japanese society and government. It is an art form just as much as painting, sculpture, literature, music and the other arts. These artisans devote their entire lives to perfecting their skill. It is not something that can be learned overnight or even over a period of years. It is a 24-7 commitment, few of us can commit to. So as I look upon their skill with awe and wish I could do the same, I know that my die is cast and I will have to accept that.

For those who are curious, watch some of the videos on U-tube. I think there are lessons to be learned even if we can’t reach their level.

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