Tools tools tools......I love 'em, but the #1 tool, bar none, is your head. Knowledge.
For the last 3 years I have immersed myself in the "how's" of fixing and using Japanese tools (and recently, the more complex joinery), but an important element has still been missing. There is now ample information about setting up a kanna (though next we need to work on the finer points of using one, but that will come), Project Mayhem joinery practice is helping us to figure out some of the finer points of cutting the more sophisticated joinery, and Sebastian has made great inroads into teaching us how to sharpen the saws, but still essentially what we have been doing is making attractive and educational display pieces.
The most commonly available books on Japanese woodworking will help you build shoji screens, but you are on your own when it comes time to mount them. The other books will give you ample inspiration for improving your own joinery skills, but provide little in the way of how to actually cut the many exquisite examples, being little more than picture books. I love seeing the many examples of joinery, but even an enthusiast like me wonders....where does this fancy stuff fit? What's the big picture here?
Hilo public library had a copy of "Measure and construction of the Japanese house ", by Heino Engle, sent it right over to me in Mountain View. You got to love the interlibrary loan program. I didn't even have to go into town (not the big town anyways ).
All those complex joints that we have been marveling at and cutting our teeth on? Here is how they are actually used, in the wild as it were.
Two pages of pictures, from an old instructional Japanese carpentry scroll. Azby Brown makes mention of these instructional scrolls, in his book "Just Enough", saying that the 1800's Edo Japanese government produced many of these, sort of a public service outreach program. Our departments of agricultural, forestry, and building agencies have done the same over the years, but seeing these 200 year old joints, and actually trying to replicate some of them, really gives me a thrill.
These examples have shown me something else. The joinery that we are now working on is challenging, but this stuff is significantly more so. Another interesting thing is that many of these examples show only 1/2 of the joint. Who needs to see both sides, really?
This goes here, use that joint over there....
That awning that I made a few weeks ago? If I had waited just one more day, I would've seen these many, excellent examples.
That might have inspired me to step things up a notch in my own design.
God knows, I've looked at hundreds of Google images online, but didn't see much that was of interest. Most of what we build is just streamlined copies of what other people are making, and everything is designed for simplicity and efficiency. Certainly not beauty.
There is an entire chapter on "Movable space controls", being the shoji and fusuma screens.
Dimension standards, joinery and other construction details, also how the screen track ties into the structure as a whole.
Odd though this might sound, I'm actually not a huge fan of Japanese style living spaces. I like having lots of my crap around, and I just find the traditional Japanese house far too spare for my liking. What I do like, is the convertible nature of rooms that is enabled by having sliding wall panels. Try to find good information on sliding doors/walls in house design. Maybe you'll have better luck than me, but I found almost NOTHING , aside from basic shoji and a ton of pocket doors. That's not what I'm looking for.
In trying to design our "Hawaii dream home", I keep coming back to the desire to have walls that disappear, or turn into screened panels when it's hot, but then can be closed up for the colder periods. In our last home, I incorporated a ton of French doors to give a similar effect, but here that would be too much, too heavy, and not what we are after. I want old school, simple and lightweight. I didn't find anything, because I didn't know that what I REALLY want is the Japanese shutter system that used on the traditional house. I want "amado", wooden Japanese shutters, I just didn't know it.
There is an entire chapter dedicated to "house enclosures", the sliding shutters and doors, latches, joinery, sliding windows and doors.....so much.
The amado are stored in a wooden closet of sorts, attached to the exterior of the house. I was previously aware of the shutters and their storage, but I was missing many of the key details of their design.
God is in the details, and here they are. Now I know exactly how to build what I've wanted all along.
This is a book that I was able to check out from the library, which is great, because this library book is only an extremely abridged version of the original, "The Japanese House" (now out of print ). I didn't know that I would find anything of interest, but within 30 minutes of opening the cover, I had seen so much information that I had found nowhere else, I immediately ordered the original, unabridged version. I ordered on Friday morning Hawaii time, and by Tuesday (Freaking amazingly fast shipping by the seller! Carefully wrapped and a hand written note, hoping that I would enjoy it, it must have been a personal copy. Incredible.....4 days to Hawaii!)
The abridged has no pictures, only engineer style diagrams. The original has many pictures, pictures that try to conveigh some of the beauty and aesthetic behind the traditional house design.
The book is only in part about the actual construction of the house. The majority deals with design and culture, why things are as they are, and how it all relates to the people.
This book kind of tied things together for me. The key details are in the abridged version, which is widely available, and would be perfectly adequate for most anyone. The original is special though. The original has so much more. Stone, tile, paper. Recipes for the mud used in the wall structure. Tatami mats, garden and space, family and seclusion, climate, philosophy and religion.....these are just some of the different chapters that are from the original.
Heino Engle was a professional German architect who travelled widely before settling in Japan, teaching at Kyoto University for 3 years (1953-56). While this book offers glowing praise of the remarkably thoughtful and refined design inherent in the traditional Japanese house, he also offers some critical commentary of his perceived deficiencies. This is good, because it shows the full depth of his study and admiration (and make no mistake, he admires it greatly), but proves that he is not a blind fan-boy.
In the forward to the original edition, the publishers write.....
Well....Maybe a bit of a fan-boy. It's certainly not for everyone, haha.