Thursday, August 13, 2015

More books....."Japanese Woodworking"

"Japanese woodworking" by Hideo Sato

This book was originally published in Japan in 1967, but was translated into English for this 1987 publication. The book is now out of print, but that's OK, because it has been combined with another work, "Japanese Joinery" by Yasuo Nakahara, creating......
"The Complete Japanese Joinery" book, available on Amazon. As far as I know, when they combined the two works, they left the original form intact, so you get a two-fer, but I prefer buying the used original editions.....recycling, don't you know.
Anyway, "Japanese Woodworking"........

Where the previous book that I was reading, "The Japanese House", was a scholarly exploration of architecture and design, more akin to a college text, this book is more of a technical manual. It strikes me as something that was intended to be used in practical manner, a trade school text. "The Japanese House" tells why the house is built a certain way, while this book.....this book actually tells you how to build the thing. This book is only about house construction, so folks looking for more general woodworking information need to keep looking.

The text is clearly written (At least compared to the Google garble that I've gotten used to reading) and the book is profusely illustrated. There are instructions on basic layout techniques and common trade practice.

Some of this information, the most basic and rudimentary practices, would've been helpful to me last year. I had to figure most of this out on my own, piecing bits together from multiple sources. I could've just bought this book, but the book alone might not have been enough.

The first few chapters deal with the working area, some background information, and basic tool maintenance. Be aware that the treatment is very broad, covers a lot of ground, but at little depth. A beginner using this as their sole source of information might get awfully discouraged, as some of the information seems too vague to be very useful .... if this was combined with an instructor actually showing you......? That might work.

My desire to participate in the Project Mayhem joinery practice stemmed partly from my inexperience cutting the more complex joinery that is one of the hallmarks of the Japanese style construction. When presented with a picture of some amazingly intricate joint, it is hard to know where to actually start. I mean, you've got all of those lines and it seems like there must be a "proper" way to go about cutting the joint, right? Well, this book holds your hand for some of the basic joints, says cut here....then here....chisel out some waste.....then cut here....

This works well for me as a beginner, and once you cut a few different joints, you begin to understand the reasoning that is behind things, why things are cut in a particular order. Cutting a new joint isn't an intimidating prospect anymore.

Unfortunately, it is the drawing of the joint that is now the most challenging, and this book doesn't really help you there. They walk you through construction of 6 different joints, step by step, but each explanation begins...."First draw the shape or cut lines", and that's it.

It seems that there IS NO EASY SOLUTION, haha. I need to practice, actually cutting the damn things rather than just thinking about them!

Ultimately, this book is about practical MODERN construction, and while the author doesn't stoop to using plywood, he does mention it's use. In the other book, "The Japanese House", Heino Engle makes much of the notable lack of diagonal bracing used in house construction. Evidently that's no longer an issue, because this book shows the ample use of diagonals.

They also illustrate the use of many different types of metal fasteners and reinforcements.

It seems unfortunate that steel fasteners are required to make the joinery strong enough to meet Japanese building code approval, but at least traditional wooden joinery is still allowed. This is how tradionally styled houses are actually built today.

Japan has been the world leader in exploring the use of novel building techniques, designs that can survive the catastrophic seismic events that are part of life in many parts of the world. Practicality dictates that a uniform material be used, something that can be quantified by an engineer. That generally means steel. Safer perhaps, but unsightly.

The Japanese government has funded numerous studies to determine the ability of traditional building practices to withstand seismic events. This YouTube video is interesting. Two test houses are placed on a giant shaker table, one built using techniques that were common up to 1950, the other house using more modern methods.

The tradionally built house, ummmm......

Siesmic standards are probably a good idea.

The amado screens that I am so enamoured of are briefly explained here. I had seen these diagrams previously, and they do give the right idea of the construction, but some details seem to be missing. The grooves don't line up as I would expect them to. How many screens per wall can be accommodated? Perhaps if there was a description of how the amado are used......

I suspect that if this was your sole source, you would end up with something that looked approximately correct, but didn't function the way it was intended. That's a common risk when working only from drawings and pictures.

Lots of fasteners.

As an introduction to the trade of building Japanese houses, this book probably serves it's function, but for someone who is interested in Japanese tools and just wants to build some stuff, there isn't much of interest here. I'm glad that I bought it (I'll gladly read ANYTHING that relates to Japanese tools!) and it was an enjoyable read. But what did I gain?

  • The book describes a location on a house frame, say a mudsill (the bottom most course of the wall). They generally offer up two choices of joint, the good enough and the higher quality /fancy option. It is good to see how these joints are ranked by people with actual experience (but an explanation of why might be nice).
  • The step by step instructions for cutting the commonly used joints are a nice way to build confidence.
  • The book has clear illustrations of how the shoji screen sills and headers are properly attached to the frame, something that I've been searching out.
  • The focus of the Japanese style construction is on practicality foremost. This style of building construction is still being used.

So, not bad overall, and certainly not a waste of time. It will be interesting to see how this ties into the other half of the book, "Japanese Joinery", by Nakahara.

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Like all of us, I am figuring this out as I go, so when you see something that is incorrect or flat out wrong (and you will!), let me know. This is a learning process. Real people and names, please. Constructive comments and questions are very welcome, but hate speak/politics are not! Life (get one!) is too short.

Thanks, Jason