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Frame for new pattern

Today I finished the frame and jigumi for a new art piece that will feature the kiri_asa pattern. Kiri () is Japanese for the paulownia tree. As you can see by the jigumi, it’s a square pattern, and the kumiko are 3.2 mm (1/8 inch) thick (mitsuke). The vertical kumiko pitch is 15 mm, and the pitch of the squares that will house the kiri pattern is 60 mm.

This pattern is quite stunning when featured in a set of
shoin shoji doors. The one I’m making is an art piece and won’t be subject to the normal stresses of shoji doors, so I’ll be altering the cutting and assembly method slightly to speed up the process.

All kumiko pieces in the
kiri-asa pattern are secured in place by jaguchi joints (which can be seen in the square asa-no-ha pattern explanation) of differing angles, so it is quite challenging.


All going well, I should have it finished tomorrow, after which I’ll add an explanation to the Patterns page.

Couple of relaxation pieces

After finishing the landscape piece above, I needed something less taxing to give my mind a bit of a break.
As an aside, I used eight different patterns in the piece:
kuruma-kikkou, dahlia, kaza-guruma, rindou, kawari-yae-zakura, yae-zakura, yae-asa-no-ha, and kawari-asa-no-ha. All these patterns are described in the Patterns 02 section.

The two pieces I finished next are
asa-no-ha in a diamond (hishi-gata) jigumi. A very simple pattern and design, but I think quite effective in their simplicity. Wife Mariko designed the first piece, and the second is my design effort. Kumiko timber is Huon pine, and the frame is kauri. For these frames I used a gloss finish, rather than the usual satin finish.


Over the next week or so I’ll add a tools section detailing the tools that I use in my
kumiko-zaiku. If I can get it to work properly, over time I’ll also add short videos on how I use the specialist tools, and also bits and pieces on Japanese tools, especially hand-planes, in general.

Landscape 2 - Finished!

Finished the piece on Friday. I finished the actual kumiko work on Wednesday, then a couple of days to fit the frame and backing, and put a few coats of finish on the frame. So after a few anxious moments about the cut-off date, I eventually had a week to spare. It’s now safely tucked away. The photo below is the final section. A multi-coloured collection of kawari-asa-no-ha.

Final section of landscape

So today, I set about on some long-overdue maintenance on the machinery, then upstairs to give the hand tools a bit of TLC.
First of all, the
ha-ganna. Eventually, I’ll add a section to the website describing some of the specialist tools I use for the kumiko, but these four planes are the most critical for the fine detailed work. Without these planes, it would be impossible to cut the short pieces, which can be less than 2 or 3 mm in length.

They work by cutting angles across the grain. This is fine with the soft timbers, but the harder timbers, especially the bloodwood, purpleheart and saffronheart I used in this piece certainly took their toll. My kumiko were 1.6 mm wide, so even for the pieces that ended in a “v” shape, such as the ends going into the vertices in the
kawari-asa and yae-zakura in the photo above, the planes had to cut through 0.8 mm of very hard and dense wood. And for the pieces that had to be cut all the way through, such as the shorter pieces on the kawari-yae-zakura and yae-zakura, it had to cut down to the full 1.6 mm. The photo below is the end result of using the hard timbers. Painful, but one of those unfortunate things that can’t be helped.
All the ha-ganna have some form of blade damage as above, but a few hours on the stones and they’ll be back as good as new. Then a couple of days off before I start on the next project.

Landscape 2 - Light at the end of the tunnel

At last seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Probably another week or so to go until it’s all finished.


Our hearts go out to all the people caught up in the earthquake and tsunami last week. I think only in the coming weeks will the true extent of the tragedy become clear. Fortunately, all our family members (including daughter Naomi, who is working in Tokyo) and friends are safe, but our thoughts are with those who have not been as fortunate. It will take years for the affected areas to recover, but with the incredible stoicism of the Japanese people, recovery will come and life in those areas will eventually return to some form of normality.

Landscape 2 (8)

Progress has been mixed, to say the least. The most time-consuming part has been the kuruma-kikkou pattern for the sky. As I mentioned in the pattern explanation, although this pattern appears fairly simple and straightforward, it is quite difficult. For each component piece, all cuts have to be exact: the interval between the joints, the length from the joints to both ends, and the overall length of the piece. Each triangle consists of three interlocking pieces, and each one has to be exact in relation to the other two. At least I’m now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel (well off into the distance though).


Landscape 2 (7)

The ankle is slowly going down, but it’s still a lot fatter than the other one. This unfortunately has meant moving up and down the steps from the machinery area to the hand-work area is a laborious process. Nonetheless, the landscape is slowly starting to take shape.

Because there are so many pieces, and each one is cut by hand, I’ve had to make a few minor adjustments to how I cut some of the different patterns. Thirty minutes extra doesn’t really matter very much when dealing with a couple of hundred kumiko pieces, but multiply this by 50 or so when the pieces number well over ten thousand, and suddenly there’s an extra 25 hours work, at a minimum; an extra hour, and that’s an extra week’s work.

yae-asa-no-ha is one of the major changes. The overall shape of the pattern is pretty much the same, but I’ve altered the way it goes together. This has speeded up the process quite a deal, and produces a better fitting pattern. The kumiko shokunin purists perhaps may not completely approve, but unless you know exactly where to look and what to look for, the change would probably go unnoticed. Beyond this, “I’ll neither confirm nor deny…



Disaster on Friday morning. I was fixing the door at the workshop and rolled my ankle. The side swelled up like a tennis ball. This was how it looked Saturday afternoon - still swollen, bruised, and fairly sore


Needless to say, progress is still very slow.
The light coloured wood for the lower area is Huon pine (
Lagarostrobos franklinii). This really is a beautiful timber. It has a wonderful aroma given off by the chemical methyl eugenol, which also acts as a kind of preservative for the timber. I’m not sure whether it has the same oil makeup, but the aroma is similar to Alaskan yellow cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis), which we used extensively in Japan for shoji doors and windows. The yellow cedar is also an excellent timber to use, but unfortunately it isn’t available in Australia in a suitable quality for shoji or kumiko work.

This Tuesday is my rostered day for the local art gallery where I have a piece on display, so all going well, I should have some time to add to the pattern explanations.

Landscape 2 (6)

Progress has been a bit slow unfortunately.

The bottom area is going to be a bay. Initially I’d planned to do the water in asa-no-ha and tsuno-asa-no-ha, but after getting through the asa-no-ha, I realised that it would have been a bit too open for such a large area, so a quick rethink, and I decided to do it all in kawari-yae-zakura. This has added well over a thousand pieces and probably a couple of extra days to the project.


A couple of hours working on it tonight, then back at it again tomorrow.

Hopefully the scene will become slightly more apparent as more pieces go in.

Landscape 2 (5)

With the patient help of wife Mariko, yesterday we managed to get the tsukeko attached to the jigumi without any major problems. We then began to prepare the first batch of kumiko.

I finished dimensioning the first lot of kumiko (walnut, Tasmanian blackwood, Huon pine, and radiata pine) this morning, then started on the patterns for a couple of hours this afternoon. As can be seen, still a very long way to go.


In my entry “Landscape 2 (2)” on 21/1, I mentioned the enormous wastage involved in this kind of work. The following photos will give an idea of this. American walnut is a beautiful timber, but it’s very expensive to get hold of here in Australia. For this piece I wanted to use the dark walnut timber for a tree feature. I cut off a piece about 650 mm from the board that I have, and ripped it in half. These photos show the kumiko I prepared from the half that I used, and the other half, which is roughly the same size. Huon pine is another beautiful and precious timber, and with this the story is the same.


The wastage is unfortunate, but hopefully the piece will eventually do justice to the timber.

Landscape 2 (4)

Safely finished the jigumi this afternoon, with a couple of kumiko to spare.


How straight the individual kumiko pieces are is a good indication of the accuracy of the cuts, and the overall jigumi itself.
The following photo shows the longest diagonal kumiko. Not 100%, but considering the length (1200+ mm), the number of angled joints (36), and the fact that it was all done by hand, I’m reasonably satisfied.


The next process is to trim the edges and fit the tsukeko (internal frame). After that the fun begins with the various patterns, including a couple of very challenging patterns that I haven’t tried before.

Landscape 2 (3)

Spent all weekend making up the internal design, so I was only able to start the actual marking and cutting part for the jigumi today.

Finished the diagonal kumiko this evening, and will start on the vertical kumiko tomorrow. Provided my calculations are correct, there should be enough diagonals with one or two to spare.

Because it’s all by hand, this is a very time-consuming process, and requires constant concentration. One mistake, and I have to start all over again. Fortunately, so far, so good.


Landscape 2 (2)

Spent most of today cleaning up my workbenches to make room for the jigumi, tuning up a couple of my planes (the wet weather we’ve had over the past week or two has played havoc on the planes - it’s required some serious dai-naoshi), and on the machines getting the kumiko to the proper thickness dimensions.

I’ve cut up 50 longer pieces for the diagonal kumiko, and 28 shorter pieces for the vertical kumiko (there are 35 vertical kumiko so I’ll use a few of the longer pieces for the vertical kumiko). This should be enough with a few to spare provided there are no blunders. The thickness is 1.6 mm. Considering the blade kerf on the tablesaw (I use a 1.8 mm thin-kerf blade) and the extra I have to cut to reduce it down to the required 1.6 mm, probably less than a quarter of the rough-sawn timber I use ends up as usable kumiko. This enormous wastage is one of the unfortunate products of this kind of work

The thickness (mitsuke) is 1.6 mm. On these longer pieces, I accept anything between 1.62 and 1.58 mm. On the shorter pieces, it’s 1.60 or 1.61 mm. This way, any gaps are kept to an absolute minimum.

Tomorrow I start cutting the joints.

Landscape 2

I have an order for a few coaster sets, so I’ll start on those as soon as I get final details on timber types.
Once I finish those, I’ll start on my next competition landscape piece. This has to be in by the end of March. This will be my most ambitious project yet. The jigumi will be 1090 x 630 mm (about four times as large as my first landscape), and the longest diagonal piece will be over 1200 mm. This piece will have 36 mitsu-kude joints, so 36 joints in exactly the right position at exactly the same intervals for the jigumi to fit together. Each one of these joints will be cut by hand using my Nakaya kumiko saw (with a new blade inserted - the saw on the left). At a rough guess, there’ll probably be more than 10,000 individual pattern pieces.


This is my CAD drawing of the jigumi. The pitch is 35 mm, and the kumiko thickness (mitsuke) will be 1.6 mm.

Landscape 2 jigumi

The first thing I have to do is make up a couple of new jigs for the angled cuts. The jigs I’ve used to date are too small.

Putting the jigumi together is the most fundamental part, but it will be the most difficult. Most kumiko shokunin in Japan use radial saws, many computer controlled, to cut the jigumi, but unfortunately, I don’t have this luxury. I have to cut mine by hand. A major challenge, but I’m sure my skill level will be much improved at the end of it. Once that’s been done, it’s then simply a matter of putting in the patterns. I’m thinking of trying a couple of new patterns that I haven’t made before, and some interesting variations on patterns I’ve already done.

I’ll chart my progress (including any disasters) here.

New art piece and patterns

Finished the landscape piece on Saturday. Haven’t thought up a suitable title for it yet. It’s now safely tucked away…

Landscape 01

and I started on the next pattern piece with a couple of new patterns. Tomorrow I’ll cut up and fit the main frame, then give it a couple of coats of finish.

Pattern piece with yuki-gata and kaza-guruma patterns

The next photo shows the new patterns in a bit more detail. The centre pattern is the yuki-gata kikkou (雪形亀甲), and the outer pattern is the kaza-guruma (風車), a fairly new pattern developed by a tategu shokunin in Fukushima Prefecture. Surrounding these two patterns are asa-no-ha.

Over the next week or so, I’ll add these two new patterns to the kumiko patterns page.

Landcsape 1 (cont.)

I’ve only been able to do this in bits and pieces since daughter arrived, so it’s taken a bit longer than normal, but the end is generally in sight. For the snow-capped mountains I used the yae-asa pattern with silver ash, for the mountain body I used the yae-zakura in Tasmanian oak, the foreground feature (which still has to be filled in) is kawari-yae-zakura in red cedar, and the lake section down the bottom is asa-no-ha in Huon pine. The four or five open triangles in the lake section will be filled in with a new pattern - tsuno-asa-no-ha.


Landscape 1 (continued)

Daughter is coming home for Christmas from Tokyo for a couple of weeks, so with a brief patch of fine weather at last, Mariko and I have been out in the garden making our home landscape look a bit respectable before daughter gets here, so I haven’t had a great deal of time to spend on the landscape piece. I did, however, manage to get most of the sky pattern done. I still have to add the half pieces along the top before this part’s finished.


This is the kuruma kikkou pattern, and the one that is commonly used for the sky. If you look closely, you can see that there are similarities with the goma-gara pattern, but it is a completely different pattern. The cuts are fairly straightforward, but accuracy is critical to ensure that the end pieces are in line with the adjacent end pieces, they form a snug fit in the triangle without being too tight, and the three component pieces are parallel with the diagonal or vertical jigumi pieces as appropriate. An attractive pattern that really can look very ordinary if not done properly.

Timber is kauri.

Next will be the snow-capped mountain peaks.

First in the landscape series

Started the first of my landscape series of artwork yesterday. At this stage this is a bit experimental, mainly trying to get the right mix of timber colours, textures and patterns to represent sky, background snow-capped mountains, and foreground lake water. There are a couple of larger competitions early/mid next year, and if this works, I’ll enter it in one of those. If it doesn’t, it will be a good learning experience for making a couple of pieces that I can feel confident about entering. As I go along, I’ll show the separate parts of the landscape, but for obvious reasons, I won’t show the overall scene until after the competition.

The first part is the jigumi. This is the smaller of the two that I’m thinking of making. The jigumi (minus the tsukeko - internal frame) is 544 x 315. The kumiko pitch is 35 mm, and kumiko thickness is 1.60 mm.

It all went together quite well, and is now safely glued and clamped. The timber is Queensland maple.


New pattern, new art piece (2)

Finished the centre yae-asa feature this morning, and after a design rethink, I decided to go with the yae-zakura pattern around the central feature. Because I need to use the 30° plane for both the cross pattern pieces and the locking pieces in the yae-zakura, I had to finish cutting all the cross pieces before I could start on the locking pieces.

I’ll finish it off tomorrow morning, then make up the frame. Mariko and I will give it a title, and I’ll put it into the gallery. All these pieces are for sale, so if you’re interested, please drop me an email for prices etc.


New pattern, new art piece

Hi. I Started my next art piece with a new pattern late yesterday. This is the kuruma-kikkou. It’s a bit similar to the goma-gara (sesame - used in my 2010 Studio Furniture competition screen here), but the angles on the ends are different, and this gives it the circular feel, as opposed to the leaf pattern of the sesame. The kuruma-kikkou is commonly used for the sky in landscapes, so it’s a critical pattern to master.

While the pattern looks relatively simple, it is quite time-consuming, and care in alignment is essential. Poor alignment of adjacent pieces would make it look very ordinary indeed. Cuts for the joints are fairly straightforward, but accuracy in the interval between joints is crucial.

The centre pattern that I’ve just started is the yae-asa-no-ha. Timber is kauri for the kuruma-kikkou, and silver ash for the rest.


Cutting the mitsu-kude (三つ組手)

I’m placing the last couple of coats of finish on the latest art piece, but because it’s been raining here quite heavily, the finish is taking longer than normal to dry. Once it’s finished I’ll add it to the Gallery.

I’ve started the jigumi for a couple of other pieces, so I’ll give a brief rundown on how I cut the mitsu-kude (三つ組手) for this. Kumiko dimensions are 1.6 x 10 mm, and the pitch is 35 mm.

There are two different types of kumiko cuts for the mitsu-kude (technically there are three different types, but most only use two, especially when cutting the joints by hand). These two diagrams show the joint in detail.

three-way joint 01 three-way joint 02

I place a suitable number of kumiko in my jig, and for the first type of cut, I cut at each interval mark at 30° down to two-thirds of the kumiko thickness. (The photo shows the cuts at varying angles of slope, but this is because of the camera lens - all cuts are perpendicular.)

I then cut the other edge of the joint.

Without removing the waste, I take the kumiko out and place at the other end of my jig where the 30° angle is in the opposite direction, and again cut along the interval marks down to two-thirds the thickness.

After making all the cuts, I then remove the waste.

I place these kumiko to one side, and secure the next lot of kumiko in the jig for the second type of cut. I cut down one-third of the kumiko thickness …

… then flip the kumiko over, and cut down one-third on the other side.

If these cuts don’t line up perfectly, these kumiko have to go in the bin because they’re unusable. Fortunately, mine do.
It’s now the moment of truth, and time to assemble the jigumi. The next photos show the general sequence I use.

I use a dab of normal PVA glue for the kumiko, so after the glue has properly dried, I’ll trim the jigumi in preparation for attaching the tsukeko. Once that’s done, the fun part starts with the patterns.

New art piece (3)

Only a couple of hours this morning at the workshop before we get ready to head off to Canberra. Finished off the asa-no-ha background except for the half-pieces at the top and bottom. Will make up the frame when I get back, then start on the next piece. The next piece will be slightly more complex, and will include a new pattern (for me) that is generally used for the sky in larger landscape works. This will then open the door to a whole range of new possibilities.


New art piece (2)

The patterns around the central feature are the kawari-yae-zakura on the top, and the yae-zakura on the bottom.

The timber types are silver ash, Queensland maple, and red cedar.


New pattern, new art piece

Started another small art piece. This one is the same size as the most recent addition to the Gallery. This will be my first attempt at two of the patterns in the piece. The first is the yae-kikyou asa-no-ha. Kikyou is the Japanese name for the bellflower. It is essentially a series of hexagrams held in place with locking pieces to form a floral pattern.

The centre diamond is the yae-kikyou, and other patterns will take shape around this central feature.


This photo shows how the hexagram comes together. This is not how I actually join them, but it gives an idea of the cuts required. Needless to say, accuracy is critical.

Art piece 02

Unfortunately I miscalculated slightly with the kumiko and ended up a few short, so I couldn’t finish the centre piece today. I’ll finish it off first thing tomorrow morning then make up the frame.


Art piece

This is my first attempt at a purely art piece. It’s a relatively simple design based on a piece I saw in Tokyo. Because of the large number of small intersecting cross-pieces, accuracy in the cutting is absolutely critical. Any minor inaccuracies, and the pieces won’t fit, resulting in the horrible sound of snapping kumiko.

The first pieces on the base. The base kumiko when done in the diamond (hishi-gata) or three-way joint (mittsu-kude) style to house the floral or leaf patterns is called the jigumi (地組み). The accuracy of the jigumi will determine the quality of the final product.

So far so good.

The jigumi is completed without any problems, and all the joints have been cut in the correct position.

The small cross-pieces go in.

It’s always a relief to get the internal frame (tsukeko) attached safely.

The asa-no-ha go in. The centre piece will be kawari-asa-no-ha, and I’ll start that tomorrow (an example of the kawari-asa-no-ha can be seen here on this furniture piece). The size of the kumiko piece is around 791 x 264 mm. The width (mitsuke) of the kumiko is 2.4 mm. The pitch of the joints for the diamonds is 50 mm. Timber is Huon pine.