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New pattern and process — Yae-karahana kikkō

This is one of the more complex patterns that will be included in Book 3 — the yae-karahana kikkō. It is closely related to the previous karahana kikkō pattern.

Yae-karahana_kikko pattern

The following photos show the process I followed in putting it together. I don't explain how to make the pattern — you'll have to wait for Book 3 to be published for that — but the photos will give you an idea of what's involved in making a pattern such as this. As with all the patterns in all of my books, the yae-karahana kikkō was made without using any specialised tools; just the normal tools I detailed in Books 1 and 2.

First, I cut the three-way
mitsu-kude joints in the jigumi, then the three half-lap joints between each of the mitsu-kude joints.

Yae-karahana_kikko 02

I then cut the jigumi pieces to length, and chamfered the ends. Two of the Type A pieces will be further trimmed, but it's more efficient to cut all the pieces together.


Next, I assembled the jigumi.


After which it was time to make up the hexagons.


Eight hexagons are required, and each hexagon side is 7.5mm. The following photo will give you an idea of the size of the piece.


The hexagons are secured in place by three longer locking pieces extending from the corners of the triangles. Jaguchi joints are used to hold the hexagons firmly.


All the triangles have to be filled in.


Next, I started on the smaller locking pieces that intersect the outer jigumi pieces (red arrow below). These also use jaguchi joints to lock the hexagons.


All these pieces have to be inserted before I can move on to the next step.


The next pieces to insert are the smaller internal locking pieces (red arrow below). These have jaguchi joints at both ends, so any adjustment is quite difficult. The half-lap joint has to be in the exact centre between the jaguchi joints, so in this pattern, these are by far the most difficult pieces to cut and insert.


The final pieces to insert are the second hexagonal pieces (red arrow below). These are trimmed to fit on the 60° jig. These are not particularly difficult, but the sheer number of pieces make this final process quite time-consuming.


Once these final hexagonal pieces have been inserted, the pattern is completed.


And that is how I made the yae-karahana kikkō. Most of the more complex kumiko patterns at first seem to be a confusing maze of pieces of wood heading off in all directions and angles, but if you can break the patterns down into their individual pieces within each of the triangles, they do have a much more structured feel about them.


Asa-no-ha on YouTube

I uploaded a video to YouTube today showing how to make the square asa-no-ha. In it, I make a coaster with the pattern, which would make an ideal Christmas gift. I hope you find it interesting.


Making a shoji - Part 2

The second part of the Making a shoji video series is now up on YouTube.

I'm now just waiting on a proof copy of
Beyond the Basics to make the final check for any typos, then I'll click on the "approve" button at CreateSpace to make it available. Hopefully this will happen today or tomorrow.


Making a shoji - Part 1

I’ve uploaded part 1 of the making a shoji video. This part covers marking the stiles and vertical tsukeko and kumiko. I hope you find it interesting.


Exercises Part 2 uploaded

I’ve uploaded part 2 of the shoji exercises video.

Next it’s on to making a real shoji, so stay tuned.

New YouTube video - Exercises Pt 1

I uploaded a video to YouTube today that runs through some kumiko sawing exercises in preparation for making a shoji. I hope you find it interesting and of value.


Working faster 1

I finished a commission for four patterned shoji panels for a restaurant in Brisbane last week, and I’m now just waiting on the carpenter to do his side of the work so they can be fitted. Once they’re up, and with the restaurant’s permission, I’ll post some photos. It will probably be some time early next month. In the meantime, I’d like to put a few quick philosophical thoughts together about the difference between woodworking as a hobby, and as a job.

The commission wasn’t a rush job — I had plenty of time to complete my side of the project, but that doesn’t mean I had the luxury of being able to procrastinate and work slowly. Trying to do the work I do as a full-time occupation demands that I finish each project as quickly as I can so that I’m ready for when a subsequent quote leads to the next commission.

Working quickly, though, doesn’t mean working hurriedly, or rushing through the job. This leads to mistakes and sloppy work, and in this business, it just takes one quality slip to ruin a reputation that has taken time and great effort to build.

It means eliminating wasted movements and unnecessary processes. This was a constant theme at Shokugei Gakuin (where I studied
tategu) across all disciplines — carpentry, furniture making, tategu, and gardening and landscaping. Work carefully, but work quickly.

This reminds me of an excellent entry on furniture-maker Dennis Young’s blog from a year and a half ago about his master from his apprenticeship days, and his master’s final days before passing. The blog entry is
here. I encourage everyone to read and absorb Dennis’s meaningful words. Even bed-ridden and in his final days, his master, albeit in his mind, was engaged in the craft he loved and had devoted his entire life to. And there’s no doubt there would not have been one wasted movement or process in those final actions.

As Dennis’s master said: “You have to get faster.” I, and every other student at the College, heard this regularly from our instructors, who undoubtedly would have heard this regularly from their masters, and so on back in time. And yes, I do have to get faster.

Much has been made of the Japanese
shokunin tradition of “stealing” their skills rather than being taught them. In other words, apprentices had to observe and learn, rather than being fed their knowledge. As Japanese society, and indeed the world of the shokunin, changes, I think this concept is certainly dying out. With a willing apprentice, it is much more efficient to teach skills and knowledge so that the apprentice has a solid base from which he or she can work to develop and expand those skills and that knowledge.

To a degree, I also think this idea has perhaps been a little misunderstood in the West. Some processes, be they making furniture, assembling shoji, or building a frame for a house, require explanations to be properly understood, and in the past, apprentices would have had these processes explained to them, even if it was in the form of being yelled at or a boot up the backside because of a mistake they made. I believe the concept of “stealing” skills related more to closely observing how their master moved as he worked — watching and copying his actions using the plane or chisel, or in assembling the work. In other words, learning how to eliminate every unnecessary movement and action. This cannot be taught; only learned by observing and copying. And subsequently honed by experience, knowledge, and a firm grasp of the work processes so that there is a natural flow from one procedure to the next without the need to stop and think about what needs to be done.

This is why I enjoyed watching my instructor, Sawada Sensei, and all the other instructors in action so much. Complete and absolute efficiency.

Some work to do, so I’ll continue this in later blog entries.

Inches or millimeters

In Book 1, and in all the other books on kumiko-zaiku that I’ll be writing, I use millimeters as the unit of measurement. This may be an anathema to woodworkers who have only ever used the imperial system of feet and inches, but I’ll try to explain why this is the only measurement unit that will work without the need for large calculations that increase the risk of error.

You can, of course, use the traditional
shakkan-hō (kanejaku) measurement system (shaku, sun, bu and rin) used in Japan since ancient times, and although officially discontinued in 1966, is still used today by the majority of carpenters, tateguya and many furniture-makers. This system is just as good, if not better, than the millimeter system for this kind of work, but tape measures and straightedges with these markings are not readily available outside Japan, so I used millimeters in the book.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but woodworkers who use the imperial system use fractions rather than decimal places when working below the inch unit, and herein lies the problem.

In shoji with a standard kumiko arrangement, like the first shoji in Book 1, the imperial measurement system is quite straightforward and acceptable. For example, there are three vertical kumiko, the shoji width is 515 mm and the pitch between vertical kumiko is 111.9 mm (you’ll have to look in the book to find out the calculations to achieve this).

Rather than make a direct conversion of this to inches, I’ll give rough, rounded imperial measurements, and calculate from there. Instead of 515 mm, the width of the shoji will be 20¼ inches (514.4 mm), and instead of 30.5 mm, the width of the stiles will be 1¼ inches. After going through the calculation in the book, the pitch of the vertical kumiko is 4 3/8 inches. No great drama with that — it all worked out quite well into a workable fraction, and there is a small leeway with accuracy in this kind of arrangement.

The shoji I’m making up now for Book 2, though, has 31 vertical kumiko. This will be the second-last shoji listed in the book because it is very difficult. In this shoji, the pitch between vertical kumiko is 13.9 mm (actually 13.91 mm, but 13.9 mm is acceptable).

Now try this in imperial with fractions. Again same 20¼ inch shoji width, and 1¼ inch stile width. The pitch becomes 35/64 inch. A much more difficult number to calculate and work with than 13.9 mm, and there’s no leeway with accuracy. Squares are involved with patterns, so measurement has to be precise, otherwise the squares and the patterns won’t fit — 34/64 (17/32) inch is not acceptable.

And this is just with the vertical and horizontal kumiko arrangements. The third book will go into great detail on the diagonal diamond arrangement and many variations, and three-way joints and all the intricate patterns shown in this website, and many other patterns, and for this fractions of inches just won’t cut it. The numerator and denominator numbers become too high to work with.

So my advice is that if you’re satisfied with just the simple shoji, the imperial measurement system will work OK, and stick with that if you’re more comfortable using inches.

If, however, you want to go beyond the standard simple designs, and explore the range of marvellous things that can be done with shoji and small thin pieces of wood, you will need to learn how to use millimeters. If it makes it any easier, don’t think of them as millimeters — think of them as units. So instead of 13.9 mm, think of them as 13.9 units. You’ll be surprised at how easy pitch and interval calculations become. And there is much less risk of inaccuracy and calculation errors.

As an aside, I’m old enough to have been raised on the imperial measurement system and the pre-dollar currency days of pounds, shillings and pence in Australia, so don’t use age as an excuse — it
is possible to learn to use the metric system.

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.