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Work Projects

Still here, and some side-tables

Well, almost three months without an entry. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to write about, it’s just that for the past two months or so I’ve hardly had time to scratch myself. Anyhow, enough of my tales of woe. These are the two side-tables I finished a while ago.

The first is the combined
goma-gara and sakura pattern I described in the previous entry. The table body is kauri.

Side-table goma-gara and sakura 01

Side-table goma-gara and sakura 02

The table top is 450x450 mm, and height is 700 mm. The top is 22 mm thick, tapering out from the table body to 12 mm at the edges. The design itself is very straightforward, as is the joinery. The top is attached with shop-made buttons. The legs were hand-planed to a taper on two sides. To me a more complex and stylised design would have been far too overwhelming with the intricate kumiko pattern.

The second side-table has the
kawari-yaezakura pattern. The front panel is entirely kawari-yaezakura, while the panels on the sides and back have a central kawari-yaezakura band on an asa-no-ha base. The light timber in the kumiko pattern is Victorian ash, and the red timber is red cedar. The star within the pattern is made simply by alternating the two different coloured wood types. The size is the same as the other table.


Work permitting, I’ll try to be a bit more regular with my blog entries. Hopefully no more three-month gaps.

Thanks for reading.

Couple of old friends revisited

The photo is one of four panels for a couple of smallish side-tables I’m making for a client. These will form decorative rails below the table top. It’s all a bit experimental, but so far the client seems to be happy.

Because these panels have complex patterns, the side-tables themselves will be quite conventional and straightforward. Too much of a stylised design would detract from the kumiko panels, and vice versa.

The patterns are
sakura (cherry blossom) in the middle, and goma-gara (sesame) on the outside. It’s been a few years since I made either of these patterns, so it was a bit like getting back together with some old friends. The goma-gara was the second of the triangular patterns I learned at the College.

mitsuke (thickness) of the kumiko is 1.5 mm, the pitch of the mitsu-kude is 34.1 mm, and the overall size of the panel is roughly 250 x 150 mm. The wood is silver ash, and the internal pieces of the sakura are laminated silver ash and purpleheart.

The four panels for the second side-table will be a different pattern mix.

Sakura and goma-gara patterns

New screen for products page - asa-no-ha band

I’m in the process of making up a new standard screen for the products page. This one contains an asa-no-ha band. This is quite fiddly, as many of the vertical kumiko require different cuts, so it’s a matter of constant removal and replacement of the kumiko from the jig as I make the cuts. Also, the second (and fourth) panel is a mirror image of the first and third, so care is essential here that the kumiko are assembled in the correct order.

These are the kumiko in their appropriate panel groups.

Kumiko after cutting

So far, so good. The shortened horizontal kumiko are chamfered on the ends on three sides.


Safely completed with no dramas.


Tomorrow, I start on the frames.

The timber is Victorian Ash.

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.

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.


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.

New Andon (3)

This is the first of the kawari-yae-zakura, and my first attempt at this complex pattern. Many more to go. The silver ash pieces against the red cedar form a pattern within the pattern.

A couple of more photos from Sunday 5 Sep.


New Andon (2)

Asa-no-ha patterns are finished, and today I started on a second pattern. This one is the kawari-yae-zakura (変り八重桜亀甲 - yae-zakura variation). I first saw this at the National Tategu Competiton and Display in Akita, Japan, in June, and thought it looked quite stunning. It lends itself well to “patterns within patterns” using different timber colours and textures, and I’ll try to incorporate this into my overall design.

Progress so far. One more panel to do.

This is the start of the kawari-yae-zakura. Diagonal crosses now have to be inserted into each of the three smaller triangles within the larger equilateral triangles. Because it will get quite crowded in there, these pieces are around 1.3 mm thick. The timber is Australian Red Cedar (Toona ciliata).

New andon

Built the frame to a new andon, and have now started on the kumiko panels. First was the mittsu-kude base. This is perhaps the most critical part, because if this isn’t done properly, none of the internal patterns will fit.

The pitch is 27.71 mm (from left side of one diagonal kumiko to the left side of the adjacent kumiko). The kumiko are 1.75 mm wide (見付け). The 5c coin gives an idea of the space I have to work with. This was done entirely by hand using a Nakaya handsaw.

I then attached the tsukeko, and started on the asa-no-ha section. This is after a few hours work. The asa-no-ha pieces are 1.5 mm wide. The timber is Silver Ash (Flindersia bourjotiana).

More to follow once I start the other patterns.

Small andon(行灯ー小)

Finished two smaller andon lanterns for Mariko yesterday afternoon. Apart from a very belated Christmas present, I wanted to check some joinery ideas I had. I’ve seen the andon lanterns made in Japan, and I wasn’t very happy with how they were made, so I wanted to try a few different things with these. Apart from a couple of minor adjustments, mainly for ease of work flow, the processes worked out quite well.

But the most important thing is that Mariko is happy.

Gallery shots can be found here.

Andon lantern completed

Finished the lantern yesterday afternoon, and it is now safely secured in the lounge room waiting for Mariko’s stamp of approval.

Gallery photos and details can be found here.

Andon lantern (行灯)

Finished making up a Japanese andon lantern, and glued it up this afternoon so it can dry overnight.

This is a trial piece to test joinery and general design. These are called kumiko andon because they feature kumiko patterns. This is for my wife Mariko, and if it meets with her approval when she gets back from Japan, I can start making them for sale.

andon, kumiko, 行灯

It’s a fairly simple design with just a couple of asa-no-ha on the front and two side panels. The back doesn’t have the asa-no-ha. It stands just over 700 mm tall.

andon, kumiko, 行灯

The side panels are fixed, while the back panel can be removed in the same way as a shoji door or window. This is for ease of replacing the paper if it tears or becomes dirty.

The top has a removable asa-no-ha “lid”.

andon, kumiko, asa-no-ha, 行灯

A couple of coats of finish tomorrow, then fit the light holder to the base, and it’s all done.