Saturday, May 20, 2017

It Begins

We start tomorrow, Monday, building the cormorant fishing boat. Last week we built our shelter structure, a project started by one of the furniture students at the Gifu Academy of Forestry Science and Culture. He's going to be joining us on this project. Also working with me is Marc Bauer, a naval architect from California, whom I worked with on several projects with Tri-Coastal Marine.

And while mentioning links, Masashi, Kutsuwa, head of the furniture program at Gifu Academy, is posting photos here.

As mentioned in an earlier post last January, we will be building a cormorant fishing boat like this one, working with Mr. Seichi Nasu. 

Our framework, necessary for propping boat planking into shape, with its tarp roof, on site at Gifu Academy.

A new nail alongside some old nails. Nasu uses a unique nail called an umbrella nail (top). We ordered a local blacksmith to make us several hundred nails. The middle nail Nasu salvaged from an old boat, something he was forced to do when his blacksmith passed away.

Nasu soaks his nails in brine to get them rusted. He believes it gives them greater holding power.

From left to right: Masashi Kutsuwa, head of the furniture program at Gifu Academy; Satoshi, our student apprentice; Nasu san; me; and Marc. We are all wearing hats I designed and produced with the characters for "cormorant boat" in Japanese, an item we'll be selling to raise some extra funds. This project is funded with a generous grant from the Freeman Foundation of Honolulu, Hawaii. We are currently negotiating with Tobunken and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs on a possible partnership on a publication (stay tuned), and we will hear soon about additional funding from the Asian Cultural Council of New York. We also received a generous donation from Mr. Georg Hinteregger of Hope Valley, Rhode Island.

Our workshop is right next to the furniture workshop. The new program started recently and students have been studying sharpening. Masashi has an interesting device to check the work.

He bought a 100-power magnifier for his iPhone camera and he photographs the tool edges to check for sharpness


Here is a local fishing boat Nasu san built. Boats in this region are sized by the length of the bottom (not uncommon in Japan) and this boat is about twenty feet (bottom) long.

Our first day off Marc and I went to Kyoto and at the end of the day stopped in to see Nagatsu Shoichi, a saw sharpener I have blogged about several times. His apprentice had just finished grinding gullets into some saw blades.

Nagatsu san sharpening an azebiki he gave me.

The waters of the Nagara River and its tributaries are incredibly clear, and we see sport fishermen all over the river. We have the hot summer approaching and this spot, about a half mile from the temple where we are staying, is going to be my swimming hole.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Now in Gifu, Japan



For the last month I have been working on a boat commissioned by the new Japanese garden at the Frederick Meijer Botanical Garden & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, MI. They had a restricted space for a boat so I chose a design of a river boat I had studied on the Hozu River in Kameoka, Japan. This type, called an ayubune, features a wide plank bow, like a pram, which gives the boat more volume for a given size. That construction was required on the Hozu, which has stretches of white water. The wide stem give the bow more buoyancy and resists burying navigating white water.



I built the boat using southern cypress from stock I bought years ago from a mill in Virginia. The bottom and side planks were all edge-nailed using hand forged nails made by blacksmith Jim Fecteau of Huntington, Vermont.




The wide bow also facilitates bending the side planks since the curve and twist is less severe. I did make one center mold which is not traditional to Japanese boatbuilders, but I wanted to ensure the two side planks stayed at the same angle, and it simply speeded the process along.

When I was in Kameoka researching these boats I had the opportunity to interview the last man who built them. His father had spent his life building boats and the son (my age) apprenticed with his father but spent most of his career building fiberglass boats. He told me the bow/bottom and transom/bottom connection was a tongue-and-groove joint. I mimicked what he described, but used a spline instead of a tenon. I routed a groove in the edges being joined and then inserted a spline when I assembled them. It was easier to make the joint more precise this way and I could gain some strength by having control over the grain direction in the spline.





The decks fore and aft are let into the side planks and the beams fasten with a half lap dovetail joint. There is one floor timber that is connected to the beam with a vertical plank. I made a twelve foot sculling paddle which can also be used like a pole. On the Hozu most small boats like this one were poled with bamboo push poles.






In Kameoka I was able to measure historic ayubune in 15, 18, and 24-foot lengths. If I teach my Winter Term course in Japanese boatbuilding at Middlebury College again next year my plan is to build the largest version with students.

I dropped the boat off Saturday at Adirondack Guide Boat in North Ferrisburgh, Vermont for shipping to the customer. I am writing this post on the plane to Japan. As I mentioned in a blog post last January, I am going to be building a cormorant fishing boat in Gifu, Japan with Seichi Nasu, an 85-year old boatbuilder. This project has been years in the organizing and fundraising, so stay tuned for regular posts chronicling the construction of this very unique boat.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Important Links For Readers

I just checked out my friend David Billa's blog Setouchi Explorer. David is from France (he blogs in French and English) and lives with his family in Takamatsu, where I was just building a boat for the garden there. He just blogged about my project and some of his other posts talk about things I blogged about, such as our trip to Shodoshima to see the barrel-makers, and Ogijima to tour this tiny island.


If you are interested in Japan I urge you to follow his blog. He's focused on his home region, in particular his love of the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. Just promise you won't stop following my blog!

And on that score, I hope to have an interesting project to start showcasing very soon here, but May 15th I fly to Japan and begin building a cormorant fishing boat with 85-year old Seiichi Nasu. This should be an amazing project. Joining me is my friend Marc Bauer, a naval architect I've worked with on two projects. He was the project manager in charge of building the Schooner Virginia. I did a bit of work on her but Marc and I first met when he designed the sail ferry Weatherwax which I built.

And I have learned the garden boat I built this winter has been launched. David has promised to get some photos for me and as soon as he does I will post them here.

And I am very excited to share a link to this new website dedicated to those interested in wasen, or traditional Japanese boats. A few years ago my friend Masashi Kutsuwa and I started a list serve called Wasen Network, an attempt to link various folks in Japan who were working on aspects of preservation of the craft. These included enthusiastic amateur boatbuilders, university researchers, curators, naval architects, and people just intrigued by Japanese boats. I counted it as a success, as I watched posts go up inquiring where to find lumber and boat nails, then saw replies providing sources (I did this via Google Translate). But I started to realize we needed a more "solid" platform to share information. A member volunteered to make a Facebook page, but I though a website would work better, providing main topics that could be continually updated with new information. Lo and behold someone was thinking the same thing. Inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog I hope to help him develop this into a comprehensive source of information. Use Google Translate to check it our or just hit links and explore, but this is new and a work in progress:


Sunday, February 12, 2017

Toishi-Sharpening Stones and Kyoto Crafts

Yesterday was my last full day in Kyoto, most of which I spent back in Kameoka. My friend Harada sensei took me to visit the shop of perhaps the last full-time miner and maker of sharpening stones in Japan. It was pretty fascinating. Afterwards I stopped at the Gallery of Kyoto Traditional Arts and Crafts, which showcases work by students of the Kyoto Crafts University. I highly recommend the gallery to visitors to Kyoto, as I guarantee you will be amazed by the work done by students in all realms of craft and design.

My friend Yamauchi san and his girlfriend live at the edge of Kameoka's valley backed up against the foothills. Yamauchi san is the boatbuilder for the Hozugawa Kudari but also is an avid hunter. He has a side business butchering and selling venison and boar meat. He had just gotten a deer that morning and he served me some raw venison.

Note the winch for hanging carcasses.


Raw venison with wasabi and soy sauce. It's good.

Japan is overrun with deer and boar, a real problem as an urban society doesn't produce enough hunters and the forests are growing back providing perfect habitat. Yamauchi san can take one deer a day during a 90-day season! We've had some interesting discussions about Japan's gun control laws since he owns a rifle, but in talking to him this time I learned he gets most of his deer with traps.

I never knew Japan had vanity plates, though its numbers only. Boar is "enoshishi" and meat is "niku." You pronounce this plate shi-shi-ni-kyu or roughly "boar meat."

My friend Harada san drove me up into the mountains to an idyllic little village. The stone supplier has a lovely little storehouse, or kura, in front of his house.

The farmhouses here are quite large, with high-pitched roofs. This one has tin roofing over the old thatch.

In front of the house is a massive cedar which merits its own shrine venerating the tree. 

Thatched-roof farmhouse with clay tile overlay.


The stones are beautiful to look at.

The miner's family has been making sharpening stones for four generations and the man's two sons are helping him now. He claims this one vein is unique in Japan and yields the best quality stone. He acknowledged there were veins in Hyogo and Nagasaki as well, but I've heard from craftsmen that none match the stones from here.



We spent some time discussing exactly what kind of stone this was, and consulting computer dictionaries came up with mudstone. Another word that came up was tuff, but it seems like it would be too soft by definition. Harada san did some later research and also came up with slate.



He was telling me his stones run from 7,000 to 10,000 grit, so they are very hard. The finest synthetic stone I own is 5,000 grit, and it will give an edge a mirror polish.



Unfortunately we didn't have time to go to the mine. He said he spends three days a week mining and three days cutting stones in his shop. He said about 50% of the material he removes from the mine ends up as waste.

This small, unpretentious stone was $750.

This is his retail shop and he also has a website.

His very old stone saw.



The stone supplier is on the right, wearing my wasen baseball cap. 

I was a bit embarrassed coming because I knew I couldn't afford his stones (most are well over $1,000), but he was so taken by the story of my work he gave me these two small stones, 3,000 and 9,000 grit. The larger stone comes from Hyogo and the smaller, harder stone is one of his. 
NOTE: As a follow-up I went to his website and here is the page with his stones and prices. Basically drop the last two zeroes for a rough cost in US dollars, but this means his stones start at $750 and go as high as $7,500!

The road leading to his mine. This May he and a friend will be opening the sharpening stone museum in a culture hall nearby. There's a museum for everything!

Back in Kyoto, student work at the traditional crafts center.

Wood carving. They also have an entire program in Buddhist religious carving.



The matchlock rifle is NOT functional. This is Japan, after all.

The stock is lacquered and decorated with gold leaf.

One floor features students working on display.