Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Lectures and Demonstrations

Since getting home from Japan I have been on a road a fair bit, first to Rockford, Illinois and the Anderson Japanese Garden.  I built this boat. for the garden two years ago.  I was invited back to speak in their summer lecture series.  Tim Gruner, their horticulturist, suggested I also lead a demonstration of Japanese boatbuilding techniques before my talk.  These are all Tim's photos.

After Rockford I traveled to Connecticut for the WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport.  I did the same talk/demo combination.

My goal was to give participants an overview of how Japanese boatbuilders fit planking with handsaws and then edge-nail planks together, both techniques unknown in the West.

I had just a pair of eight foot planks that I propped in place.

We had about twenty people crammed into the Garden's maintenance shop for the demo.

Here I am pounding the plank edges after fitting with the saws.  Readers of this blog will recognize all these techniques.  Note how the low sawhorses, which have a slot in the middle for the saw blade to pass through when fitting, become vises holding the plank with a wedge.

The tsubanomi or chisels for piloting nail holes.

My boatbuilding saws, plus a model one of my teachers gave me.  At both my demos I mentioned that I may be able to source these saws from a saw shop in Kyoto (one I have written about several times in this blog).  Thus far thirteen people have said they'd like to buy one of these saws.  If any readers here are interested please email me at  These are all rip saws and the back curving to a tip is a shape unique to boatbuilding.

A selection of Japanese boat fastenings, including bamboo nails, wooden dovetail keys, iron and copper nails, and a large staple.

Chiseling the mortise for the nail.

For a very quick demo the fit of the seam isn't bad.  On the left is a nail mortise plugged and trimmed flush.  If you would like to host a demo or lecture about my work please get in touch.  If you are part of a Vermont non-profit you can apply to the Vermont Humanities Council's Speaker's Bureau for an honorarium to bring me to make a presentation.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Kyoto, Takamatsu, and Tools

We are back in Kyoto and squeezing in some final sightseeing before heading home.

Right before we left Taiwan I bought a few souvenirs at a tool store (where else?).  The handle mounted on the plane is common to mainland Asia but not Japan.  All the planes I've seen in Korea also look like the Japanese versions.  I bought the little spokeshave because it was so cheap (just a couple of dollars) and because the blade was not in a mouth in the tool body, it was mounted just behind the wooden sole.  I am curious to see how this works.

The tape measure is what really interested me, however.  The top scale is exactly the same as the Japanese shaku-sun-bu scale, and used by Chinese carpenters.  The next scale is another traditional Chinese scale and note how dimensions are in red and black.  These denote lucky (black) and unlucky (red) numbers, so if you are building something you try to make sure all dimensions land in the black.  The third scale is for dead things, such as measuring a dead body or building a coffin.  Again there are unlucky and lucky values.  You might think a dead body is the personification of bad luck but the idea is you can make one last kind gesture by building a "lucky" coffin.  The fourth and final scale is metric. 

My first full day back in Japan I traveled to Takamatsu and Ritsurin Koen, one of Japan's most famous gardens.

There I had a meeting about building the garden another tour boat sometime next year.

Its obviously a pretty straightforward design, but these tours have proven popular so the garden wants to expand the fleet.

I was taken on a boat tour and it is a very nice way to see the garden.  Ritsurin Koen is backed by a large hill which gives it a wonderful wilderness backdrop.

I think I got all the information I needed to start planning this boat.

A reader of this blog asked about the saw sharpener's vise and I paid Mr. Nagagatsu Shoichi a visit yesterday.  His vise is hard oak and those are machine screws that pass through steel bar stock.  Note the saw clamped in the vise and held by the wedge driven in on the left.

A closer look at the machine screws...

...which are threaded into a bar on the other side and ground flush.  I expected this to be a looser connection but its actually quite tight.  The jaws only have to open a fraction to admit a saw so there really isn't much play at all in this assembly.

Nagagatsu's apprentices just prop their vises against blocks on the floor, but the master has a custom-made vise to hold his (he works seated on a chair).

Nagagatsu san told me he had some gifts for me.

Three beautiful boatbuilders' saws, each with finer teeth.

We talked about what these are called: ara, or rough cutting, chyuu or middle, and sai or finish.

Note the apprentice's vise and the damage caused from pounding in the wedge.

Yesterday we visited the Sagawa Art Museum in Shiga Prefecture.

I am normally not a fan of concrete buildings but the finish of these structures was striking.

They have a gorgeous modern teahouse built out on the water feature that surrounds the museum.

This gallery of raku pottery and stone sculpture is underground, lit by skylights in the pond above.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tea and Teahouses

Rita Chang, Director of the ACCs Taipei office, arranged an amazing day trip for us while we were in Taipei.  I must also acknowledge Emily Yu, her assistant, who helped with my trip's logistics, aided us in innumerable ways and was a gracious companion during much of our stay.

Part of our day was spent traveling on Taiwan's superb bullet train, heading far south of Taipei down Taiwan's west coast.  We clocked about 175 miles per hour at points on the trip.

Into the foothills Rita took us to a property where Terunobu Fujimori designed and built two teahouses.  This one stands on five stalks of enormous bamboo at the edge of a lake.

The bulge on the side, which looks like a giant wasp nest, is in fact the clay stove for heating water for tea.

Butterflies were clustered all over the forest floor.

A ladder was positioned and I climbed up into the teahouse.

A signature of Fujimori's work is embedding pieces of bamboo charcoal into white plaster

At lakeside was another plastic pipe pontoon boat!  This is a swimming raft.

Fujimori's other teahouse is a concrete boat, here out of the water.

It has a copper clad roof and another protruding firebox.

Two small Chinese-made wooden boats were also at the lake.

Rita's friend Rebecca lives nearby and teaches tea.  She served us in her house and studio.

Her tea room where she teaches classes.

Her kitchen, all part of an older property, probably a farmhouse.

A candied, stuffed persimmon...

...eaten with an exquisite bamboo fork.

Our last day in Taipei we visited the Museum of Contemporary Art.  Outside was this motorbike made largely of a tree trunk.  The range of his work was extraordinary and the museum has a fantastic link with images from the entire exhibit and descriptions.  I strongly urge you to take a look here.

Here the artist fashions weapons based on brand logos, an effort he says to warn us about the dangers of design and advertising.

Here the artist scratched Chinese characters in a thin board, which in places pierced through and let sunlight through.  The affect was amazing, making the letters look as though they were on fire.

Note the sawdust along the floor.  He had several pieces grinding away objects and leaving the waste.

His most ambitious was a series of stone statues that he ground nearly beyond recognition and then laid across the gallery floor in a sweeping arc.

I write this from Kyoto and will squeeze in a couple more blog posts from here.  We leave Sunday for the US and will arrive home on Memorial Day.  Its been quite a 3-1/2 months.  There are possibilities at the moment to perhaps build two boats in Japan late this year or early next.  Stay tuned for details.  I will also be lecturing and doing a demonstration at the WoodenBoat Show in Mystic, CT at the end of June.