Sunday, July 19, 2020

New Book On Building the Cormorant Fishing Boat

I've posted to my Instagram page a link for a free digital download of my latest book, which chronicles my 2017 project building a traditional cormorant fishing boat in Gifu, Japan. Along with others I documented the work of Mr. Seichi Nasu, who was eighty-five at the time we worked together. The publisher is Tobunken, a division of the Japanese Ministry of Culture.

You can copy and paste the link shown there into your browser and in a minute or so the manuscript will download. Its in Japanese but you can enjoy the photos and drawings.

I blogged about this project back in the Spring of 2017 so you can go back and look at the construction of the boat in more detail. One fun thing that happened was posting a video of Nasu san nailing, which went mildly viral at my Instagram. You can see it for yourself here.

I am currently working with my publisher in Connecticut on an English version of the book. I will definitely announce it on social media once its published, hopefully before the end of the year.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Do-It-Yourself Waterstone

Three years ago I blogged here about meeting Japan's only full-time miner and maker of natural waterstones. Without repeating what I wrote, here is the link:

A week ago I was walking my dog in the park below the falls in my town of Vergennes, Vermont. The park where we walked is visible to the left of the falls. My dog ran up the hillside and following him I noticed the entire hillside was covered with hundreds of stone offcuts. Each had natural irregular faces and one sawn face. The stone is a kind of green slate, I think. Obviously, these are all offcuts of some operation making finished stone, but what struck me was how flat the sawn faces were. I wondered if the stone might be good for sharpening, because I remember in talking to the Japanese miner, struggling to translate the Japanese name for the type of stone he uses, and our online dictionary coming up with the English terms "tuff" and "slate."

My block was irregular so I wanted to saw off one part.

I noticed a natural split and took a chance and it broke easily and got me nearly what I wanted.

I trimmed the rest with my saw using a $5 composition masonry blade. It cut easily, so I had a suspicion it would make a good sharpening stone.

Here is my block with the original sawn face up.

Using some water and my #150 grit diamond stone I was able to very quickly flatten it.

It looks like a very nice surface.

I did some sharpening on one of my plane blades and got a nice, mirrored finish. The stone seems soft enough to give away but still make a polished edge. I don't see any sign that it wants to fracture more. At over three inches thick I think I should get my money's worth out of it.

Friday, January 31, 2020

2020 Middlebury Winter Term - The Japanese Teahouse

This month I taught my fourth Winter Term at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Previously I have built traditional Japanese boats with my students but this year, in consultation with Pieter Broucke, Dean of Art and Architecture, we decided to teach a structure. I chose the Japanese teahouse. Like my previous classes, the real subject (for me, anyway) was introducing students to the pedagogy of Japanese apprenticeship, something I know a little bit about, having studied with nine boatbuilders from throughout Japan.

As much as we can, we maintain a completely silent workshop. I try to give the briefest of introductions each day and then the students work in silence. Outside of the workshop they have readings about Japanese carpentry and apprenticeship, they journal and write papers. The idea is to try and create the kind of environment I have had to work/study in in Japan.

Except for an electric drill all work was done by hand.

Half lap dovetail for our tie-beams.

We did an initial partial assemble in our workshop.

Mortising the ridge beam for our rafters.

Our main carrying beam was very heavy, and had to be taken down the stairwell to our final site.

The finished teahouse frame was erected in the main lobby of Johnson Memorial.

The main beam was lifted in place by hand. The rope and block were for safety.

Fitting the natural post, which was buckthorn cut from College lands.

I designed a very simple teahouse around a six-mat tatami floor. At one end we incorporated a natural post bordering our tokonoma display alcove, which has a cherry floor.

A look at the main beam with posts supporting our ridge.

The class waiting for our dedication.

We had a crowd of about seventy-five people.

Pieter Broucke at our Shinto alter. Our first ceremony was for the carpenters and involved purifying them and the structure through some common Shinto rituals.

Then Ms. Yui Kato, an exchange student from Tokyo and a licensed tea master, conducted a tea ceremony.

We are exploring simple ways to infill the walls of the teahouse, including a combination of burlap hangings and shoji panels.

The view on the way home after the last day of class.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Two Kyoto Bucket Makers

Now just back from building two boats in Japan. Just before leaving I visited two bucket makers in Kyoto whom I have profiled at this blog before, Nakagawa san and Kondo san. Nakagawa san is Kondo san’s former teacher. Nakagawa san currently has four apprentices. He is working with some European designers on his vessels.

Note how Nakagawa san rives wood at knots to get curved material for spoons, etc. Kondo san’s Japanese “shaving horse” (video) is also interesting, as is the making of sokui, or rice glue (video).

Friday, November 8, 2019

Now in Japan Building Two Boats

Blog post updated December 11, 2019.

This will be a very short post, one just to share with you a link to another blog where we will be posting information about the project currently underway. Look at this post weekly for updates through the month of November:

I hope you enjoy the text, photos, and video.

This research was supported by grants from the US-Japan Foundation, the Traditional Small Craft Association John Gardner Grant, the Niigata Arts Council, and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The project was in cooperation with The Apprenticeshop, America's oldest boatbuilding school located in Rockland, Maine.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Announcement - New Research Initiative in Japan

Last year I proposed a partnership with the Apprenticeshop, America's oldest boatbuilding school in Rockland, Maine, creating a boatbuilding exchange program in Japan. At the end of October I, along with Nina Noah, Director of Student Affairs and Outreach for the Apprenticeshop, will be going to Japan to work with a pair of boatbuilders making two traditional boats. We want to work together to develop projects in Japan where we can bring boatbuilding students to participate. We have a crowdfunding campaign here that is active until the end of October, 2019:

I invite you to visit our campaign, where you can learn much more about what we are doing. If you are a long-time visitor to this blog you know the scope of my research. I feel strongly that it is time to disseminate and teach these skills as much as possible, and I believe a boatbuilding school is the best way to do it.

Thank you for your consideration,

Douglas Brooks

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Two Boats, Two Coasts

I've been teaching four and five-week Japanese boatbuilding courses at Middlebury College and Bates College, respectively (you can read about my Bates class at the previous posting), but I've long wanted to try a week-long workshop so I could expand this teaching to craft schools and other venues. This summer I've taught two such workshops: the first at the Apprenticeshop in Rockland, Maine and just last week at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend, Washington. For my Bates class and these two workshops we built slightly different versions of a type of river boat found in the delta of the Shinano River in Niigata, Japan. Japanese river boats tend to be simpler than sea boats, but they give students a chance to try all the skills of Japanese traditional boatbuilding: fitting seams with handsaws, piloting special edge-nails with unique chisels, hardwood dovetail fastenings, etc.

I was confident my workshops could build these boats in a week because in Japan that's how long it took solitary boatbuilders to make them! On that score, I am headed back to Japan this fall and will be working with two boatbuilders. One is the last builder of this type of boat in Niigata, now eighty-six, and then another boatbuilder on the Sea of Japan in Himi, Toyama. This is part of a larger research collaboration with the Apprenticeshop. We hope to create a boatbuilding exchange program with Japan. For more information and to help, please see our crowdfunding page. This campaign ends the end of October, 2019.

Historic photo showing one of these boats, a smaller version than what we built. Note the intersesting cutout in the sheer just forward of the beam.

The drawings these class boats are based on. I found some errors in the dimensions and the name of this boat, "nofuninawase" is itself interesting. I translate it as "farmer-built" though I could be wrong. The boatbuilder I am slated to work with calls these boats "honryousen," which means "typical boat."

Piloting nail holes with the sword-hilt chisel.

Edge-nailing the bottom planks.

The joint between the bow and stern planks in these boats is a tongue-and-groove. My Bates students cut this by hand, but feeling pressed for time I elected to use a router to cut grooves and then we splined this joint. Boatbuilders will be amazed at such a simple joint with no knees or any framing backing it up. There are no nails used here either; the joint is held together by the fastening of the side planking to the bottom and ends.

Laying out for the assembly of the side planking.

Side planks seams being fitted for fastening. The backbone of the boat is visible in the center.

Nailing pattern for our scarf joint in the side planks. All our material was 16-foot northern white pine.

Side planks propped in place and saw-fitting to fit to the bottom.

A single beam, along with the seat, holds the planking apart. The beam fits into shallow mortices. This boat was finished with the minimum of internal framing (which you can see from historic photos). This was due to time constraints. I had just five students in this workshop working for five days.

The completed boat. Note beams at the hood ends of the planks fore and aft.

All five students in the boat.

Preparing the bottom planks in Port Townsend, which were Ponderosa pine.

Nailing the bottom two planks together.

 Cutting mortises for edge-nails.

Riley McMath, boat shop manager, did double duty as our workshop's blacksmith.

He made all of our nails in his small forge.

Once again a router, this time a trim router balanced on the edge of the plank.

The assembled side planks propped against the bottom ready to be traced for shape. Note the use of weights amidships to hold the assembly. Our ceilings were 13-feet tall which was interesting, using very long props.

Planing the flying surface on the side planks.

Saw-fitting the sides.

Note the angle cut in the end of the side planks. The beams at either end have a matching notch so the beams, which are only fastened from underneath, trap the plank ends and hold them.

We installed two beams in this boat, both with half lap dovetails at the sheer.

A look at the layout of the beam joint.

I followed another boatbuilder's tradition and had the student sign their names to the underside of one of the beams. One student carved the Chinese character for her name.

Class photo.

Once again, everyone aboard. A bit scarier with nine students.

The sculling paddle is used with a notch in the aft beam. In fact in Japan I've seen boatmen scull facing aft like this student. This student also blogged about his experience in the class: