Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Follow-up: the Saw Sharpener

A reader posted a comment about my blog posting on the saw sharpener.  He attended one of his workshops in Belgium and wanted his address.  Yes, you can mail your Japanese saws to him in Japan for repair and sharpening.  His contact information is:

Nagakatsu Noko
Mr. Shoichi Nagatsu
23 Nishitakatsukasa-cho
Kita-ku, Kyoto-shi
tel: 075-468-1974
cell: 090-3467-8861
fax: 075-468-1984

I will share one more anecdote from my visit to Nagatsu san's shop.  We were talking about boatbuilding and he said, "I have some special boatbulding chisels."  He then brought out the chisels shown here.  I thought he meant tsubanomi, the special long, narrow chisels used to pilot holes for Japanese boat nails.  But he insisted that these chisels were also made only for boatbuilding.  I looked at them and noticed how thin the blades were, and what an incredibly shallow bevel they had.  

Nagatsu san went on to explain that he got these from the maker in Hokkaido (where boatbuilding traditions vary somewhat from elsewhere in Japan).  He said he knew the maker well, since he is originally from Hokkaido.

He pointed out that these chisels were entirely tool steel, and were not forged with softer steel backs like regular Japanese chisels (hence the thinness).  As we talked I suddenly realized these chisels were perfect for cutting the mortises for the nail heads.  These are cut across the grain and this chisel's shallow bevel is perfectly suited for that kind of cross-grain work.

They have hollow backs like all Japanese chisels, to facilitate flattening (less steel to remove).  When I realized how perfect these chisels were I asked Nagatsu san how much they cost.  He didn't answer me, and we went on to other topics.  I repeated my question a couple more times before Nagatsu san said, "You're a boatbuilder, so I'd like to give them to you."  An amazingly generous and entertaining man.  He insisted on sharpening the boat building saw I bought and I look forward to seeing him again when I pick it up in late June.  I return to Japan for the opening of an exhibit on the boat I built.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Metateyasan, The Saw Sharpener

At an antique store I inquired about tool shops, and the staff mentioned one, saying it was a nokoyasan, or saw shop.  They marked my map and I decided to spend my afternoon finding the place.  It wasn't easy.  The map address was wrong, but I persevered and a sake shop owner got a more precise address.  I still couldn't find the place so I asked a baker.  He sent me down the street but warned me that the shop had no sign.  Sure enough I overshot the place, but the friendly older woman at an amazing little bamboo ware store (I regret not photographing it) walked with me back up the street and rang the bell.

Inside I found the saw sharpener in a cramped space overseeing the work of his two apprentices, who were both bent over large saws sharpening them.

Note how the saws are held in wooden vices for sharpening.  

Dozens of saw handles.

A selection of new saws on the rack.

Close-up view of the saw vise.

The saw maker said he had heard of me, and indeed he knew that I had built boats in Uryasu and Aomori.  He went into the back and came out with two boatbuilders saws.  I asked him how much they were and with a straight face he said "Hyaku man en."  The Japanese count large numbers in tens of thousands so I always get a bit confused, and I thought he meant about $1,000.  I could actually believe this price for a handmade specialty saw, but in fact he has said $10,000!  He must have wondered why I was pondering this seriously when he burst into laughter, slapping me on the shoulder, and said, "It's a joke!"  The price was actually $100 and I bought one of the saws on the spot.

He showed me how he sliced paper thin slices of bamboo, notoriously hard to cut.  Note the curved cut in the bamboo.

He then showed me these two saws with odd, Western-style handles.

He explained that he had taken two regular ryoba saws, filed the teeth completely off, then re-cut and filed Japanese-style teeth to cut on the push stroke like Western saws.  He said he did it just for the heck of it, but consider how much work this required!

I have never seen this: Western-style gullets cut into a normal Japanese saw.  Another innovation of the saw sharpener.

He enjoyed showing me how he could make nearly paper thin cuts.

We continued to talk about people we knew in common until his wife came in and showed me a photo album of their travels around Japan.  I turned the page and there we both were (on the right) with my Tokyo teacher in 2002!  We both had a huge laugh realizing we had met over ten years ago.

He insisted on sharpening my new saw so I will pick it up in late June when I  return to Kameoka for the launching of the ayubune and the opening of the exhibition.  Later I will edit this blog posting with some other images of his shop as well as his website address, so visit again.

Ryoanji Temple

Kyoto is so full of important and interesting historic sites that it is hard to choose where to go.  But someone had mentioned to me that Ryoanji Temple had a traditional boat sitting in the pond so that was good enough for me.  After visiting the bucket maker (see previous post) I headed that way, across the northern edge of the city.  

Very curious memorials in this particular neighborhood.  A "George Washington slept here" moment.

Outside the temple is a stone store, where you can buy stone lanterns and boulders for your garden.

The boat isn't very visible.  Its traditional, and one of the staff told me it was from Chiba (near Tokyo) and twenty years old.

Ryoanji is known for its famous rock garden, which is truly stunning.  It contains fifteen stones, and it is said that one can only see fourteen stones for any one angle, but that if one attains enlightenment then all fifteen become visible.  Ryoanji is a Zen temple, so in affect this garden is the physical manifestation of the famous koan, or riddle that is suppose to spur enlightenment.  

Many of Kyoto's most famous sites are mobbed by tourists, which can be disappointing, but Ryoanji has sprawling grounds and one can feel, at least for a moment, alone.  And the stone garden is viewed from a veranda and while it was packed with tourists, all are hushed by the beauty of scene.

Lots and lots of schoolchildren from all over Japan visiting Kyoto.  They all seem to have an assignment to interview a foreigner and practice their English.

The Bucket Maker

Last year my friend Angela, who studied bucket-making at North House Craft Center, sent me a fascinating video of a 15th generation okeyasan, or bucket maker, from Kyoto.  I was hoping I could find him while I was in town and I asked my friend Austin, who lives here, to do a web search.  He came up with a different bucket maker in the same neighborhood.  Since his website had a map I decided to see him first and hope he could lead me to the other craftsman.

The exterior of his shop.  Konda san studied sculpture at an art school, working in wood, metal, stone and fiberglass.  At age 29 he apprenticed with an okeyasan for six years before opening his own shop five years ago.  His website is:

As I introduced myself Kondo san cried out, "Are you Douglas Brooks?"  He turned around and produced my book on building tub boats.  He said what he found most intriguing about my work building tub boats was how they had curved bottoms.

I've always been intrigued by the use of wire hoops.  Kondo san said he brazes them together, but I am certain some are made by overlapping the ends.

The pack of cigarettes and match box give you an idea of some of the small items he makes.

One of his planes set into a long block becomes a joiner.  Long joiner planes are relatively rare in Japan, but this is a great solution.  He called this a shoujikidai.

Kondo san has an amazing collection of planes for his work, mostly round-bottomed.

And dozens of patterns, one for every size vessel he makes.

He sizes his hoops, whether metal or bamboo, by fitting them over this form, which he called wanobashi.

He showed me how he loops a metal hoop over his hammer handle, steps on the handle and pulls the hoop in a circle, stretching it slightly if necessary to get a good fit.

And this is what it does to the plane he uses as a bench.

These specialized planes are for reaching inside small buckets and shape the inside.

A selection of specialty planes.

He works only with vertical grain wood, absolutely exquisite material, that he gets from Akita Prefecture in the north.

Typical patterns that give him the outside curvature and the angle of the edge of staves.

For pouring sake....

A pair of fishing creels.  Kondo san said he does glue the staves of his buckets together, using regular Bondo brand white woodworking glue.  The only difference is when he makes the large, shallow tubs for sushi rice and then he makes a glue out of pounded cooked rice, a formulation he called sokui.

Various froes for splitting material into the curved staves.

What a little sake cup/bucket looks like rough, held together temporarily with braised brass hoops.

Planing the inside.

He trims the edges with a drawknife rather than a plane.  He said this works better because he can slide the blade sidewise for a slicing cut.  Note he holds the work with his feet.

The yariganna is an ancient tool and the precursor of the Japanese plane.

To cut a shallow rabbet for the bottoms he uses a marking gauge to make a kerf and then using the yariganna he makes a bevel cut.  He drive the bottom in from the top and it pops in place (if its sized correctly) into the rabbet.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Parting shots

One last shot of the boat I built, then I headed across town to ask permission to measure an authentic ayubune, one even smaller than the boat we built.  This will give us dimensions for three sizes of historic ayubune: 15, 18, and 24 shaku boat.  I will be returning to Kameoka June 28th for the opening of the ayubune exhibition at the Mizunoki Museum of Art and our launching ceremony on the 29th.

This boat is owned by one of the boatmen of the Hozugawa Kudari.

He said it was not built by the former boatbuilder we know.  There were some differences, such as this nice mitered joint at the stern deck.

Just 15 shaku long, as opposed to our 18 shaku boat.

Obviously a mistake cutting mortises, or setting a nail, but an attractive repair.