Thursday, March 31, 2016

Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum

I had ambitions of going through the museum that is hosting me and photographing all the amazing exhibits.  I might post some select photos later, because there are some very innovative things being done in the museum that don't show on their website.  But suffice to say I can match the quality of the photos shown at the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum's own website.  This link is to their English page, and once you enter you will see a window about my exhibition here.  The link to their permanent exhibitions is here.  You can explore this page and see lots of fantastic images from the museum.

In Japanese, the museum is called the Dougukan.

The boatbuilding is well under way.  I promise my next blog post will get right into it.  But for now browsing the links above will not disappoint you.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Getting Ready

The last few days have been about prepping for the official start of the project, which was today (blog post to come describing a Shinto ceremony, etc.).

The entrance to the museum.  My temporary workshop space is visible in the background.

A look at the shop, more than adequate for building the boat.

Just inside the main floor of the building is a boat exhibition which accompanies my project, intended to educate visitors to the wider story of Japanese boatbuilding and my own work.  In a word, its spectacular, done with exquisite attention to detail, featuring fascinating artifacts.  The back wall displays historic boatbuilding tools on loan from the Seto Inland Sea Museum.  Unfortunately they asked they not be photographed.

Historic documents relating to shipbuilding.

A panel devoted to the tsunami of March 11, 2011.  The boat I am building comes from this region.  Something not often talked about is the loss of material culture in the disaster.  This coastline had the largest concentration of wooden boats I've seen anywhere in Japan, and estimates range from 90-95% of all boats were destroyed in the disaster.

A panel describing my five previous apprenticeships with Japanese boatbuilders.  In the foreground is the tub boat I built with my own apprentice in 2001.

A panel with one of my articles along with my website on a laptop for visitors to browse.

A final panel highlighting my work last spring with Angela Robins documenting the work of Tohoku's last active boatbuilder, Mr. Hiroshi Murakami.  The boat I am building is a replica of Murakami's boat.  I began blogging about our research project last spring starting here.

Two interesting fellows appeared today, in traditional workers' garb.  They are roof thatchers (forgot to ask how you say that in Japanese), Mr. Yu Osaki and Mr. Ikuya Sagara.  They served five-year apprenticeships in Kyoto and told me they have plenty of work just in this area alone.  Check out their website,

Stay tuned for lots of postings about the process over the next six weeks.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Now in Kobe, Japan

We arrived in Kobe Monday and went straight to the Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum, where I will be building a boat in a special exhibition over the next six weeks.  The museum is new,   replacing their former facility.  My next blog post will probably be an extensive tour of the museum, because it should be a Mecca for anyone interested in woodworking who gets to Japan.

The only other time I've been to Kobe was 15 years ago, and all we did was visit the old tool museum.  When I heard they were building a new one I thought, "How can they top what they had?"  Now I know.
We were invited to a volunteers' dinner event our first evening.  This is the exhibition space which will have artifacts related to Japanese boatbuilding.

A temporary site was constructed for me to work just outside the exhibition.

My lumber.  The cedar log on the left was soaking in seawater for the last ten years before being milled six months ago.  The widest planks are three feet wide at the butt and they are thirty feet long. Mostly clear material.  On the right is a hinoki log, a foot wide at the butt and about twenty-five feet long.

You get an idea on the quality of the materials.

Some of my hinoki cut up for beams, stem, etc.

Kobe is a large, modern city squeezed between a famous harbor and the mountains.  A fifteen minute walk from our downtown apartment gets us to this waterfall.

This week I have been lofting the boat full-size on paper.  Japanese boatbuilders don't do this but its a big help for me to have full-size patterns to check angles, etc.  Here I am getting creative with props to hold my batten.

First step is to chose material for the bottom plank, which will be three pieces edge-nailed together.

I lay my side pieces on top such that I can arrange the material and get rid of as much sapwood as possible.  I was able to just get the bottom out of one plank, cutting the center section and then ripping the remainder in half.  The two short pieces were just long enough to cover the material I needed for the sides of the bottom.  Obviously I have enough wood for probably three boats but looking at such material it seems criminal to waste any.  I've been told the museum's volunteers, who operate a fabulous workshop for visitors, are eagerly eyeing any leftover.  They will have plenty.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


We’ve spent the last five days in Kyoto and tomorrow we head for Kobe and start the next boat.  Our first day here I took three of my saws for sharpening to Nagatsu Shoichi.   I’ve blogged about him before herehere, and here.

Nagatsu took a long, critical look at my saws and promised to have them ready tomorrow morning before we left. 

His two apprentices were right where I last saw them two years ago: seated cross-legged at their respective saw vises sharpening customers’ saws.  

In Arashiyama we found this gorgeous stone garden at a temple, as well as a brand-new home built in a traditional style of exquisite materials (perfectly clear Japanese cypress, or hinoki).

We also found the exhibition center of a Kyoto school of traditional crafts.

This viola (base? cello?) was lacquered, using a technique in which designs are cut into the semi-hard lacquer before its completely dried and gold, silver and other metal powders are sprinkled on the tacky surface.  Then more coats of lacquer are rubbed on top.

The student work on display was amazing and they have a small workshop space where we watched two students working, one a jewelry artist and the other a bamboo basket maker.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Off to Kyoto

We walked up the hill in the park behind our house last night.  Lo and behold the mountains were visible, only the third time in a the month we were here that we saw them.

Catherine loved this old temple in our neighborhood.

Bamboo bent from the last winter's snows.

Two weekends we drove almost 90 minutes to get to Kanazawa.  This morning it took us thirteen minutes on the bullet train.  Kanazawa Station, where we caught our bus to Kyoto.

Film crews were out covering the removal of the rope that protects the trees from snow.  I guess its officially spring.

The modern wooden gate in front of Kanazawa Station.  Frankly not nearly as impressive as the timber framing I saw at the restored Kanazawa Castle.

Five days in Kyoto then its off to Kobe to start the second boat.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Finished - Kansei - 完成

I installed the boat's single beam yesterday which left the forward deck to install today.  Then I went around the boat planing various ink marks and other small details.  By lunch the boat was done.  Everyone is happy.  I'm very pleased with this design and how it came out.  It had some surprising challenges but its a great little boat.

The stern deck drops into a shallow cutout in the planking.  I used my gauge to make sure the nails went through the middle of the planks.

Layout for the beam, which is shouldered into the side planks.

Beam and mortise layout.  I'd explain in more detail but it probably more fun for readers to figure out.  Actually this may be the most favorite part of my Middlebury College Japanese boatbuilding class, where I ask students to do this layout and provide them no help.

The beam shouldered in the planking.  A single large wire nail enters from the outside planking into the beam.

Cutout for the deck at the bow, flattening the planks ends.

Deck fastened, boat is done.

Simple looking boat but it had its challenges, that's for sure.  We got some coverage on the project in the Nikkei newspaper.

I revisited Yamaguchi san, the 90 year old boatbuilder, this afternoon.  His shop is over a hundred years old, he said.

Look closely and you will see this plane has a curved bottom, which he made from a standard plane.  He said it was for planing the back of the stems of his boats.  The sawtooth carving is for a better grip.  He built 15 and 16 foot boats, nearly a hundred in all.

His spiling gauge, which he made.  His name is carved in the side.

The bamboo pen fits tight and can be shifted to various heights.

He makes little folding stools now.

In the background is his bevel gauge, which he said he made in 1945, when he was twenty.  In the foreground is another type of spiling gauge.  The base of the tool rests on one plank edge and the height of the pen is adjusted with a wedge.

Very wide, very heavy Hitachi planer with a round bottom.

He called this his tateganna, used only for reshaping the bottoms of wooden planes.  You run it across the grain.

Yamaguchi san and a friend hanging out by the stove.  They had cans of coffee immersed in tins full of water on the stovetop.  We leave Himi the day after tomorrow for five days in Kyoto, then on to Kobe where I start my next boat.