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.