What is Japanese Woodworking

When discussing cultural differences in carpentry, many experienced carpenters will draw your attention to Japanese woodworking which is amongst the most specialised in the world.What sets Japanese woodworking apart from more conventional and western methods is their joinery and finely-planed surfaces. A Japanese Daiku (Japanese word for carpenter) will spend a lot of time focusing on the use of natural materials and ensuring that every part of their work is detailed and finished to the highest, and most detailed standard imaginable.

It is rare for a Japanese carpenter to use any sort of joinery method which requires a screw or nail.

Japanese Woodworking Professions

Although the core techniques of Japanese woodworking are shared by all carpenters, each individual will typically be specialised in one of the four distinct professions, or schools of carpentry.

Miyadaiku (宮大工) – These carpenters specialise in the building and construction of Japanese shrines and temples. They can use elaborate wooden joints and structures built by Miyadaiku are often found to be amongst the world’s longest surviving wooden structures.

Sukiya-Daiku (数奇屋大工) – Specialising in teahouse and residential buildings, sukiya-daiku are well known for their delicately constructed aesthetics and use of bucolic materials.

Sashimono-Shi (指し物師) – Makers of authentic Japanese furniture are described as sashimono-shi

Tateguya (建具屋) – These are carpenters who traditionally work on interior finishings and build the bamboo and paper door or window known as shoji (障子)



As one might expect from such a specialised method of working, anyone practising Japanese woodworking must be well versed in the use of their tools which often differ from those in the western world.

Nokogiri (鋸) – This is the word for a Japanese saw, although they can come in all sorts of different guises. The main difference between a nokogiri and a western saw is that it will cut when pulled, rather than on the push stroke as generally found in Europe and America.

Kanna (鉋) – The closest western equivalent to a kanna is a plane. This will most commonly come in the shape of a wooden block which contains upon it a blade of some kind. Rather than the flat surface usually associated with European style planes, a Japanese one is convex in shape and operates when pulled instead of pushed.

Nomi (鑿)- There is a far wider variety nomi than you would usually find amongst the western chisel family. Each blade has a different job, many of which are for highly specialised operations.

Kiri (錐) – Effectively a hand operated hole borer, the kiri is used to make circular holes in a piece of lumber. Be warned that is a good deal more difficult to use than it appears.


The Beauty of Japanese Woodworking

So, having looked at the different professions associated with Japanese woodworking and specialised tools involved, it will come as no surprise that the finished results are often more intricate and beautiful than many western counterparts. Japanese houses are still widely constructed around timber frames and built in such a way that it looks as though it has been made by a master cabinet maker, only to a much larger scale.

Author: John Clax

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