Japanese Woodworking Tools

Written by carlos mano
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Japanese Woodworking Tools
Japanese woodworking tools. (bat Japanese symbol image by michele goglio from Fotolia.com)

Japanese woodworkers are perfectionists. A master craftsman can build a house, a bridge, furniture with no visible joints or beautiful small puzzle boxes. At the centre of the craft is an impressive panoply of tools--some familiar and some unusual. All Japanese woodworking tools share one element in common: They are each works of art. Japanese hand tools are functional, incredibly sharp, comfortable in your hand and make woodworking easy.

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Hammers (Mokuzuchi)

While an American or European carpenter might have three or four hammers, a Japanese carpenter typically owns 20 or more. The Japanese carpenter's tool kit includes iron hammers, brass hammers, wooden hammers and leather hammers--hammers for striking different kinds of wood and hammers for striking different kinds of chisels. The Japanese philosophy that to strike the perfect blow, to do the exact job required, demands the perfect tool.

Chisels (Nomi)

Japanese woodworking employs chisels more than other traditions; the typical woodworker owns hundreds. Different sizes are required for different kinds of woods--including bamboo, and dozens of different cutting edge profiles are necessary for different jobs. Because Japanese chisels are so hard and so sharp, joints are typically cut with chisels. The chisels meant to be struck with a hammer are always hooped; they feature a metal band around the handle near where it is struck.

Saws (Nokogiri)

Japanese saws come in a variety of sizes, handle shapes and blade shapes--saws for making precise cuts in different kinds of wood. Of all the Japanese woodworking tools, the hand saw is the most likely to be found in an American toolbox. A Japanese saw works so smoothly that it almost seems like an extension of your hand. Japanese saws cut on the pull part of the stroke and not on the push part of the stroke like Western saws. This gives a smooth, clean cut with almost no chance of buckling.

Planes (Kanna)

Japanese planes work on the pull stroke (like Japanese saws). They produce an amazingly smooth cut, which is important because Japanese woodworkers do not use sandpaper to smooth the wood. Japanese planes can produce shavings 0.015mm thick--thin enough to read through. Most planes are in wooden boxlike frames. Planes that have large blade angle settings (as high as 60 degrees) are for hard woods, and small blade angle settings (as low as 30 degrees) are for soft woods.

Special Tools

Japanese woodworking tools also include special tools for working on bamboo. For example, special augers are required because bamboo has a tendency to split. The complex set of Japanese marking tools are like nothing in the West. Special sets of tools exist for working on Shoji (rice paper) screens, which are a large part of the woodworking business in Japan. These special tools, along with the more common tools, means that the Japanese carpenter often shows up pulling a cart instead of carrying a box like Western carpenters.

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