Carpenter Jesse tells us more…
Woodworking YouTube star The Samurai Carpenter show’s us how to build this once in a lifetime woodworking project. Jesse tells us:
It was one of the best, most rewarding experiences of my life. There is nothing I can’t build now.
He used Maple for the top & trestles, Walnut for contrasting pieces, Garry Oak for the legs and Red Oak for the vices.
Well done Jesse, it looks great!
As you could probably tell from Jesse’s video, It will take a lot of time, patience and learning to create this badass Samurai Workbench piece by piece. So to help you out, here’s some of background knowledge on Japanese Woodworking and some useful resources to refer to when learning.
If you remember, at the start of the video Jesse includes the quote:
“He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist” – Francis of Assisi
Besides being naturally inspirational for any craftsman, this quote also speaks some truth on how we can think about traditional Japanese woodworking. The Japanese style can be defined by its beautiful mix of complexity and simplicity, smooth aesthetics and structural strength and if you really understand the intricacy of its nature you’ll realise… it’s art!
A trademark of the unique style is the fact that Japanese craftsmen rely upon on calculated, complex joints over the use of nails. If you’ve had a chance to visit the land of the rising sun, you’ll probably have seen this perfectly exemplified in the great temples and teahouses that have withstood the tests of time across the country. Not only do they exhibit a perfected craft but also speak greatly to the precision that past craftsmen dedicated to the project. We talk about that more in our Japanese Woodworking Techniques article.
Also interesting, Japanese woodworkers are also known to have deep understandings of the various woods at their disposal. This is explained in-depth by ArchitectMagazine:
Not only do they work with wood’s inherent grain by strategically orienting structural members to create strong connections and counteract sag, but they also use lumber’s original circumstances to their advantage.
For example, shokunin can manage material changes by utilising wood in the same orientation as its living state—for example, a south-facing tree will be used on the south side of a building. Furthermore, they design details that anticipate wood’s inevitable transformation over centuries, compensating for shrinkage and deflection. www.architectmagazine.com
For some, it’s easy to forget the fact that wood was once a living being and to be honest the benefits of this method may not be clear. Though, this Japanese woodworking tradition definitely engages that deeper connection with the craft and is part of the Japanese woodworking way of thinking that is so unique to the culture.
Japanese Woodworking: Joinery
Following on from our earlier discussion about Japanese joinery; when it comes to joining pieces of wood together, the Japanese are among the most innovative in the field.
Through the calculated planning of each wooden part (and a lot of hammering things into place), Japenese wood joints are definitely the strongest and best looking and as described by 19th Century Japanese Architect, Yukihiro Kamiyama:
“Behind the beauty lies the skill and knowledge of an artisan. The harmony of the creation conceals the complexity of the assemblage. Simple elements such as bearing blocks all play a role in the final result”
So if you want to pick up a few of these joinery techniques (like the ones Jesse used in his Bench build video), we’ve found a great book by 19th Century Japanese Architects, Toraschichi Sumiyoshi and Gengo Matsui (that’s available online for free). This book provides a step by step guide on Japanese Spliced and Connecting joints, accompanied with photos and designs.
Also If you’re interested in seeing this craft at work, check out the Japanese Architecture youtube channel, it has a tonne of great videos featuring traditional master woodworkers in action.
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