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I’ve long been a user of certain Japanese tools such as saws, chisels and marking gauges. I particularly like the quality of the forged Japanese steel which to me seems to take and hold a far keener edge than any Western counterpart. My pal Mike Huntley is even more enthusiastic than me and together with Andy Ryalls of Phoenix Oak Framing at Langford Lakes (close to Salisbury), they set up the Japanese Tool Study Group which meets several times a year to have an in-depth look at all things to do with Japanese tools and joinery. Andy is shown here using a Japanese planing beam and kana (a pull plane) to prepare some timber.

Andy Ryalls using a planing beam
Andy Ryalls using a planing beam

I was invited by Mike a few weeks ago to nip along one Saturday morning to have a swift peek at a workshop that had been organised, running over the course of four days. I mentioned that I’d be pleased to go along for the morning, with the one essential proviso that there was cake and coffee.

The tutor for the course was a well respected craftsman from Belgium called Mathieu Peeters, who has run many such events, both in the USA and Europe. The object over the few days of the course was to build one corner of a Japanese roof, using a Hip Rafter joint which could, for example, be used in the construction of a traditional tea house.

The hip rafter joint
The hip rafter joint

Even the most cursory study of Japanese joinery will show you that it’s fiendishly complicated, so that when Mathieu was explaining the details to the students, they received an appreciation of just how difficult this type of joinery can be to produce.

Mathieu explaining the features of the construction
Mathieu explaining the features of the construction

On first viewing, the completed hip rafter looks simple enough, but when it’s opened out, you’ll see that there are all sorts of compound, sloping angles to mark out and cut. Mathieu spent much of the first part of the morning explaining to the students the technicalities of the joint and the precise way that it needed to be set out.

Learning how the Japanese deal with timber
Learning how the Japanese deal with timber

It’s an ideal location for this sort of course and as Andy’s workshop is designed to construct timber framed buildings, the students had plenty of room.

Initial setting out by the students
Initial setting out by the students

I wasn’t able to attend the final day to see the results of the students’ efforts, but I’m sure that I can persuade Mike to let me have a few pictures for a further Blog post. Should anyone be interested in joining the Japanese Tool Study Group (JTSG), please leave a comment below and I’ll supply some further details.

General overview of workshop activity
General overview of workshop activity
  • francati

    Brilliant stuff, tell me more

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