Traditional Japanese Wood Construction and Framing Techniques
January 12, 2015 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Some short videos from a Japanese construction shop that practices traditional joinery techniques. The tools are modern, but the components and joinery techniques are traditional. For instance, joining two beams end-to-end.

My Japanese is non-existent, and the page translation is not always helpful, so you'll have to dig around, but it's worth it!
posted by carter (35 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
 
Nice! I've oohed and ahhed at things like the 3-way mitre joint (Chinese, I think) at 5m13s of this video, but it's great to see joinery like this used on a big scale for framing.
posted by clawsoon at 9:43 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Sweet. Have you seen the Chinese architectural brackets called Dougong?
I would love to see one of those getting built. It looks like those are used in Japan, too.
posted by bitslayer at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nice, nice. The joint below is a lot of fun (though I suspect, not much use for framing):

Link
posted by lucidprose at 9:54 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I seem to recall reading somewhere - but I no longer know where - that east and southeast Asia in general had to create elaborate glueless joinery because humidity levels and wood types made glue, which is at the centre of much Western joinery, unreliable. The result is, IMO, beautiful and beguiling.
posted by clawsoon at 9:54 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


hah, so my question of "geeze, I'm such a belt-and-suspenders wood worker, why aren't they gluing it?" is sort-of answered.. Still, I dig the joinery.

Though I'm also guessing the joint doesn't have to be stable against forces in all directions ? My mind wants to tell me it can't sway side-to-side, or twist, but if it's a joist, will be it subject to those forces ?
posted by k5.user at 9:59 AM on January 12, 2015


Japan is notable for the shear loads the island applies to buildings. Yes. The joints are subject to all those forces.
posted by Carmody'sPrize at 10:05 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm struggling to use the right words: if you bend the joist (like snapping a twig), as it's aligned in the video, what keeps the joint from popping out ? Or are additional things done to the joint when it's installed/used ?
posted by k5.user at 10:10 AM on January 12, 2015


hah, so my question of "geeze, I'm such a belt-and-suspenders wood worker, why aren't they gluing it?" is sort-of answered.. Still, I dig the joinery.

in the linked video they are joining two laminated beams... so they are using glue, the traditional joint is for show, although it is a nice way of mechanically bringing the two sections of the beam together without any kind of clamping. also, note how the lines in the grain match at the join, even with the reversed colors, that wasn't an accident (the reversed color wasn't an accident either.)

(also, as an obligatory derail, I might even vote for Mike Huckabee if he promised to phase in the metric system in the US. )
posted by ennui.bz at 10:13 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


OK, I'm struggling to use the right words: if you bend the joist (like snapping a twig), as it's aligned in the video, what keeps the joint from popping out ? Or are additional things done to the joint when it's installed/used ?

I'm no woodworker so my terminology will be shockingly poor, but there is a substantial lip that goes into the void behind the dovetail areas that I think would provide pretty a pretty decent lock against side to side motion.
posted by SharkParty at 10:18 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


k5.user, that link from clawsoon above shows a joint near the end that is held in a similar manner. The guy explains that it is the wooden pin driven in that locks the entire thing in place. Which is, I suppose. the reason why the guys in the Japanese video were sensually sliding the pin around in the joint in the beginning of the first video because they think it's the coolest part of the joint.

Maybe it's like penny locking a door. You wouldn't think a tiny stack of pennies would prevent you from opening your dorm door but those missed dining hall suppers remind me otherwise.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:18 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


And this is awesome and I am glad that numerous people all chimed in with their favorite traditional joints. I wish I had cool opinions on cool things.
posted by SharkParty at 10:19 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've worked on timber frame structures and it's incredibly satisfying when a well cut joint goes together. This is on a completely different plane of existence from what I was doing though and contemplating the amount of work required to build anything but the smallest hut in this fashion leaves me slightly nauseous.
posted by chisel at 10:24 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


However, seeing what I thought was a gap caused by a flaw in the cutting turn out to be a planned space for a second wedge to disassemble the joint was a thing of beauty.
posted by chisel at 10:27 AM on January 12, 2015 [13 favorites]


Ah, now I see -- the lip under the box/finger joints, through the center of the board (not dovetails - straight rectangular joints). Small, and easy to overlook, but would hold it together. Thanks, SharkParty. (ie it's where the gap that Chisel [eponysterical] notes they can open the joint from)
posted by k5.user at 10:43 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, these are great!

clawsoon: “Nice! I've oohed and ahhed at things like the 3-way mitre joint (Chinese, I think) at 5m13s of this video, but it's great to see joinery like this used on a big scale for framing.”

Yeah, these things are amazing. My favorite thus far is this amazing joist (well, it looks like a joist to me, anyway). A lot of complicated cuts and spaces that just slip together perfectly.

chisel: “I've worked on timber frame structures and it's incredibly satisfying when a well cut joint goes together. This is on a completely different plane of existence from what I was doing though and contemplating the amount of work required to build anything but the smallest hut in this fashion leaves me slightly nauseous... However, seeing what I thought was a gap caused by a flaw in the cutting turn out to be a planned space for a second wedge to disassemble the joint was a thing of beauty.”

Yeah, that joist I just linked to – watching the moment about a minute in, when the random grooves in two pieces come together and I realize what they're for – that's awesome, and very satisfying. But, as far as work, yes. This must take eons to do properly. Here's a guy spending fifteen minutes making a relatively rough interlocking base for a pillar (I think?) – and he's amazingly quick at it. How many pillars in a house? And how much longer must it take to cut one of those much more complicated joints, all perfectly-measured and beautiful? Phew.

Still, I could sit and watch these all day. And I probably will.
posted by koeselitz at 10:48 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ah, no, that's not a pillar – it's a beam.
posted by koeselitz at 10:54 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder how an American code inspector would deal with this. I guess, from my experience, he'd either look at it and say, just like I did, "Dang, well, that looks pretty strong," or require some expensive engineering reports that it would be hard to find someone to do.

Also, from koeselitz's clip, my mom brought me back from Japan a pair of the cloth split-toe type boots everyone is wearing and told me they were Japanese construction boots. I was kind of like, "Yeah, great," but is that what's generally worn? Are they just for people who are climbing on stuff like that, or is it part of the traditional techniques thing?
posted by cmoj at 11:24 AM on January 12, 2015


I wonder how an American code inspector would deal with this. I guess, from my experience, he'd either look at it and say, just like I did, "Dang, well, that looks pretty strong," or require some expensive engineering reports that it would be hard to find someone to do.

It depends on how much you bribe them.
posted by odinsdream at 11:40 AM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


There is something immensely satisfying about watching those dado-ish cuts slowly merge together in the joining two beams end-to-end video.
posted by quin at 11:58 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


clawsoon: I seem to recall reading somewhere - but I no longer know where - that east and southeast Asia in general had to create elaborate glueless joinery because humidity levels and wood types made glue, which is at the centre of much Western joinery, unreliable. The result is, IMO, beautiful and beguiling.
Glue isn't used much in Western "joinery"/construction until (approximately) the Rennaissance period, and not at all in building construction nor the support structures on cabinetry (that is, it's used to form veneers, but not to keep drawers and cabinets together, nor any but the smallest boxes), so I'm not really buying into that explanation.

For example: trestle-tables, timber-framed houses, "six-board" chests, all pre-17th-century chairs, and most reliquaries do not depend on any glue at all for their structural integrity.

(Technically, no "joinery" depends on glue, by definition, but I presumed you meant "wooden construction" when you used that word.)
posted by IAmBroom at 12:59 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


And this is awesome and I am glad that numerous people all chimed in with their favorite traditional joints. I wish I had cool opinions on cool things.

There's only one way to get cool opinions on something like this: You have to have a project you're procrastinating on. "Should I try to build another ugly, simple, probably-will-fail joint myself, or watch a Youtube video of a true craftsman making a beautiful joint? Hmm... I'll work on my own joint, uh, later. Watching this video will surely help me get better at it."
posted by clawsoon at 1:06 PM on January 12, 2015


Ah, no, that's not a pillar – it's a beam

I like how it doesn't matter -- occidental or oriental -- the standard fix in construction is "Hit the m******er with a hammer until it fits."
posted by eriko at 1:07 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


IAmBroom: Glue isn't used much in Western "joinery"/construction until (approximately) the Rennaissance period...

I'd love to learn more about that. Any good links/references?

Also, thanks for the clarifications; I'm at best a newly-interested amateur.

One thing I've definitely learned is that I need to sharpen my chisels.
posted by clawsoon at 1:12 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


clawsoon: I'd love to learn more about that. Any good links/references?
One anti-link: Do not use any book by Daniel Diehl. He makes undocumented changes to the design of the furniture, which are judged both unnecessary and occasionally detrimental by my "betters" in historical woodworking.

And one online suggestion, although the list isn't very active right now: the Yahoo group "Medieval Sawdust." Can't directly link to it from work, alas.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:54 PM on January 12, 2015


Awwwwgh. I could (and will) literally watch videos like this all day. The amount of skill and craft on display gives me the kinds of feelings that only really epic scifi and really delicious pastry can otherwise.
posted by cthuljew at 4:15 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


koeselitz: "(well, it looks like a joist to me, anyway)"

So this Irish lad, fresh off the boat from Belfast, walks into a construction site in Manhattan and asks for a job. The foreman says, "Sure, if you can tell me the difference between a girder and a joist."

The kid is dumbfounded. "Girder and joist, girder and joist. Hmmmm." Thirty seconds pass as he wills the answer into his brain.

"Eyve gaht it!" he exclaims at long last. "Girder wrote Faust, and Joist wrote Ulysses!"
posted by notsnot at 6:44 PM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Beautiful. Also way slower and way weaker than Simpson Strong Ties. But beautiful none the less.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 10:05 PM on January 12, 2015


I like the vertical 'pile-driver' hammer in use here: linky.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:06 PM on January 12, 2015


I can't help but cringe at the miles of plastic wrap they use to, no doubt, protect the wood. Seems really at odds with all the otherwise traditional craft.
posted by cthuljew at 11:26 PM on January 12, 2015


/r/ArtisanVideos is full of videos like these.
posted by um at 2:26 AM on January 13, 2015


Post and beam joinery is a wonderful thing. It's a classic trade-off of using (time / skill) to make up for a shortage of resources or technology (or both) and it's a pleasure to see fine work. I've always loved mitered secret dovetails, which is a way of making a mitered joint that will have very good strength, but from the outside you can't see how the joint is put together.

At the same time, there's a huge difference when technology is at play. There is some new home construction in my neighborhood and my daughter and I watched three men construct and raise one outside wall of a house in under 20 minutes. In this case, they were using a combination of the outside sheathing as well as the steel banding that was formerly used to hold a delivery of 2x stock together. See these guys? As they raise the wall, it shifts and takes one guy on the ground to align and shift it and then they have to kick it around to put it into place. They workers I saw had the sheathing on and it hung below the sill which would help keep the wall from going to far (in the video I linked to, if the wall had too much momentum on the way up, it would land on the guy on the ground), as well as strapping to keep that from happening. Two guys raised it, one checked for square/plumb then nailed it down. Just like construction workers throughout time, these guys have figured out how to build efficiently and accurately with the tools they have.

tl;dr - watching people who are skilled at what they do is always a pleasure.
posted by plinth at 6:34 AM on January 13, 2015




/r/ArtisanVideos is full of videos like these.

Indeed. Thanks for that um. Knife making with Ray Mears was awesome.
posted by qsysopr at 4:23 PM on January 14, 2015


I require an infinite amount of $$$ to have these guys build almost anything for me. Maybe a Kickstarter for "make me incredibly cool wood joints".
posted by kjs3 at 8:49 PM on January 14, 2015


odinsdream: The chainsaw work in this video is amazing...

Precision Japanese chainsaw work. Now I've seen everything.
posted by clawsoon at 7:43 AM on January 15, 2015


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