Planing weekend

  • December 22, 2006
  • Japan

A while back, I had the opportunity to work as an interpreter for the biannual (not biennial) 削ろう会(Kezuro-kai) . Now, when you hear planing, I’m sure that you’re first thinking that I said “planning” or something to do with “planes”. The “plane” I mean is the woodworkers tool which has a blade set in a flat surface, and is used to make the surface of an area smooth by shaving very thin layers of wood off it.

Hmm, doesn’t sound exciting does it? But you’d be surprised if you came to this event. I must admit that in the beginning I didn’t know what to expect, and one I was there, I could clearly say that this has been probably the most culturally and historically (in a being in Japan sense) interesting thing I’ve done since I’ve been here in Japan. A competition between carpenters and woodworkers, to see how refined they are with their planes. The main competition is to see how thin and long of a wood shaving you could create. I can’t remember the exact length of the wood, but each wood shaving is on average over 1.5 meters, possibly even 2 meters. And the top level planners can get their wood shaving as thin as 4/1000mm. That’s frick’n thin. So thin that you can pretty much see through’em and the whole thing feels like silk. And if you pull it parallel to the grain, it’s still pretty tough.

It was pretty amazing to see the carpenters at work. I must admit that pretty much everybody was a bloke. There was a small American contingent of students from Palomar College in California whom are studying Japanese carpentry and have come to this event to take part and also observe the architecture along with the actual construction of Japanese carpentry tools. The precision required to create such a thin layer of wood shavings is an art form in itself. The need to maintain a sharp blade, the need to keep it smooth, flat and straight. The physical need be able to pull and give enough pressure to maintain a consistent wood shaving. The various kinds of planes, and techniques used to create traditional Japanese wood work.

What I found to be the most interesting part of it all is that the whole difference in the “push and pull” aspect of carpentry. I know now that you’re probably scratching your head now, trying to figure out what the frick’n hell I’m talking about. Well, here’s the thing. With a traditional European wood plane, you have a handle to hold, and a ball at the front and you push against the wood to plane it. Whereas here in Japan, you simply have a wood block, and you pull to plane. Same thing with a saw. With a western saw, you cut the wood when you push down on it, but in Japan you actually cut through the wood when you pull up. There you go, another difference in culture can even be displayed with carpentry tools. Do you push? or do you pull?

Frick’n thin layers of wood shavings
Japanese wood saw being sharpened
making sure that the plane flat. Yup, you even shave the actual plane once in a while to keep it flat and smooth. The important piece is the blade. You can always make a new block.
Old method: Used after an adze for more details

Difference kind of woodshavings created by the spear plane. 槍鉋(yari-kanna)Making a flower out of the wood shavings
Using an adze to shape lumber
The blade is an important aspect of a carpenter
You can only shapen a blade up to how good your natural whetstone isMost planes are smal, but there are pretty funky big ones as well
I also had the opportunity to make my own traditional Japanese nail 和釘(wakugi)
Decorations created by an adze