Making a Wooden Marking Gauge for Kumiko Work

Wooden Marking Gauges

From left to right: splitting gauge, pencil marking gauge, knife marking gauge, double 1/4″(6mm) tenon marking gauge, and a 1/4″(6mm) mortising gauge for kumiko work.

These are all of the gauges that I use in my shop. The two on the right are the newest, brought about through a need to do more complicated and smaller joinery. Although I did not start with a home made marking gauge, these are the ones that now get the most use. I learned how to make these from Toshio Odate’s book “Japanese Woodworking Tools”. This post will show how I made the smallest one, my kumiko marking gauge.

Wood for marking gauge

The fence and the beam rough cut to length are so small they look like off-cuts that fell under my bench. The fence will be quartersawn oak. Its nice if the beam has a diagonal grain.

Wedge template

The mortise for the beam is centered on the width of the fence. The placement for the beam was by eye, a little to one side of center along the length of the fence. With the beam mortise marked, I use the wedge from my shoulder plane as a template for the keyed wedge I’ll be making for the gauge. I estimate by eye how large I want to make the wedge, and hold the template against a square placed on the lay out line for the edge of the beam mortise. Now an accurate mark for the wedge angle can be made. I also put a few pencil marks on the wedge template to tell me how much of the wedge segment I’ll be using to cut the actual wedge.

Gauge fence layout

It can be hard to see the mortise lines that go with the grain in oak, so I darkened them in with pencil. The beam is 3/8″ square and the wedge will be 1/4″ thick. Time to get the chisels out and chop the mortise, starting with the one for the beam.

Mortised marking gauge fence

With the mortises cut I chamfer all of the edges and corners. You want the fence to be very comfortable in the hand, no sharp corners to poke you and throw off your layout work. Next to the fence for a size comparison is my smallest plane, a Lie-Nielsen block plane. The smaller the work, the smaller the plane you use. I used my low angle Block plane for dimensioning the fence and beam, and the little Lie-Nielsen for chamfering.

Wooden Marking Gauge

Another size comparison with my most commonly used marking gauge. I’ve fitted the beam to the fence. I used the larger marking gauge to mark the beam slightly larger than the mortise for the beam. Then the fit was brought in with a block plane a few shavings at time, until the beam was secure but could move freely. Now for the fun part, the wedge!

Wedge fitted in fence

I used the wedge template as a pattern in some 1/4″ thick oak. You need a little room in front of the rounded part of the wedge such that the wedge can be loosened  but still remain secured in the fence. I cut the wedge out with a scroll saw, and pared the sloping top of the wedge flat to my pattern line with a chisel. Then its a matter of checking the fit of the wedge in the fence. It should be making good contact with the length of the fence mortise. If you tap it tight and loosen it several times with a hammer, any high spots that are rubbing will show up as burnished marks, and can be pared away with a sharp chisel until the fit is good. The wedge should secure the beam with a light tap of the hammer. This is not something to rush, the quality of future work depends on consistent marking.

Setting pin gauge

This gauge is set to the width of my 1/4″ mortising chisel, which gets a lot of work making shoji. In essence this gauge will ONLY be used for this chisel. I have other 1/4″ chisels, but they vary slightly in width. Two small finish nails were used as pins, inserted into slightly undersized holes, and filed to a chisel point. Adjustments in the width of the mark can be made by filing the pins on one side or the other. Both pins must be at exactly the same height for the gauge to mark evenly.

1/4" 6mm pin marking gauge

The finished marking gauge, so tiny! It makes my hand look very large, and I feel like I’m holding a baby bird. You can see on the opposite side of the beam that I messed up drilling the holes for the pins. My drill press table was at an angle resulting in leaning pins.

This gauge turned out well and I’ve already put it to use marking the jaguchi joints for tsukeko and kumiko mortises. I’m currently working on a three panel set of shoji for a folding screen set. Time to make something for sale! I’ll be adding a gallery page to my website when its done where I’ll show pieces for sale.

Making a Japanese Saw Clamp

Japanese saw clamp

This is a Japanese saw clamp I made yesterday based on sketches in Toshio Odate’s “Japanese Woodworing Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit, and Use”.  It measures 11″ wide by 11-1/2″ Long. Eleven inches was the widest piece of lumber I had on hand, but it covers the length of most of my Japanese saws.

Freshly planed maple

Here is the freshly planed maple I prepared by resawing from a thicker slab. My previous post covers the process of working from the rough sawn lumber, but it is worth while to take a look at some of the tools and techniques I use to quickly dimension lumber with hand planes.

Japaese marking gauge

I find that a marking gauge with a cutting blade gives the nicest knife line to work to. Here is one I made from some left over oak flooring. These gauges are really easy to make and its something every joiner should have a couple of. The marking blade I made from a dull sawz-all saw blade. Definitely not 0-1 tool steel, but it holds an edge quite well.

Jointing edge of board

Almost all of my planing is done on a 4×6 douglas fir beam. I added a runner to the side so that I can quickly joint and square the edge of a board (yet another great Japanese technique). It takes a bit of work to keep the surfaces properly aligned when the planing beam is dressed, but that is more than made up for by the speed you gain.

Cutting on Japanese saw horse

The planed lumber can then be cut to length. For rough cuts to length I use a cheap Stanley hard pointed saw, but for cross-cutting to final dimension I like to use a ryoba on Japanese style saw horses. Your foot holds the board down while you cut, and the ryoba saw avoids bad break-out on the bottom side.

Holes in saw clamp

The saw clamp is a very simple tool. Here I have just finished drilling four holes a little more than half way down that bind the two pieces of the clamp together. No need for anything fancy, I just used some jute cord to tie them together. The wedge was shaped once the pieces were bound and I could bring the fit in through trial and error.

Re-pointing saw teeth

All but a few of my Japanese saws are disposable blade types. Even though the teeth are induction hardened they can still be re-pointed many times with a diamond plate to joint them and a diamond feather file to file the points. Make sure you take the abrasive off the edges of the file so that you don’t knick the adjacent teeth. I find that a saw like this can be brought back to life in about ten minutes, well worth the time even with disposable blades.

A final note on sharpening disposable blade saws. While the teeth may be glass hard, the steel in the rest of the body of these saws is quite soft and without temper. I always sharpen the saw from both sides, only working the teeth leaning away from me, because the pressure from the file can bend the tooth in the direction of the file stroke. Light pressure when filing is key, as well as having your source of light in the right spot so that the flats from jointing the teeth are easily seen.

Keep your saws sharp and may all your cuts be true!

Resawing lumber with home made Japanese rip saw

Cutting with kataba nokogiri

This is a 350mm kataba nokogiri made from a western style saw plate. I’m resawing a piece of maple for making a Japanese saw clamp. The saw clamp is something I’ve wanted to make for quite a while now; up till now I’ve just used my large machinist vise to hold saws for sharpening, but you have to move the saw several times to support the teeth as you file. I based my saw clamp on the pictures in Toshio Odate’s “Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit, and Use”. A slab of maple cut freehand with a chainsaw was the widest piece of lumber I had on hand in hardwood.

Chainsaw milled maple

This was the first lumber I ever milled with a chainsaw, and the sawing marks show it. Even so there is a good bit of usable lumber there if you can plane it down. To do that, I use a scrub plane.

Scrub plane blade camber

I originally started with a much more aggressive radius of curvature to the blade edge, but because I most often plane parallel with the grain against a bench stop on my planning beam, I’ve found that a shallower radius is a bit more productive for me.

Pencil marking gauge

After using the scrub plane to work down the rough sawn surface, I refined it further with a smoothing plane and repeated the work on the edges and opposing face. With a nice flat piece of lumber now I can mark a line all the way around the board right in the center of the depth for resawing. I use a gauge with a pencil for this because the pencil line is about the same width as the kerf of my rip saw, and the pencil line is much more visible.

Cutting with kataba nokogiri

What can I say about this home made saw? Its horrible and wonderful at the same time. I made it for cutting the thin hipboard panels on traditional shoji screens when I didn’t have the money to buy a bandsaw. Since making it I’ve been able to get a 14″ Rikon bandsaw, but I still use my kataba nokogiri from time to time to keep my skills sharp.

When making a cut like this how you start the saw is everything. Not to mention that the saw needs to be dead sharp and correctly set.  I cut from either side alternately at a slight downward angle. I used to saw at a 45 degree angle to the length of the board, but I found that the closer to perpendicular I can get the straighter the resulting cut. Its faster too, but harder to stay on the line. My kataba nokogiri is definitely meant to be used with two hands, and I pull straight back into my core, relaxing on the return stroke.

If the teeth are dull it will not cut a straight line. If you use to much pressure in the cut (because of dull teeth) the saw plate will warp and it will not cut a straight line. If you try to twist the saw to correct back onto the line you REALLY will mess up your cut. To top it off the steel this saw plate is made from is much softer than a Japanese saw. If you cut through a knot the teeth will dull and you have to stop in the middle of the cut and re-sharpen.

That said, in softer clear wood, this saw is a beast, and I made it for the cost of the files to cut the teeth. The plate tapers about .008″ from teeth to spine edge, so the set of the teeth is as minimal as I can make it and not have problems with the plate rubbing in the cut.

Resaw and kataba nokogiri

The boards warped a little bit from cutting, but surprisingly not too much considering the flat grain of this board. You can tell from the discoloration of the handle on my saw that its seen a fair bit of use. While I would never call this a “real” Japanese saw, it gets the job done as long as you’re willing to pay in sweat. Never let the lack of an expensive power tool stop you from getting the job done!

Making Odate’s Japanese Transom Part 3: Mitered tenon and final assembly

This is the final post on making a Japanese transom with asanoha pattern. If you’re just joining in reading than might I suggest that for your own satisfaction you start at the beginning. Up to this part I’ve assembled the kumiko and asanoha pattern, mortised the rest of the main frame, and cut the boxed mortise for the frame.

Mitered tenon joint

I cut the tenon shoulders and cheeks the same way the boxed mortise was cut. As a general principle in shoji work blind mortises should be cut as deeply as possible without breaking through.  I don’t think I came quite that close, my sokozarai-nomi (bottom cleaning chisel) was getting stuck on its sides and I’m currently ambivalent about grinding metal off of it to give it more clearance side to side.

Marking tenon length

I used the depth gauge used when cutting the mortises to mark the tenon length about 1/16″ shorter than the total mortise depth. Once again I trimmed the end of the joint on my shooting board to give a reliable square surface for transferring the rest of the marks.

Marking tenon width

I transferred these marks with my marking knife, and then grabbed the marks with my wheel gauge and marked down the cheeks of the tenon. Most of the tenon width marks will be cut off when the tenon is cut to length, but if you wait until then it will be much harder to directly transfer the tenon width. I left my wheel gauge set to the outside mortice width, and marked the top of the tenon immediately after cutting to length.

Mitered tenon layout

Now the rest of the layout can be completed, marking the mortise for the box that houses the tenon. It feels like you’re almost done at this point but things slow down considerably to cut the mortise. It helps if you’ve had a chance to cut half blind dovetails. There is a lot of similarities when it comes time to pare the interior surfaces.

Mortising mitered tenon

I used my sokozarai-nomi to pull the chips from the mortise as they packed in there. If you don’t clean them out you’ll loose depth of cut and have a lot more work paring the bottom to the line.

Mitered tenon with box mortise

After finishing with the mortising I pared the tenon cheeks of any material that the mortising left behind. All that’s left now is to get the tenon to width. And as Odate says “In making this joint, one section will be particularly hectic. You’ll have to dig behind the 1/4″ (6mm) tenon, which is a very small end-grain area”. Of course Odate is old school and uses a gimlet. I’m a little less fortified of spirit and used a 1/4″ forstner bit and cordless drill.

Diggin behind tenon

A bit of masking tape on the bit tells me when I’ve cut ever so slightly past the bottom of the end grain in the mortice. If I left it slightly above the mark I would be at a pain to make a paring cut on end grain back there.


Here is my sokozarai-nomi, or bottom cleaning chisel, that cleans up the end grain of the mortise after paring down the mortise width. I like this chisel so much that I made a miniature version of it for cleaning the bottom of tiny blind mortises in kumiko work. If you can deal with the hassle of ordering from Japan Woodworker, I highly recommend getting one.

Finished Mitered boxed mortise and tenon

Don’t ask how long it took to cut all four of these joints, the time is not important. Hopefully when I’m an old man and look back on these nice tight miter joints I’ll smile with a bit of satisfaction that even when young and in a hurry about life I did something right.

Japanese adjustable chamfer plane

The frame pieces were cleaned up with my Tsunesaburo kanna and the inside edges chamfered with my adjustable chamfering plane. These two planes are a great example of the difference between Japan Woodworker and The Tsunesaburo came lovingly packed in bubble wrap in its own beautiful little box. Japan Woodworker shipped me the chamfering plane loose in a box with other items, a piece of packing paper hastily shoved on top, banging back and forth all the way from WVA and getting dinged and chipped before I even opened the box.

Partial assembly of japanese transom

With everything lovely and polished up off the kanna, the rails were placed on the kumiko tenons and glue applied to the mortises. I started the tenons into the mortises on both sides and (having previously tested the fit on the mitered corners) tapped the joints home with my light hammer and a wood block.

Japanese Transom

None of my practice joints came out as well as the miters on this frame, and I was tremendously relieved that they came together well. I have a slight gap on one side of the tsukeko between the frame where I took too much material off in finish planing, but overall I’m still going to hang this and show it off.

My next project coming up are shoji inspired garden gates, and I’m definitely going to integrate the asanoha pattern as a central feature. What garden couldn’t do without a symbol of growth and vitality, the hemp leaf? Please comment and tell me what you think, I know there are others out there who have taken this transom on and I’d be most interested to know any differences in how you got it done.

Making Odate’s Japanese Transom Part 2: Mitered boxed mortise-and-tenon

Japanese transom frame pieces

With the main frame mortising completed the mitered boxed mortise and tenon can be cut. It is without a doubt the hardest joint I have ever had to execute, but fear not! It took me three practice tries to get comfortable with the sequence of layout. If you can follow along, this can be accomplished.

Mitered boxed mortise and tenon

Fundamental to being able to make a joint like this is the skill of sawing perfectly to your layout line and square. Desmond King, in his book “Shoji and Kumiko Design”, gives a great set of exercises for learning to run a Japanese saw straight and true in a cut.


It really, really pays to practice consistently to build up your muscle memory. I use a wooden cutting fence to start my saw kerf. I bring the fence up to my cutting knife that has been placed in the knife line and make a series of practice cuts on a squared piece of scrap pine.

Practice cuts

I do not mark a line on the side of the cut to tell me if it is square or not, you just have to be able to cut square. I make these practice cuts one at a time and check with a try square. Really pay attention to how it feels when you are cutting correctly. If you can do this fairly consistently you’ll save a lot of time paring your joints with a chisel.

Cutting tenon cheeks

Although I originally learned to rip the tenon cheeks before cutting the shoulders, Odate does the opposite. The rationale is that you can over cut your shoulder without it showing in the finished joint, but if you over cut the cheek it will show. Cutting the shoulder first gives you more feedback when you reach the bottom of the cut on the cheek. This is the time to be fearless and cut right to the line. I find that if I’m afraid of overcutting the line my hand will twist the saw away.

Veritas plow plane

Of course, I’m no master tategu-shokunin and most of my saw cuts require a little cleaning up. I use my Veritas router plane with an auxiliary fence to trim the tenon cheeks to the line. If you don’t have a router plane check out Paul Sellers video on Youtube “The poor man’s router”. Sellers is old school and awesome, I’ve learned a lot from his videos and hope to get his books some day.

Shooting board

With all of the mortice boxes cut I trim the end of the joint square on a shooting board. I left an extra 1/8″ on the end of each joint for this purpose.

Marking mortise box height

Now the end of the joint is a consistent reference for marking the top of the mortise box. Leaving any less wood than 1/4″ would create a problem when cleaning the mortise for the box on the tenon.

Cutting mortise box

Here’s the cut, once again started with a little wooden fence and cut straight down. To complete the cut you flip the piece over and make a starting kerf on the outside miter line.


This cut gives the teeth of your rip saw an nice place to start when cutting the miter.

Miter cut

Just like cutting the secondary shoulders on any fully housed tenon you cut away from your shoulders to avoid scratching them with the saw.

Paring endgrain

Trim the joint up, paring the end grain on the diagonal from both directions to avoid gouging your shoulders with the chisel. If you’ve managed to make it this far you are rewarded with half of an awesome looking bit of joinery.

Finished boxed mortise

This post is getting quite long, so I’m going to break this up into another post. Look for Odate’s Japanese Transom Part 3: Mitered tenon and final transom assembly.