Making Odate’s Japanese Transom with Asanoha Pattern

Japanese Transom

I just finished this Japanese transom yesterday and have been eagerly anticipating sharing this. When I first read through Odate’s book “Making Shoji” I marveled at the complexity of his kumiko joinery. While this certainly is a complicated project to execute, if you start with an understanding of the proper sequence of layout and are capable of accurately dimensioning your lumber the final assembly will go smoothly.

I bought some Hemlock a while back that I bought at a discount from the Woodcraft in Loveland, CO, because apparently no one wants to work Hemlock. But its a soft wood with even straight grain, from trees big enough to produce decent width vertical grain boards. I used Hemlock for the interior trim of my mothers house, and was pleased with how easily it worked. It does have a tendency towards brittleness.

Kanna for Planing Kumiko

I prepared all of my lumber in my usual manner, ripping on a table saw and dimensioning with hand planes. The kumiko I cut with a band saw from a carefully dimensioned 3/4″ board of vertical grain. The bandsaw kerf wastes a lot less wood than the table saw, an important consideration because kumiko must be cut from top quality lumber. The edge of the board is planed and squared after every cut, producing kumiko that only need to be planed to thickness on one side. To do that, I have a 50mm kanna from to which I have attached two pieces of kumiko the thickness of the final material I want but made from oak. I plane down one piece of kumiko to use as a cutting gauge for the mortises and lap joinery, and then shim out the thickness gauges with a couple pieces of paper and plane the rest of my kumiko. That way I have enough material left on the kumiko thickness to remove layout marks before final assembly, and can finish plane the kumiko to very controlled tolerances. Better than the 50mm kanna would be a plane with enough width to handle two pieces of kumiko at once.

Cutting Kumiko Joints

I had to discard about half of the kumiko I cut because of terrible warping as they came off the bandsaw. Just because a board looks like it has straight grain doesn’t mean there aren’t other stresses in the board from drying. Perhaps its just the character of Hemlock. The frame componenets didn’t warp badly coming off the table saw so perhaps it was just that particular board.

In the above photo you can see the lap cuts after being cut and cleaned while attached to a kumiko cutting jig courtesy of Desmond King’s book “Shoji and Kumiko Design” . I was struggling with making these cuts while holding them atop saw horses as Odate demonstrates.


With the lap cuts done I mortised the tsukeko, and cut the blind mortises on the horizontals.


Great care must be taken when cutting these blind mortises. I was working atop my planing beam, which is doug fir, and found that even though I didn’t cut all the way through, the pressure from cutting dented out the other side of the mortise. Next time I try this I’ll be sure to work atop hardwood.


Assembly of the kumiko was surprisingly easy considering the number of pieces. The lap cuts alternate on the verticals but are cut all on one side for the horizontals. No need for glue here, the tsukeko frame holds things together nicely and will tighten up when the main frame is assembled around it.

Asanoha hinge pieces

From there I moved on to what seemed quite daunting at the time, the asanoha pattern pieces. The entire pattern is made from only three internal pieces within each square. They are: the diagonal, the hinge, and the key. Above you can see me fitting the hinge piece against the diagonal.


Here is my setup for cutting all of these little pieces. In the foreground I have my angle shooting jig with 45 and 30 degree angles. I’m using a WoodRiver low angle block plane. To the right of that is my miter box. Both employ cutting stops that trim each piece just slightly over size. From there I can individually fit the pieces to their opening. It was much faster to take a whole set of pieces through every operation at once than to cut and fit pieces one at a time.

With the diagonals in place you get to the most challenging part, the hinge. You have to cut exactly in the center of the piece, only leaving a tiny bit of wood the thickness of a sheet or two of paper.

Cutting Asanoha hinge piece

To make a cut like that consistently is a matter of thousandths of an inch. Once again, Desmond King comes through with a great technique utilizing a lamp shining horizontally against the saw. I just have to say thank you to King for a simple and elegant solution that I never would have learned short of studying in Japan. The low angle of the light exaggerates the thickness of the remaining material by a factor of at least 10x.  It also allows you a visual reference for holding the saw exactly horizontal in the cut. You want to use your thinnest kerf saw for this. I use a Nakaya Eaks 210mm kumiko saw from

Asanoha key

Once you’re working on the key its just a matter of spending the time to make all of these little pieces. One thing that Odate does not mention is trimming down the 60 degree nose at 90 degrees a pass or two thicker than the kerf of the saw that you used to cut the hinge pieces. If you don’t, as I found out, the sharp angle will cut through the hinge when you try to insert it. I’d rather have a tiny gap at the tip than a gap at the sides.


After the first leaf on the left was done and I settled into my technique my fits improved considerably and I went back and junked a couple of pieces with bad fits. My fingers ached from holding the block plane and the sharp little pieces in the angle jig, but I got it done.

Stay tuned for part two where I mortice the frame and cut the totally awesome mitered boxed mortise and tenon joint!

Old School Spindle Steady


I whipped this up one day when I was out of cash and tired of poor results end drilling spindle work by eye with a cordless drill. Thankfully like most woodworkers, I’m swimming in small hardwood scrap. The wheels for this spindle steady are made from cherry with ironwood bearings pressed in. I didn’t have bolts lying around to secure the wheel arms to the frame, but I’m quite familiar with fitting a wedge. The wheel arms are adjusted the same way as a wooden hand plane, light taps with a hammer. If your wedges are not mated quite perfectly to the frame the vibration of the lathe will work them loose. In practice they must be set quite tight or you risk a sloppy hole.

Of course, hardwood wheels do tend to compress the wood grain of the spindle, but its not a problem if you do your end drilling after roughing down to a cylinder. Then its a simple matter to locate the tailstock center on the hole you drill and go to town turning down your spindle.

This spindle steady is definitely noisier than a commercial one  with ball bearings and neoprene wheels, but I’m about getting shit done with the stuff I have and not waiting for the nth tool to do better work. Oil your bearings!

The balancing act of a Graceful Flyer


I decided to make a new flyer and bobbin for my spinning wheel. The old one worked really nicely at lower ratios and for fatter yarns. At the moment, I’m spinning really thin cotton on a takli spindle and using the wheel to ply it for loom warp. I could literally hear the arms of the flyer meet the resistance of the air as it spun, and not in a good way. It sounded like a squirrel cage fan, and I knew that I was treadling with more effort than necessary.

In addition, I modified my flyer balancing jig to make it more sensitive. The difference between a carefully balanced flyer and an eccentric one can be immediately appreciated at higher speeds. To balance the flyer, it is placed on the jig with various orientations of the arms and allowed to roll. The heavy arm will want to drop and you remove material with a file or scraper from the heavy arm until the flyer doesn’t want to roll any particular direction regardless of the orientation of the arms. You can see in the above photo how one arm is about two thirds the thickness of the other, due to the differing densities of the wood. It would seem to pay in time spent balancing to start with a flyer blank of even grained wood.

Here is the old flyer side by side for comparison.


I smoothed and rounded everything much more. It ended up looking a lot more like the flyers found on antique flax wheels, which are about half again as fine as the one on the left. In addition I made the orifice smaller at 1/4″ and spent a good deal more time polishing the bend at the inside of the orifice to the eye.

What else can I say? Oh, it holds a bit less yarn on the bobbin than the former flyer/bobbin, but seeing as I’m spinning such fine yarn I’m hard pressed to fill a bobbin anyway. Now I can spin singles for knitting yarn on the fine flyer and ply it on the large flyer. Happy spinning!

Bobbin Winder and Boat Shuttle


After making a loom and playing around a bit weaving with a stick shuttle I realized the potential benefits of the boat shuttle for speeding up the weaving process. And of course, who is going to load a bobbin by hand? Well, compared to a spinning wheel, a bobbin winder is a walk in the park. I gathered up a few scrap pieces of cherry, walnut, oak, even some birch ply.


I probably made the bobbin winder a bit taller than necessary, but I wanted a good wrapped angle to allow the little tiny drive whorl to work well without a great deal of tension on the drive band. The crank wheel has no bearing and rides on a 1/4″ steel rod secured with washer and cotter pin on the other side. The axle for the bobbin mandrel is a press fit for both the drive whorl and the mandrel. Seeing as it generates some pretty good revolution per turn, I pressed in some ironwood bearings either side of the post. I’ll have to oil them, but they allow the axle to turn smoothly and freely.

I never actually got around to calculating the drive ratio, but the crank wheel has a 6″ diameter to the drive whorl’s 1/2″ diameter. Since most of the yarn that I make ends up in a skein and not on a cone, I’ll most likely be winding off from an umbrella swift.


The boat shuttle measures about 12″ long and 1″ thick. I needed a thin shuttle because the shed on the loom I made is not terribly wide. Making an open bottomed shuttle didn’t seem like a bad idea when my maximum warp width is 20″. I looked at many designs online before sketching out a cardboard template for the top view and the side view. Before cutting the profile the slit that the yarn carries through off the bobbin was mortised, as well as the bobbin hollow. The mortise for the bobbin and spindle hollow was cut by drilling at the four corners and connecting with a scroll saw. The outside curves were cut on a band saw and cleaned up with a cabinet scraper and sandpaper. The little scrap of cherry I made this out of turned out to have a pitch pocket towards one end. In one sense it is a blemish, but does personalize the object and I actually love natural defects that don’t compromise the structure of the piece. Because this is for myself, I decided not to chuck it in the burn pile.


The spindle was made by flattening one end of a 3/16″ steel rod and cross drilling it for a brass pin. It is secured at the other end by a rare earth magnet.

Of course, as with any yarn tool, it must be slick and smooth. I finished up by sanding out to 400 grit and applying three coats of paste wax. I can’t wait to get it loaded up and weaving!

Bathroom Cabinet with Shoji Doors


This project came about from a practical need, storage in a bathroom above the toilet.  My personal taste in furniture is heavily influenced by Japanese design, but this was for my mother, who loves craftsman style and visible joinery. To that end it features through mortise and tenons on the legs, dovetails for the carcass, and even mortise and tenon for the shelf.  Tom Fidgen’s book “Made by Hand” was a major source of knowledge for me, especially the chapter on a bookcase with Japanese paper paneled doors.


This was the first time I worked cherry, and boy was it nice. And I could use my Japanese saws without worrying about snapping a tooth like in oak. For the shoji style doors I maintained the traditional orientation of rail to stile, but used a bridal slip joint to keep with my theme of visible joinery. It also helped that the bridal slip is a bit faster to cut than mortising the stiles.


The back of the cabinet is 1/4″ T&G Douglas Fir, almost entirely heartwood, and it matched the red coloration of the cherry beautifully. It was the first chance for me to try the tongue and groove blades for my small plow plane from Veritas.

The one mistake that I made was using rice glue to attach the shoji paper to the cabinet doors. It only took a couple of weeks for the paper to start steaming off from the frame. I found an excellent source for shoji paper,, who also carry an acrylic panel product made to look like shoji paper but impervious to moisture. The hinges for the cabinet doors are surface mounted so I have enough space behind the cabinet doors for a thin piece of acrylic.

After working some cherry I find myself wanting to make everything out of cherry. It works beautifully with hand tools and the surface quality after finish planing is almost translucent.