The Fuigo Joinery II

The work of building a traditional Japanese box bellows continues. For those who are just joining in, or who are looking to make a fuigo of their very own, the partial set of plans can be found in a previous post, Designing Fuigo. The joinery is very straight forward, nothing crazy, though that is probably a matter of perspective. I still consider myself a beginner woodworker, though there is a great deal I have learned since cutting my first finger joints for a bee hive.

I was trained to have students and teach playing the flute, and private instruction is very common in music. So it is not a leap for me to consider teaching woodworking. Though, the question that you ask yourself is if you have anything worth teaching. The fact of spending every day working with tools, many of them human powered ones, skews my perspective on that question.

But still, I end up with doubt about the teaching thing. I’ve been reading with great interest Sebastian’s blog: for a couple of months now. He’s started teaching, showing what a couple of students who truly want to learn can do in a short time, and also developing his own pedagogy for Japanese carpentry.

I woke up this morning and there’s someone left a comment on my blog, in the city right next to me, asking to study with me.  I mean, hello, what the hell am I waiting for?  Its an interesting turn of events that I can’t ignore, like a punch in the shoulder, get this craft  going in your local community.


So, back to the fuigo. I marked out the short sides of the box, using pencil, so sorry its not as visible as pen. I knew that I made my panel larger than necessary to get the two side pieces from, but was extra pleased that my layout was able to maintain the same grain orientation between pieces as well as avoiding the two largest knots in the panel. Even though the sides of each piece will be curved, I used a square layout to define the spaces.


The sides were knifed over using the same curved ruler as for the top and bottom dados I cut in the previous post.


The pencil line is the square marking for the side. The knife line is concave to the pencil line. One interesting consequence of the curve is that the thin 1/8″ dado at the bottom of this piece must also be curved. After marking the long edge with the curved ruler I marked the 1/8″ dado top and bottom and used the same curved ruler to knife the other side.


Although my body still complains when leaning over to saw, its hard to beat cutting thin paneling on a planing board. This is also the position I am least accurate with, so I cut slightly outside my lines so that they could be planed square.


Normally I’m bemoaning the fact that my shooting board is so long. Its kind of cumbersome, but in this case it was not long enough. I traded between my planing beam and this shooting board to plane to my knife mark.


Trimming the other side created its own new challenge, working into the corner. I really considered stopping to make a bullnose plane, but I’ve reached my limit for making tools to build this project. I want to actually get this done, you know?  So I went as simple as possible, cutting a small oak block to back up the blade from my block plane. Is this a chisel or a plane? Technically its a jigged blade, though there’s nothing but my hand holding it together. In any case it got the job done with a few light taps of my hammer.


The same oak block also worked great as a paring block. I did a shitty job of sharpening my chisel for this cut and end grain tear out resulted. Can you see the left side of the chisel, how I totally missed polishing out the corner? I have a tendency when sharpening freehand to put more pressure on the right side of the blade. To sharpen evenly I find that I have to feel like I’m pressing harder on the left side. When you see something like this, its back to the sharpening stones.


For the small dado I had to use my marking knife to score the curved sides. This project is really using my router plane a good deal, though all of this could be done with chisel only.


These specialty planes are great, but you need a lot of blades to cover all the widths you might need. This roll holds both my router cutters and my plow plane blades, tongue cutting as well. Its a lot of tool steel in one place, and I always carry the roll around very carefully lest something fall out and hit the concrete. I experience a little thrill every time I roll this sucker open and see all the versatility available to me. Thanks Vertias, for making stuff that doesn’t suck.


I’ve only used hand tools for this build so far, so I didn’t want to cheat when making the waste cut for the air entrance valve. And, finally, a chance to use the ‘V’ notch I built into the top of this poor little saw horse. I say poor because there is only one of them, and I’ll never make another like this, so It’ll end up being taken apart at some point. The wide top is nice, but it tends to warp and pull the legs askew with it. To compensate I use some twine diagonally between the legs and a twist stick to pull the legs back to flat as the weather changes.


I trimmed to my lines with the paring block, which avoids the need to mark out on the other side of the panel. I’m still struggling with getting really clean end grain, this photo is a good example of a cut surface I’m not satisfied with.


Much better results can be had by using a skewed slicing motion, but I still managed to leave cut marks. The trick in the end was wetting the end grain with a little camellia oil, something I’ve seen Chris Hall use to good effect. Though its a little confusing, because he says only to be wiping down the chisel with the oil, but from his photos you can tell that there was a fair amount of oil on the wood as well. Supposedly camellia oil is volatile enough to evaporate after a couple of days, we’ll see.


Lastly for finishing out the major operations on these side pieces, chamfering the outside of the air inlet. This is a small detail that I noticed in the John Burt fuigo video on Youtube.


I started by cutting down the end grain chamfer.


And finished with the long grain. During this whole day I was thinking how this fuigo is begging to be made with a power router and a good set of templates. Obviously there is not a huge demand for box bellows, but they could be made quite quickly if you cared to (and had machines that could handle planing the wide paneling). The beauty of the hand tool approach is not needing a huge planer or sander, a couple kanna and skill replace $15,000 in power tools. Suddenly that $1000 kanna starts looking more reasonable, though stick to the used market for good Japanese steel, the deals to be had are ridiculous.


The Fuigo Joinery Part I


Welcome to my shop! This is the view stepping through the door. I’ve got a ton of space compared to most and it still feels like I’ve got it crammed to the gills. But I keep on thinking I need a planer and joiner so I know that it can bear with a good deal of optimizing in terms of layout.


When I came back in the shop the other morning this is what had happened to one of the thin 1/4″ panels for my fuigo. Haha, so much for carefully planing it flat. I think the morning sun came in through the east windows and dried the top a bit more. Maybe it will relax a bit if I get some weight on it, but its so thin there is no functional difference in the end besides the possibility of some measurement errors.


Here is my latest marking gauge, THE BEAST, at 16″ long and 24″ of beam. I pulled out some nice 4/4 quarter sawn oak left over from a previous project.  I had a large marking blade lying around that for some reason I spent money to buy. These little blades are so easy to make! The one on my smaller kebiki (to the left in the photo) was made from a sawz-all blade.

This is the first marking gauge that I’ve made with a curve to the top edge. The more comfortable in the hand, the better. As you can see I offset the beam forward of center in the fence. I tried to find a Japanese woodworking video I had seen with a fellow using a large gauge like this, but ended up going on memory as far as the proportion of the fence length to the beam.

The more I think about it the more I like the idea of also making a double beamed marking gauge for mortising.


This is a little chest of drawers I made for storing my chisels. I ran into the problem of not having a marking gauge with a large enough beam to mark the shelf dados from the consistent reference of an edge. I had to use a ruler and ended up with slightly out of parallel edges to my dado. Ever since I’ve been wanting a large panel gauge. It wouldn’t be that much trouble to add an auxiliary beam to my new large panel gauge if I end up doing more work like this.


Before I could get on to marking cuts for the fuigo I needed to make one more thing, a curved edge ruler. This is for setting the inward concavity of the dado for the fuigo sides, producing a curve in the thin side panels at assembly that helps resist the internal pneumatic pressure of the bellows in operation. I really wasn’t sure how this curve should deflect from straight. John Burt says that he planed the curve in with a hand plane, but he doesn’t say how big the plane was. If it was a little block plane the curve could be quite pronounced, like 1/8″ deflection. As it is I used my smoothing plane and produced about 1/16″ over 48″.

I cut the ruler out of a cheap little piece of oak flooring. You can tell from the run of the grain that it will not be the same curve when the weather changes. I better get on the cutting!


Here is the fuigo top being marked on its edge for the curve.  With the curve in the edge I can then use the edge as a reference for my pin style mortising gauge to mark the dado.  I don’t see any reason to remove the curves from the edge, so I didn’t leave any extra material on the width. IMAG0908

For cutting stopped dado I’m lucky to have a router plane, this one from Veritas. I wish that I had a fence on it so that it was a bit easier to use, but I still manage to cut nice dado freehand. Working this tool well is mainly seeing how thick of a shaving you can remove at a pass while retaining control.


For the cross-grain dado I moved to the ground on my planing beam and started by chopping just inside the lines and removing a bit of material with the chisel, to a depth of 1/8″ or so. Then I went back and chopped down the edges of the dado to the line. 1/8″ is enough for me to continue to register the chisel squarely to the face of the panel as I work down to depth.


I know, you’re wondering why I don’t have an azebiki nokogiri for sawing this stuff. I tried to buy one about a year ago from Japan Tool and it ended up on back order. For, get this, eight months. It would have been a longer wait but I ended up cancelling the order.  These days I seek out alternative avenues for buying Japanese tools.


Not as fast as sawing, but it does give nice crisp edges. Gotta love this 48mm bench chisel too. It has a big fat lamination of tool steel, so its slow to sharpen, but I’m glad to have it.

Tomorrow I’m back out working on raising the greenhouse frame. I’ve procured a sufficient quantity of beer and have it cooling in the fridge. Speaking of a cold beer, sounds good now too.

A Good Shovel


Just a short one for today. I was thinking this blog is about hand tools right? How about one that gets used before all of a structure can be built? This is a shovel my father picked up in Iceland. Its probably not too terrible old, but it has a pattern that you don’t see much these days. In lieu of a complicated forging process for the plate they use an extra riveted strap to attach the blade to the handle. It must be a decent design because its lasted all this time, traveling to Spain with us and then back to the US, from the moist east coast of Virginia to the dry sub-alpine mountains of Colorado.

I don’t want to get too eloquent in writing about it, it’s just a shovel. But it gives that simple kind of satisfaction to see something well made that has lasted, and been thought well enough of to be taken care of.  Thanks Dad.


Here is the work the shovel was engaged in. The foundation for a greenhouse, 21′ x 48′.  This being Colorado we’ll probably get a few curious glances from the neighbors regarding the cultivation of cannabis and whatnot. All joking aside it is for growing food! Perennial food and fuel stock.  Ever heard of Seaberry (Hippophae)? Well you will when it’s the next superfood craze, the citrus of the north. Maybe then you will want to buy a couple of plants from me, they’re hardy as hell. There are a lot of things I want to try as far as timber, specifically Black Locust, but some of the other stuff you plant but may not be alive when it is ready to harvest.

“A society prospers when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit.”           -Jack Spirko

Pretty awesome if you ask me, to think long term, for the woodworker that will come after you. I imagine how I would feel if my grandfather or great grandfather had planted a forest for me to have use of. Planting trees, especially in fragile climates like mine, is always a worthwhile act. Don’t wait to be an old man, you have more energy now. Haha, you could be hit by a  proverbial gravel truck tomorrow, don’t let people say you only cut trees down. You tend to care more about the quality of the timber resource when you know you’ll be dead before the really good stuff is mature, kinda takes personal greed out of the equation.


Here I’m planing out the 1/4″ panels that were glued together previously. I keep on looking at it thinking, this fuigo is going to be pretty…and pink! It’ll darken over time, let us hope to more muted and calming tones. I brought my planing board up on my sawhorses and propped it at an incline to plane these wide panels. I gave myself 1/8″ of extra wood above finished dimension and I’ll need it. These thin panels, you look at them and they warp a little. If I leave a little bow in, the problem is the solution, it needs to be bowed.

I need a 75mm kanna! The joinery is soon, these panels are the last and then out come the saws. Oh wait, I need to make a large kebiki for marking the panel width. I suppose one of these days I’ll have all the tools I need, right? How boring would that be.

The Evolving Dynamic of Rip Sawing


Rip sawing is one of those things that even devoted hand tool enthusiasts try to avoid. Compared to cross grain cuts they require more stamina, more positive force and control of the saw, and more attention to work holding. But how does one learn to use a saw?  A while back I decided to do all of my cross-cutting by hand, figuring I needed the practice. It still seemed like too much work to rip my stock to size. And its true, the joined panel work for my fuigo build has taken a tremendous amount of time to saw by hand, about 30 hours, maybe more. The intent is not to see how quickly the work can be accomplished so much as to understand and develop the fine motor control that accurate sawing demands.

As a student of music I spent many years of my life working to understand the whole body interaction that is expressed when playing a musical instrument. To a casual observer it may look like most of the work is being accomplished by the movement of the fingers, but that is just the end point of a motion which starts in the spine from the neck. So when I hold a saw I approach it trying to develop a technique, a relation between my body and the saw borne of practice. And too that end it really requires working the muscles to the point of fatigue, where things start to become a bit sloppy and you may finally notice muscle interactions that before were not consciously apprehensible.


This is a taste of the work at hand, 20″ wide douglas fir paneling in both 1/2″ (finished dimension) and 1/4″, resawn from 2×12. The best I can do from construction grade lumber to obtain vertical grain  comes from ripping the sides of a flat-sawn  2×12″.  Additionally if you’re really feeling like sawing you can rip the middle of the flat-sawn board into 1.5″ strips and re-join for vertical grain orientation. Its a seriously tedious way to make a panel, but you get a lot of practice with the saw.


I recently bought a copy of Iichi Hayashi’s “Reading Trees” (“Read Tree” If you’re looking for a copy on amazon). Its very frustrating to have a book in Japanese full of, from what can be seen in the illustrations, excellent information that is just out of my grasp. For example, take a look at this image, notice the thickness of the silk-line for his sumitsubo marking on the highly concave surface of the log. It probably does a better job to have such a thick line, more stored energy to push into the contours and get a clear line. Haha, look at the size of the karuko pin that secures the line! This is marking the rip cut of a master sawyer on a piece of log that is probably worth more than my truck, where no deviation in layout from a flat plane is acceptable. Needless to say, I’m working to fit more hours into the day for learning Japanese. I simply must be able to read this book.


At the opposite extreme from the previous photo is my own humble work, but with very thin pieces. The kerf of my 350mm rip kataba I used to saw these pieces is about 1/16″, fat for your average ryoba saw kerf.  In relation to the thickness of the material being cut I would much rather be using my 210mm saw. The problem arises with this kiln dried lumber. To start with, Douglas Fir is already a mobile and reactive wood. Add to that a fast kiln time (that didn’t even remove moisture to average environmental equilibrium) and you have a piece of wood that is stressed on the outside from the kiln.

So you plane a face flat and mark with kebiki for the cut. Even assuming a theoretical perfect planar cut the wood cups about 1mm or 2mm, while the saw is in the cut! Your average joinery saw simply does not have enough set to cut a straight line with wood experiencing such an obvious release of tension.  In this I mean the ratio of kerf to plate thickness. You could try opening the kerf heavily with a wedge, but that leads to its own problems. Save the fine saws with ultra-thin kerf for ripping your best carefully seasoned and stable wood.



My jack plane on edge is brilliant at squaring the edge of the pieces to be joined. I’ve used this same rail on the side of my planing beam with push style western planes and it is much easier with the Japanese plane.


I flatten and condition the surface of my planing beam before any major project, so the alignment between the two faces must be maintained parallel.


Every other piece for the panel is edge jointed on the opposite face  so that any small deviation from square cancels out. It becomes really important with these thin panels, where a small deviation will show up as a cupped panel that you don’t have enough wood left to make flat. In this case my glue up is at 3/8″ for a finished thickness of 1/4″. My clamps want to cup the panel in the direction of the beam, so I’m careful to alternate the clamping. Sometimes despite your best efforts the panel wants to join up with a bit of cup and in that case you can use the clamp to straighten it out. Another interesting example of where the problem is the solution, no?


Here I’m using my 270mm ryoba to rip the vertical grain sides from my 2x board. Oh, I made a sumishashi, awesomeness! Though…I cut it from laminate bamboo flooring. Cutting a board like this is a microcosm of what ripping a log is like. The angles of the saw to the work, the angle of the work to your body, very familiar.


One of the things that became apparent to me recently was how much of a drunken idiot my non dominant hand is. All this time I’m sawing with two hands thinking I had control. Really its the right hand desperately trying to control the wild oscillations of the left. To improve, I’ve been sawing with only my non dominant hand. I reach a point of fatigue very quickly, but there is no other good way to develop conscious muscle control. When you return to sawing with both hands your brain suddenly gives much more mind to what the left hand is doing.


Let us ignore my lame excuse of the wood moving as the reasoning for the crappy quality of the cut on this particular board, an eight inch re-saw for the piston head of the fuigo. The pattern of ridges left from switching sides of the cut is an obvious indication of some kind of bias in my technique. In this case (and in most of my ripping) I have a tendency to lean to the left while sawing, pulling the saw to the left as well. To compensate I have been subconsciously twisting the saw back to the right. The effect of a twisted saw plate in the cut is a cupped cut face on the left side, and ridges alternating as you switch sides to cut down the line.  I only recently noticed, and it wasn’t so much from reading the surface quality of the resultant cut so much as working to the point of fatigue where the pattern of improper tension became very exaggerated in my body and my hands.


In a discussion with Jason he mentioned the effect of gullet clogging on cut drift as well and it forced me to take a fresh look at my saw. I’ve put hundreds of hours on this saw now and never filed back the primary bevels, only hitting a secondary bevel on the top of the tooth. I seriously never noticed just how small the gullets were becoming. Its embarrassing to show this, but I’m sure we can all relate to becoming complacent with the condition of a tool. Cutting down the saw teeth forced me to notice how the set of the teeth was also at play. With the longer tooth length I get a better curve to the tooth when setting, and I think it results in less heat being imparted to the cutting edge (and thus a saw that stays sharp longer). Thanks Jason!


Once I started to correct my body’s tendency to lean over while ripping the surfaces of my rips became much, much better. No leaning over meant no twisting of my saw hand, and kerfs where I could actually get the saw plate to balance evenly. I try to remember, the saw is flat, it WANTS to cut straight if you can line your body up with the cut. The saw has only one proper planar orientation in the cut, it is your body that must orient to the saw, never the saw to the cut. I’m eager to apply what I have learned to my maebiki-oga. Happy Sawing!

Joint No. 4: Katasage Ari


Well, this sure was a fun little joint! Katasage Ari is used to tie wall posts together, but I can see all kinds of potential applications.

This weeks joint was brought to us by Steven of The Twin Maples:

Stephen is really proving that hope is not lost among the young men in todays society. Check out his blog, he’s really doing a lot of neat stuff, making, asking the right questions. Most importantly, DOING.


The greatest challenge of this joint was the layout. The wall tie purlin has to be able to slot into the mortise and then drop down so that the wedge on top can be driven. For that reason I made the space at the bottom of the mortise for the wedge equal to the depth of haunch that forms the half dovetail on the wall tie beam. In the picture that Stephen put up it described this joint as being the connection at a corner post, which puzzled me, because with the depth of the half dovetail tenon it would not leave room for another mortise on the adjacent face.

The ratio of taper for my wedge was 1:12. With a mortise depth of 1.75″ that works out to a rise of a little under 3/16″. For ease of measurement I made it 3/16″ and marked out my wedge in advance.


I could have used my brace and bit to waste out the mortise, but decided to just chop it with my 1″ bench chisel. This chisel is from a twenty dollar set of five, hardly anything to write about other than to say that the sides were ground in a parallelogram shape. The chisel wants to twist quite badly when chopping down the mortise. Definitely something to check when you get a new chisel.

I also made a depth gauge for both the total mortise depth of 1-3/4″ and the 1/2″ haunch.


The mortise was cut 1/16″ deeper than the half dovetail tennon, allowing the joint to pull in tight as the top wedge is driven. The taper for the wedge was chopped in using the side layout as a rough visual guide. I almost cut it perfectly, just a few paring strokes off which were referenced with a bevel gauge.


Next I cut the haunch to depth. There’s plenty of room at this point to use a chisel, bevel down, to clean the bottom of the haunch. Now you are left with an accurate corner from which to start the half dovetail taper.


Handy little tool, this bevel gauge.


With the mortise cut it was into the home stretch to cut the half dovetail and wedge of the same width. I chamfered the back edges of the wedge in preparation for assembly.


Awesome joint! Simple and strong, I can definitely see myself using this. The wedge backs out quite readily by tapping on the post above it with a hammer. Probably the easiest joint to date to take apart. Lined up real nice and square with the wedge driven in. Oh, I forgot to mention that the end of the wedge was trimmed back about 1/4″ from the bottom of the mortise. I suppose that leaves room for the wedge to be tightened as the wall tie beams dry.

I’m ready for next week, bring it on Sebastian!