The Fuigo Joinery: Part III


I finally decided to try a whole systems approach to working with the kanna and nokogiri. My planing beam is angled, my saw horses are low, and my butt stays cool on the ground. I love how much space I just opened up, the floor is much  more visible.  Now, I’m not sayin I’ll never get to making a western style bench, but the possibilities of the tategu’s work space must be explored if I want to really understand the efficiencies to be gained .

At the moment most of my hand tools are hanging or sitting on my pair of trestles, but they’ll soon be moved as well. With my tools in an honest to god tool box or hanging on the wall I’ll once again have use of the trestles and the space for a couple of planing  beams that will allow others to work in the more traditional standing bench fashion.


Now it is live or die when it comes to cutting while bent over at some odd angle. It is frustrating and difficult at times to limit myself in this way, but in the end will be liberating to have the skill not to need a bench vise.


Haha, this f**king fly. You know, there’s always something trying to distract you. Hopefully you don’t swat at the flies that land on you with your hand still holding a bench chisel, I’ve done that.  This insolent little insect posed for a couple of photographs before I got back to work. Speed in craft is more about working in a very focused manner than merely moving about quickly. Something is always trying to ruin your ability to stay calm enough to concentrate, this fly personifies that very well. Stopping to take a picture of the thing that’s distracting you? Evidently I’m hopeless, but perhaps you can commiserate.


Oh, right! I’m supposed to be writing a post about the fuigo joinery…Ok! I finished the sides, more cross-grain dado and routering.


This is about the most complicated bit of joinery on the whole thing.


For the little flapper valve covers I marked the dimensions of the opening it covers so that it could be used as a template for marking the holes on the sides.

IMAG1093 IMAG1095

The flapper hinges across the string holes by tapering the end. I wasn’t sure just how much to allow them to hinge, but its something that’s easy to change if it feels like there’s too much resistance to the movement of air.


The battens that form the feet on the bottom were screwed on from the bottom. For the top I secured them with screws from the beneath to keep things looking nice. Both the bottom and top pieces had warped a little and these battens will go a long way towards keeping things flat. Perhaps if I build another they can be attached with sliding dovetails.


The alignment of a lot of my joinery was not so great, necessitating quite a bit of fitting to get things to line up properly. For some reason it didn’t occur to me to make a story stick for the critical dimensions lengthwise or across the short edge. With shoji work it is really straight forward to mark pieces together all at once, or to use a frame piece to mark the associated kumiko. With wider paneling it doesn’t make sense to mark them together, but a story stick will keep you from measuring twice and marking slightly different each time. My biggest error presented on the thin side panels, where I used my sashigane to square the edges. I failed to check that the length was the same top and bottom, and the top edge ended up being a bit too long for a good fit. Good lesson to learn, I simply don’t have enough experience with tansu.


As a result, when it came time to put the top on, it didn’t fit! I had to widen the groove in the top that houses one of the short edges by about 1/32″. It will leave a gap on the inside, the gods of joinery will mock me .


None the less it is starting to take shape! I can’t believe I thought this thing might be too small at 36″ long. At this point I’m ready to cut the glass that sits across the bottom and start thinking about what I want to use as gasket material for the piston head. Its exciting when you finally get to put the stack of carefully cut parts together, it has presence and life. I can already imagine using it, the gentle woosh and click of the valves.

The lesson today was definitely to use a story stick, every time, all the time, whenever you can. It doesn’t matter what the hell the measurements are so long as they are consistent.

Water Tight Joinery Fail


I’ve been reading Azby Brown’s “Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan”, and one of the nice little illustrations show a Japanese wash basin for scrubbing dishes with half-dovetail joinery on the sides. Water tight joinery is one of those absolute standards of quality, the acid test for accurate work in some respects, especially if it can hold water right away.

So I wanted to try it! Unfortunately there’s no way to assemble a water tight box with sliding dovetails on the sides and a rabbeted bottom housed in a groove. Somewhere I ran across a technique, quite ingenious, allowing for a nailed bottom. Unfortunately, as you’ll see, some of the minor details became a major problem.


This technique involves hammering a wire into the bottom edges of the side pieces, and then planing them down to the level of the crushed fiber. When the wood swells from the water the compressed fibers expand back out and seal against the bottom.


Never having seen the technique in action I became a little over enthusiastic with the gauge of the wire that I used. These are the sides after planing out most of the impression left by the wire.


I love the sliding dovetail. There are joinery planes that make cutting this joint much easier, but I don’t own any, so it is simply a matter of saw and chisel. Seems to work quite well for these smaller sliding dovetails. I would have a problem if the dovetail was longer than my chisel can pare when cleaning the waste from the groove.


Nailed on the bottom. I actually enjoy using nails. Pneumatic fasteners have made the old nail and hammer feel down right quaint. The wood for this little box came from the pallets the materials for the greenhouse I’m building were delivered on, some kind of soft maple. I’m not sure about that though, because the stuff is abrasive on my tool edges. I used this same scrap for practicing some dovetails and it was almost impossible to chop the end grain without massive tearing. I wet the end grain with a little water and it pared smooth as butter.


I filled it with water and Darla gave her approval. If you’re looking for a use for water tight wooden vessels how about a dog’s watering bowl? It’s usually kept full, so no problem with the wet/dry cycle that would ruin the joinery.


Eventually my mistakes became apparent. The compressed wood fiber along the bottom swelled forcefully enough to open a gap along the bottom. It looks bad, but actually was still holding water. Not for long…


Eventually the sides swelled enough to blow the joinery apart, where upon it began to leak pretty badly. Isn’t that the opposite of what’s supposed to happen, it leaks at first and then seals as it swells? I’d like to try this again with flat grain lumber. I think using pieces with close to vertical grain concentrated the expansion in a direction detrimental to the joinery. I need to leave more relish on the ends of the sides beyond the dovetail to resist the shear forces the swelling produces. Obviously I also can use a much finer wire, maybe two side by side for a double gasket effect.

I think I see more sliding dovetails in my future.

Study Japanese Carpentry in Northern Colorado


Interested in working with and learning from other hand tool woodworkers in Northern Colorado? So am I, and I’m tired of slowly bumping into people locally as luck will permit.  This is the modern age, the internet has made everything closer, and knowledge is just a click away. But it still remains that humans learn best from watching the successes and failures of other humans, not from staring at flickering images on a screen.

So lets get together and learn!


I propose we meet in voluntary association, bi-monthly on the first and third Saturdays, at a mutually agreeable location central to Fort Collins, CO, to plane together, chisel together, saw together, and learn again what quality construction means, through the study of classical Japanese timber joinery.

At each meeting a new joint will be chosen, to be practiced and studied during the week and cut during the get-together, probably for a couple of hours in the afternoon. Hand tools of the human powered variety only for cutting the joints, and you supply your own practice lumber. Common construction 4×4 will usually do.

Depending upon the number of participants and the skill level, instruction will annually culminate in a design project and structure build from locally sourced timber, to practice what has been learned.


What is happening in Colorado? I see grid after grid of new housing development slowly bulldozing its way across the front range. And what do you get for $500,000? The same quality of construction for a mobile home, merely a larger box with more expensive veneers.

The tools you will need (or their western equivalents):


A couple of hammers, a couple of hand planes, some chisels, 240mm ryoba saw and dozuki saw, some sharpening stones, brace and various bits, layout tools including carpenters square (sashigane), bevel gauge, marking gauge, marking pen and knife, try square, and optionally, ink line.

Additionally, a planing board (pictured), cushion, and saw horses, or a planing beam, perhaps a few clamps.

IMAG0978 This is me, Gabe, who you will be learning with.

This is the text:

Blogs for study:

Chris Hall’s “The Carpentry Way”

Mathieu’s “Fabula Lignarius”

The idea for a local group developed as the direct result of the efforts of Sebastian Gonzalez’s Project Mayhem 2.0

Additionally there is a timber-framing school in the mountains west of Fort Collins, though I have yet to attend: Rocky Mountain Workshops

Interested? Of course you are! Its free, although people will probably appreciate you more if you bring some cold beer.

Interested, but don’t have any skill? You’ll still need the tools, but I’ll be happy to instruct in the basics of dimensioning stock with hand planes, sharpening, marking, and posture of the saw, which can be worked on in lieu of cutting a beautiful and complicated joint.

Don’t wait another week, contact me through the comments section below or my email,

Joint No. 5 Double Plug


The lumber for this weeks joint from Project Mayhem 2.0 started as a small tortured little log. Not only is there a ton of twist, but bow as well. Half of the fun for this joint will be watching what it does as it dries. I don’t have anything to seal end grain at the moment so it’ll be a fast and hard drying for beam pieces after they are cut to length.

This was also the first real opportunity I’ve had to run my smaller maebiki-oga. I can tell it still needs a fair bit of work to get it cutting properly. Not enough set, my only saving grace was the small size of the log that kept the cut from going too crazy.


Planing green lumber though, man that is nice. Heavy shavings came off with ease and I had my stock squared up in no time. Finally a photo so that you get to see more than my hands and feet!


Here is the layout for the rod tenon side of the rail connection. Lots of wood to remove! You’ll feel like a real sawyer by the end of it.


And the other side has a receiving mortise for the rod tenon that goes through the post, as well as a small stub tenon at the bottom. The cogging/haunch either side of the tenon is a new twist, and I can see how it would be a good thing to increase the surface area that resists downward forces as well as guard against twisting.


The post mortising layout is simple, but belies the fact that there is also an awful lot of wood to remove.


I started by cutting the step on the beam that receives the rod tenon. For this joint I was using my 240mm ryoba, which felt a bit small at times when cutting the full width of the stock. It definitely had issues with gullet clogging on this resinous wet wood.


I cut most of the cheek on one side of the tenon before I realized that I was missing the lines on the shoulder that allow the tenon cheek cuts to be finished.


After adding the missing lines I ripped down to the second shoulder line on both the tenon and the haunches on the side. From there the rest of the waste was chopped out and the layout completed for the mortise that receives the opposing rod tenon.


The arrangement of the sachi-sen in relation to the draw pin was not clear in my mind, so I stopped the cutting to finish the layout. I still don’t think I have everything in quite the right place, but with this arrangement the wedges are driven first and then the square peg locks the wedges.


Both sides of the slot for the sachi-sen are tapered such that the total taper is 1:12. It was quite convenient for me to add a line on the top of the beam that I could re-set my bevel gauge to when it came time to make the wedges.


My brace is a total piece of junk, very difficult to use accurately, and I broke one of the jaws during a stupid fit trying to use it as a tap wrench. So the mortise was chopped with a bench chisel and the slots for the wedges pared in with chisel as well.


The beam with the rod tenon was next, but I was getting tired and zoning out a bit so I forgot to take many pictures. Rip away!


And voila! It is  cut. I wish…imagine if this was an 8×12″ beam, now that would be some cutting.


Its pretty easy regardless of the specifics of how your wedges are dimensioned to determine the thickness of stock needed.


I noticed the last time that we used sachi-sen that things looked a little miss-aligned after the wedges were driven. I had a line on the rod (which you can see on the right) which represented where the tenon meets the opposing beams shoulder line. This was my reference for a slight offset of 1/32″, same concept as offset for a drawbore. With small little practice joints like this I have the luxury of a trial assembly to see how accurate I was marking the offset from the shoulder line.


Chopping the mortise was easy in this green lumber, but getting the waste out was not. That’s the way of it will all chisel mortising, the cutting is easy and then you spend half your time cleaning.


I ended up with live edge corners on the beam pieces that I felt would look wrong if I didn’t scribe to fit. That’s the reason why the tenons were cut before the mortise.


The stopped rebates that house the beam haunches came last. I was getting seriously fatigued at this point and cut off one of my scribe lines without noticing.


I have a nifty little router plane but I do these exercises with as simple tools as possible to better reflect the conditions I’d actually be working under if I were to travel and cut a timber-frame.  Paring blocks are great! Accurate, pretty fast, and dead simple.


The scribing on the side I didn’t over cut came out great, it looks very craftsman like. This blue stain lumber takes a nice polish from the plane as well, I can imagine having a structure made from it would be a pleasure to the eye.


I did a better job with the wedges this time, even though it took two tries to get the proper fit. I’ve really nailed down what will work for me and I’m glad to have another chance with the sachi-sen. The measurement for the width of the wedge at the top is between the obtuse angle corners of the parallelogram. For the first pair I cut I measured across the acute angle corners and the wedges were too loose.


I thought that I would make the width of the wedge 1/16″ more than needed but that was wrong as well. This is how much stuck out after lightly seating them and I was a dumbass and tried to drive it home anyway. The offset of the slots mean that the top of the wedge width should be the finished width of the slots after the offsets are pulled together, no need for extra relish on the wedge.


They drove about half way and then no further, with a small split starting in the rod tenon on the left side. I tried to get them to back out by tapping around them with a wood block and hammer, but they were seriously, um, wedged in there. It really removed any doubt in my mind about the holding power of wedges. I had to grab the top with a c-clamp and hit the clamp with a hammer, really hard, to get them free.

I know how much of the wedge I want sticking out the top after it is driven fully to depth, 1/8″. After the sweating moment getting these buggers unstuck I sat down for a moment of reflection and thought it through. If the ratio is 1:12 and my offset for the joint is 1/32″ how far down will the wedge travel to bring the pieces into alignment? Twelve times 1/32″ is 3/8″, plus the 1/8″ of extra to stick out the top tells me that the wedge should seat down under hand pressure with 1/2″ remaining before driving in with a hammer.


After planing down the wedges to make the necessary correction I met with success. The offset didn’t pull in completely, and my wedges still look a little sloppy, but the joint is solid. And now to really kill this joint…


Back comes poorly made $20 brace to bore a hole for the square peg. Why is the peg square anyway? I’ve never read an explanation for any advantage over a round hole.  I bored through half way from either side using a small square and my layout to keep the bit in line.


And with a good deal of fuss the hole was chiseled square. I used a screwdriver to knock the waste out, but a strike through chisel of the right size would have been better.

I gave the leading 3/4″ of the peg a very light taper on all four sides so that it wouldn’t blow out any end grain exiting the other side of the hole. My pin was also planed to be a tight fit on the end grain and a running fit on the long grain on the hole.


I left the pin protruding slightly from either side and chamfered the edges after trimming to length. This is a handsome joint, is it not? Took all day and then some of this morning to cut, including ripping the 4×4 beam.

Yesterday was a twelve hour work day to get this far and the theory part of this weeks etude remains, but for tomorrow after a day of rest.