Category Archives: Fuigo

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.

Designing Fuigo (Japanese Box Bellows)

If you’ve ever searched for good examples of Fuigo, the traditional Japanese box bellows, you’ll quickly note the varying quality of construction skill. From the perspective of a cabinetmaker, screwing together a plywood box is functional, but so unsatisfying.

About the best thing you can find is a short video of John Burt:

I hadn’t really dug through the Daiku Dojo website enough to realize that Burt was part of the “Yataiki Nexus” about a decade ago. So, why build a fuigo with traditional joinery? Good question. If you didn’t have to worry about the time or the money, would your heart let you do otherwise? So much of why I want the bellows has nothing to do with making a quick cheap buck. Its all part of the experience in use, you know? And then compare the calmness of vertical grain paneling to the epic mess of ply veneer grain. I’ve been looking at cheap veneer laminate furniture my entire life, it never speaks to the soul.


Based on the general dimensioning that Danocon has used in his various fuigo I can tell that my fuigo will be a 3/4 scale, approximately. The vital statistics, about 36″ long x 21″ High x 12.625″ at its widest. Solid wood construction favours a box for the piston that is tall and skinny because it maximizes strength in the piston head board. All of the paneling with the exception of the piston head board needs to be as close to vertical grain as you can get. I don’t even think I would bother making 1/4″ paneling at 20″ wide if it wasn’t really solid vertical grain.

For a tuyere I’d like to use SCH 40 or 80 2″ black pipe, which measures about 2-3/8″ OD. The tuyere size and the size of the flapper valve cover determine the height of the “bird house” on the side that collects the air from the box and delivers it to the tuyere.


The size of the passive intake valves is some moderate percentage larger than the tuyere cross section.  For the side panels there is an interesting bit of joinery on the side with the bird house. The short side fits into a dado that runs the height of the long side panel, as well as a dado in the short side panel and a half lap where the two meet that locks the whole thing together. The side edges (the height) of the panels is slightly concave, such that the long side panels bow inward slightly when assembled. I’ll muse on how to determine a nice curve in a bit. These short side panels will be cut from a single piece of joined paneling 1/2″ thick x 20″ height x 24″ length. Why 20″ for the paneling height you ask…my sashigane is 20″ long. That’s how all of the dimensioning for the entire fuigo started, twenty inches on the sashigane.


This is the valve side panel, notice the notching in the lower corners. The notching along at the top corners allows the dados in both the top and bottom panels to be stopped grooves such that all of the side panel dado form a rectangle. These panels are thin, 1/4″.


Here are the bottom and top panels. The dado for the long side panels are bowed inward at the same radius of curvature as the long edges of the short side panels.  To form such a slight curve I’m going to make a ruler from oak, about 38″ long, and plane a curve of about 1/16″ deflection from the center. A plane whose sole is flat, with a blade projecting just slightly will actually cut a fair curve if you don’t take material off the extreme ends of the ruler. Start your plane about 1/2″ in from the edge and finish the cut short by the same amount. When the plane stops taking a cut you have a fairly even curve (once you remove the outer inch or so). If you want a curve with more deflection then set the plane for a slightly heavier cut.

John Burt describes how he cut the curved dado with a router, using the outside edge as a guide. With your curved ruler you could mark the curve on the outside edges of the top and bottom board. After planing in the curve your kebiki, marking gauge, will scribe the dado, yielding a dado whose sides are parallel and with an equal curve. I’ll be using a router plane to cut the depth and a marking knife to score the sides as I cut down. The whole point of making the ruler instead of just planing the curve into the side of the pal is that the ruler allows for the equal radius of curvature to be marked on the long edges of the short side panels.


The piston rod and head board have a double wedged tenon. This part must be prone to working loose over time and need tightening. Please note in the drawing that I didn’t reduce the dimension of the head board for the thickness of the bearing glass on the bottom of the box or for the gasket material. That’s dependent upon your gasket material and what kind of glass sheet you can find. I probably wouldn’t cut the glass until the side panel dado’s are cut so that you can cut the exact curves into the  side of the glass with your scoring tool running along the curved ruler you make.


Here are most of the pieces, not everything, with some dimensions. This doesn’t include stuff like the flapper valves or wedges, or the batons that go across the bottom board to give the fuigo “feet” and hold it off the ground.

This is a working set of plans, yet to be built, and I don’t show all of the pieces or the side view of the fuigo. So, if you want to build one you better watch the John Burt video about 100 times and do your own dimensioning. Still, I hope it is some help, we need to figure this stuff out.

Now I have a lot of work resawing and joining up for the paneling.