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A Japanese Saw Sharpening Vise

Its long overdue that I make a better saw sharpening vise. Jason posted this great diagram of ChoMasaru’s vise quite a while ago when he put one together:

The image quality is not so good, but it looks to be in shaku scale.

Odate has a small diagram of a saw vise in his woodworking tools book, which I had used as the basis for the last one I made, but I was never happy with it.

I started by making a rule with sun (寸) increments (30.3mm) using a piece of kumiko I had laying around.

And then joined up some white oak, wide enough to fit the full length of my 350mm rip saw which tends to see the most sharpening of all my saws.

From the diagram a wooden pattern was made to trace the shape on the edges of the joined white oak.

I started on the inside of the pattern, slaying the waste with a router.

The rest of the inside shaping was with hand planes.

Before starting the shaping on the outside I clamped both pieces together to match drill for the small bolts I used to hold the two pieces together.

I had a newcomer to the shop as well, making a fidget spinner out of wood. The irony of someone getting completely absorbed and spending hours and hours making a small toy meant for people with attention problems was not lost on me. Young people need tools in their hands, not fidget toys. I could do without my tools being dropped on the concrete floor though, best to have a student set of stuff on hand for such occasions . Oh, and a first aid kit for when they cut themselves, which they always do, no matter how carefully you explain the whole “don’t cut into your hand with the chisel” thing.

After drilling for the bolts the rest of the outside profile was cut. I sped things up a bit with a power planer before refining with a low angle block plane.  Too much time lost to repairing a chipped plane blade dropped on the ground, haha.

Fitting the wedge took a while, I started off with an angle too obtuse to stick in there.  Now I just need the little box to lay it up against and collect the filings. Having a good vise for filing makes all the difference in getting nice teeth geometry, and the ChoMasaru pattern is beautiful!

My shop is located at the other end of this rainbow if you want to visit.


Sad Asanoha


About a year ago I made this gate with wanton abandon towards the fundamental principles that act on hinged frames, namely our old friend gravity. The hand plane finished surfaces look really good though, haha. So I keep saying, oh, better get on fixin the gate with some diagonal bracing.  But really, a wooden gate should have a roof, so… it doesn’t get fixed because its not worth fixing without a roof on there first. More on that in a bit.


I managed to get a 3D printer working (Flash Forge Creator Pro), finicky machines these printers. After a whole bunch of fuss calibrating the build table to the extruders I still couldn’t get parts to stick properly, hot plastic mess ensued. For such an expensive machine, they are still far from perfect. The fix was a four dollar bottle of max strength hair spray, figures.

I’ll leave the existential quandary of using a tool like this for later when I have less to get done. For right now there’s a satisfying feeling to have it merrily printing out useful parts while I’m in a pit digging a foundation.


I also bought a Rikon 12″ Planer/Joiner combination machine. When you get to the point of having rough sawn lumber for a full house to process you have to pick your battles. That or start taking apprentices.

Its a decent enough machine for the money, just barely there on quality. It would have helped to know that the chip extraction is a total joke without a power dust extraction system. Even with the jointer tables flipping up and down to use the planer it seems to hold alignment. After years of planing all my stock four square with hand planes its also a bit of welcome relief, allowing me to get to joinery much faster. Of course, long thin material like shoji stiles will still have to be jointed by hand, and I kind of laugh at the idea that the planer table could adjust with the tolerances of my kumiko thicknessing kanna.


I was left with the shipping crate that the thing came in, after an ordeal with a stupid truck driver and hiring a forklift to move the thing into my shop. Oddly enough I had just enough material from cutting up the crate a bit to sheath a 7.5/10 pitch roof on top. Providence wanted it to be a chicken coop, so I build a coop.


And with the new planer it was blow and go to get the siding material resawn from 2x dimensional lumber, down to 9/16″ board and batten.


The 3D printer came in handy for printing the hinges, and I used a simple post foundation. Didn’t have to buy anything for making it but the asphalt shingles, a whopping $10 from a building recycling store.

Of course chickens also need a fenced run to keep them from eating all your tasty perennial food forest crops, and a fence needs a gate to get in and out. Around here I guess that means I need to make a gate too.


To come full circle on today’s post, a proper hinged gate, courtesy of knowledge from a Chris Hall series A Bracing Situation.

I used mostly lap joinery to speed up construction. The rails all taper from the hinge stile to the latch stile, lightening things up where gravity has the most effect. The diagonal brace meets the upper rail with a butt joint, but with a particular shape of cut that allows it to bear against more end grain in compression. And, it being cheap lumber, I painted it to moderate movement from moisture cycles.


Hopefully my shoji inspired main gates can get some tender love and care, but there’s no easy way to retrofit wooden diagonal bracing.  And the roof over it will be mostly western red cedar, currently drying a bit in my shop awaiting resawing for decking and shingles. Now if I can just remember to close the window above my drafting board and keep the rain from ruining my plans. Wouldn’t a roof help with that? Haha.


Splay Leg Layout

Splay stool elevation and leg foldout

Today we take a closer look at laying out the mortises in the legs of the splay leg stool. Remember that previously from drawing the side elevation the view has been folded up along the ground axis to represent the faces of the leg as truly flat to the 2D plane of the drawing, and then unwrapped so that all of the faces of the leg can be shown at once.

Starting with the basic slope of the stool at 3.5/10 I was able to determine chu-ko slope from dividing the basic unit triangle, forming the slope that the foldout is drawn at, 3.304/10. This is the angle that the bottom of the legs are cut at, as well as the angle that the mortise travels through the leg.

There are no right angles here, even the top and bottom of the mortises have a slight angle, sho-chu-ko, but well see to that in a bit.


With a non base 10 unit system of measure converting from decimals of and inch to fractions is made much simpler by dialing in the measure on my dial calipers and seeing where it hits on the scale of the sashigane. One of these days I’ll switch to shaku  and metric, but until then I continue with this madness.


In practice the angle for the bottom cut of the leg looks like this on the sashigane, with one arm holding 3.304 and the other the base unit of ten.


You need to mark this same angle a whole bunch of times so it pays to fix a bevel gauge to the same angle. I like this stainless Shinwa sliding bevel!


And to help fix it in the mind you can compare directly to the drawing. Or if the drawing is closer to scale you could take the angle directly from the drawing.


I took a moment to examine the relationship of the faces of the leg to their orientation, and found that you have to cut two sets of legs. The ones that diagonally oppose each other are the same, all of the angles are opposite for the other pair.


I never truly understood the elegance of center line layout until starting on this saw horse. Edge rule is fine for orthogonal work (at right angles), but when there’s compound angles your measurements need to be referenced to the center line. For instance, because both the face and edge cuts of the rails are miters the lengths you pull from the drawing are along the center line, not the edge. Suddenly the beauty of this system becomes very clear.

For the placement of the mortises I measured along the center line as well, with some of the measurements easier to transfer directly from my dial caliper.


With one leg marked I used the edge of my wooden straight edge as a story stick, transferring all of the marks to the stick so that I didn’t have to spend time making all of the measurements again and again. In Japanese this is known as an ‘idiot’ stick. Call me an accurate idiot then…


For the angle of the top mortise the smallest division of the unit triangle is used, sho-chu-ko. This is the tiny little line on the bottom right of the triangle, forming a new slope of .361/10, or an angle of 2.067 degrees. This one I didn’t lay out directly with the sashigane because the actual angle needed is ninety degrees to the edge of the leg plus or minus sho-chu-ko.


Functionally its two degrees, so I used a protractor and set another  bevel gauge to the resulting line.


The width of the mortise is measured along the sho-chu-ko line, not perpendicular to the edge of the leg. That little detail held me up for quite a while, and I had to go back and fix my drawing so that the mortises did not interfere.


Compound angle joinery is improved with a little beer.


A two legs from any side of the saw horse are mirror opposites. I’m showing you the nice looking layout, not the ones with lines scribbled out everywhere…

Next is the layout on the rails and top, and then finally I can start drilling the mortises and cutting tenons! I hope this inspires someone else to take on the challenge of figuring this out.

Making a Journey in Search of Woodcraft


Last Saturday evening I set off from Colorado in my 6.5 Liter diesel GMC Sierra pickup truck for a two-thousand mile drive to Springfield, VT, to dwell a spell with metate Mark Grable and help him build a forge. I was still surprisingly lucid when I arrived after driving for two days, finding Mark in good spirits, both welcoming and gracious, with lots of good conversation about woodworking. There’s a giant stack of hemlock to be worked for the forge frame, but before we can get to that, how about a deck with black locust posts?


I’m definitely going with the flow, trying to see with eyes wide open and not constantly ask too many questions. Mark had a saw to work on today and its raining in a steady downpour so I’ve taken the opportunity to drive into Springfield proper and find a good internet connection. There’s a lot of work to be done, rest assured that after I get fully recuperated from my travels I’ll be in a mind to take plenty of good pictures and describe the work to come!


The property Mark’s on is located near the top of the valley that overlooks Springfield, its a totally different environment from my home in Colorado, but the mountain views give me a sense of the comforts of home. I hope everyone out there is finding the work that they want to do and is in a place that inspires them to take the time to make something beautiful!

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Is there a future in woodworking? Just thought I’d ask, seems like too many visions of the future paint a world where technology predominates as visceral and omnipresent, a world of flashing lights and gleaming switches. Where in that space is the wooden object?

I want to present a different prognostication. I’m thinking recently of the Philip K Dick novel in the title for this post, and a podcast I listened to on the future of automation, as well as reading H.G. Well’s “The Shape of Things to Come“.

Well, how should I put this. Is your cell phone getting bigger or smaller? Just how cheaply can you buy an Arduino these days? In the Japanese tradition for wooden joinery it is very often pointed out how the joinery is hidden. That’s a bit simplistic, maybe its better to narrow down that kind of refinement to sashimono woodworking specifically, though there is are still clear exceptions and important context in terms of how the furniture is used. But my point is that the process of technical refinement often makes things look simple that are quite complex in construction.

Technology will do the same things, the homes of the prosperous technological elite of the future will aspire to the aesthetic of sukiya, the rustic tea house. As Moore’s law pushes onward and functions stack into ever smaller packages technology becomes more seamless and integrated into our built environments. It struck me after reading Ty & Kiyoko Heineken’s “Tansu” how a fellow like me could find himself studying a dainty and refined sho-dana in the MET based on free standing shelves produces centuries earlier housed in the Shoso-in that originally were used to house perishables in the imperial kitchen.

Trend making is more diverse and confusing these days with the internet, but suffice it to say, people will continue to adopt the fashion of the class structure they aspire to. I can imagine homes of the future where every attempt is made to conceal and integrate technology, where the wealthier you are the less machines and technology can be apprehended. In that search for the look of simplicity natural materials will become prized above the manufactured. That’s good for the woodworker, no?

In the present age of resource abundance and availability you wind up with crazy shit like mansion sized sprawling and architectural log homes, quite ostentatious, but the pattern language still fits. Perhaps the best extant example is Larry Ellison’s (Google billionaire) home in Woodside, CA, which is modeled after a 16th century Japanese emperors palace.  The underclass imitates the upper crust, and that aristocracy aspires to the simplicity and ruggedness, not of the poor, but of a romanticized vision of a bygone past.


The wheel of the dharma continues to turn, and quality woodcraft will continue to have a future, perhaps quite a bit more so than the present. That said, looking into the future, perhaps its also a good idea to learn how to grow some of your own food, haha.