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Paying Visit to Miya Shoji


I took the subway after lunch yesterday down to West 18th street in Manhattan to pay a visit to the legendary woodworkers at Miya Shoji. If you’ve ever searched the term shoji online you’ve run across Miya Shoji right away, their presence looms large in the space around woodworking business and using traditional techniques and tools. The amount of press coverage they’ve received is staggering, but everything was very down to earth when I walked through the door. Chosuke Miyahira’s son is on the left holding that amazing slab of wood as it went out the door, and he was quite happy to talk with me a short while and share a bit of the philosophy that has kept the business working for all of these years. Truly, considering how they work it is nothing short of a miracle. As they say, only in New York City. (But honestly it is not only in the city, we can make this work elsewhere)


He emphasized how they only worked with wood sourced locally, lots of linden, and walnut. Apparently good wood like this is also becoming more scarce in the North East, prices are very high (and customers don’t understand the vagaries of the hardwood lumber market).


Here’s a nice slab of live edged walnut that greets you as you walk through the door. Besides the shoji this was the clearest statement of their design values.


Some cool little lamps that have given me ideas. Apparently they’ve given other stores the same idea and the competition has become increasingly cheap and derivative.


I really liked the proportioning on their shoji elements. Their kumiko mitsuke was especially thin, even on the towering shoji panels that went floor to ceiling in aragumi arrangement, quite daring.


And of course, you need some decent glue for applying shoji paper, and there’s lots of different stuff to choose from, so use what works.


I love how Chosuke Miyahira has this expression in all of the photos. He’s focused on his work, but not necessarily displeased that I’m fanboying out on him here.

Of Note:

1-Work with the local wood available around you.

2-Don’t step on your neighbors turf, that’s just not cool.

3-Its not weather or not you go out of business, its how you go out of business. Every wave has a beginning and an end.


I ended the evening with a great meal and some mochi daifuku from Minamoto Kitchoan up on 5th Av/ 53rd Street, a real treat!

Meet Me at the MET


In in New York city through the rest of the week, visiting some friends, and this is what you might find in the apartment of any aspiring young professional. Now, to be blunt, New York city is an expensive place to live, so these friends of mine are not broke or poor, which would be an acceptable excuse for having cheap furniture.  But the above photo speaks to the ubiquity of poor quality construction in the market today, even among the trendy Brooklyn set.


For a little comparison, here is a piece I ran across in the Asian wing of the met, Ming period Chinese wardrobe with everything so fucking awesome you wonder how we could have descended this far in quality. Lets take a look at some of the details.


Three way miter joints with wedged through tenon.


And the bottom rail to stile connection with birds mouth notch and wedged through tenon. The money I spent at the MET was worth it just to look at this one piece!


And then I ran across a shoin style Japanese room with black lacquered fusuma with gilt paper, and tokonoma on the opposing side that I didn’t photograph. Just really stunning. I mean, I am still stunned and I’m trying to relax drinking a bit of wine back with my friends, not working though. I could have stared at the ceiling in this room for fifteen minutes, the proportioning, the hand plane finish, beautiful!


They also had a lot of period rooms in the American wing, here is a colonial room with a piece of furniture I’d never seen before to the left of the upholstered chair, a fire screen with lamp table. For all the wealth that was on display, this being the home of a well heeled personage, they still lived with the cold in a very present manner, and the furniture reflects that fact.


Here’s a colonial niddy-noddy, a device for winding skeins of yarn and measuring length. I really like the lines on this one, its quite timeless and not over-wrought.

Wooden Mug

How about a coopered wooden beer mug? This gives me a creative emotion, like..awesome!


And it was new to me to see blind mitered dovetails on American furniture, guess where?


Cabinet legs! I had no idea.

My trip to the MET was an excellent learning experience and it has really changed my view of both Asian and early American furniture making, its so excellent to have seen this stuff in person, even if I wasn’t able to pull out drawers and run my hand over the wood grain.

The Flute Makers and New York


I do some interesting work these day, you never know what might need to be fabricated. Here is a little press I whipped up the other day for hash.


I finished fitting the mechi/stub tenons on the top shelf before flying out to New York to spend some time with a good friend of mine, Julian Rose, a Flutist.


I got into the city in time to catch a concert of his in a small performance hall behind Beethoven Piano’s on 58th street, right below central park. I was struck with the many uses of wood in this space to achieve an acoustically desirable space.


Grimaldi’s pizza the next day, the BEST.


The next day Julian and I drove up to a couple of flute makers just outside Boston. Alan Weiss, the head of Wm. S. Haynes gave us a tour. They’ve been in business 125 years now, and have machinery that goes all the way back to the beginning. Most of the work is in gold and silver, really more of a jewelers trade than the work of machinists.


Here’s a drop forge at Haynes from before 1900, still used for certain gold flute parts, one at a time.


The craftsmen were very content in their individual work, very knowledgeable, not merely a cog in the production process. I used to do a bit of flute repair work, it stirred something in my heart to see so many with great skill. On the floor around their factory was piles and piles of gold and silver shavings, sort of the equivalent of a wood shop with planing shavings, definitely the kind of shop that I would like to work in, not some cold sterile factory.


From left to right: Julian Rose – flutist, Gabe Dwiggins, and Alan Weiss – Flutist

A New Broad Axe


The broadaxe I ordered from Highland Woodworking finally arrived after a short backorder, and what a beauty! My brother bought this for me as a gift, he knew that I was in the market looking for one. I thought I’d wind up getting some rusticle on ebay that belonged to an old tie hacker or the like, to have a new tool of this quality is wonderful. And quality it is, the steel holds a keen working edge, even through the knots on the pine around here (ponderosa, lodgepole).



I decided that a right hand scissor grind would be the best fit for what I want to do with it, namely hew square timbers. I know from watching Youtube videos that if you want to get serious about hewing large beams there are much broader and heavier axes out there. I played around with it for as long as my forearms would bear on some short sections of log I use as cribbing, no material to work as of yet…bummer, because there’s real pleasure and joy in hewing work, and its faster than sawing beams with my maebiki-oga. Now if I get a log with excessive butt flare I can square it down a bit and make it more reasonable to saw. Now if I only had an adze…haha.


I put the plow plane to work cutting the tongue and groove on the backing for my piece of cabinet work.


I couldn’t get a good shot of the tongue cutting blade. What I have managed to show is the poor shaving escapement. Veritas, who makes this plane, include a shaving deflector with every tongue cutting blade. So I have three of these little deflectors that fit in the depth stop on the right side of the plane and seem to be very little help, not sure what they were thinking there. But if you take a sufficiently thick shaving it does tend to jump free of the plane body and keep from tangling up.


I processed the tongue and groove on all of the pine for the cabinet back, though I’ve since made a design change and will need to re-saw a bit more.


I’m using miters on the edges of the dovetails that connect the bottom shelf to the sides, so I thought I better give the joint a practice try.


Now I have to through dovetail across the width of these white ash panels, no easy task, especially when the panel is 80″ long and you can’t clamp it vertically to saw the tails. I’ve been practicing my dovetailing technique with the board leaning diagonally on a low saw horse, we’ll see how accurate I can be in an difficult sawing position. I spent several hours making up story sticks. Idiot sticks! There’s one for the elevation and two for each of the plan views. In the photo above I’m using one to gauge the needed panel width so I can set my large kebiki gauge.


There was a bit of damage to one of the panels that I wasn’t able to remove when planing to thickness, so I decided to lay in a patch.


The low angle block plane and shooting board ensure that the edges of the patch are jointed square.


I then used a plunge mortising bit in my electric router to take out most of the waste. I’ve been making a very conscious effort with this piece to use all of my power tools to their maximum ability to save me time. It’s still taken probably sixty hours or so for me to dimension all of the material (maybe 80, I didn’t keep track), and I’m feeling the lack of a planer and jointer. Unfortunately Chris Hall’s blog “thecarpentryway” has me convinced that good machines only exist in far and away places such as Germany and Japan, and they don’t export easily. Maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but I know enough about machine tools today not to want to spend my money easily for a big box store machine that will never be capable of decent accuracy and can’t handle the sizes of half of the material I need to process.


The grain match for the patch way okay, but I missed on the colour. Looks cool! Looks hopefully like I give a shit about what I’m making.


Here I have the elevation story stick clamped to one side of the panel. I transferred all of the marks and then brought a line square across with my sashigane. After clamping the story stick to the opposing side I checked that all of the marks lined up with the square, to make sure that my initial line at the bottom was truly square. When you play around with the sashigane a bit you’ll notice that how you hold it does have an effect on accuracy, and I can see why I might want a really large try square that could give more consistent registration on the edge of the board.


Trimming to my bottom line that will take the through dovetails with a low angle block plane and edge block clamped to avoid blowing out the corner.


I finished today with marking the mortises that house the shelf tenons. I’ve done another piece of cabinet work with through tenons on the shelving, but not a wedged tenon. So when it came time for me to decide on the dimensions and placement of these wedged tenons it occurred to me that they need to be wedged against the edge grain of the mortise, not the side grain. I say that because I did a search online for examples of this technique, and found plenty of examples where a wider tenon was used and wedged such that it would expand against the side grain of the panel, a sure recipe for splits. Thus we arrive at these small little tenons placed closer together. And would you guess who I found searching online using this technique? Chris Hall building a bookshelf….

Fun with Ko-Ko-Gen and other Facts of Wood


Starting off from where I left you on my last post, staring at the end grain of some old douglas fir decking. In many respects, perhaps not remarkable lumber, but I love the warm glow and even grain, it is something as to character that I look for in other species of timber to favour. This material will be planed down to 1/4″ and given tongue and groove edges with my plow plane.


Stable material like this behaves during sawing! I also have a much better understanding of how much set the saw needs for me to re-saw and leave a nice surface like this.


I recently bought Chris Hall’s “The Art of Japanese Carpentry Drawing, Volume II: Fundamentals of Kokogen”, which I have found to be totally worth the outlay of cash for a bit of scarce knowledge in the English language.  Now I get the whole unit triangle thing, and kept on having these dumb moments where I felt like I was in high school geometry again (although I loved geometry!). Now when reading “The Complete Japanese Joinery” I see something like, use reverse chogen slope, and it seems pretty straight forward, sort of. There’s theory, and then there’s putting it to practice.


Both the edge cut and the face cut of a hopper (splay sided box) can be determined directly with different segments of the unit triangle for the overall rise/run. Unfortunately I still had a bit to learn about what value is used on which side of the sashigane, and marked out the wrong angle for the miter cut on the board edge.


But the layout looks so promising! Meh. Now it just looks wrong. Still some challenge left in executing these diagonal grain cuts with a hand saw.


I didn’t have time to try again, off to lunch with mother and my niece Lilly. This is what I look like close up to a four year old, haha. Childs eye view?


She was by today as well picking up a special delivery. Anyone know what this tool is for?


Slicing some different kinds of domestic truffles! I’ve never tried any of these before, the smell was very rich in an off sort of way.


The grain of this beam is what I think of as rich in an off sort of way. As in, off enough to break the window from swelling and bowing in the middle during a freak 1000 year rain event we had not too long ago. Beautiful patina for some old redwood 6×6 that’s taken fifty years of weather and sun.


Up next, daiku study group day. And what mysteries of joinery might this shachi-sen hold under key?