The Japanese carpenters have been doing it for more than 1000 years; they have perpetuated ancestral carpentry techniques.
Traditional construction methods used wood as the main building material. Before trade became global and connected as it is today, wood was Japan’s primary resource because metal was a scarce material. Light, wood was incorporated into carpenters’ techniques early on rather than brick or stone. Thanks to the manufacture of perfectly fitted bottom joints, many people describe this technique as “geometry meeting nature”. Let’s take a look at some of the famous carpentry techniques created by the Japanese, starting with the simplest, mortise and tenon.
Ougi-hozo-tsugi (Mortise and Tenon Joints)
This technique has existed for thousands of years and has been used internationally. The tenon, the protruding part of the assembly, is inserted into a square or rectangular hole cut in the other part of the wood and can be glued or locked. The advantage of this type of joint is that it is more aesthetically pleasing than those made with nails. This is why this method is widely used in the furniture industry. The mortise and tenon joint can be structured to support a higher weight. For example, the double and twin mortise and tenon joints increase the strength of a joint, making it ideal for supporting structures.
Complex and spectacular, this jointing technique is known for its elegant finish and firm locking structure generally applied to furniture design. It is designed so that a board with a series of trapezoid-shaped tenons interlock with a series of tails of the same shape on another board, as shown below.
A combination of multiple carpentry techniques, sampo-zashi can be described as the combination of dovetail and mortise and tenon, where multiple precise joints come together to interlock. More difficult to master, the precision required to accomplish this technique pays tribute to the talent of Japanese carpenters and their deep knowledge of wood. Used in the construction of temples and large houses, it is still used for the preservation of these buildings.
Inami Wood Carving
Rather than a joint-joining technique, Inami woodcarving is an art that draws its inspiration from the oldest traditions and requires a perfect mastery of artistic skill and wood chisels. A bit like brushstrokes, the finishing touch in detail is achieved by hammering the chisel into the wood canvas.
On A Large-Scale
Japanese carpentry techniques also teach how to treat wood. Japanese hinoki cypress is generally used because of its high resistance to rot, clear grain and supporting strength even after ageing. This tree has been cultivated for centuries mainly for carpentry.
The most complex carpentry techniques are used for large projects such as temples and shrines, and the carpentry profession related to these projects is known as “Miyadaiku”. Perfected for more than a millennium, the teaching of this trade is costly and time-consuming, but the result is more than conclusive. In fact, buildings constructed with these traditional Japanese carpentry techniques have demonstrated through the ages the greatest durability.
More about the traditional Japanese carpentry:
Japanese Carpentry School: 4 Divisions
Today: traditional meets modern building