Japan is a country that keeps amazing the rest of the
world. In this article, we will reveal 7 Japanese woodworking techniques that you’ll
surely love to discover!
The combination of innovative and advanced
technologies merges with the ancient traditions of the Japanese crafts to put
us into an AWW.
Without sacrificing the legacy of their ancestors, the
Japanese are confidently paving their way into the new era of the 21st
century when finding sustainable ways of living
is becoming more relevant than ever before.
And indeed, the world needs to embrace a global
approach to understanding the problems caused by the human impact on planet
Earth. But that would be impossible if we don’t look back to the past and learn
to cherish our roots, just like the
Japanese manage to do.
1) Ise Ittobori – Japanese Single Blade Wood Carving Technique
Ittobori is also known as Ise-style knife carving. In
fact, Ittobori literally translates into “one-knife carving."
The technique was first used on scrap wood from the Ise Grand Shrine. The
carpenters would simply have fun by making lucky
charms from the wastes.
this particular Japanese woodworking technique is associated with the use of a
single knife, the very intention behind the name is actually different.
The term single
knife carving applies to the sharp, bold, single stroke that accentuates
the final cut by bringing a sense of wildness to the final design.
The carvings are rather simplistic but the goal of
this technique is to showcase the natural warmth and gentleness of the wood
Typically, camphor wood is one of the most commonly
utilized material in the Ise Ittobori technique. However, other types of wood
are also used, including hardwood varieties.
The harder the wood, the more durable the carving. But
most importantly, working with hardwood makes the Ise Ittobori wood carving
technique very challenging.
The master woodcarver needs to apply a great force, as
well as extreme precision on the material. Nevertheless, the blade must be perfectly
sharp in order to conceive the finely carved details.
Video by World Turtle Productions, LLC – Master Woodcarver 2 – “Waremokou” 吾木香, Ise Japan
2) Kigumi – The Ancient
Japanese Woodworking Technique of the Shrine Carpenters
The unique appearance of these buildings is achieved
through years of dedication by generations of Japanese master woodworkers. Thus,
for hundreds of years, the Japanese woodworking technique known as Kigumi (“timberwork"), was passed from one
talented woodworker to another.
Most noteworthy, Kigumi is the art of constructing
without the use of nails. This mind-blowing Japanese joinery technique has
survived for over 1000 years.
But what’s more, it is thanks to the genius Kigumi
technique that the ancient temples also managed to survive the numerous
earthquakes that hit Japan throughout the course
In fact, in the case the Japanese master woodworkers
opted for metal nails instead of applying the Kigumi joinery technique, the
humid climate in the country would have led to the rust and eventual fail of
The experts who carry the ancient traditions of the
Kigumi joinery technique are called Miyadaiku.
masters know the secrets of constructing temples and shrines, and their
knowledge is highly valued for it is essential for the restoration of the
emblematic and sacred buildings.
Video by Woodworking Enthusiasts – Incredible Woodworking with Ancient Techniques of The Shrine Carpenters – Building Without Nails
3) Kigoroshi Woodworking Technique
technique is part of the incredible Japanese joinery techniques. Kigoroshi is used for the purpose of
removing gaps in notched joints.
Typically, Kigoroshi is applied to tenon and mortise
joints. However, it can be applied to all kinds of notched joints, as it helps
in snug fits.
Kigoroshi woodworking technique actually appears rather simplistic, it requires
a high dose of precision and patience.
The pressure that has to be applied by using a rounded
end of a hammer must be strong enough
to compress the appropriate part of the tenon. But more importantly, the
pressure must be delicate enough not
to damage the wood irreversibly, which is exactly the case with possible cracks
due to hitting too hard.
Another important aspect of the Kigoroshi technique is
preparing the wood carefully. For this purpose, the mortise needs to be
splashed into the water. Thus, by either
splashing or simply wiping the wood material with water aids in expanding the
compressed wood to its original size.
The Kigoroshi joinery technique is so durable that in
the case you ever decide to remove the tightly-fit joints, you can see the very
imprint of the one wood piece left over the other.
Video by DIY Japanese Joinery – Japanese Woodworking Tip – “Kigoroshi”
4) Sasano-Bori – The
“Special" Wood Carving Technique
Translated from Japanese, “bori" means “carving." On the other hand, Sasano is a region in
Yonezawa city where traditional dolls are made by utilizing the Sasano-Bori
This intriguing Japanese woodworking technique was
well-known by most of the local people in the 17th century. Back in
the old days of the history of Yonezawa city, the economy in the region was
rather slow. Thus, Yozan
Uesugi came up with the idea to promote the carving
industry. As a result, the local
economy was successfully boosted.
Up-to-date, Sasano-Bori craftsmanship is passed from
one talented master to another. The craft can take years to be fully mastered,
and great passion and dedication are needed.
The Sasano-Bori technique is often referred to as “the
special" wood carving technique because of the use of unique chisels. These special chisels are called Chijire and Sarukiri.
resembles an axe but actually serves the
purpose of a knife. Thus, fine, detailed carvings come to life.
Nevertheless, the Sasano-bori technique is applied to
single pieces of wood which maximize the
smart use of the wood material but also puts the master woodcarvers’ skills and
nerves to a test that only the most patient perfectionists can pass.
Video by japanesedollbiz – Watch the Sasano-Bori Carving Technique Live!
5) Agokaki Woodworking Technique
is one of the many Japanese joinery woodworking techniques that keep stunning
particular technique, the joint is used in order to attach a horizontal timber.
To be more specific, the Agokaki technique serves to
attach the timber to the very face of a pillar. Nevertheless, the horizontal
timber can also be attached to the fronts of a square post.
For a start, precise cuts need to be made on
both of the corners of the post. Furthermore, the cuts are made on the same
side of the post with the aim to leave an uncut center.
Next, the horizontal timber gets one notch cut for
the purpose of pounding it secure and tight, right between the 2 notched
corners. It almost seems as if the horizontal timber can “hug" the pillar.
That’s thanks to the clever way the uncut parts match the initially cut corner
While the Agokaki technique is not the most
beginner-friendly one to try out, there are numerous smart and simple Japanese
joinery techniques to adapt even if you are just at the very beginning of your woodworking
Video by Woodworking Enthusiasts – Top 5 Simple & Impressive Joints For Begin Learning about Japanese Joinery
6) Iwatsuki Doll Woodworking Techniques
The Iwatsuki ward in Saitama prefecture, Japan, has
become the birthplace of the Iwatsuki dolls.
are unique for their round faces, smooth skin, shiny, silky hair, and big,
lively eyes that contribute to a particularly adorable appearance.
Nevertheless, the brilliant colors allure the eyes, leaving the contemplators
The history of making Iwatsuki dolls dates back to the
period that started in 1603. The Iwatsuki ward has
always been naturally abundant in paulownia trees, and this provided a perfect
environment for the flourishing of woodworking in the area.
trees are often referred to princess or empress
trees, as well as the trees of the
future due to their extremely fast growth and high-quality of the wood
One of the amazing woodworking techniques that were developed
by the Japanese Iwatsuki dolls makers is the so-called tosogashira technique.
This peculiar technique utilizes paulownia sawdust, and
it is still popular in the Country of the Rising Sun. The “toso" ends up as a
kind of clay after the paulownia sawdust is mixed with fresh wheat gluten that
acts like glue.
Once the mixture is carefully stirred, it is placed
into a mold and left to dry well. During the process of making the notorious
Iwatsuki dolls, the okiage carving technique also plays a
Okiage is a
meticulous relief carving technique that utilizes the power of small knives in
order to create fine, tiny details. In the case of making Iwatsuki dolls, the okiage technique is applied to create the lips
Other famous Japanese dolls produced in the Iwatuski
area include the Hina dolls, the Gotatsu dolls, and the Ukiyoe dolls.
7) Hakone’s Yosegi-zaiku – Japanese Woodworking “Marquetry"
The art of traditional Japanese marquetry known as
Yosegi-zaiku originated during the Edo period, similarly to the case with the
skilfully detailed Iwatsuki dolls we discussed above.
Certainly, the Hakone town
in Kanagawa has contributed immensely to the development of the Yosegi-zaiku
craft. Being naturally abundant in different types of trees, the Yosegi-zaiku
wood artistry thrived by the accessibility of over 22 types of wood available
to the local artisans.
Some of these woods include walnut, ash, and rosewood,
to name a few. Most importantly, the diversity of wood is crucial for the art
of Yosegi-zaiku since no stains or dyes
Instead, the artisans rely on the different colors and
texture of the wood.
As a result of the masterful inlaying of various
woods, incredible patterns and shapes come to life. Thus, Yosegi-zaiki woodworking marquetry technique is
applied to decorate numerous objects, such as furniture, chests, vases, trays,
and jewelry boxes, among others.
Video by Woodworking Enthusiasts – Amazing Ancient Technology of the Beautiful Japanese Hakone Marquetry – Woodworking Skillful
George Nakashima, whose grandfather was a samurai warrior,
is an American-Japanese woodworker who became famous as one of the contemporary
practitioners of the traditional Japanese woodworking techniques.
In his book, The Soul of a Tree, George
Nakashima shares the following impressions after observing the craftsmanship of
the Japanese master woodworkers: “When someone would get a piece of work done, with the
joints fitted perfectly and the proportions just right, he’d put it someplace where
it could be seen. And everybody would gather around and praise him for his
work. There was that sort of attitude. There wasn’t any jealousy. It was just
an appreciation of fine work."
We hope that we have
managed to contaminate you with the incredible sense of Japanese wisdom and
beauty. Share our compilation of 7 Japanese woodworking techniques with other
connoisseurs of fine handicrafts and help us keep the ancient legacy of the
gifted woodworkers around the world alive!