Woodworking With A Master Craftsman

Woodworking in Asia: History and Influence


All through ancient history until our up to date era, all civilization in the world has used wood to make helpful, as well as good-looking and pretty objects. We see examples of carpentry of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. Many other ancient cultures around the world also practiced carpentry, employing many different styles and techniques.

Woodworking With A Master Craftsman
Woodworking with a Master Craftsman – Image Source

The primitive weapons used for defense and hunting and the simple tools used to build shelters have been used over the centuries. As the woodworking skills of man were developed, he discovered how to hunt animals a food source, clear and cultivate the land with his ax, and to build canoes, boats, furniture pieces, and buildings. Carpentry thus became an important process that led to the advancement of civilizations.

Due to the large amount of material to cover related to the history of carpentry, this article will focus on woodworking from ancient times to the Middle Ages, focusing on some of the most important civilizations.

The carpentry carried out in other cultures will be omitted, not because they are less critical, but because of the large volume of material. However, we will briefly review some of the most outstanding tools used by carpenters throughout history.

History of Woodworking

Civilizations have used wood for centuries to create useful, beautiful and decorative items. Throughout history, carpentry has excelled in architecture, religion, agriculture, recreational activities, and survival. Carpentry led to the advancement of society.

Ancient Carpenters

More than 2000 years ago, timber workers were a significant part of society for the ancient Egyptians, Jews, Romans, Greeks, and all other primitive civilizations. Many drawings represent wooden furniture such as beds, chairs, stools, tables, and chests.

The wooden buildings of ancient China, whether royal palaces or popular houses, whether they are in densely populated capitals or sparsely populated mountainous areas, follow the same architectural system, which has three essential elements- a foundation platform, one wood Structure and body, and wooden roof with the decorated ceiling.

Interesting Facts About Ancient Asian Timber Workers

Among the tools of carpenter mentioned in ancient sources are the saw, the mallet, the adze, the plumb line, and the line, the chisel, the ruler, the plane and the squares. They also used the arc drill, held in one hand by the handle, which they quickly set in motion by pulling the attached bow from one side to the other.

Ancient Woodworking
Ancient Woodworking – Image Source

The arc winch was a primitive tool, but a skilled carpenter could produce decorative spindles and bowls very similar to the current woodturners. He twisted the wood by pulling a leather strap from side to side like a bow. This movement moved the lathe and allowed the cut to be made in the turning wood.

Former Near Eastern carpenters built large wooden boats with wood, located in the Anatolian plateau or Turkey’s Asian part, along with the Levantine coast or the coastal lands of the Mediterranean of present-day Lebanon, Turkey, and Syria.

Archaeologists found pieces of furniture made of wood inlaid with ivory, metal, or bone dating from 800 BC. C. in Gordion, the supposed home of King Midas. Near-Eastern timber workers used wedges, lathes, mallets, drills, leads, chisels, hammers, and compasses.

The old mosques and private houses have a wooden window that is still seen today in the Arab culture were made up to the ancient wood carving of the Near East.

The Muslim carvers of Persia, Syria, Egypt, and Spain designed and created exquisite panels and other decorations for wall coverings, ceilings, pulpits and all kinds of accessories and furniture. Their carpentry was elaborate and meticulously delicate.

Asian countries like China, Egypt, and Japan are great influencers of the world. It only goes to show that Asian countries are not left behind by Western countries when it comes to woodworking.

History and Influence of Ancient Egyptian Woodworking

The first Egyptians also made wooden coffins and they invented the art of the veneer with the first examples that are shown in the grave of Semekhet, who died more than 5000 years ago. Many Egyptian pharaohs were buried along with objects made of ivory inlays and African ebony veneers.

Ancient Egyptian Woodworking
Ancient Egyptian Woodworking – Image Source

In old-time carpenter work have complete finishing, even though no one is familiar with the composition of these “finishes.” The ancient Egyptians have employed mortise and tenon joints.

History Of Carpentry In Egypt
History of Carpentry in Egypt – Image Source

The Egyptians began using animal glue between 1570-1069 BC. C. Axes, bows, chisels, pulling saws and arc saws were the standard tools of the first Egyptian carpenter.

Today’s woodworkers who practice the ancient Eastern techniques of carpentry take pride in their mastery of tight fitting and their ability to not use electrical equipment, nails or glue to keep their parts together.

Many ancient Egyptian drawings date back to the year 2000 a. C. They beautifully represent the ancient wooden furniture, like beds, tables, beds, stools, chairs, and chests. There is also physical evidence of these wooden objects since many were well preserved in tombs due to the dry climate of the country. Even some sarcophagi (coffins) found in the tombs were made of wood.

Sacrophagi – Image Source

The ancient Egyptian carpenters were known for regularly practicing their trade and for developing techniques that advanced the business for future generations. For example, they invented the art of coating or art of gluing thin wood slices.

Ancient Egypt is indeed a very powerful civilization that made major contributions to the woodworking industry today, most especially using veneer or wood finish to furniture pieces. The art of coating is impressive and excellent!

History and Influence of Ancient Chinese Woodworking

There are many accounts to prove that ancient Chinese woodworking existed more than 6,000 years ago, with the slit-style woodworking founded in the Neolithic Age on the Hemudu Site. It is believed that the mud and wooden walls of the old Banpo Neolithic Village have existed 5000 years ago.

In fact, archaeologists discovered wooden imperial tombs and ancient palaces in the ruins of Yin, in Anyang City, Henan Province. They were are believed to date from 1400 BC to 1100 BC or during the Shang Dynasty.

Art Of Ancient Chinese Ming And Qing
Art of Ancient Chinese Ming and Qing – Image Source

The first Chinese civilizations also promoted the art of carpentry. It is believed that the carpentry was multiplied in that country from 720 A. C. The Chinese woodworkers have also developed many advanced woodworking applications, such as precise measurements to make pots, tables, and other furniture.

Chinese Furniture
Chinese Furniture – Image Source

The most renowned accomplishment of Chinese woodworking is the nailless joinery or not using any nails or screws in furniture making or any type of woodworking. Chinese architectures used wood as a primary material for many Chinese architectural structures such as the Siheyuan courtyard dwellings, temples, and pagodas which are refined with intricate decorations and unique colors.

Dougong, which are brackets inserted between a crossbar and the tops of a column is a vital characteristic of Chinese wood architecture. The old building techniques that are attached to wood structures do not use nails or glue.

Chinese woodworkers were excellent in using wood because they created complex structures with the use of notch and spike joint, incorporating the unique aesthetics of the ancient Chinese wood architecture.

2500 Year Old Chinese Wood Joints
2,500-year Old Chinese Wood Joints – Image Source

China has 50 UNESCO heritage sites and most of them are cultural heritage sites related to ancient Chinese wooden architecture.

Due to the changes in the climatic conditions in China, woodworkers found out that when furniture items made heavily with glue would soften when brought in Europe and other places with high humidity and temperature. This fact was discovered when European colonists who brought Chinese furniture pieces in their countries fell into pieces due to the softening of animal glue brought about by heat and high humidity.

Along with Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries, they discovered interlocking joints as a technique in joinery. They were impressed and from then on used nailless joinery for greater stability and strength. Furniture pieces with mortise and tenon joinery tend to wobble, unlike nailless joinery that is very strong and stable.

History and Influence of Ancient Japanese Woodworking

Japan is where this style of carpentry originated mainly.

One of the reasons for Japan’s success in such excellent woodworking was that they developed high-carbon steel tools at an early stage in their history. The Japanese carpenters also made an exquisitely sculpted stage. Its popularity and the techniques used in the process spread throughout Southeast Asia.

Japanese Carpentry
Japanese Carpentry – Image Source

When a carpenter needed wood, he cut trees on boards using a large bronze saw with the help of other workers. He cut thin boards of tree trunks. The trees in that region, however, were not significant or straight.

Japanese woodworkers are famous for their unique carpentry skills and crafts. The Japanese traditional carpentry allows them to create pieces of furniture, houses, and buildings even without using any screws or nails.

There’s a core practice that is shared by all Japanese carpenters, which are defined by a vocabulary of joints, a methodology of woodworking, and tools. A Japanese carpenter is typically identified with one of the four carpentry professions.

The Miyadaiku is a practice of constructing Japanese temples and shrines, and are recognized for their elaborate wooden joints. The buildings they construct are usually found among the longest surviving wooden structures in the world.

Miyadaiku Japanese Architecture
Miyadaiku Japanese Architecture – Image Source

Residential and teahouse carpenters are referred to as sukiya. They are known for using rustic materials which are delicate aesthetic constructions. Furniture makers are called sashimono-shi. The term for carpenters who build ranma and shōji are called tateguya.

While it’s rare to find a tateguya and sashimono-shi practicing outside of their chosen field, it’s not unusual for a carpentry workshop to simultaneously work as both sukiyadaiku and miyadaiku.

Japanese Architecture
Japanese Architecture – Image Source

When it comes to Japanese architecture or Nihon kenchiku, it has traditionally been preoccupied with wooden structures, such as slightly elevated off the ground, with thatched or tiled roofs. Also, sliding doors or fusuma were used instead of walls, to allow customized space internal configuration for various occasions.

Traditionally, Japanese usually sit on cushions or on the floor. The high tables and chairs were not popular until the 20th century. In the 19th century, Japan incorporated Western and modern architecture into design and construction.

Today, Japan is a leader in cutting-edge and innovative architectural design and technology.

During the prehistoric times, the earliest Japanese architecture was displayed in simple pit-houses which adapted to the needs and preferences of a hunter-gatherer population. The influence from China’s Han Dynasty through Korea introduced more complex ceremonial burial chambers and grain stores.

When Buddhism was introduced in Japan during the 6th century, it was a catalyst for building large-scale temples with the employment of complicated woodworking techniques. The major influence of the Chinese dynasties, the Tang and Sui Dynasties, has led to the foundation of the very first permanent capital located in Nara. The capital of Chang’an in China was used as the checkerboard street layout template for its design.

The gradual increase in the sizes of buildings has led to the development of the standard units of measurement and layout refinements, as well as garden design. As usually compared, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony emphasized a modest and simple design as contrary to the excesses or overwhelming designs of the aristocracy.

Bottom Line

Asia is indeed a very influential continent with rich woodworking history, techniques, carpentry, and architecture. Many colonists were impressed and brought Asian woodwork masterpieces in their countries that also became their inspiration in enhancing their own woodwork pieces.

National Treasure Kangiin Shrine
National Treasure Kangiin Shrine – Image Source