The Art of Traditional Japanese Wood Joinery: A Kyoto Woodworker Shows How Japanese Carpenters Created Wood Structures Without Nails or Glue




Anyone can develop basic woodworking skills — and, per the advice of Nick Offerman, perhaps everyone should. Those who do learn that things of surprising functionality can be made just by cutting pieces of wood and nailing or gluing them together. Fewer, however, have the patience and dedication to master woodworking without nails or glue, an art that in Japan has been refined over many generations. Traditional Japanese carpenters put up entire buildings using wood alone, cutting the pieces in such a way that they fit together as tightly as if they’d grown that way in the first place. Such unforgiving joinery is surely the truest test of woodworking skill: if you don’t do it perfectly, down comes the temple.

“At the end of the 12th century, fine woodworking skills and knowledge were brought into Japan from China,” writes Yamanashi-based woodworker Dylan Iwakuni. “Over time, these joinery skills were refined and passed down, resulting in the fine wood joineries Japan is known for.”




As it became a tradition in Japan, this carpentry developed a canon of joining methods, several of which Iwakuni demonstrates in the video at the top of the post. Can it be a coincidence that these most trustworthy joints — and the others featured on Iwakuni’s joinery playlist, including the seemingly “impossible” shihou kama tsugi — are also so aesthetically pleasing, not just in their creation but their finished appearance?

In addition to his Youtube channel, Iwakuni maintains an Instagram account where he posts photos of joinery not just in the workshop but as employed in the construction and maintenance of real buildings. “Joineries can be used to replace a damaged part,” he writes, “allowing the structure to stand for another hundreds of years.” To do it properly requires not just a painstakingly honed set of skills, but a perpetually sharpened set of tools — in Iwakuni’s case, the visible sharpness of which draws astonished comment from woodworking aficionados around the world. “Blimey,” as one Metafilter user writes, “it’s hard enough getting a knife sharp enough to slice onions.” What an audience Iwakuni could command if he expanded from woodworking Youtube into cooking Youtube, one can only imagine.

Related Content:

Mesmerizing GIFs Illustrate the Art of Traditional Japanese Wood Joinery — All Done Without Screws, Nails, or Glue

See How Traditional Japanese Carpenters Can Build a Whole Building Using No Nails or Screws

Watch Japanese Woodworking Masters Create Elegant & Elaborate Geometric Patterns with Wood

20 Mesmerizing Videos of Japanese Artisans Creating Traditional Handicrafts

Nick Offerman Explains the Psychological Benefits of Woodworking–and How It Can Help You Achieve Zen in Other Parts of Your Life

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.


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Comments (4)
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  • Julio Alonso says:

    Hello.

    Nice to see the work I have been doing for many years and ignored by people now take any relevance thanks to the successful posts of my friend Dylan-san.

    Thanks for taking it out to the light!

  • Jason Paxton says:

    Beautiful work .. absolutely mesmerizing to watch.

  • Landon "RusticLumberCo.com" Edgington says:

    Very cool, Japanese architecture is one of the most beautiful and intricate worlds. These joints require some very accurate measuring and cutting capability. Not to mention some very sharp and well-maintained equipment.

  • Ella Starr says:

    Thank you for mentioning that there are so many joining methods. I want to start a new business this summer. For this, I will find a reputable joinery in the area.

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