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:


    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 "" 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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