Friday, July 24, 2015

Japanese carpentry classes here and there

This one is more of brainstorming, if you have any ideas please comment. In the spirit of open source woodworking I want to crowdsource some ideas. (Soon I will be crowdsourcing tools for poor chileans too.)

Today, I got the 6th student who wants to take the carpentry course, in november. They guy is in Hong Kong right now. Which got me thinking... we are in a really globalised world, we can buy in buyee last week and EMS would be here monday if the package were not again in the warehouse since we were not here when they came. The thing is, for a 40% more in shipping than americans, we can have the same quality tools that you have there in the north with your all your dealers and stores and big cars. I still cannot get a shitty red king here but whatever, we are not so backwards.

What I mean is... there are not so many places in the world where you can learn japanase carpentry, and I'm not talking of roof or pagoda building, but the basics, simple joinery, get your crap sharp and the like.

So this is how it goes around the internet:

Dictum 130eur/day for saw horses and sharpening, slightly more for roof. Max 8 participants, they use shitty dozuki to cut joints.  Das scheisse ist deutsch auch. 10 days of classes per annum

Chris Hall 175usd/day no tools, no food, best teacher?  8 participants

Daiku dojo 115/day Big project, nice weather, fat guys.

Gonzalez 30eur/day best saws in town, food, you get to use my tools. Max 4 participants.

To put things in context:

(58 usd/day minimum wage USA)
(57 eur/day minimum wage DE)
(13 eur/day minimum wage CL)

Dictum teaches in one day saw horses and sharpening. Chris Hall has 3 days in set-up and sharpening. I do one or two hours of sharpening each of the three days. You cannot make people who never used a plane before square the wood for the saw horses and cut them in a day, so they must learn with machine-squared wood in dictum. I'd say they do 3 hours sharpening, 2 theory, 3 saw horses. I guess that Chris in 3 days explains you all there is to know about japanese tools. How much of that can enter into a novice is something I don't know. I guess he's thinking of people who has the tools but haven't been able to take the full potential out of em.

I did sharpening, planing and squaring, and I think that was it first day. Second day the saw horses were finished, I did some glue up to show them, and made them cut a double mortice. Third day should be a box and how to sharpen saws and tap the ura. (My rationale was: don't over complicate things. Give them a tool that works, and once they are used to it, tell them how to set it up.) I'm thinking of people who never had a plane or a kanna in their hands before, they haven't read all the blogs, check all the instagram and watched all the videos.

More math. Germany has 80million people. Dictum gives 1 day classes for 80 people per year, that's one class per million people a year. Chile has 17million, I gave 3 days clases for 2 people, that's one class per 2.8 million people a year. I'm making another one in August with 3 people it seems, so that would put chile on top of germany measured as days of japanese classes per capita. (I'm sure we are beating them already in number of hand made ryoba per capita.)

Now, continuing with the idea... project mayhem joints take between 2 hours and 4 hours. Dictum has an "advanced" class with more complex joints. You cannot teach more than 3 joints in a day I would say, people cannot absorb so much.

And would that work? If somebody comes and does the lay out for you and you cut only the joint, are you learning? I like project mayhem "open" problems. We do not need to stick to the millimetre to a plan, but see what works best with what we have and try to understand it. And fail a lot, each failure is a well learnt lesson, one that you won't forget.

Perhaps give the joint for the next week as an exercise, people need to bring it done next class, and then talk, compare and give the correct solution and cutting order? That way you would get the "aha!" moment that we get when somebody else does one joint better than we did. That's also very important.

Why I'm thinking of this? Well, Francisco, that's the guy in HK right now, says he would like to take the 3 classes per month for a few months. That got me thinking on how to organise something more long term education.

Eventually I think the solution is to give an introductory course, 3 maybe 6 classes, and that grants you access to the workshop. The workshop has some communal equipment and you are free to use it. Of course you need to pay for it too, we need to renew the sharpening stones, kanna, files, etc. You also need to pay in time: sharpening for others, keeping stones flat, preping some wood for the next class. You pay for what you use, quite literally. Blades are used up, so are files. Should not be hard to estimate the cost for keep it sustainable. Invest surplus in the workshop. Keep a lab book, note how much you sharpen in a stone (or how much hollows in one session) and that gives you the cost of one sharpening. Same with kanna. And you pay it forward: after using the planes, they go to bed sharp, so next person finds a perfectly usable kanna each time.

Opa used to have in the good times 3 or 4 apprentices at the time. Now it's just him and Frauke, and sometimes me, and the workshop feels lonely.

Ok, to recap. Let's think how the ideal course would be. I like the way Chris has it, with days, so I'm gonna do the same and put it here. Comments and suggestion always welcome

Day 0: (Meet up to check the tools, people, pay the fee)
- Take a look a the tools.
- Plane one face each.
- Saw something.

Day 1:
- Sharpening plane blades.
- Set up japanese workshop (planing beam and others).
- Squaring sawn timber with kanna.

Day 2:
- Sharpening chisels.
- Lay out and cut saw horses.
- Show edge joint and glue up.
- Female double mortice for large saw horse.
- (After classes, make oak wedges and split some wood with them.)

Day 3 (tomorrow):
- Sharpening saws.
- Ura-dashi and repair old kanna.
- Resawing wood by hand.
- Dovetailed box. ( I don't think we finish it :/)

Day 4, 5, 6?

Joints from the saw a la Jason. 1 day of project mayhem. Hopper? (for what kind of people is the hopper useful? Keiran wants to make a marimba and fix some guitars, Jose is making tables and the like...) Shoji/precision working?

I will ask the guys tomorrow what do they want to learn next, if they would like another session and what about a community workshop.

Finally, all these planing is very person dependent. First day Keiran was sharpening a few hours while Jose was just practicing sawing, so they develop in different paths, which I think it's really valuable for them. And one of the reasons I don't want to have more than 4 people, I want to have focus enough and make it personal so each one is able to go at his own pace.

So, what ya think? Will you start offering lessons in your workshop too? Remember, 3000 daiku for Edo 1800.


  1. how sad, I make the first comment.

    I was talking with keiran today and this is what I recorded from his feedback.

    - food awesome.
    - tools beautiful. Where to buy? Offer a starter set.
    - more focus fewer project. (To what I replied, you cannot sharpen 4 hours in a row, now plane for that much... but yeah, the dovetail box is an overkill.)
    - price easy.
    - rent tools?
    - totally down for advanced joints course a la project mayhem.

    Then we just dived into tool buying, internet information and how to import enough tools for the people taking the course. The greatest issue for me are whetstones, low value heavy weight thus expensive shipping. Enters ebay and free shipping. Problem is, you need to order it 3 to 6 weeks ago.

    Seems I need to invest a bit of money and bring basic toolsets for students. Look what you can buy here in chile for 220 usd

    I can do cheaper and better than that.

  2. For some reason there is a day's delay for me to receive an email notification of your most recent post. Anyway, I awoke today and wash thinking about this idea of giving classes. Your approach to teaching, your pedagogy is excellent! I could give some ideas, but as you say this is the age when students all learn something slightly different within the same context.

    I know that if I organized my shop space properly I would have enough room for two others to work, but it is getting the tools that is the sticking point.

    I love the idea of a public woodshop. I'm sure you're familiar with the hackerspace/makerspace movement. There was a group that tried that in the closest city to me, Fort Collins, but they operated by mostly a voluntary donation basis and ended up going out of business pretty quickly. I think a monthly membership fee would be much more appropriate, and the shop definitely has to offer something that is not commonly available. I mean, the maker spaces in the US that are really successful have stuff like CNC lathe/mill, TIG welding, large capacity planers and bandsaws. Not found in the average home shop. Haha, I think the other reason the makerspace in town failed was due to the fact that it was mostly run by "alternative type" college students that scared off a lot of the older people that actually had the money to support the place. And like I said, they had tools, but nothing of high quality or out of the ordinary (like Japanese tools).

    What kind of a tools set does a rank beginner need, on a per student basis? Planing board, kanna, bench chisels, ryoba saw, dozuki, sharpening stones. All of the layout tools can be made by the student and they pay you for the pleasure of learning.

    You are really taking this work forward, it is inspiring me.

    1. Thanks Gabe, glad to here you are inspired.

      Concerning the workspace, you really don't need suck a big place and I even would say that is counter productive to have them in a working workshop. Think more of the shokunin going to a construction site with some students. Why? Because like that they don't get the idea that they need a gigantic toolset to make things, just what fits in a japanese toolbox.

      You are right on the money about the lay out. I should have a day to make the tools, marking gauges are very much in need, same with squares.

      I'm thinking of how to make handles for disposable blades also. Or perhaps buy a bunch in buyee and done. Sharpening stones is the most annoying thing since the shipping is so high. I was looking yesterday to the chinese for 13-20usd free shipping, maybe they are the way to go, but haven't found any info on them.

      And please, do give me some ideas, I need to fill 3 more days.

  3. I too, I only get the notifications the next day (and Blogger still won't let me "subscribe" to your blog, add it to my blog roll reading list thing....Strange). So.....we are here, but this is one of those "big" questions, too.

    My first real woodworking project was a box. I was 15-16 years old, something like that, and wasn't raised in a building/tool oriented household. I had read some magazines (100's actually ), so I had a clue, but no actual experience, and had never really seen or used good tools before. I had probably never experienced "sharp", or even used so much as a sharp kitchen knife, (Sorry mom!). Of course, I wanted to make a huge dovetailed monstrosity, complete with wrought hinges and masterful carvings on all of the surfaces, haha.

    When you start doing this stuff, what do you want? Why make instead of buy? I wanted something personal to me, something that was otherwise unavailable, being either too expensive or something that just didn't exist. My head has always been full of romantic ideals, and I want the satisfaction of being able to craft something of value. I've also never had the sense to take classes for anything, foolish guy that I am.

    I have to assume that we are pushing an anti-establishment, Japanese tools agenda here, cause it's all that will fit in my reality.

    Beginner mind.

    I want to make something. A class should end with me holding something physical in my hand. Everyone likes boxes, so I would choose to build a small box.

    I don't know where to get wood for my projects that I am dreaming of building. If I go to the store, I'm going to buy the wrong stuff AND pay too much. Show the student what to buy, tell them how to find it.

    Same thing with tools, but the tools have to come later. You don't want to feed into that foolishness, of some Dude buying every expensive tool available, but not being able to plane a piece of wood (much less sharpen them). In my perfect world, the student would have open ended access to use the schools tools, let them come in and use stuff even after the class is over.....but soon they will realize that they themselves are obligated to "pay it forward", and as they gain proficiency in sharpening, they can step up to rehabbing old chisels and kanna.

    1. so true. Dovetailed box after 3 classes is madness.

      We did some restoration today, Keiran came to try finishing the box (didn't happen) with some find from the persa. Shitty plane, small square, socket chisel. We had them all done in 30min or so. Draw filing and lapping the square, grinding irons and then sharpening. The guy left with a ryoba and my 60 1/2 to play around during the week.

      Block planes are not such a stupid invention, amongst all those monster iron planes is one you can actually use almost like a kanna. You cannot find those used in chile btw.

      I need to put them to make dai for the class, I got far too many lonely kannami laying around, but the wood. I did one today in "roble" and the shitty crap doesn't have any springiness to it. You can lock the blade but it goes off real easy. Plus the wood is far too soft. I've been looking for wood with the beautiful rays that white oak and the other red one have, but no luck. Acacia is hard but no rays...

      And I think you are wrong about beginners, if they know what sharp is, they just need to repeat it. It may not be square and flat bevel but sharp they can quite easily I'd say.

      I will update the curriculum in a following post, leaving dovetails for the end of the 6th day. The 7th they can rest.

  4. Sharpening SHOULD be first, but a beginner needs to first experience good, sharp tools, and learn how they are used to make stuff. Sharpening could be a 2nd tier class, but I wouldn't scare them with my personal madness right away, haha. A beginner will likely make the tools more dull, rather than sharper anyways.

    As a beginner, I am probably too ignorant to know how little I know, how even the most simple thing is a long chain of associated processes, each requiring tools/knowledge /skill. The box has corners, and though I REALLY want dovetails, something more simple should be chosen at first. I would choose those 3-part fat finger joint that you see on tansu chests and Greene and Greene craftsman architecture. Cross-pin the joint using bamboo skewers, cause it is strong and it looks cool, though understated. I would leave the fingers protruding just slightly, ala G&G, although it makes trimming the dowels flush a little more fussy.

    Assume the stock is already finished in thickness....this joint incorporates a little bit of sawing to length.... square the cut edge using the kanna and a shooting board.....divide into thirds, mark for thickness by holding the board on edge, then explain which side of the line to cut....use a clamped down paring block to cut the waste out, using frighteningly sharp chisels......plow the groove for the bottom, or maybe just tack it on using more skewers and glue....assemble and pin the corners, trim the ends of things and you're done.

    This simple project would require thin boards (maybe 12 mm? Not too thin, for starting out), a small flexible hobby saw (my ugly Vaughan/Z-saw gray handled little pseudo-ryoba would be perfect), a kanna, shooting board, paring block, clamp, and chisel. Also a drill and bits to fit the size skewer used. I buy skewers at the same place I buy a charcoal grill. That's not too much for tooling, definitely what you've already got, but for someone to buy all that on their own would be a definite barrier.

    This stuff is so fun to think about! I am already designing a 3 month curriculum, yikes! I would say....give them a taste, show something new each day, but build on what you've already shown. There is so much fun stuff to build, but each project has its own challenges. Show how the simple stuff relates to the larger whole, how physics governs all, and accuracy and care is soooooo important. I would stress "slow" over "speed".

    I however, would be a terrifying teacher. I am imagining a 12 hour death-march, listening to me monologue about metallurgy and charcoal....sharpening stones....hahaha!

    "All, I wanted was to build a box!? That guy is nuts!"

  5. ok, found a new one, on western woodworking but real detailed.

    Port Townsend School of Woodworking:
    Class size: 10
    Cost: $285
    Materials Charge: $35


    Funny thing is, they don't start with sharpening as we do.