3 Beginner Japanese Woodworking Projects

Japanese woodworking is a marvel of a technique that has been passed down from old times. Any person who wants to get into it will have a challenge on their hands. But don’t let that discourage you as doing anything for the first time can be confusing. So to help you out, we have handpicked 3 beginner Japanese woodworking projects for you to work on.

The 3 projects that we have hand picked for you are:

  1. Japanese Step Stool
  2. Japanese Toolbox
  3. Asa Noha Kumiko

In all honesty, there are many projects you can start off with when it comes to Japanese woodworking. But they might be too complicated for anyone who has yet to grasp its basics. Hence, we picked the easiest ones to help you get familiarised with this style while learning more about the basic joints that use mortise and tenons.

1. Japanese Step Stool

A step stool is a great thing to have as it can be used by many people in your household. It can make it easier for you to reach objects placed at a height. Plus it’s even more important if you have kids at home. 

But what makes this a Japanese step stool you might be asking, since it is quite a common item. Well, it is designed with the principles and basics of Japanese woodworking in mind. 

It does not use any metal fasteners of sorts including nails, screws, or even adhesive. Also, such stools with this specific design are a very common household item in Japan. 

How to Craft It

Designing it will require you to use your Ryoba or Japanese saw to create the legs of the stool from two planks of wood. These planks need to be thick enough to bear a full-grown person’s weight and you can cut two legs of each plank for better stability and balance. You need to carve a tenon on both these legs on one end opposite the legs you just cut.

Then attach both these planks using a block of wood in the middle with a mortise and tenon. Cut a tenon in this block on both ends and carve a mortise slightly bigger than the tenon on the block. You will be driving a wedge above the slightly larger space in the tenon to make it so that it fits tightly.

Once that is done take another piece of wood that should be thick enough not to break when a fully grown person steps on it. Cut out two mortises on one side and two on the other. These will be sliding into the tenons you carved onto the leg. Then once that is done, drive wedges into the tenons so that they fit tightly and do not loosen up.

Cut the excess of the wedges off and sand the tenons and the wedge so that it blends uniformly into the piece which will be the step. You can apply your choice of finish at the end.

Tips and Tricks

  • Do not drive the wedges too deep; it might split the wood.
  • Before driving the wooden wedges, cut a pilot with your Ryoba.
  • Round off the edges of the stool for more comfort.

2. Japanese Toolbox

A toolbox is an important item in any woodworker’s arsenal to keep their tools safe. It also helps organise tools and lets you have easy access to them. 

Plus finding tools in a workshop also becomes much easier when you have a toolbox in which you store them. But how is a Japanese toolbox any different than a regular one?

A Japanese toolbox is used to keep Japanese chisels safe from damage along with other tools. Japanese people use only wood to craft it without metal fasteners by using mortise and tenon joints.

How to Craft it

Plane and straighten 4 equal pieces of wood that will serve as the lid, the bottom, and the two sides of the toolbox. Once that is done, now cut two more pieces that are wider than the 4 pieces you cut before. These need to be wider since you will be carving mortises in these. Cut tenons on the 3 longer pieces of wood that will serve as the bottom and the two sides. These need to be cut at equal distance and sides.

Now time to carve the mortise in the two pieces of wood, you need to carve at least 2 mortises on one side, 2 on the parallel one, and two on the adjacent side for the bottom. Slide all the tenons in the mortises of one piece first, then the other. Once they have all slid in tightly, you can drive small wedges into the tenons just like you did with the stepstool to ensure a tight fit. Though if the mortise and tenon are exact measurements, the wedges are not necessary.

After everything is done, you can carve a small mortise and tenon on the lid to help you open and close it.

Tips for Crafting a Toolbox

  • Use a marking gauge or Kebiki to accurately mark the areas you need to cut with your Ryoba.
  • When carving the mortise, keep checking if the tenon fits the mortise snugly. If it does not then work on it a bit more until it does.
  • You can carve off the excess of your wedges as you did with the step stool and sand it to be uniform with the sides of the toolbox.
  • Don’t forget to apply a finish at the end outside the box. The inside will be used to store tools that will scratch the finish off so no need to waste it there.

3. Asa Noha Kumiko

Kumiko is the Japanese woodworking art of using wooden strips to create expressions. Each Kumiko pattern expresses different things, the Asa Noha pattern is for growth and stability. 

The Kumiko is used to create frames for sliding doors that are aesthetically pleasing and for lamps. The Asa Noha pattern itself is very popular throughout the globe which is why we chose it. 

How to Craft Asa Noha Kumiko

To craft the Asa Noha Kumiko, you will need to create a jig that will help you carve the edges of the wooden strips at the desired angle. This jig can be created with a block and each corner of the block can be cut at an angle. A groove can be carved on both sides to keep the thickness of the strips equal while the stopper in the groove helps carve the angular edges.

Once the jig is done, carve slits into strips at equal intervals that will act as the frame of the whole design. It will look like a window with four panes and the outer frame has double strips. Carve the edges of the strips at a 45-degree angle to help it slide in between the panes diagonally towards the centre. Then using different sized strips and 22.5 and 67.5-degree angular edges, slide these together in the Asa Noha pattern.

Once all of these slide in together you end it with a 45-degree wooden strip that holds the smaller strips together and you are done. For a more detailed explanation of how to craft your first Kumiko, check out this article.

Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure when creating the jig that all the angles are perfect, otherwise the Kumiko will not work.
  • Use one wooden block to cut all strips, you can carve the slits for the frame at the beginning before cutting the wood into strips.
  • Use chisels to carve the slits and the angles in the strips.

Final Thoughts

Japanese woodworking may look a bit confusing at first, but don’t worry and keep in mind that practice makes perfect. Just remember Japanese woodworking is all about precision and accuracy. Take your time, do everything patiently, don’t rush it even a bit. 

Japanese woodworkers take ages to master these techniques. So even if you do make mistakes, keep practising and learn more about the basics by working on the projects we’ve discussed above. Once you adapt to those, you’d be ready to take on more complex projects! 

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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