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Ethan Cheng

“Japanese architecture is traditionally based on wooden structures that need renovating on a regular basis.” -Tadao Ando In Japan, there are buildings made of wood that were built 1,000 years ago. Due to difficulties acquiring other materials like stone and iron, the Japanese tried to create architecture using wood and nothing else. However, since wood is not as strong as other materials and can also be prone to wear and rot, the joints that hold a structure together must be replaced and maintained. That is the job of a miyadaiku carpenter. Since the Japanese had no access to adhesives or metal to secure wood pieces, they had to design and make complicated interlocking wood joints to connect parts of the structure. There are three forms of wood which carpenters make, namely 継手 (tsugite, extensions), 組手 (kumite, joints) and 詞口 (shikuchi, angled joints). Each joint or extension has interlocking parts which are intricately designed and requires decades of skill to precisely execute cuts to shape a wooden block to become the desired shape. By incorporating all three forms, a building can be assembled. Since wooden buildings need repair every hundred years or so, the Japanese would make the buildings modular and easy to disassemble to make maintenance more straightforward. Although miyadaiku carpentry stays clear of the use of nails, screws, adhesives or electric tools, the Japanese have developed their own unique tools for woodworking, which are somewhat unorthodox when compared to Western equipment. For example, the saw, known as a 鋸 (nokogiri), cuts into the wood when it is pulled towards the handler, instead of the pushing stroke present on Western saws. This allows the blade to relatively thinner than a typical Western saw. There are to main types of cutting teeth on Japanese saws, namely 横挽き (yokobiki, ‘crosscut’) and 縦挽き (tatebiki, ‘rip’). Both the rip and crosscut teeth are combined in one blade, known as the 両刃 (ryoba, lit. ‘dual edge’) which is a very versatile cutting tool since the worker can switch between sides depending on the cut needed. These saws work in harmony along chisels, mallets and plane blocks to help the carpenter to execute precise cuts and create the complex joints required. Most of the time, joints are left as part of a building’s aesthetic, since they are themselves works of art. “I’m not inventing anything new, I’m just using existing material differently.” -Shigeru Ban

The Art of Japanese Wood-joinery: Repairing Buildings Without a Single Nail: News
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