Forward Motion

From this…

IMG_1906To this…


At this point I’ve got all the pieces milled and cut to working size. You can see from the above image there are 2 rails, 2 stiles, and 7 kumiko. In Van Arsdale’s Shoji, he lays out plans for creating 4 screens. The screens are the same size and are intended to work together as an entire unit. I’ll be building this first one as a trial and if all goes well, end up with two workable screens to create a simple, single, sliding unit.

One completed screen will be approximately 2’x3′. That puts the working size of the rails at 25″ x 1 1/4″ x 2 1/2″, the stiles at 37″ x 1 1/4″ x 1 1/2″, the horizontal kumiko (4) at 22″ x 1/4″ x 3/8″, and the vertical kumiko (3) at 32″ x 1/4″ x 3/8″.

My rails and stiles ended up being somewhat thinner and narrower, based entirely on my inexperience using a hand plane to joint to square and plane to thickness. I can’t see that this will cause much of an issue in the long run-we’re talking maybe 1/16″ to 1/8″ less than the specified plans. Which means on the following screens, during the power milling process, I’ll leave more room for error, I mean practice.

For those who are interested-I used a table saw (one could certainly substitute a good band saw here), chop saw and planer to get everything to the rough measurements. From there I’ve moved to hand tools. I’m mixing Eastern and Western hand tools for a couple reasons. I feel comfortable using Japanese saws and chisels. However when it comes to planes, I have little to no experience with the Japanese variety. They remain that mysterious dark space in my time spent woodworking. I would very much like to explore Japanese planes further, and in fact while using a #4 bevel-up smoothing plane, especially on the longer stiles, it seemed it would have been easier to pull the plane rather than push. But I am also frankly out of shape when it comes to the motions needed for good planing practice-it is no doubt a good workout. For now I really want to make the best possible Shoji that I can-perfection is the goal.

I’ve also been using a low angle block plane. My strategy at this point has been to take off a bit of a thicker shaving with the #4 Smoother and when I need to work on truing one particular place on a rail or stile I bring in the low angle block which is set to take a very thin shaving. This lets me spend a lot of time taking thin passes, checking the work for true and then move back to the smoother for a final pass. Prior to final assembly I will go over everything again with the #4 and take the thinnest shaving I can manage. One trick I learned for a final burnish is to take a handful of those fine shavings and rub down the planed piece. It creates a lovely, smooth sheen.

The other technical note is that of sharpening. Everything I’ve read about issues that come up with using hand tools have all emphasized one thing-keep your tools sharp. I’d like to add my voice to that chorus. The moment things start feeling wonky, out of wack, etc., go sharpen your tools. And that is an entirely different beast, but one well worth exploring. I’ve been using Japanese waterstones with a grit of 1000 and 6000 and an Atoma diamond lapping plate at 400 grit to keep them flat. And a honing guide does wonders for the novice. There are numerous resources out there explaining the process; a little research and a lot of experimentation will pay off in the end.

As the kumiko are still “roughly” milled, I need to design a jig to allow me to hand plane them. Which might sound easier than it actually is-the kumiko are only 1/4″ x 3/8″ making them quite vulnerable to damage. Once I figure that out, it will be on to cutting the tenons and then hollowing out the mortises in rails & stiles respectively.


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