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post #1 of 42 Old 03-24-2019, 12:37 PM Thread Starter
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Japanese joinery

Like most new wood workers, I find myself digging into the interweb and overwhelming myself with info. The more I look at, the more I find an incessant craving to learn Japanese joinery. The intricacy of the joints is just gorgeous. I've found out that there are as many as 40 basic joints in Japanese carpentry. And that's just the basics.

Since coming here, I've met some very informative guys that really know their stuff. One in particular really knows a lot about Japanese carpentry. He has said many times that you need to learn to understand the wood you're working with and how it will behave in the application you're using it.

It never really clicked on what that meant until recently when reading an article about old Japanese buildings and why they have stood for so long. Little things like the knots on a tree. The larger knots and higher number of knots on one side of a log indicate that side was facing south while it grew, and in turn it would be placed in the same orientation when being used.

All that fascinating stuff aside, I guess I should get to my question. 🤣🤣 Is there a particular reason this type of carpentry is not seen in the U.S. as a way of building? Is it because of building codes being so much different here? Maybe the types of woods that are indigenous here versus there?
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post #2 of 42 Old 03-24-2019, 01:34 PM
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I think I saw the same video today regarding knots on the south side of a tree. I think most of the world has not taken the time to ponder such things. It makes sense that in timber type construction that if you stand up the post in the same orientation that the tree grew that it would be the most stable because over the lifetime of the tree it was exposed to the same forces of nature to survive.

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post #3 of 42 Old 03-24-2019, 03:12 PM Thread Starter
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I think I saw the same video today regarding knots on the south side of a tree. I think most of the world has not taken the time to ponder such things. It makes sense that in timber type construction that if you stand up the post in the same orientation that the tree grew that it would be the most stable because over the lifetime of the tree it was exposed to the same forces of nature to survive.
I saw the video as well. The article wasnt long, but had a link to the original video that was more or less the same thing just in more detail. I think the channel is Japanology Plus. Very interesting.

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post #4 of 42 Old 03-24-2019, 03:27 PM
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I have been watching more videos on Japanese joinery as of lately. It is very fascinating to me how every thing just seems to fall into place with joints so tight they look like they grew there. To me that IS fine woodworking. Watching some of the fellows in action does remind me of fine furniture building, they are just that particular and precise.

I have been in awe of the Japanese tools for a long time, those fellows know their stuff.
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post #5 of 42 Old 03-24-2019, 03:56 PM
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" The larger knots and higher number of knots on one side of a log indicate that side was facing south while it grew, and i"



I think that would depend upon where it grew. Around here the orientation of the limbs seems to be rather symmetric. Coastal California would probably be different than interior Pennsylvania.


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post #6 of 42 Old 03-24-2019, 04:14 PM Thread Starter
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" The larger knots and higher number of knots on one side of a log indicate that side was facing south while it grew, and i"



I think that would depend upon where it grew. Around here the orientation of the limbs seems to be rather symmetric. Coastal California would probably be different than interior Pennsylvania.


George
I agree, as well as the species of tree. In that particular statement, the reference was to Japanese Cedar trees that grow on the mountain sides of Kyoto. I would imagine a tree that grows on a more flat terrain would exhibit different characteristics. This just shows how well they understood the trees. It was said that they could even tell which direction a particular piece of wood was going to warp over time as well as how much it was likely to warp. To me...that is amazing skill.
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post #7 of 42 Old 03-24-2019, 10:51 PM
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...Like most new wood workers, I find myself digging into the interweb and overwhelming myself with info. The more I look at, the more I find an incessant craving to learn Japanese joinery. The intricacy of the joints is just gorgeous. I've found out that there are as many as 40 basic joints in Japanese carpentry. And that's just the basics. ...
Hi Flatlander,

First, thanks for starting this PM, and do send me an email sometime...please.

I am sure to enjoy this conversation you have started, and I will bring your recent query here (if that is o.k with you...???) to help also illustrate some of the aspects of Asian design that is often either overlooked and/or misunderstood by "Westerners" in general...

I also want to stress...I am not...nor do I consider myself...an "expert" or even as well versed on this topic as I would love to be. I have spent over 4 decades studying it, and was fortunate to have been to Asia and to have grown up at a very tender age around a Tea House Carpenter and his Korean wife. All of this, plus my own families arts and crafts orientation did provided a good foundation, but I still (very much) consider myself a "student" of the art we call "woodworking."

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...you need to learn to understand the wood you're working with and how it will behave in the application you're using it...
As I was taught...and now have learned, it is simply impossible to be an actual..."Woodworker"...in any real sense of the word...without embracing this reality.

It is why I call most "wood workers" today..."wood machinists." I more than respect them, and do not mean that term in any form of condemnation or ridicule at all, but simply a response and observation to what most do, and what they really understand well. They know machines 100 times better than I do, and how to use them with wood. Yet very few actually take the time to..."learn wood"...the way it was known for millenia...and...still is by a few of us. Few can look at most boards or timbers and tell the root of the tree from the crown or the pith from the bark side, nor do they even care at all why that is important, or at least, might be. Even less could used that plank or timber in a "green" condition and make anything of great use from it other than fire wood...LOL... That is just the way of it since the 1950's...but a few of us have held on and it is now changing fast!!!

I would offer the observation, that in my life, I have never seen a resurgence of learning and understanding taking place in young people like I have seen in the last decade!!! Not only in wood, but in metal, ceramics, textiles and other guild arts as well!!! It is both outstanding and heartening to see these young Masters taking the crafts to levels that have not been seen in 1000 years. I personally think we are lucky (those of us of the "older" generation) to be witnessing a Renascence within the 21 century that is taking craft back thousands of years, while embracing the learned wisdom acquired up to now. Its a beautiful mix of "old and new" that will keep this all alive for generations to come...

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..It never really clicked on what that meant until recently when reading an article about old Japanese buildings and why they have stood for so long. Little things like the knots on a tree. The larger knots and higher number of knots on one side of a log indicate that side was facing south while it grew, and in turn it would be placed in the same orientation when being used.. ...
That is, the proverbial "tip of the iceberg" on all this. It is astounding how regionally specific (and species specific) this all is too. Not to mention culturally specific as well...

Just as a very small example, both from culture, belief systems and a deeper understanding of wood, most of those Woodworkers (no matter the style or application...from furniture maker to Shipwright or Timberwright to Bodger) would use the woods grain and growth to there advantage. Yet some took this to mean different things to them, and the way they use it. In the Middle East and Asia, for the most part, wood is used as it either grows, or falls in the forest (aka "crown up" and/or "bark side" up mainly) while in the Nordic and Western European cultures they had deep held beliefs that if a tree was used as it grew in orientation it would become alive again...!!!??? However, in some of there applications of wood, this made sense...but it all stems from a much deeper understanding of wood than many hold today...but that is changing...

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...All that fascinating stuff aside, I guess I should get to my question. 🤣🤣 Is there a particular reason this type of carpentry is not seen in the U.S. as a way of building? Is it because of building codes being so much different here? Maybe the types of woods that are indigenous here versus there? ...
Short answer...Yes there are many reasons...Prominently, in my experience, it is lack of exposure and understanding.

That is why we see most Asian style woodworkers on the West coast and even more in Hawaii...Another, is the still strongly held Eurocentric styles all through North America, from English and Dutch, to French, German and even Spanish vernacular systems of woodworking. Its all there in the physical record of furniture and architecture both...We just did not get the Asian cultures to impact the Western but in very small areas.

Then we have the added burden of the I.R. (industrial revolution) and the mindset it created that only became amplified after the Civil War and the World Wars. Industrialization amplified the fervor of "wood-machining" and also "dumb-down" the approach in many ways to how Westerns in both North America and Europe worked wood. We also had a huge loss in traditional historical understanding, not only from the IR but also from loosing countless "Masters" (not just in woodworking but other arts as well) during the Civil War, and then two massive World Wars. This is a topic few consider and many have overlooked accept for a few esoteric academics. All this has lead to a loss of understanding within tradtional building modalities let alone embracing the Asian depth of understanding too...

Now, on the "bright side"...it is here now. There are a few of us that build this way, and have been for decades. Now more than ever before and more are embracing these systems. I (and those I work with) don't build in the "Western" common styles.

For example, I design and build on stone (or mostly stone) and with mostly "Middle Eastern" and "Asian" principles. This is not to say a "copy" of those cultural traditions however. It is, very much, and "American Style" of building now in the 21st century that pays homage to the past and the wisdom from it. That is speaking to what work I do that is current, but when I work in restoration, conservation or replication, I follow the strict ethics of, "like for like...in means, method and materials," for not only the item/artifact itself, and its culture but that of the original creator...

So, on this post thread topic, I would offer that embracing the "Japanese motif" is great, but unless making a "replica" of something specific, make your work...your own!!! while you embrace the wisdom of this and other cultures...
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post #8 of 42 Old 03-25-2019, 02:21 PM
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[...] All that fascinating stuff aside, I guess I should get to my question. Is there a particular reason this type of carpentry is not seen in the U.S. as a way of building? Is it because of building codes being so much different here? Maybe the types of woods that are indigenous here versus there?
I have always assumed that it is because the two methods developed independently, in isolation from one another. The traditions that developed have been passed down through the generations of separate cultures. Now that we are less isolated and communication is easier, we can learn other methods from one another.

In addition to longstanding traditions, so much of what we do is codified into law and regulations that differ from country to country and culture to culture. I believe that communications and sharing will lead to evolutionary improvements over time.

In my humble opinion, the single best "traditional technique" that we could steal from other cultures to improve our woodworking would be to move to the metric system.
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post #9 of 42 Old 03-25-2019, 04:19 PM
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snip
In my humble opinion, the single best "traditional technique" that we could steal from other cultures to improve our woodworking would be to move to the metric system.
Hasn't worked that well here in Canada.

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post #10 of 42 Old 03-25-2019, 05:25 PM
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Cut it> saw it> plane it> nail it> paint it. Seems to be the present philosophy around here. To give an idea of the craftsmanship locally, I sold custom and factory built cabinetry. Never once saw a carpenter's square on any job site. I was in a high price home- the space between the outside wall and the trim around the closet door was one inch at the bottom and over two inches at the top of the trim; this is about seven feet.
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post #11 of 42 Old 03-25-2019, 07:14 PM
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A'men Brother...

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...In my humble opinion, the single best "traditional technique" that we could steal from other cultures to improve our woodworking would be to move to the metric system...
Hello T.A.,

I could not agree more...!!!...

With that little comment of yours, and my agreeance, I have seen more than one conversation overtly sidetrack because of the Metric vs. Imperial debate...

I say take it to another conversation if you don't like "metric!!!"

In context to this conversation:

I have used metric my entire life, all my tools are metric, all my CAD models are in metric, and most systems of measure found around the world in both the acient times and contemporary where based on "unit 10."

Germane to this conversation is the indigenous vernacular measuring system of the Japanese...which again...is based on "10" and unites there of...

Because I am wishing to type fast, some of this may have "typos" and I'm not "Googling" anything so some details may be slightly esque...???...but here goes.

The Japanese "Foot" is called a "Shaku" it is virtually exactly the same as a Imperial Foot at (?) something like ~98.7% to 99.5% depending on period and Prefecture. The Shaku is broken up in ten "Bo" and these are further segmented into Ren (?)...I think I have all the correct, but feel free to check me...The Japanese switched to Metric in a heartbeat when it came their way...but then again, so did most of the world and anyone with common sense...LOL!!!... yet I will own that is my (and the worlds?) bias perhaps...

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post #12 of 42 Old 03-25-2019, 08:53 PM
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I guess if the USA ever decided to go metric us guys up north would maybe follow suit. Nowhere is the advantage more obvious than in the printing industry. cut a metric letterhead sheet in half, or in quarters and the copy prints in the same proportion, try that with an 8 1/2 X 11 sheet.
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post #13 of 42 Old 03-25-2019, 10:48 PM
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In my humble opinion, the single best "traditional technique" that we could steal from other cultures to improve our woodworking would be to move to the metric system.
That would sure simplify things a lot, as long as a person didn't try to mix the two together. Just go straight metric. When I was using just the metric system I loved it.

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post #14 of 42 Old 03-26-2019, 12:27 AM
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Bilingual work...LOL

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That would sure simplify things a lot, as long as a person didn't try to mix the two together. Just go straight metric. When I was using just the metric system I loved it.
Hi Jim,

Oddly enough, we are completely "bilingual" when measuring...

Feet to millimeters to inch and back...Both Japanese metric framing squares are side by side on Western "old style" heavy framing squares...in both metric and imperial. My 16" combination square is also metric scale as well...both sides have them mirrored to each other. My tape measures too are combo...Stanley is my "go to" at 8 meter combo for most times when I find the need, which really isn't that often once story poles or "story tapes" are made...Joinery is only laid out once and corresponds to the timber design, then templates do the orientation and layout...

Once you start using both, it get easier quick, though I do not screw around with fractions much anymore...LOL...I like the "millimeter" for that, and I design and build all frames to 0.5mm...in application and "zero tolerance" in the CAD model. This leaves a frame with tight joinery even in live edge, most often...

It is quite fun work...to say the least...

j
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post #15 of 42 Old 03-26-2019, 12:37 PM
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[...] In my humble opinion, the single best "traditional technique" that we could steal from other cultures to improve our woodworking would be to move to the metric system.
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Hasn't worked that well here in Canada.
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Hello T.A., I could not agree more...!!! [...]
There was a lot behind that statement. The terseness was deliberate.

I have grown tired of living in a hybrid world. It is why we have 15/64, 23/32, and 31/64 router bits. It is why I write procedures that require a 5 mm hole exactly 1/2 inch above a certain mark.

I lived in Canada for several years, but I did not do woodworking there. (I have lived in "pure metric" countries, too.) I wish I had paid more attention to metric conversion issues. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed better. Perhaps Canada's conversion would have gone smoother if it weren't for the close economic ties with their neighbor to the south.

I believe that evolutionary conversion to metric is inevitable, but the slow pace is agonizing. We are doing a great disservice to our children's children by not hastening that conversion. By stubbornly adhering to the imperial system, we look more and more like Colonial Williamsburg to the rest of the world.
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post #16 of 42 Old 03-26-2019, 07:07 PM
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I hear you...and I agree!!!

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There was a lot behind that statement. The terseness was deliberate.

I have grown tired of living in a hybrid world. It is why we have 15/64, 23/32, and 31/64 router bits. It is why I write procedures that require a 5 mm hole exactly 1/2 inch above a certain mark.

I lived in Canada for several years, but I did not do woodworking there. (I have lived in "pure metric" countries, too.) I wish I had paid more attention to metric conversion issues. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed better. Perhaps Canada's conversion would have gone smoother if it weren't for the close economic ties with their neighbor to the south.

I believe that evolutionary conversion to metric is inevitable, but the slow pace is agonizing. We are doing a great disservice to our children's children by not hastening that conversion. By stubbornly adhering to the imperial system, we look more and more like Colonial Williamsburg to the rest of the world.
Hi T.A.,

I don't want to side track this thread so my post after this (later tonight) should get us back on track in that regard...

As to "using both"...I agree with you...It's stupid, unless doing restoration work. That is the only reason I do for the most part. New work is metric.

I can share that the Marines are fully metric as are all branches of the Armed Services that I know of and have/do deal with. Metric is here to stay...that's the simple reality of it, and "America" (the public-commercial) will get on the same page eventually, of that I have know doubt. It just hasn't "cost" enough yet to change, though many in manufacturing are doing so annually...Hospitals, Schools and other "higher institutions" are also...all metric...now. Its basically just the pugnacious aspects of the construction industry that has it's proverbially foot (or something else?) stuck in the "imperial mud," for the most part...

As to "hasn't worked that well here in Canada. " I didn't comment toward that because it's outside my personal experience...Every single colleague I deal with from Canada...from architecture to Logger/Sawyer...ALL...use metric? Yet, that's just my experience, so maybe there are holdouts up there too...???...LOL...

Metric is here, and it isn't going to go anywhere...no matter how the "holdouts"...LOL..."hold-on!!!"
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post #17 of 42 Old 03-26-2019, 07:32 PM
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I remember converting to Metric at GM Design ....

All of our measuring devices, scales and digital point takers were converted to Metric back in the late '70s or early 80's. They did not confiscate our Imperial scales in 1/100" which I still have in addition to the Metric scales I took home upon retirement. I can measure something in 3 different designations ...... but I use fractions of an inch, except on the mill and lathe where I use 1/1000s .



Of course, as an vintage 1980's truck owner and restorer I need both Imperial or fractional, Metric wrenches, spin tite drivers and sockets. Screw drivers have so far not converted nor have hammers..... However, wire gauges will convert in the future. Imagine asking for a 100 ft roll of 0.52 mm wire?

https://www.assemblymag.com/blogs/14...ry-goes-metric


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric...#Manufacturing

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post #18 of 42 Old 03-26-2019, 08:42 PM Thread Starter
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I am an American born and bred. Lived in the states all my life. All I have ever known is the imperial system. Although we were taught (in the 80's) some of the metric system each year in math class, it typically consisted of just one or two lessons.

I've been into woodworking most of my life, but primarily construction. Homes, pools, flatwork, etc. Even still I have always used the imperial system.

I started woodworking of this type about 6 mo ago. I've done little things in the past, but more playing around than being serious about it. As I go and learn I find myself using metric more frequently. When I need to rip a sheet of ply down or something larger I find myself naturally using the imperial system out of habit, but on smaller things I find metric makes more sense and gives more accuracy.
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post #19 of 42 Old 03-28-2019, 05:48 PM
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Japanese joinery is a trade barrier.
Everybody knows that the value added to a log is in the lumber production.
They claim that North American lumber is not cut to their level of precision.
So all they want is the raw logs. And there go the mill jobs.


I doubt also that Japanese claim that they are shaving 2 micrometers. 20 maybe is what it looks like to me.
I have cut and processed more than 3,000 microscope slides of wood sections.
I know what 20 micrometer thickness looks like: radial, transverse and tangential.


All the same, the metric data is so easily transferable around the globe now.
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post #20 of 42 Old 03-28-2019, 09:26 PM
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...Japanese joinery is a trade barrier. ...
...I'm probably not understanding your context of "trade barrier?"

I have colleagues that are "American" working as traditional carpenters in Japan...we now have Edge Smiths in America that hold "linage titles" from Japanese Masters.

I can say I have never experienced a "trade barrier" when a Japanese client wants something we have here...As to "the work" either one knows how to do the work...or they don't...


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...Everybody knows that the value added to a log is in the lumber production...
...I'm probably confused again...???...but yes, if I am understanding your point, a "milled bolt" is going to cost a client more off my mill than if they milled it themselves...

However, the actual "real cost" is in what is done to the wood after it leaves a mill for the most part, assuming you are pruchasing your wood "whole sale." Professional woodworkers tend to purchase wood "whole sale" and or have sources that basically get you a log that is as close to "stump price" as possible...More "advanced" wood working professionals (the Japanese are a good example too) like myself, Tim here on the forum and others also do our own milling, so we don't...buy wood...we by forests or trees...

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...They claim that North American lumber is not cut to their level of precision.
So all they want is the raw logs. And there go the mill jobs. ...
Uhm...Sorry...??!!...that is not a "claim" Brian...That is a simple reality of what they (and those like them...including myself) deal with...

Sawyers here (for the most part)...do not meet our specification for milling. Do I use "American" (and Canadain!) Sawyers...of course...and so do the Japanese, but these guys (like Tennessee Tim" here on the forum) are few and far between...It's not just a matter of slapping any old bolt up onto...any old mill and slamming our some wood slabs, or timbers...there is (for some of us) a lot more to it...

Whenever possible, I like doing my own milling, and or assisting in the process for certain projects.

That Japanese market is very unique and specific this way as well...and it actually cost them a...huge amount more...to have a log knocked into bolts and cants then finished lumber/timber in Japan than it would if it was milled here in North America. They would (and do!!!) purchase from such Sawyers when the can find them...and they also treat that "knowledge" and business relationship dearly!!!

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... I doubt also that Japanese claim that they are shaving 2 micrometers. 20 maybe is what it looks like to me....


You can "doubt" it all you wish Brian...that's fair

However you wouldn't even qualify in a 削ろう会 (Kzurou-kai...aka..."Scraping Party"...LOL...!!!) if your 鉋 (Kanna...aka: Plane) was "pooping out" 20. That is (at best) in the shop production thickness from knotty and/or "crappy" wood...4 to 8 is the average goal for the kind of finish that is wanted...when?...it is wanted. I don't work in that style typically myself...

Qualification thinckness at a 削ろう会 Ksurou-kai competition is in the 10 to 15...All are usually welcome to complete...Winners are in the 2 to 5 range at most good competitions...
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