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Thread: How do Japanese carpenters work outdoors?

  1. #1

    How do Japanese carpenters work outdoors?

    A while back, I was stuck at my office due to a clogged pipe.
    I pulled out my dozuki, some Alaskan Yellow Cedar, and had a good time sawing...but I had a dewalt/fatmax folding table, veritas workholding, and a festool vac at the ready...

    How do Japanese carpenters work outdoors?

    Are there particular fixtures?
    I bought a 2x6 from Home depot yesterday, and plan to make some low saw horses once they dry out a bit.
    It's part of my quest to be like Stan...do good work, and have fun doing it.

  2. #2
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    Given the number of Japanese manufacturers of power tools (Makita, Hitachi, etc.), I suspect the answer is, "a lot like American carpenters." But if you meant, "How do Japanese carpenters using traditional Japanese hand tools work outdoors," try Googling "Japanese carpenters at work" and look at the images.

  3. #3
    Dont really know much on the Topic but Toshio Odate does go into that abit in his book which i can highly recommend, dont have it on hand right now but if i recall he talks about a Planing Beam and Sawhorses that remained at the customers house. Well the experts can probably give much more indepth answers, I'm curious myself on whats gonna come up.

    The Modern carpenters probably work alot like western ones.

  4. #4
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    I have no idea what they do exactly. But at an old house of mine I had a tiny shop and when it was nice did much of my work in the driveway and had a few devices to help.

    One was a jawhorse, it can clamp anything from very narrow up to a couple feet quite solidly. It is not super stable, but putting your foot in the bracket at the bottom of the front legs makes it quite usable.

    I also had a "stave press" which is a vertical clamping vice intended for bow making that we welded onto a mount that went into the receiver hitch on my truck, that made for a very stable hold for certain types of stock.

    I also had a knock down work bench. It was basically a pair of the beefy dewalt saw horses that have the grooves for 2x4s, I put the 2x4s in then and then screwed on 3 layers of 3/4 inch plywood. It was quite stable for things I used it for, today it has become the outfeed table for my table saw. Still handy to be able to knock it down for storage when I want the garage space back.

    Beyond that I had two wooden posts that we would mount vices to or clamp things too on occasion, and short logs for chopping etc. I did have a work mate for a bit but never found it useful, it was always to wobbly for anything I tried. My truck tailgate usually acted as my assembly table.

  5. #5
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    I can speak to how they work on the jobsites I have been involved in. Most of that work involved few traditional tools, but a few did and do.

    Sawhorses are sometimes used, but not as much as in the West. Short saw horses are used a lot. The cute sawhorses standing on two legs, and that Westerners like to imitate, are never seen on jobsites.

    A lot of work is performed on blue plastic sheets spread on the ground. Like many Asians, the Japanese are able to squat back on their heels and work long hours. My ankles won't rotate that far.

    Heavy duty wooden sawhorses are used in shops where timber frames are cut, but are seldom seen on the jobsite. Just too bulky to move around, too fragile around trucks and cranes, and don't hold up well if left in the rain. Welded steel sawhorses are used quite a bit for supporting structural steel, window assemblies, and other heavy components at the jobsite. These are left outside, for the duration, and not used inside the building. Sometimes they have a 2x4 attached to the bearing surface, often with carpet stapled on, as a cushion.

    For general carpentry work, joinery, drywall, finishes etc., plywood legs are assembled and a sheet of plywood placed on top making a table. These tables are cheap, easy to make, very stable, and especially easy to get into tight jobsites. Tight spaces are always a problem in Japan. They can be disassembled and loaded into a truck, or leaned against a wall under the eaves at the end of the day. They usually include two sets of bases, but in tight quarters, a single set with a smaller piece of plywood on top works too. Its a very flexible work surface. I'm sure some of you have used something similar in your work. I don't think the idea originated in Japan.

    If a tabletop stiffer than a single sheet of plywood is required, they will make a simple torsion box from 2 sheets of plywood separated by strips and glued together. This can be placed on top of the same plywood legs to create the table.

    Planing beams of the kind Mr. Odate showed in his book are still used.

    I have seen a planing beam or other piece of wood laid across two short sawhorses on every jobsite I have walked in Japan. Layout, planing, chisel work, drilling, sanding can all be performed.







    PS: Notice in one of the pictures above that shoes are visible. Shoes are removed during much interior work.

  6. #6
    Wow!

    Thanks for the tip!

    By the way, do you have any details on how low saw horses are made?
    I thought it was a well fitting cross lap joint.
    However, the ones I've seen online (Mafe at lumberjocks, MAKE magazine) have dowels inside.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Lau View Post
    Wow!

    Thanks for the tip!

    By the way, do you have any details on how low saw horses are made?
    I thought it was a well fitting cross lap joint.
    However, the ones I've seen online (Mafe at lumberjocks, MAKE magazine) have dowels inside.
    When I made mine, 20 + years back, I also used a dowel. Could it be that way in the Odate book? I was reading it then.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Lau View Post
    Wow!

    Thanks for the tip!

    By the way, do you have any details on how low saw horses are made?
    I thought it was a well fitting cross lap joint.
    However, the ones I've seen online (Mafe at lumberjocks, MAKE magazine) have dowels inside.
    Matt:

    I have seen it done both ways, with and without dowels.

    The first set of 4 horses I made 40 years ago are joined with a simple half-lap joint between leg and beam. This has loosened up a couple of times, but I just used some glue to tighten things up. They have been through the wars, abused by hammers, saws, chisels, and drills, chewed on by children and dogs, and stained with paint. I am still using that original set.

    I made another set of 4 wider horses some years later when I was living in Japan. I followed Mr. Honda's example. Same half-lap joints, but the cuts on the legs are sloped, tapering inward towards the bottom. The corresponding cuts on the beam's sides are sloped to match, so that the legs and beam lock together very tightly indeed, and better deal with expansion/contraction due to humidity changes. This is an easy joint to cut. There are several details one can employ to improve this joint's fit and appearance, but its about as good as it gets, IMO.

    I think dowels are OK, but they don't appeal to me.
    Last edited by Stanley Covington; 03-13-2018 at 7:15 AM.

  9. #9
    Stan,

    Mind showing pictures?

  10. #10
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    Well clearly their knees are made differently.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Lau View Post
    Stan,

    Mind showing pictures?
    This is one of the first four I made many moons ago. I think the legs loosened up twice over the years, but a dab of glue tightened things up each time. No dowels.

    The wood is DF/Larch, if I recall correctly, that I scrounged from stripped concrete forms at the jobsite in Las Vegas I was working at the time. A JC Penny's store, I think.

    Stan

    IMG_0005.JPGIMG_0006.JPGIMG_0007.JPG

  12. #12
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    Great thread! Thanks for the photos Stan. In addition to the low horses I like those plywood stands, that is ingenious.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  13. #13
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    You are welcome.

    These four smaller horses are intended to be used primarily for layout and saw work while resting on the floor/slab/ground with me sitting in front of two of them.
    The other two are set off to the side to keep completed pieces or the next pieces close at hand, or to support material to both sides of the mitersaw.

    Resting a beam of some sort on two horses provides a place for chisel work and cutting mortises, etc, using a butt clamp or adjustable C-clamps. The planing beam can do double duty.

    The horses nest together, and can be strapped into a compact bundle, and thrown over my back to carry one-handed from truck to jobsite. Very convenient.

    The other four are the same height, but the beam is twice (?) the thickness and length, and the feet have a wider stance. Those are in the US right now. These are more stable and better able to handle heavier loads. Four of them can support several tons with no problems whatsoever.

    The little horses also work very well when placed on a workbench for gang-layout and gang-sawing.

    Another useful application is glue-ups and assembly. The horses make it easy to apply clamps. I recommend placing a sheet of newspaper over each sawhorse to keep glue drippings from accumulating. It can get messy otherwise.

    You can see horses supporting the boards the guy is working on in the fourth picture in my first post.

    If you decide to make some, avoid the temptation to use a heavy hardwood. They need to be lightweight and the wood equal in hardness or softer than whatever they will support. Making them pretty will make you look amateurish in the eyes of professionals, at least in Japan where these are seen everywhere. Mine are fancier than most.

    Four of these horses can support everything from doors to entire timber frame bents during assembly. Just put one at each corner.

    I think I broke the toe of one of the feet off once, but just glued it back on and pinned it with a finish nail from the bottom. They are very durable.

    I have a Makita mitersaw (also in the US) to which I attached similar feet making the table the same height as my 8 horses. This is a very useful arrangement in the field, as you can imagine.

    The plywood table is a great tool. Cheap, strong, versatile, easy to transport, and extremely useful. As I said before, I don't think this is a Japanese invention, since I can recall seeing similar tables on construction sites in the US when I was a young man, usually for drawings. If you work in the field, a table like this is very useful. I had one that I used for many years, but gave it to a subcontractor friend in California before transferring to Japan. 5/8" CDX, painted with white exterior latex, with my company name stenciled on each leg. The paint helped to keep them from walking away, and protects them from sunlight and rain-damage if they get caught in a shower before I could get them indoors.

    I don't recommend it, but I have seen carpenters make an ersatz tablesaw by bolting a circular saw to the underside of the table. Very dangerous, but useful.

    PS: If you drill a hole in the plywood top, you can lock the all the parts, either while assembled or disassembled, with a chain or cable lock. Not a problem in Japan, but I had one go walkabout over a weekend in the US.
    Last edited by Stanley Covington; 03-14-2018 at 10:34 AM. Reason: ersatz

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Stanley Covington View Post

    Making them pretty will make you look amateurish in the eyes of professionals, at least in Japan where these are seen everywhere. Mine are fancier than most.
    I think the same idea applies, in Japan, in the woodworker scene, to your tool box. Very sensible thinking.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by ernest dubois View Post
    I think the same idea applies, in Japan, in the woodworker scene, to your tool box. Very sensible thinking.
    An excellent observation. When I see examples of Japanese-style toolboxes made in the West from fine woods and using elegant joints, I am embarrassed for the guys that made them. They don't know the difference, and there is nothing inherently wrong in lavishing expense and time on a toolbox, but in the context of Japanese tradition, it feels silly and strange to me.
    Last edited by Stanley Covington; 03-14-2018 at 5:07 AM. Reason: spulling

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