Sunday, 28 April 2013

Thoughts on a Japanese woodwork demo

Back in 2010 I visited the Cressing Temple woodwork show which was, in many ways, excellent. There was a significant Japanese element on both stands and tool sales supported by a live demonstration by a "genuine" Japanese woodworker of apparent renown.

Having stood in the crowd for some time watching the object of veneration I was struck by the significant absence of activity. There was much posturing and preparation, gesticulation and posing, but not a lot a sawdust or shaving produced. A significant requirement appeared to be fully toed woolly socks but I failed to spot any prehensile gripping or manipulation taking place. At the end of the day I went back and confirmed that nothing had apparently been made.

Whilst I do have a few Japanese tools, and use them where appropriate, I think the surrounding hype  grossly over-plays their qualities. In particular, since Japanese woodwork is usually in softwood they are not always suited to European timbers and illustrate this by cracking up on the edge. I have also had 4 laminated paring chisels bend into bananas after several years of use and teeth break off saws.

Supporters speak in hushed tones about asiatic meisters, crouching in darkened workshops, in heaps of charcoal and straw, beating out sabre like blades. They use ancient knowledge which is, of course, a closely guarded secret, to be handed to each generation only from the deathbed of the former.

Personally I suspect there is more of a commercial element in exploiting this marketing hype, which is not always sustained by the performance of the tools in use. It is difficult to find planes and chisels which outperform the recent offerings from USA and Canada, not to mention our own, more traditional survivors when used in European conditions. The price levels of Japanese tools tend to support this and are completely unjustified in real terms. Some of the sellers both here and in wider Europe have driven this cult to fever pitch and no doubt profited handsomely from the result.

What really annoys me is the false fervour which is encouraged amongst the believers and leads the less experienced into an expensive and often disappointing experience.

I was reminded of this at yesterday's gathering in Lincolnshire and dug out the original skit clip I made a the time for the benefit of those who may have missed it first time around.

It is shown in the original sideways format to illustrate the ridiculousness of the situation and also because I have not been able to find any software to turn it around :-)


Jamie Hubbard said...

Mmm, I joined in with the hype at the end of the 80s. I use my waterstones more than my oil stones ( I use those on site on rare occasions) my back saw Dozuki, I find really useful, on some occasions. The chisels Ori nomi Cut beautiful, but spend most of their time under wrapping..

Good read,


Modernist said...

Hi Jamie, I also use waterstones, exclusively in my case. I'm not saying all Japanese tools are bad but the hype is overdone.

Andy King said...

Hi Brian,

I use waterstones to buy books from! :-) I prefer the speed, ease and mess free of my diamond stone.
I agree about the reverence afforded to japanese stuff, i've used plenty of it, planes chisels and saws and can't see what the fuss is about... Makes me wonder if you went to Japan there would be a load of tool fiddlers speaking about Western tools in similar hushed tones!
'Emperors new clothes' is a pretty good analogy for me in this instance :-D

Andy King

Doug Barratt said...

There was a piece on radio 4 about Japanese enrolling on Western style wood work courses, perhaps the same is true in Japan as in England only over there the hype is about western tools, these tool manufacturers have to market there goods somewhere & I suppose the woodwork media have to come up with different angles on the same subject so the hype just builds.

Thing is if you can`t cut a dovetail with a western chisel a Japanese one isn`t going to help & vise versa, but that sort of attitude don`t sell tools so keep buying & your skills will