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Japanese Tools: How They're Madecomments (8) October 1st, 2010 in blogs
By Garrett Hack
Part two on Garrett Hack's recent trip to Japan. In part one, read about Hack's visit with a Master Craftsman and his particpation in a "plane off."
To the northwest of Tokyo, all the way across Japan, is the tool making center of Sanjo City. I had introductions to two craftsmen there, a maker of wooden plane bodies (dai) and a father and son pair of blacksmiths making all types of edge tools.
Communicating with them was going to be a problem, as few of the craftsmen I met spoke much English. Fortunately, by the time my class ended near Tokyo, I had 4 woodworkers who wanted to tag along, all willing to translate.
The Dai (plane body) Maker
Isao Inomoto works in a modest shop in a line of what look like small factories. Trained by his father, Inomoto-san has been making dais for all of his 70 years. He is considered one of the best dai-makers in Japan, where craftsmen with the most revered plane irons go. Connected to his shop is a storehouse quite literally stacked-to-the-rafters with mostly white oak blanks for a variety of plane models.
The dai-maker's shop is literally stacked-to-the-rafters with wood blanks.
Inomoto-san works seated on a thin cushion on a wide and polished wooden stage. Between his legs is his “bench” — the top 2-in. of a post that goes through the floor to a firm foundation below. On the wall behind him are his and his father’s tools, and surrounding him are a few squat but heavy machines on wheels that he moves into place when he needs them, such as when drilling a dai for the steel pin that locks the cap iron and blade in place. His wife helps him, making hot tea on a little wood stove she keeps fired.
He works quickly and deftly, laying out the angled cuts for the mouth, and then with serious force and a large chisel, chopping it out in minutes. Grain orientation of the blank seemed less of an issue than consistent even grain, but the grain is usually quarter-sawn and perpendicular to the sole. Cutting the wedge-shaped grooves for the plane blade, fitting it exactly to a very snug fit, and adjusting the mouth took at most 20 minutes. He then drilled for the retainer pin, fitted the cap iron, and sharpened everything off the platform on a few large waterstones set between his legs. The shavings this plane took were streamers—not curls—flying out behind.
The blade he fit during my visit had been produced by a famous maker, perhaps taking months to forge and worth a thousand dollars or more. To me it looked no different than any other, maybe just a bit thicker. Inomoto-san pointed out how the high skill of the maker can be seen in the narrow and consistent weld line of the high carbon edge to the wrought back. This unique Japanese metallurgy has always been a mystery to me, how such blades are made and the unique hollows cut into their backs. I was very much looking forward to seeing the process up close.
posted in: blogs, Japanese tools
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