A Beginner’s Guide to Japanese Joinery

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What is Japanese Joinery?

Centuries before the invention of screws and fasteners, Japanese carpentries created their own beautiful and effective woodworking joints (known as joinery), closely related to Japanese architecture. It is the work of tightly slotting together pieces of timber or lumber to hold together and produce more complicated items. Joinery does not require materials such as stitching, glue, and nails because of the elaborately carved interlocking wooden joints.

The advantages of having Japanese joinery is the fact that they are incredibly durable, tough, flexible, visually appealing and material efficient. These characteristics depend on the properties of the materials involved and the purpose of the joint, with many diverse types of joinery for meeting differing requirements. For example, the joinery used to construct a house is different from what would be used to make furniture, granting some joinery designs overlap.

The four Japanese carpentry professions

Though all Japanese carpenters follow the same practise, they can be split up into four different and distinct woodworking professions. Their experience with various forms of joinery, as well as the wide variety of joints they craft, and the tools they use to make them separate out the different types of carpentry. The four professions are listed below:

Miyadaiku 宮大工

Here the carpenters practice the construction of Japanese shrines and temples, which is known for their use of elaborate joints to make well-structured and extremely long lasting structures. In fact, these buildings they construct are frequently found among the world’s longest surviving wooden structures.

Sukiya-daiku 数奇屋大工

These carpenters are more famed for their particularly delicate and aesthetic constructions. They typically construct treehouses and residential type structures, such as staircases and window frames.

Tateguya 建具屋

These people are interior finishing carpenters who build shōji 障子 (Japanese sliding doors). They also create carved, small wooden wall decorations that are known as ranma 欄間.

Sashimono-shi 指し物師

These carpenters are similar to Tateguya but they craft more general furniture such as sofas, chairs, cabinets and more.

So why has this joinery now become so insanely popular?

Japanese joinery has recently resurfaced thanks to the digital age and the mesmerising GIFs that we now have the technology to create. Because of the incredible beauty of the joinery designs, and how incredibly fascinating and satisfying these GIFs are, you’ll see for yourself why they’ve gone viral.

Check them out! Below we’ve collated some of the coolest designs for you to ogle at. Pretty cool, huh?

A big factor towards the popularity is the mystery element of Japanese joinery. Even until recent times, the techniques for making certain joinery designs were kept a fiercely guarded secret of family carpentry guilds, and away from public knowledge.

However, several years ago, a young Japanese man who had a passion for Japanese joinery collected joinery books from all over the world to gain more understanding about them. Sadly, he found that the books were not helpful because the two-dimension stills made it difficult to visualise how the joints come together.

So then he came up with a solution, using all of the books he found he used his woodworking experience to create three-dimensional, clear to understand illustrations in a program called Fusion360. These animations created a satisfying and easy way for the public to appreciate how these joinery designs work, and now the world can visualise them for the first time ever.

This young Japanese man solved the mystery of Japanese joinery and now we get to see the incredible art that goes into this beautiful and intriguing carpentry. You can see his full collection of joinery illustrations on his Twitter: @TheJoinery_jp

Although having revealed the secrets of the Japanese joinery trade, the carpenter himself remains an unnamed mystery.

The man behind the revolution though has hopes that Japanese joinery will always be a popular way to create structures, and in sharing some of the techniques online has ignited further passion in the joinery industry.

The complex cuts needed to create these joints have traditionally been too expensive to use in standard homes for structural building or furniture. However, with the constant rise in technology and 3D-printing techniques, not only will it be more affordable and reliable, it will continue to get easier to create complex forms with digital designing software.

Enjoy this article? Share this new trend and be part the innovation! Or if you share one of the cool designs above, include our handle @CadJoinery so we can see which you liked the most!