Canadian Woodworking

Japanese woodworking exhibition / Intricate Chinese woodworking / COVID-19 consequences

Blog by Rob Brown
Japanese woodworking exhibition

Over the past few decades I’ve enjoyed learning about Japanese design and woodworking. I’ve even built a few pieces of furniture drawn heavily from Japanese tradition. I’m intrigued by the unique traditions and incredible strength and accuracy that come with how the Japanese have worked wood for many centuries.

The Japan Society in New York City has an exhibition on Japanese woodworking tools, architectural patterns and joinery techniques. Titled “When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan,” the exhibition is on until July, and there are some cool things you can see on their website,

There’s an article in Design Boom that discusses the exhibition.

Reading about the exhibition, and seeing all the Japanese joinery and tools, makes me want to build another step tansu.

Intricate Chinese woodworking

After I watched some of the videos about the Japanese exhibition, I went down an Internet rabbit hole about Chinese woodworking. With such strikingly beautiful architecture, history and woodworking, it’s a topic I often dive into. I came across a beautifully made video about a few different Chinese woodworking topics. The video wasn’t in English, nor did it have any subtitles, but the visuals were very engaging, especially if you’re a woodworker.

Part of the video covered making a model of what I think was the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. One of the most stunning parts of the video was around the 10-minute mark, when a person took apart a very small door from a model of the temple, and showed the tiny, incredibly intricate parts that made up that door. When you see the door is only a small portion of the entire model you start to realize how impressive the entire model is.

I also really enjoyed seeing Chinese craftsmen assemble the grillwork that’s common in Chinese culture. With all the intricately curved parts and the necessary joinery, I wouldn’t even know where to start when making door panels like these.

Even though I didn’t understand one word in it, I enjoyed this video.

COVID-19 consequences

About six weeks ago, CW&HI surveyed our readers to learn a bit more about how COVID-19 has affected Canadian woodworkers. Around the same time, I wrote a weekly column pondering the question “Is COVID ‘good’ for hobby woodworkers?” Why did I use the word “good”? Although COVID-19 has impacted all of us greatly, I felt woodworkers were lucky to have something enjoyable and productive to do with their time while social distancing. We’ve since got the results from that survey. It seems COVID has indeed provided a bit of a boost to the amount of time many woodworkers have been able to spend in the shop. With more time on their hands, and nowhere to go, people have turned to our great hobby to keep both their minds and bodies active. In fact, 49% of respondents said they’re spending more time in the shop than before the pandemic began, while only 20% say they’re spending less time in the shop.

Obviously, the survey comments range quite a bit, but if I could sum them up with two examples the first would be “My woodworking is keeping me sane.” This notion came up a lot. Just having something to do has been critical to many people over the past year. Having said that, other respondents commented on how life during COVID-19 has been far too busy to allow much time for woodworking.

The second most common comment we received referred to the cost and availability of woodworking-related products. “I’ve noticed that wood, tools and supplies have increased in price a lot,” was one comment, but it was a sentiment shared by many who filled out our survey.

I can’t give you even the slightest clue as to when COVID-19 will be in our rearview mirror, but I can tell you I’ve been thankful for having something creative and fun to do while keeping my distance from others.

Stay healthy, and enjoy what shop time you have.

The Japan Society

The exhibition, titled “When Practice Becomes Form: Carpentry Tools from Japan” is on until July, though it can be viewed online, too.

Japanese woodworking exhibition

Near Perfection

It’s not until you see many architectural parts close up that you realize how intricate they are, and the level of skill required to make all these parts.

Near Perfection

Coming Together

Once together, the parts work together to form a strong, lasting part of a traditional Japanese structure.

Coming Together

Cross Section

Seeing all the parts of a Japanese roof, and learning how they work together to create a structure that will stand the test of time, is pretty incredible.

Cross section

Temple of Heaven

Though the real-life building is in Beijing, this to-scale model is not only gorgeous, but very impressively made. I almost think these tiny parts would have been harder to work with than their much larger counterparts.

Temple of Heaven

Intertwined Parts

Hundreds of parts were joined together to form the lattice-work panels for doors and other architectural details.

Intertwined parts
Last modified: May 15, 2022

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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