The human race has been utilizing wood for thousands of years. From building structures to furniture, tools, bowls, and anything that could make life easier. Wood is one of the easier materials to work with in creating almost anything. In fact, did you know the oldest building in the world is in Japan? It’s known as the Horyuji Temple and was built around the year 600 and rebuilt 100 years later after a fire.
Conquer the complex
One of the most impressive aspects of Japanese woodworking that we can look back on is their use of very complex joinery known as Tsugite, which allowed structures to be built without metal supports, nails or even glue. Modern day architects still respect the brilliant craft of tsugite, and if you’re like me, you’d tilt your heads with confusion like a cat staring at an empty food bowl when looking at some of the amazing feats of engineering prowess in the buildings.
I’ll bet the ancient Japanese carpenters never stopped and thought “Carpentry is going to be this way forever” while they are hollowing a piece of timber for a mortise and tenon joint. Imagine if one of those craftsmen walked into 2018 and saw the technology we have today. As a side note, the a version of the tsugite building technique is still being practiced today in modern Japanese architecture, but due to more strict requirements to prevent collapse during an earthquake, there has been advances in the technique.
What do we use today?
More commonly you’ll find the use of joinery in more simple things today, like cabinets and kitchen drawers where “dovetail joints” are used almost without exception. Today skilled craft men and women will use tools to create joints such as the dovetail. Tools could range from hand chisels to specialty router bits to get a consistent cut every single time.
A typical dove tail joint has a “trapezoidal” shape to it. Both mating pieces are carved in a way that they interlock for strength; then glue is typically applied to give the joint longevity.
There are over a dozen different types of joints from simple to intermediate in difficulty. Examples could be a simple butt joint which the work pieces are literally butted together in an “L” shape, a miter joint which requires some math to cut the end of each work piece to an angle (typically the two angles together will make 90°). But there are certain joints that can be done quickly with the use of a table saw, such as a dado joint where a “trench” is made in one work piece that is wide enough to accept the other mating piece in a perpendicular manner.
It’s easier today than ever before to be a carpenter or woodworker since the popularity of power tools has taken off. [Not that it’s an easy job, but we aren’t falling timber by hand anymore to build log cabins]. It’s an interesting fact to know that all woodworking was done by hand only a couple hundred years ago.
In 1700s and 1800s America, one of the most important crafts was Carpentry. Many tasks required the use of hand tools until inventions were made to simplify the carpenters job.
Pictured to the left is a worker hand-planing a piece of timber. Common practice before the invention of timber mills (which produce lumber that we can now buy at home improvement stores around the world).
It’s important to acknowledge the hard work that was put in by those who practiced woodworking out of necessity, for shelter and for long-term sustainability for humanity. They’ve paved the way for us to enjoy all of the amazing opportunity there is in woodworking as a hobby or as a skill that could result in tremendous financial gain.
In modern-day America, we have many tools at our disposal to produce quality architecture efficiently. The freedom to do as you’d like in modern day society also gives great opportunity to those who enjoy working with their hands. To set up a woodworking operation, you could start simply with a saw, some nails and a hammer to being creating your own works! Or you could go a more traditional route and become an apprentice to a master craftsman in a specific woodworking field such as cabinetry or in a more broad area of work where you could build anything you’d like (or anything your customers would like).
Keep the craft alive by researching traditional methods and how they have been improved upon throughout decades, centuries and millennium. Even consider the crafting of warships eons ago in ancient Greece which were used to fight wars in the some of the most brutal seas on Earth; and even used to ram other ships while remaining intact! (Now THAT is amazing).