Precut – Modern Japanese Timber Construction - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Precut – Modern Japanese Timber Construction

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Last week, author and craftsman, Jay van Arsdale, founder of Daiku Dojo, a Japanese Woodworking group and one of our WIA 2011 instructors, sent me this link to a video on some of the technology that is being employed in Japan to combat the diminishing work force of skilled carpenters and the desire to eliminate waste of the job site.

As someone who has worked as a carpenter here in the states, and has witnessed the amount of waste that occurs on each job, this technology is really amazing.

– Ajax Alexandre

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Showing 6 comments
  • MichaelSJ

    These carpenters have prolonged their usefulness by incorporating machine technology to take the grunt work out of traditional joinery (chopping and sawing).
    Analogies are always poor examples: My son is a machinist who started in on manually lathes. Even I can operate a manual lathe (smile), but he went on to learn how to use CNC on lathes. He is now one of the few in the San Jose area who is still working in the machine shop industry and is NEVER out of work.
    He could not have achieved his status as a highly respected machinist if he had stayed with manual lathes.
    Gotta do what you gotta do to survive.

  • CarlosJD

    Matt S, Not sure that I agree with everything you said. Yes they are replacing man with machine but is there rush of people trying to get into that profession who would be affected. As they said it is an aging work force and I don’t think they would want it to die. What’s the alternative . . . stick built homes like we have here? It was these craftsmen who created this type of joinery and construction methods and I think they would welcome it continued using modern methods as opposed to it dieing.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know where you’re coming from but this has become a world of limited resources. Some things just need to be modernized and made more efficient.

  • hmann

    At least in Japan they are trying to preserve a building method/tradition with ‘new’ technology. Although still available, timber framing in the states has almost been completely replaced with platform, stud, stick, etc (whatever you want to call it) type of framing; and even then the majority of it is manufactured off site as panels and hoisted in place on the job site. So, while old masters may prefer to see their craft die than be replaced by machines at least traditional buildings can still be built that will last many decades, even centuries. Plus, I would imagine some will still carry on their time honored methods even though the numbers involved in the craft might be much smaller. Something like this can even spark a revival and help preserve how the work was done in centuries past.

  • Matt S

    I hope everyone realizes that this is just more of replacing man with machine. I think if you asked the old masters of the craft if they would rather see it die than to be replaced by machines, and the craftsmen reduced to skilled Lego assemblers, they would let it die. Just my two cents.

    • Steve_OH

      You might be surprised at how much the process in the video resembles traditional Japanese construction processes. Japanese construction has been highly modularized for over 1000 years, with most major components being prefabricated offsite, labeled, wrapped and then assembled (yes, a bit like Lego) at the building site.

      The skills of the traditional Japanese carpenter fall into two broad categories: Experienced senior carpenters understand how to translate the language of modular components, including the myriad variations of joinery, into living and working spaces (what modern architects refer to as the “program” of a building), and journeyman carpenters are able to quickly and efficiently cut the joints that are required. The mechanization in the video replaces (or, more accurately, supplements) the latter, but not the former.

      _Measure and Construction of the Japanese House_, by Heino Engel, and _Genius of Japanese Carpentry_, by Azby Brown, are good starting points for understanding traditional Japanese construction techniques.


  • Eric R

    That’s gotta send a shiver up the spine of the hang tool only crowd…….
    Score one for the machines.

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