Mizuya (8)

In the previous post in this series I detailed some of the hardware designs I had in progress. I believe that the jeweler who I have been in contact with has commenced making a sample piece of that hardware. I feel pretty good about the hardware designs for the sliding and hinged doors, however the drawer handles, I do suspect, will be subject to some revision(s) yet.

Speaking of revisions, several have been made with the cabinet itself. Last time I covered this topic, I had changed the cabinet framing to being mostly bubinga, with a smattering of rosewood. In recent weeks I have been working on the drawer partition, support, and guide components, and that has lead to a veritable cascade of framing changes, and concomitant slight changes in appearance.

In the earliest design phase, the back of the cabinet was looking like this:

Then, as the dimension and locations of the middle bank of drawers was established, and the decision made to move the cabinet side panels to the exterior, the side and back of the cabinet looked like this:

At the above two stages, I had designed a strongback of sorts to tie the middle of the cabinet together. With further drawer work on the drawer runners and partitions, I abandoned that idea.

In post 6, I showed the back of the cabinet with the strongback replaced by a frame and panel arrangement, and the principal framing now in bubinga:

Also note that the middle band of encircling timbers, which were to be connected on their corners with through-dovetails, are now revised, and will be twin tenoned and have a mitered external abutment. I made this change to move away from a glued connection and to slightly tone down the aesthetic.

A large portion of that design has, since the above drawing work, been revamped again. I realized that the separate band of frame and panel work behind the drawers was redundant. The backs of the cabinet, also of frame and panel construction, could be extended down to replace the middle band of panels behind the drawers. That would also open up the rear of the cabinet for easy access, and would make adjusting, tuning, or replacing the drawer runners a much simpler affair. Another problem with the above design is that the lower right back panel would likely require a glued-up panel construction, given its 31″ width, especially if I wanted to keep the panels primarily vertical grain. I would rather avoid recourse to glue if I can help it. So, back to the drawing board, which for me is a keyboard and mouse.

Now the back of the cabinet is looking like this:

Obviously, there are now 6 cabinet backs, and the cabinet back frame members have been changed to bubinga instead of rosewood as they were previously.

Removing the back panels reveals the revised framing:

The framing has been modified along the line of logic of post and lintel timber construction. The vertical framing members which divide up the back of the cabinet are now stacked atop one another, rather than staggered, and an additional one has been added to the lower right side of the cabinet.

One thing that held me up for a while in the design was coming up with some framing arrangement which would provide improved resistance to shearing loads, which, given the potential weight of this cabinet when filled with chinaware would not be inconsiderable, I felt was an important factor to consider. After rejecting plywood shear panels, and exploring the use of oblique bracing elements, I settled upon the addition of a pair of horizontal nuki (Japanese-style penetrating ties) to the upper section of the cabinet. You can see their twin tenons sticking out of the main post at the right side of the cabinet. These nuki will stiffen the cabinet up considerably, and provide a solution for supporting the back of the uppermost shelf of the cabinet. As they say in Japan, 一石二鳥

Here’s a look at the front – the only significant visual change being the frames of the large sliding doors, now in bubinga:

As you may have noticed, there are some new developments inside the cabinet as well. I have come up with a solution of interior shelving in the largest compartment which is somewhat akin to a kaidan-dansu, or stepped-chest:

The storage arrangement came about largely as a result of measuring what we had and sizing compartments accordingly. The cabinet’s interior shelves step in as wall as up to the left, which makes it easier to access the items on the shelves, and I like the staggered reveal:

The lower left compartment will also have shelves, like just a pair of straight shelves on adjustable mounts.

A closer look at the interior ‘staircase’ – plates stack on the bottom, bowls in the middle, and the little cubby boxes are meant for tea mugs:

Another view, with one drawer open:

The drawer runners will be accessible from the back, as noted above, and will be readily removable and replaceable, not that this is likely to be required anytime soon given that they are made of lignum vitae, as are the drawer’s slips:

I’ve gently rounded the edges of the drawers at either end, increasing the shadow lines around the sides of the opening:

I may yet bead the drawer fronts and round the drawer dividers, I’m not sure at this stage about how much molding and decoration to apply to this cabinet, given the vibrancy of the wood and general complexity.

Here’s a final shot, a bird’s eye view of the cabinet:

Another detail I’m mulling over at this time is whether or not to place some sort of entablature, like a crown molding, on the top of the cabinet. Some Japanese mizuya have small moldings on the top framing, nothing too elaborate mind you. I’m just not sure whether it adds much to the piece or not. Probably the thing to do will be to mock it up on the drawing and take a look.

All for today- thanks for swinging by on your journey. On to post 9

16 thoughts on “Mizuya (8)

  1. Hi Chris,
    I enjoy furniture with finished backs. This should look as nice from the back as from the front. Its a clean design that doesn't need a lot of extras (in my humble opinion). If you ask me, and there's no reason you should, fewer molding details will make the “jewels”, like the sliding panels and the hardware, shine brighter.

    Harlan Barnhart

  2. Harlan,

    good to hear from you and thanks for your input and kind words about the design as it currently stands. I totally get your point about not overloading the piece with details. It's something I am most cautious to avoid, however it is not a bad idea to play around with the idea a bit and see if there might be some point of balance in there. You can be assured that if any molding, frame profiling or crown treatment becomes part of this piece, it will be fairly subtly added. There will be some interplay in the piece between circles and squares, rectilinear and curvilinear, as things are at this juncture, so it is a question of how far to pursue that aspect. Like a guitar solo, there is a point at which it is overdone and goes on too long, and I am wondering just where that point is located.


  3. Chris,

    I think we have discussed this before a bit, but something that can be useful when considering degrees of ornamentation, is having a thought about the progression of parts that you want to stand out to the viewer when breaking it down with their eye. What is the objective? The degree of ornateness of each part is a consequence from that, and hopefully if done well, combines to also form a totality when seen as one unit when looked at that way. Sometimes you see furniture with a lot of through tenons and stuff all over, and your eye bounces around here and there and doesn't know where to settle. It's kind of like listening to a junior high school jazz band.

    That isn't to say that there can't be some surprises as well, or things that might only reveal themselves over time to a deft observer, which helps make for living furniture that adds to the long term enjoyment of using it.

    That is really looking to be a beautiful cabinet, definitely not liking the repetition of the drawer pull strike plates, however, something too common about them, almost a sigh of resignation on something so unique.

  4. Dennis,

    I'm feeling the same way about those drawer pull back plates, but haven't settled on any revisions for those yet as I'm concentrating on other design aspects at the moment.

    I know what you mean about a piece having too much going on and I am striving to find the right balance with this cabinet. At the moment, what through tenons there are have had their end grain painted white to make them more obvious, but on the actual piece the end grain will not be painted, so that will tone that visual aspect down a bit from the drawing. Also, the upper sliding track for the main doors still has a quadruple through tenon designed, this being a hangover from an earlier design that will be changed out soon enough, probably for a different connection, or one with fewer through tenons.

    If I'm not going to glue the tenons, then I have to fix them by one of three methods:

    1. compression fit alone
    2. pegging
    3. wedging

    All three techniques will be in use in this piece, but I really haven't finalized all the precise details yet at the joints, though as the design progresses I am keeping an eye on the joinery decisions in light of how the piece will assemble. Once i have a solid grasp on the assembly sequence and basic component breakdown, I will likely make further joinery revisions.

    I appreciate your feedback. I have put several more hours into the drawing today so another post in this series should be along shortly, though the changes in the design are getting more minor all the time. It's that last 5% that takes 95% of the time.


  5. Chris looks good, some suggestions… I think what your coming into is a chadansu not a mizuya though could be thought of such. Chadansu seem to have a more adventurous approach where as Mizuya invoke classical visions of the form. To me. Both could be used in a kitchen anyway. Potato potato. Tomato tomato.
    I was looking at what you have going on and these couple points came to mind.
    The joint you chose for the top corner connection is typical of a dodai right angle joint and used the weight of the point load of the corner post to add to it's integrity. I see that you intend to wedge it but may run into sheer failure as you have a pretty short run of parallel grain between the opposing wedges. Guessing that you have some form of dovetail or stub tenon behind the miter flap as the architectural form was many times secured with nails.
    Personally I like not to see so many same size drawers in my tansu. Sure makes it quicker to process the parts but seems a bit plain. The battens on the panel doors to the left lining up with drawers seems a tad too symmetrical. Maybe a descending order of height from bottom to top might feel better. Musical is an adjective I have seen it descibed as.
    The pulls are a bit light in cross section similar to lower end Chinese stuffs. Even to the scale of the drawer they seem light. While not me taste, they are nice and will look good on the cabinet. I feel the form should be universally accepted and the details are more of personal taste.
    The gallery in the interior seems not to make the best use of space with the steps sideways and front to back.I think you would benefit with a different device maybe even outside of the cabinet for tea cups and have more full width shelves and full depth. You would certainly fit more within the unit itself. Space is typically a commodity in a kitchen.
    Lastly the wedges sliding dovetail connecting the drawer front to the drawer sides is really relying on faith that the small bit to the outside edge does not split when applying adequate force to hold the corner tight. Maybe use a soft wood wedge there that will compress a bit and bite.
    It is curious when people do departures from traditional form. At what point is it no longer “tansu”? Tansu refer to a Japanese Cabinet. When it is an American interpretation of such and departed from, affected by other cross cultural influence, Is it still mizuya, tansu, bandai etc…? Dunno. How far could one depart from traditional Japanese timber framing before it is no longer considered such? I am sure it will look nice regardless.
    Curious of your projected labor in hours you have estimated.
    Correy Smith
    Hilo, Hawaii

  6. Correy,

    many thanks for your detailed comment and critique. Just what I like to receive.

    The corner joints: I've done these before in soft wood and was surprised at their solidity, and the form of the joint is also used on gable roof corner joints, so it is not just a sill connection. Though there is a short run of parallel grain between the wedges, as you mention, there really is nowhere for the piece to shear as the connecting piece forms abutments in each direction that the wedges drive. Well, I'm sure if the wedges were cranked in it could split, but I feel confident about it holding together well at this stage of the process. I think given that the material is bubinga, and given the additions of stub dovetail for the 'flap' and the internal mechi, will help improve its strength. I'll try to avoid the nails!

    Drawers: while the descending ones do vary in size a bit, you are right they are a bit uniform in size on the design. I go back and forth on that and whether it matters or not, and still may make some changes to drawer sizing and arrangement. I kind of jump back and forth between aesthetic idea development and structure problem solving in the design flow. Right now I've been working on the drawer runners, which have been rather vexing to work out however there does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel. I have been thinking about splitting one of the drawers horizontally to make a couple of silverware drawers….

    The Hardware: yeah, I'm not going with the pulls that are on there now. It was a second pass on the design, and a bit of a flop. I like the handle shape fairly well, but not the back plate. The handle could be fatter too. Not sure at this point whether to do away with the back plate altogether or not. Hardware is very much on the back-burner at the moment. I may even change out the upper sliding door pulls for wooden versions, who knows?

    Gallery: hmm, food for thought. That was the first pass though on that design aspect, and you're right it does not maximize as much storage as it could. I was kinda thinking about staggered shelves, 'display space' ideas for that area, and moving along that line of thought led me to the current point. I'm thinking of both storage requirements and presentation. Definitely a place I'll need to revisit and I appreciate your input.

    Drawer joinery: jeez, last time you commented on that it was to say I might be overbuilding, now you're suggesting the opposite. Make up your mind man! :^) I think the question there with the wedging is whether the pressure to make a secure connection approaches the shear strength of the material or not. My sense of it, given past experience with joinery in bubinga, is that I should be able to drive the wedge in to make the connection strong without risking rupture, however it might be prudent as well to make the drawer fronts extra long, 'horns' if you like, and after the wedges are driven in trim them to size. The softwood wedges are an idea I'll consider too. These drawers are, after all, highly experimental: an attempt to solve a problem: can I make an all-joined, non-glued drawer? I'll make one and see what happens – at worst, I can go back to some sort of conventional NK style of drawer construction. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, or, as some would say, 失敗は成功のもと

    Departures from Tradition: well this started out with an influence/inspiration from the Japanese mizuya form, however I have surely veered off course from there, for reasons discussed in past posts. It's not a Western style hutch either, and it doesn't model on any Ming examples, for I have found none. Not sure what to call it now, though like a mizuya, it will be near where the water flows in my house and will store kitchen stuff. Hopefully the term 'dogs breakfast' doesn't come to mind for any readers.

    Projected labor hours?: not even sure what the drawing hours might be so I'm not going to go there. It'll, uh, take a while, and should be a lot of fun to make.


  7. “Mizuya” don't necessarily have to be in a kitchen location, or even near where water flows. Often a small closed adjoining area to a tea room will have a cabinet to store tea bowls and utensils used in the ceremony, and the term can apply to that storage device as well. They can take various forms, but are generally of relatively simplistic aesthetics when designed and built specifically for such a purpose. One of the delights of the owner of the tea room, can be using the cabinet to store their treasured and sometimes extremely costly items.

  8. Dennis,

    yah, I know, I was simply taking the word 'mizuya' at its literal meaning, in response to Correy's question about what to call the piece. Most Japanese homes don't have such relics in them anyhow, and the word 'mizuya' is not so familiar to modern Japanese either, from what I understand.

    And I am thinking that many years down the line, after I'm dead and the cabinet passes into other hands, the use of the cabinet may well change from kitchen ware storage to display cabinet or who knows what. Perhaps it will be used for target practice, or as a makeshift raft in a future grand flood. It is intended to be a storage cabinet, with a certain space which allows for display – that's all I have designed for the time being.

    Thanks for your comment!

  9. I found bubinga prone to splitting myself. I had used soime scrap for wedges in the past they split quite readily along the grain.
    Curious of the MC of your bubinga stored in your unheated shop in NE? Are you using a moisture meter?
    AS far as lay out the face of the cabinet goes. I start there. Way before thinking of joinery or back panel etc… I just use a sharpy on any scrap paper or wood and draw a cartoon of the partitions and mullions. After basic shape is decided then think more in terms of specific proportion of doors and drawers. This where you can work out things like descending ratio of drawer sizes . Tansu usually only focused on the front of the cabinet as the main design element. For me the wood itself dictates what the back plate will be. Some drawers are too small for the funny bone back plate or the grain too beautufil to be covered up. Though I think historcally the default was just regional preference to such matters of hardware more than the individual work. Attitudes toward this may have changed toward the mid/end of Meiji.

  10. Even here in Hilo Hawaii many Japanese know the chadansu and mizuya that there grandmother owns. There many many examples in the used furniture spots where you can find plantation tansu. Which was Douglas fir tansu built by the Japanese immigrant carpentry/cabinet maker in Plantation era Hawaii. Pretty cool. All hand cut for sure. And some really far out use of whatever was available hardware. I think warabite and moko were hard to get here 100 plus years back.
    It's funny about perceptions of form or how a name is given an object because of intended use regardless of form. Such as my neighbor that was excited to show me his butsudana. I was excited to see it as well. It was literally a production made, 1920's era ,ameriacan design ,hand crafted, flip down front, little writing desk. All beat to…. but he loved it and kept the pics of his family on it. I of course thanked him very much for sharing it with me and we drank much. My other neighbor's kamidana is a board with two metal industrial type shelving brackets holding it up on his living room wall. The form and aesthetic is second to function.

  11. Hello again Correy. Thanks for your engagement!

    Moisture content – no, haven't measured it yet, though it is getting to be the drier time of year so I'm thinking it will be reasonable. As it is, I need to obtain more bubinga than I have on hand, and I expect that will be coming out of an unheated space in the NE as well – probably from a supplier in Maine actually. If I have to, I'll take the material up the road to Lashway Lumber and have them put it in a dehumidification room for a week or so. So, not too worried about this aspect at this juncture.

    Layout: I also started on the front with basic proportioning and massing, as you will note from the early posts in this series. Then i explore joinery and other ideas a bit, then return back out. Sometimes it is one step forward and two back,and that does mean a through exploration. It's easy to change the design in SU, so I don't feel it's any big deal to make extensive revamps.

    One of the things I have never liked about tansu is the frontality aspect you mention, and the typical cheap/flimsy back treatments, so I am giving care to how the back is designed, and wanting demountability for the back panels as well. I like a cabinet to look as good from the back as it does from the front. You never know if later on it might be placed in a room so that the narrow side faces a wall.

    Also, designing around bubinga gives a lot of freedom as it is available in great widths, and up to 12/4 readily. I plan to make all the cabinet from VG material, including panels. The current sketches show that look fairly accurately I think.


  12. Yeah, I guess that's why I'm sticking with the name of 'mizuya' for this piece, given the function, even though I have clearly wandered astray from the form. I think the Japanese are a pragmatic lot when it comes to wanting functionality first and foremost in a lot of things.

    Again, thanks for your comment and sharing the story of your visit to your neighbor.


  13. you may find material in NE even, will come back up to 12%EMC pretty quick in an unheated space. As the night time RH is higher than that of an occupied home. Material such as this will experience some of the most severe movement in service. Simply dropping off a few sticks of wood at the local lumber drying outfit is quite hazardous as they simply throw it in with who knows what. Kiln loads need to be of the same species, thickness and relative MC to properly dry the material without inducing some weird stress, tension set etc.. As they all have their own schedules. I found that many exotic imports are not really kiln dried to levels for cabinet making as much as merely reducing water weight prior to shipping.
    Colonial cabinet makers would even sometimes live with the material in their homes to acclimate it prior to building. Even after the ” one year an inch” air drying you will find it takes two to three annual cycles in NE to bring wood to equilibrium in the home. ( then still best to build case work in the winter, tables in the summer) Though further drying in a kiln a few % more will yield a wood a bit more stable as you get out a couple extra drops of the bound water.
    On small lots you are much more better off making a tent of sorts with a dehumidifier set at 35% for a few weeks or a month.

  14. Hey Correy,

    um, well I am aware of the kiln scheduling needing to be appropriate to the species, however you may have jumped to some erroneous conclusions about what I was intending. While the place up the road has vacuum kilns, what I was talking about was a dehumidification room they use on most species, mixed together is fine, for a week to several weeks, as a preliminary step to putting the material in the vacuum kiln(s). This is a fairly gentle process to bring the moisture content down a few percent. They're a pretty sophisticated operation with nearly a million dollars in drying equipment – Gibson Guitars, and several baseball bat manufacturers use them for drying their material – stuff is trucked in there from all over the US, and they are very good to deal with. I also find bubinga one of the easier woods to dry, one of the few tropicals which can be readily dried up to 4″ thick. I'm thinking this aspect of the project will go fine, and I do appreciate your concern as well.

    I've also been thinking of setting up my own dehumidification box or tent in my shop one day, but with the Lashway operation just a mile up the road or so, I am likely to be slow in moving towards having my own set up. It would be good to have it set up so i could keep my shop material in it overnight though, given your comment about the overnight fluctuations…

    Thanks for your advice.


  15. Best then to bag your work at night. A project that is KD to 7% will still come back upto 12% or higher in the summer in NE if the construction takes more than a few weeks. You can even notice an increase over night a point or two. Quickly it is higher than what is considered KD. I roll the edges of the plastic together and secure with spring clamps. Still hard to keep the MC down.

Anything to add?