A New Light in Japanese Carpentry

Regular readers have likely noticed the drawing to the top right corner of this page, indicating the current study group project, a Japanese andon.  

Andon (行灯) are a type of portable floor lantern once common in Japan.

I made my andon out of cocobolo, which I had not worked with very much in the past. To anthropomorphize a bit, I found it an irascible wood. It is prone to warping and breaking – it was so brittle that it would break if you so much as looked at it askance. Given the propensity of this type of rosewood (perhaps all rosewoods) to have internal cracks and checks, and its tendency to tear out when planing, the amount of wood required to form the pieces that ended up in this lantern was on the order of double in some cases. The slender vertical kumiko, 1/4″ thick and 5/8″ deep, of which I required a dozen sticks, required more than 30 sticks be cut before I had 12 that would behave. And cocobolo is an expensive wood to begin with, so factoring in the waste, one can see that furniture made from this wood would be a pricey proposition.

And on the plus side, the polish obtained is pretty much unmatchable in any other species that is not a rosewood:

I finished the wood with two coats of wiping varnish followed by a wax buffing. As this piece won’t be subject to much handling, and the wood itself is hard and dense, I thought that a light finish with wax was fine.

So, yesterday was final assembly, and my wife dropped by and took some video of the process.

Here’s the video we came up with after wrestling with Apple’s iMovie 11 for a few hours – we’re not going to win any film awards but a decent first pass by the post I hope, with some photo stills between the short video clips:

I like the koto, or Japanese zither, and found some short pieces to add as a soundtrack to the above – perhaps it adds a nice atmosphere to the video. Don’t worry, this music isn’t playing in my shop full time :^)

A couple of pics for those who have a dial up connection and can’t watch video online:



Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. Comments always welcome.

12 Replies to “A New Light in Japanese Carpentry”

  1. Mr. Osowski,

    nice to hear from you and gratifying to read that you found the video worth a look. I was pleasantly surprised with the results we got from a digital camera, and do plan on making some more videos in the future. All that time invested in figuring out the rudiments of iMovie 11 cannot be lost!


  2. Chris;
    Beautiful anton!Good video also!Can't wat to try that someday!Keep up the good work!Soon ,I hope to join!I love the little things that need doing in the work at hand!Beautiful work!

  3. I've been bouncing around the idea of some sort of lamp or lighting project and this just convinced me. Words cannot begin to describe how amazing this piece is, just wow!

    One question, could you let us know where you got the lamp hardware?

  4. Nick,

    your comment is most kind. I also find that there is something a bit beguiling about bringing lighting to a piece of woodwork. As soon as the lamp was plugged in, I immediately felt that the diffuse light through the paper was to be preferred to any other light in the room. It also keeps company well with the mahogany and bubinga tsuitate I made a few years back, as they share tones and the latticework aesthetic.

    The lamp hardware I sourced at B & P Lamp Supply: http://www.bplampsupply.com


  5. Chris,
    The Andon looks gorgeous! Even though I have seen it constructed 'blow by blow' on the forum, the close up pics never gave a good indication of the actual size. Seeing it in the video with yourself and other items to give it scale, I can see that it is a delightfully delicate and petite item – it just looks right!

    I hope to have the time one day to go back and construct these items in the joinery study group.



  6. Derek,

    I'm glad you like it, and it is funny sometimes how something may be larger or smaller than one imagines.

    If you decide to tackle it at some point, the material will always be accessible there on the CSG forum.


  7. Chris,

    I started reading your blog a while ago and I must say I enjoy it very much!
    The endresult is not only beautifull, I really enjoy pictures of the process itself aswell.
    I'm a website developper by profession and for a while now I have this itch to start woodworking.
    I was wondering if there was a small possibility, and I can imagine you don't have the time for it but I'll ask anyway, of doing a short tutorial series, nothing big or extremely elaborate, just to get going on two topics I'd like to find a bit more information about…

    – chisel sharpening for beginners. Granted, there are multiple posts on the web about this but everyone seems to use a different technique or really long processes using 50 different kinds of stones and sandpaper… so I was wondering how you approach it.
    – how to cut shachi-sen, how you proceed with the layout for these and any tips or tricks?

    I'd completely understand if you don't have to the time or desire to do this but like I said, I can only ask 🙂
    In any case, thank you very much and I look forward to your future works!

  8. Kenny,

    your comment is most appreciated and I welcome your questions. I hadn't considered doing a post on chisel sharpening for beginners, but I do agree there are a wide variety of methods used out there and for a beginner it can be confusing, and you will certainly come across contradictory information from time to time. Not sure I have much to add to what is already out there, but I'll give your request some thought.

    As for how to cut shachi sen, tips and tricks, etc.; I cover that matter in considerable detail in my TAJCD Volume III essay, which is available for purchase. Also, the online carpentry study group will likely be cutting a shachi-sen based joint as part of the upcoming series on Japanese joints, so you may wish to consider getting involved with that study. I don't plan to cover that material here on the blog.


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