Japanese Carpentry Classes for 2015

I’ve been thinking of offering some carpentry classes this year, starting in the fall. If things go well, I plan to offer the courses in the future as well.

My greatest affection in carpentry is for Japanese roof work. To that end I’ve been producing The Art of Japanese Carpentry Drawing series, currently in 5 volumes and spanning more than 1000 pages of material, a series which you can find more about by looking to the sidebar to the right of the page and clicking the various links.

Japanese roofwork can involve some pretty cool stuff – as one gains knowledge in the topic, one learns to layout and manipulate timbers in a variety of ways.

I’m not shy about sharing my goals personally in regards to teaching – I’d like to one day to have classes which have final days looking something like this:

Splayed posts, curved hips and eave, fan rafters, etc.. It’s what I would call phd level work in carpentry.

The journey from here to there is not reached overnight. It is also not a skill you pick up simply by casual observation. There’s actually some blood, sweat and tears involved. And study. You have to get your hands dirty, so to speak. There’s no way around it. You can watch someone lay out and stare at the lines they have made in the wood, but if you do not intellectually apprehend what is going on, you will not be able to truly understand it, let alone replicate it. Once you make the climb though, it is very rewarding to be able to tackle this sort of carpentry. The level shown above, I might add, is far from the peak of the trail….

The good news is that the path there has already been mapped out. It is like a series of stepping stones across a wide river, and ideally one takes those steps in order. Things move from the simple to the complex.

If one were to organize a series of courses which tackled this progression in a logical manner, then I suppose it would look like this, noting also the number of days each course would involve:

1) tool set up and sharpening (3 days)
2) basic joinery (3 days)
3) the hopper (1 day); prerequisite is to read TAJCD Volume I
4) the mortise and tenoned hopper (3 days); students required to have read TAJCD Volume II
5) the splayed leg stool/table (5 days); prerequisite is to read TAJCD Volume IV
6) the askew common rafter (5 days); prerequisite is to read TAJCD Volume IV
7) regular hip corner I (6 days); prerequisite is TAJCD Volume V
8) regular hip corner II (6 days)
and onwards…

Now, if you are new to Japanese tools, Course (1) would be and ideal starting point. If you think you already have tool set up and sharpening worked out to as certain extent, then show me a picture of a hand plane shaving you can take, and if I think it looks acceptable, you can skip course (I) and move right to Course (II). If you think you have that material down, send me some pictures of your joinery and, again if that looks good,  you can pass through to the next stage. In this way, participants will have a place where they can engage with the material regardless of skill level. Some folks might have studied this material elsewhere, perhaps in Japan. I don’t know of anywhere else outside of Japan where any of the roof carpentry subjects are taught, save for Mathieu Peeters hip rafter classes in Europe.

Material in Courses (3) through (7) are covered in the TAJCD essays in great detail, so those are required reading for those classes, as noted in the listing above. For those who have attended past workshops from me on these topics, and/or enjoy self-study, then simply show me where you’re at and I’ll point you at the appropriate level of course. Studying the material in the TAJCD essays and then tackling those projects on your own is undoubtedly the most economical approach. For those who do not find it so easy to set aside the time for self study work, or who are more comfortable receiving direct instruction within a structured class context, then the classes provide a vehicle to learning the material, at greater cost of course.

Participants in the classes will make their own individual projects and be able to take them home at the end if they so desire. The individualized approach ensures that you tackle the material head on, whereas larger group projects can allow people to miss out on really learning – – “hey, if you lay that out I’ll cut it”, etc.. I’ve taught this material several times in the past so I am familiar with most of the sticking points in the process of coming to understand the material. Also, writing and illustrating the essays, and running an online study group has deepened my grasp of the material a fair amount.

At this juncture, I haven’t set out a fixed schedule of classes. I have no idea whether there are people out there who would want to take classes in this material for one thing. I hope so! I’m feeling out the waters at this point. Not planning to start a carpentry school, but would like to bring these classes about in the hopes of turning more people on to this sort of carpentry work. If a core of passionate individuals can be assembled who wish to get together once or twice a year and tackle ever more intriguing roof carpentry models, then a perfect world will have been created as far as I am concerned. It’s got to start somewhere.

And if you are thinking you are more interested in furniture work than carpentry, consider that many of the lessons of carpentry drawing can be applied to furniture. Case in point is the piece under current design, detailed in the Ming-inspired Cabinet series of posts, where splayed post and roof work are applied. Furniture has a long history of drawing from architecture.

Here’s what I can state with certainty as of now as far as these classes:


  • classes will be held at my workshop in Leeds, in Western Massachusetts.
  • classes will run with a minimum of 4 participants, max. of 8 participants
  • classes will run $175/day and run full days.
  • the first course will run in October of 2015
  • materials will be provided, participants bring their own tools
  • for an additional fee, food will be provided via a catering service (details TBD)
Right, as noted, the first course will happen in October, exact dates to be determined. The first course to run will be whichever course I have at least 4 people sign up for. I would guess that Course (I) or (II) will likely be the most popular initially however you never know.
If you are interested in entering this stream of study, please send me an email indicating your particular interest and what sort of dates would work best for you. I’ll let you know the details when I reply. If there is sufficient interest in two courses, say Course (1) and (2), or Course (3) and Course (4), I would schedule them back to back, or maybe with a one day break in between, so people could make efficient use of their travel funds and time. For the next 60 days (until August 10th), I’ll take down names and create course lists for intending participants. When a course has enough participants signed up, I’ll let people know and ask for a course deposit. Then, about a month out from the course start the balance will be due. That’s the general plan at this point.

All right, I’m puttin’ this out there to see what happens. Are you ready to challenge yourself?

15 thoughts on “Japanese Carpentry Classes for 2015

  1. Would dearly love to do this with you, but time (and distance) prevent me. I teach, so there's just no way I could take a week off in October. It looks like it'll have to remain distance learning for me – or as my Mom calls it, “distance running”. Good luck with the classes!


  2. Hi Chris,
    Family, time,and almost 6000 miles prevents me from attending. Is it possible for you to send out the project design description and requirements after purchasing all 5 PDF volumes on Paypal?

  3. Baruch,

    thanks for the comment. As far as the course material goes, everything up through course #7 is covered in the TAJCD essays. If you are able to self-study, then the essay set takes you a certain distance. The material for course #8 is currently in development and can be accessed through membership in the CW forum (see link to upper right of page).


  4. I am in the process of starting out on my carpentry/joinery adventure and just love Japanese woodwork but it's so difficult to find decent information on.

    It's a real shame that you aren't based in the UK, USA flight tickets would wipe me out and I would love to have attended and blogged about it for you. Maybe some time in the future, but at least I've found your blog 🙂

  5. Hi Chris,

    I'm Arnaud from Nantes, France:
    could you give us the courses dates and cost (and the place too ^^), I'm carpenter and will be interested to follow them. 😉


  6. Shiraz,

    thanks for the interest in the courses, however it is a little late for joining the classes this month. Please keep an eye out for notification here about courses for next year.


Anything to add?