Colgate EALL (16)

Next on the list were the two staggered shelves in the Japanese flanking alcove, or tokowaki. This illustration shows the arrangement:

Colgate EALL tokowaki

I used some figured cherry for the shelf boards and followed the traditional  proportioning rules of thumb for both shelf thickness and spacing. I worked closely with Yukari, the EALL department head, to come to a mutually pleasing arrangement for the shelves.

Cutting a pair of boards for shelves is, on initial consideration, one of the simpler tasks a woodworker might find themselves faced with, however these shelves are a little trickier than they might otherwise appear.

In the Japanese context, alcoves are where some of the most refined woodwork in a building will be performed, and compared to the rest of the interior, materials of the best quality and with more refined joinery are employed.

The end of a solid wood shelf presents end grain, and this end grain is to be concealed. The way of doing that is to fit an asymmetrical double-dovetailed sliding key.

Here’s a look at the trench on one board after cutting was 99% completed:


You can see from this view that the lower portion of the trench has a smaller sliding dovetail than the flared opening.

A view from the other end:


One has to take considerable care in cut out not to damage the delicate arris all the way around the trench opening.

Here’s the trench completed on the other shelf:


Another view:


The double dovetail keys were fabricated with a combination of table saw work and milling machine work:


The picture above shows the key sticking out further than it will be when done, and shows the end which will be buried in the wall.

This is the viewed corner after the double-dovetailed sliding key is fitted, and, in case it was not obvious, the key going to be trimmed right back to the end of the board soon enough:


If the key were trimmed before final fitting, it would be rather difficult to remove. So, I leave it to protrude about 1/2″ for these initial steps, so it can be readily tapped out with a hammer.

The upper shelf has an additional piece which curls up, a component termed a fude-gaeshi. Originally these were fitted to table tops and shelves as a means of keeping scrolls from rolling off, however in recent times they have become more of an architectural ornament. It would be odd, for instance, to put a scroll on a staggered shelf.

I considered for a while making this piece out of another wood which complimented cherry, like avodire, or provided a darker accent, like mahogany, however in the end I went with cherry. My milling machine was most useful for a bunch of the cut out work, with  lot of hand tool finishing required in the end.

The completed fude-gaeshi with three male sliding dovetails cut out of the same block, and the sliding dovetail tranches completed in the upper shelf:


You an also see in the above photo that the double-dovetail sliding key has been trimmed back. It’s kind of funny in a way, to fit a long-grain key to conceal end grain, as the net result looks an awful lot like like the shelf is plywood/particle board and has been edge-banded.  The irony is not lost on me.

In the fude-gaeshi goes on its three sliding dovetails:


Then it slides along until the end of the piece is flush with the edge. I thought the fit came out nicely.

Here’s the shorter shelf after the end cap is fitted:


Here are the two shelves with installed fude-gaeshi on the upper shelf:


One last look, a view of the end of the fude-gaeshi in place- I took care to have the grain of the piece go with the flow:


Needs a pass with the plane on the end and it’s ready for finish.

Running between the two shelves is a stub post called an ebi-zuka. I gave it the standard traditional inset rounded arris treatment, and each end is dovetailed, with a corresponding dovetail mortise on each of the two shelves:


Test fitting can commence:


Dropped in, and then it can be driven sideways to lock:




Here’s a look at the end of the upper shelf, with double-dovetailed end plug, fude-gaeshi piece, and ebi-zuka:


That was a fun little piece of work. Several coats of finish will be applied, and that is now underway.

Installation is looking to be on August 17th~18th.

All for this round – thanks for visiting, and hope you enjoyed the tour. Post 17 is next in this thread.

9 Replies to “Colgate EALL (16)”

    1. Chris,

      nice to receive your comment and so glad you enjoyed the post. I was also happy with the grain on that piece- wonder if anyone will ever notice after it is installed? (Kinda hope so, even though it’s not the motivation for doing it in the first place).

  1. Hi Chris,

    Again, nice design and work as usual.

    How come it isn’t acceptable to have end grain showing on the ends of the shelves, which don’t face the viewer, but ok on the end of the fude-gaeshi which sits front and centre?


    1. Hi Steve,

      thanks for the comment and question.

      The end grain concealment is not done simply for looks, rather it has a practical end in mind. Covering end grain, especially on wider boards which can be prone to splitting with strong losses in moisture, increases the likelihood that the board will remain free from degrade as long as possible, and it is the beard ends where degrade (checking/cracking) tends to originate as that is where moisture losses are most rapid compared to the rest of the board. The covering of the end grain keeps moisture losses from air circulation past the board to a minimum, and dampens slightly the cycle of moisture content increase/decrease. That’s the reason it’s done, and thus the practice comes to be associated to higher quality work, so over time the idea comes into being that it is to be preferred on an aesthetic level, by some at least.

      As for capping the end of the fude-gaeshi, that would be desirable, but is impracticable due to the shape of the piece.

      1. Ah, I see. I always thought the Japanese had an aversion to the sight of end grain (like looking at the entrails of the tree or something like that). Just shows what I don’t know :). Anyway, I do think the curve of the end grain is a nicely considered touch – hopefully, it will be appreciated by someone.


  2. i’m guessing its not a tapered sliding dovetail, was it difficult to insert friction wise, no glue i presume, anyway great job, very interesting technique, i figure its much better than bread board ends, would you concur, do the japanese use BBE at all

    1. Hello Clive,

      thank you for your comment. Yes, your guess is correct, as I do not typically taper sliding dovetails.

      The Japanese do have a term for the breadboard end piece, and that is ‘hashibame-san’. It’s not as commonly used there as it is in the west – it seems to me, and when it is employed it is with mitres on both ends.

      The insertion of a double-dovetail plug into the end of the board is a related technique, but in this case only one corner of the connection is visible, while the other front corner is buried into the wall, so that is the side that can be left to accommodate wood movement.

  3. As a former graduate student in English who became a cabinetmaker, I predict that at least once in the next 30 years, some curious Colgate student will notice the intricacies of this work, wonder how it was done, and so fall down the rabbit hole. You’re setting a trap! Leaving an open portal! It’s great to imagine. Not so far-fetched, either, when you think about the bright, curious young kids who will pass through these rooms.

    You describe the process of making the dovetailed key on the “end cap” of the shelf, but not the socket it fits into. Is it mostly carefully jigged router work, with careful chisel work to perfect it?

    1. Jim,

      thanks for the comment, and I hope you’re right about some curious student in 30 years.

      As to the trench for the double-dovetailed key, you surmise correctly how it was made.

Anything to add?

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