If you are looking for a new passion, and you like woodworking, you may want to look at Kumiko as a new woodworking challenge. This traditional Japanese woodworking form has been used in Japanese temples, mansions and in traditional Japanese homes for hundreds of years.
1. Do It All By Hand
Traditional Kumiko craftsman (Tateguya), still make Kumiko and Shoji projects using the same tools and methods used in Japan for hundreds of years. Woods that are used to make Kumiko are clear Pine, Basswood, Canadian Cypress and other lumber that can be easily carved and crafted. You can also combine other varieties of lumber that have a different color to add a variety to the piece or if you are representing something in the piece. I have seen Shoji that looks like and actual picture of a mountain and clouds for example where different colored woods are used to represent the clouds and mountains. Craftsmen use Ryoba saws to rip Kumiko, strips of wood to about 4mm thick and 12mm wide. The strips, as well as the resulting finished project ae called Kumiko. This Kumiko project could end up in a Shoji screen, window covering, sliding door, partition wall, as an art piece, as part of a piece of furniture and many more functional uses.
The strips are then planned to smooth the wood on both sides and to get the Kumiko to the desired thickness using a Kanna hand plane. The planes and knives ae normally all hand made to suit what the craftsman want to do. These planes are pull planes, which means that the user pulls the plane towards themselves opposed to the traditional western hand planes which are pushed away from the user. Just knowing how to use, dress and set up these planes is a trade in itself, yet these craftsman must know how to do this as well as complete a project to perfection.
Once the Kumiko is planned to thickness, and cut to a rough length, the process of cutting the desired notches in the Kumiko starts. Watch videos of the masters at work and you will notice they have work benches specifically designed for cutting Kumiko and making the frame pieces for Shoji screens. The craftsman would use a Dozuki saw to cut all of the notches. As well as the planes, the hand saws including the Ryoba, are pull saws. They do their cutting on the back stroke, again opposed to western hand saws, which are designed as push saws.
The process of putting together the project begins. Most of the pieces will have to planned at both ends to desired angles to form the Kumiko pattern desired. Special jigs are made, and using either a hand plane or chisels to cut the angles on the ends of the Kumiko pieces. Some times these pieces could be as small as 10mm to 20mm in length.
As you can imagine, these Kumiko and/or Shoji projects are very labor and time consuming. I can well imagine the pride that these craftsman take in knowing they have completed a beautiful piece of work all by hand. In order to produce Kumiko in this manner you will have to have a place to work, also the task of getting all of the benches, vices and jigs made, as well as the need for extensive research and practice to get to the point that you can produce a finished work in a decent amount of time. If this is the road you will take then good for you.
2. Combine Machine and Hand Tools
This what you will see most people in western shops doing. There is nothing wrong with producing Kumiko using machines, in fact this is the way I do it. I use the table saw to cut my Kumiko strips but I use the jigs shown in the books I use to cut all the notches and plane the angles. I would imagine it would be insulting to a traditional Kumiko craftsman (Tateguya) to use machines but it is quite common for western craftsmen. Some day it would be wonderful to go to Japan and learn from the masters but for now machines will speed up the process for us wannabes.
Choose the lumber you want to use and then you need to dress the lumber, meaning that you need to have at least one 90 degree angle on your lumber, a face and an edge. You will need to have or have access to a jointer to do this. You can also buy lumber that has been dressed, although most craftsmen like to dress their own lumber. Once you have a face and an edge dressed you can then plane your lumber to the desired thickness (aprx 12mm) using a thickness planer.
Once you have your lumber planed to thickness, cut your Kumiko strips using the table saw, normally to 4mm or 1/8″. It is very important that all the strips be the same dimensions. For a particular project I would cut all of the Kumiko strips (and extras) at once so that all dimensions are equal for each strip of Kumiko.
The next step would be to cut the notches to allow the Kumiko pieces to fit together. You can find videos on YouTube on how to make a sled for the table saw that allows you to cut a 30 and 60 degree angle cuts, or any angle you desire.
If you don’t purchase Kumiko jigs you can make your own. Thee are videos on YouTube on how to make jigs. Eventually you will need 45, 22.5, 67.5, 30 and 60 degree jigs to make most of the desired Kumiko patterns.
If you don’t have a shop or machines you may know someone who does, or there may be a community shop where you can rent space. You can construct the Kumiko piece on any flat surface, and that could be in your home.
Making Kumiko can be very rewarding especially since you have to take your woodworking skills to another level. All it’s going to do is to elevate your woodworking skills, your design skills and give you a new passion to follow, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
3. Buy a Do It Yourself Kit
If you just want to try Kumiko to see if it’s something you might like to try to make, you can buy kumiko kits. Obviously a kit is certainly nothing like making your own but it does give you an idea of how it is made and will help you decide if you would like to give this artform a try.
So as you can see there are options for making Kumiko and Shoji. It is very rewarding and now along with my guitar, I have passions that will last me until I can’t do them anymore.
I also have a short glossary of kumiko terms that one can refer to when making kumiko.
Kumiko – Shoji Books
Thee are some great books by Des King who is an expert in Kumiko and Shoji. He explains how to get started, how to make jigs, how to cut Kumiko and make Shoji screens. If all you want to do is to make Kumiko then these books are a great place to start. He has written four books on the basics, two on just the basics, one that introduces you to diamond shapes and one that introduces you to hexagonal shapes. As well he has written eleven books on Kumiko patterns.
Basics No 1
In this book examine basic shoji making, design, comprehensive background information about shoji and detailed step-by-step instructions, supported by many diagrams and photographs.
Beyond The Basics
More complex kumiko arrangements, two stunning shoji projects, an extensive array of beautiful and intricate kumiko patterns from simple to highly advanced, detailed instructions, more than 500 photographs and diagrams, how to make more than forty kumiko patterns in the square, diamond and hexagonal layout, simple shop-made jigs and more.
Step-by-step instructions on making 45 stunning patterns in the jigumi arrangement, from simple to complex, more than 500 photographs and diagrams. no specialized tools are required for any of the patterns, patterns are items of art and can be applied in a broad range of furniture and artistic designs.
Detailed instructions on making 31 stunning patterns in the hishi-gata jigumi arrangement, including the spectacular yotsu-kude four-way joint and tombo dragonfly pattern. More than 350 photographs and diagrams guide you at each stage on making these patterns using tools found in any Western workshop, and simple shop-made jigs.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 1
Discovering the vast range of patterns possible with shoji and kumiko is indeed a long journey, and this book is the first critical step. It lays the foundations for tackling the increasingly complex and challenging shoji
and patterns subsequent books will tackle.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 2
Two shoji, and six separate kumiko patterns. With 160 photographs and line and dimensional drawings, the book gives detailed step-by-step instructions for all processes in making the new kumiko patterns—from calculating pattern dimensions to the most efficient sequence for cutting and assembling the kumiko.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 3
Calculating pattern dimensions through to listing the most efficient sequence for cutting and assembling the kumiko, everything you need to know to make these attractive and traditional patterns is explained in detail. More than 170 photographs and line and dimensional drawings complement and reinforce the instructions in the book. Some of the new patterns require new jigs, and these are also described in detail.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 4
Wraps up the square patterns section of this series with two challenging patterns (hakkaku tsunagi and shokko), making the diamond kumiko arrangement with the single diamond hishi-gata arrangement (hitoe-bishi), moves on to the mitsu-kude three-way joint, three patterns (asa-no-ha, kawari asa-no-ha and futae asa-no-ha) are featured as an introduction to the wonderful and intricate world of the hexagonal patterns.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 5
Finishes off the asa-no-ha family of patterns with the tsuno asa-no-ha, and two methods of making the stunning yae asa-no-ha. All three have mitsu-kude joints within mitsu-kude joints, so skills in marking and cutting will certainly be tested dragon’s claw family with a couple of interesting patterns, 89 photographs and line and dimensional drawings.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 6
Begins with the popular and well-known sakura (cherry blossom), three other attractive patterns in the sakura family,
futae-zakura, yae-zakura, and kawari yae-zakura, three patterns in the urahana family,
urahana, yae urahana, and kawari urahana.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 7
Volume 7 continues with detailed step-by-step instructions on making hexagonal kumiko patterns originally started in Volume 4. From calculating pattern dimensions through to listing the most efficient sequence for cutting and assembling the kumiko, everything you need to know to make these attractive and traditional patterns is explained in detail with 106 photographs and line and dimensional drawings to complement and reinforce the instructions.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 8
Four patterns in the stunning and challenging Benten family—benten, benten asa-no-ha, benten tawara, and benten mie, combination of triangles and hexagons convey the charming image of lingering snow on a mountainside, two patterns in the wa-tsunagi family. Wa-tsunagi, yae kikk? pattern of multiple hexagons
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 9
Volume 9 is the last of the volumes dealing with hexagonal patterns, which we began in Volume 4. After the complexities of the patterns in Volume 8, this group of nine patterns are perhaps a little more relaxing, and certainly less stressful. Five patterns in the kiky family, last of the miscellaneous group of patterns kaza-guruma, the dahlia pattern. Detailed dimensional diagrams are provided for all jigs used in making the patterns in this book.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 10
The hishi-gata diamond patterns, hitoe-bishi (single diamond), how to calculate pitch when using kumiko of differing thicknesses, the hitoe-bishi, futae-bishi, mie-bishi, hitoe waribishi, futae waribishi, narihira-bishi,
narihira waribishi, and the ajiro waribishi.
Kumiko – Shoji Patterns Book 11
The hishi-gata diamond patterns, the ajiro-bishi, lot of very close joints and shorter pattern pieces, nine patterns and finish off with the wonderful hishi ta-no-ji, and three of the kuzushi group of patterns—hishi ichi-no-ji kuzushi, and two versions of the hishi ni-no-ji kuzushi.
Kumiko – Shoji Tools
You may already have many of the tools used in the making of kumiko in your shop or hanging around in the basement or garage. Here’s a list of tools I use.
Besides the machines that I would use, the jointer, table saw and at times the drill press, there are a few hand tools you will need once you have all of your jigs made.
Once you have your kumiko strips cut to the desired dimensions you will use your kumiko cutting jig. Clamp your kumiko strips to the jig so that you can cut the notches. I use these newer clamps but if you can get you hands on a vintage metal set all the better.
You can purchase a marking knife or even make your own. There are plenty of videos showing you how. It’s important to have a good marking knife since your cuts are critical. Marking knives are beveled on one side only, so that the marks are made on the waste side of your cut.
A metric ruler is going to come in handy since all of the kumiko plans I have seen are in metric. Since most of the plans you will see originate from Japan you will see metric measurements. Once you get use to using metric it will actually be earier since everthing is in multiples of ten.
6 Inch Metal Square
This tool will be used a lot and you want to have a good square that will be used for marking cutting lines for kumiko. You will also want to have one made of metal since you may be using marking knives and you want a good edge for marking.
O’skool Wheel Marking Gauge
Many times in the making of kumiko you will need to mark depth of cuts. This wood marking gauge is perfect for marking precision joinery, hairline layout marks, and quick measurement transfers. Perfect for marking precision joinery, hairline layout marks, and quick measurement transfers.
You will want a fine tooth saw for cutting your kumiko. Japanese saws cut materials via pulling and thus are called “pull saws,” which is what this product is. In comparison to “push saws,” “pull saws” are lighter in weight, requires less power, and the resulting edge is cleaner.
If you cut your notches by hand like I do you will need a 1/8 and 1/4 inch chisel. Mortising chisel are the most common chisel that the expert use in the making of kumiko.
You may end up using a few planes depending on how far you go in kumiko production. The block plane is used to plane the angles on the kumiko using the kumiko jigs.
As you progress in making kumiko you will have a need for a jack plane in the making of shoji screen frames. As well you will need to mke jigs to use this plane.
You will want to have a smooth file with one smooth edge. If you move further on into Shoji making this will be used when making round tenons.