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. 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 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.