2.4.2012 (Tools: Kanna 1)
The kanna is the Japanese handplane. It came to Japan from Korea. The Korean carpenters pushed the kanna along, the way you push a jack plane in the U.S., but the Japanese carpenters flipped it around and developed a technique pulling it into the body. The planes Japanese carpenters used before the kanna look like small spears: long cylindrical handles and short, flat, persimmon leaf-shaped blades. You’d push them as flat as possible over the board but smooth surfaces were almost impossible because nothing stabilized the blade except the shape of the blade itself and your eyes and your muscles. It must have been like trying to plane with a knife or a chisel.
The kanna’s a much better planing tool. It has three parts (there’s a TL;DR diagram later—sorry for the wordy explanation, it’s just that I think describing it is helping me learn it). The base (“dai” in Japanese) is a flatsawn hardwood block that meets the board and stabilizes and guides the blades. There are two blades, the “kanna no ha” and the “kanna no uraba”. The kanna no ha (—just means “kanna blade”) does the planing. It’s angled away from the direction the kanna moves, bevel down. A karate chop, palm up, is the same gesture the kanna no ha makes, or scooping up a handful of rice. The Japanese toolsmiths added the kanna no uraba (means “kanna back blade”) to the Korean design. It’s a chip breaker. Joshua told me the most helpful grain metaphor I’ve heard—the grain in a board lies like the hairs of a cat. Planing with the grain is easy, like petting a cat the right way. You get long, smooth shavings (“long smooth shavings” isn’t part of the cat petting metaphor I guess). Planing against the grain is like petting a cat the wrong way. The grain tears and rips and you end up with little pockmarks (“tearout” in English, “sakame” in Japanese). So it’d be smooth sailing if grain went in one direction along the whole length of a board. You could just plane with the grain and you’d never get any tearout. The problem is, along one board’s length, the grain can change direction several times. The kanna no uraba is useful when you’re planing against the grain: it slices the fibers before they tear, keeping the surface smooth. I guess it’s possible to plane without the kanna no uraba—you’d just have to change the direction several times on the board’s surface with each pass. Seems like that would take superhuman precision though. It’d mean stopping each cut at the precise spot where the grain changes direction, and making sure the cuts leave all the sections you’re dividing the board’s length into equal heights and right angles.
The kanna no uraba rests on the kanna no ha. The kanna no uraba’s cutting edge is a hair’s width higher than the kanna no ha’s, and its bevel points up, not down like the kanna no ha’s. European and American handplanes use a wedge or metal hardware to hold their blades in their bases but the kanna’s blades are wedge-shaped, so all it takes to keep them stable is a little hammering and then friction takes over.
The best I can understand the idea behind a plane is, a blade (in this case, the kanna no ha) protruding slightly past a flat surface (in this case, the kanna’s hardwood block base) will transmit the flat surface’s flatness onto a rougher board. The base moves over raised areas on the board’s surface and the blade, set to cut at a level barely below the base, shaves off the tops of those raised areas. (On machine planers, like jointers and thickness planers, the process is the same except that it’s the board that moves. The board slides over a flat surface past blades that rotate against the direction the board’s moving.) After repeated passes the whole board’s surface ends up flat and smooth.
Here’s the diagram I promised earlier (the names are different in the diagram from what I think I learned but, well, hopefully I’m not too far off).
3:35 am • 5 February 2012
1.27.12 (Technique: Dowels, pegs)
Tateshita-san made a dowel by hand in about fifteen seconds. He took a long, thin, rectangular stick and turned it in his left hand while shaving the corners down with a kanna (Japanese handplane) in his right hand. You pull the kanna’s blade toward you so it was frightening to watch—I kept worrying he’d pull the kanna too far and slice the hand that was turning the dowel. He flipped the stick over and repeated the turning-shaving until the stick was the same thickness along its entire length and almost round. Then, he put the about-to-be-a-dowel flat on the bench and rolled it back and forth with the kanna’s flat wooden side, smoothing the edges and making a cylinder.
The next step is to bevel the dowel’s edge by pressing it against the table and turning it. When I tried to bevel the edge, I held the dowel’s end in my left hand, palm down, and turned it the way you’d turn a key to the right or tighten a screw, overhand and shifting back to the left to turn again once my wrist went as far as it could. My right hand was adding pressure. Tateshita-san corrected me though. You hold your left hand palm up, angled down and pointing across your body. The dowel meets the left hand at the base of the pointer finger and goes diagonally across the palm. The right hand is face down. It moves back and forth over the dowel near the table. Spinning and pressure get taken care of in the same gesture and you never have to reset your hands’ position. It’s a much more efficient way to solve that problem: specific, correct body knowledge.
After the dowel’s edge is beveled, it goes into a hole (the hole’s diameter is .3-.5 mm smaller than the dowel’s for softwood dowels, .2 mm smaller for hardwood dowels). No glue. Hammer. Then, use the yokobiki (crosscutting saw) to slice the excess dowel off above the hole. Slow down near the end of the cut for safety, since you’ll often your left hand, stabilizing the board, where the saw’s teeth are facing. Cutting the dowel, the saw should move across the grain because that way any accidental nicks to the block the dowel’s being put into won’t tear the grain. To finish, smooth all the surfaces with the kanna.
9:18 am • 27 January 2012
We ate at a diner in Ebina that served mostly cheap American food, and also Indian food. I noticed in Cambodia too that Indian food gets lumped with American and European food as “Western” food. The look would’ve been 100% Americana except that on the wall was an enormous print of The Birth of Venus.
6:36 am • 26 January 2012
All the clothes hangers in Mr. Toyama’s house say “REBIRTH” on them. I saw an advertisement for a restaurant that serves “DUCKY DUCK”. There’s a place on my bikeride home called “24h Limes”. I don’t want to go in because, whatever it is, there’s no way it can live up to my expectations.
5:23 am • 26 January 2012
1.26.12 (Very beginning)
Mr. Toyama was waiting for me at the airport. He greeted me in English and I greeted him in Japanese. He’s white haired and short. His hands are small and strong looking. He smiles with his whole body. When he walks he glides with a shuffle, almost hovers. He handed me a piece of paper:
“Well all the way to Japan
Sorry I feel tired
Tomorrow ,_Every year . Go to the shrine to pray at the beginning of the year.
Going together with you. If you would like to go together.
I’ll pick at AM 600
All you need to consult a life finished.”
I tried to get money from the bank but it was a complete disaster. I needed several thousand dollars in cash to settle my account with the real estate agent but carrying that much money around, especially in Phnom Penh, made me nervous, so I decided to wait to get the money out until just before I was about to exchange it. The ATM’s at the airport gave me about $100 in yen a few times and then stopped accepting my card. It was pretty much the most embarrassing first impression possible. He’d set up the meeting with the real estate agent for my first night so that my apartment would be ready and there I was, empty handed. I tried to explain that my bank thought my card had been stolen but I don’t think he understood. He was extremely kind about everything though. He bought me lunch. We had beer (the Asahi can says: “Very ‘DRY’”) and a kind of a cross between a sandwich and a sushi roll: sticky rice surrounding fish or pickles in the middle, triangular, hand-sized, covered by two sheets of seaweed. On the bus from Narita Airport to Ebina we talked slowly and haltingly, in Japanese and English (my favorite email from Mr. Toyama said: “Through mixed English and Japanese conversation, let’s deepen mutual understanding.”). I asked Mr. Toyama about his factory, about his trips to the U.S., about Ebina and the countryside we were passing, and he asked me about where I had traveled to, about my family, and he told me a little about Japan. He told me that the trains run so regularly that the train from Tokyo to Osaka passes the train from Osaka to Tokyo at the exact same time always. Then he told me that Chinese trains crash a lot. He also said a lot of cheap wooden furniture made in Chinese factories is getting sold in Japan. I tried to draw a picture of a new kind of train I read about online to explain it (“Speaking of trains…”) but I think I completely failed to communicate anything at all. I think Mr. Toyama thought I was just drawing a train in his notebook for no reason.
4:58 am • 26 January 2012