Some years ago, I made a pair of low Japanese sawhorses for my workshop. They’ve been great, and very useful (mostly for keeping lumber off the floor in the garage), but it was time to take the next step up. My rickety western sawhorses spend most of their time itting outside in the rain and snow, so they are not in very good shape. A set of mid-height Japanese sawhorses would be nice to have, because they are designed to break down into pieces for transport and storage.
These sawhorses are about 24 inches tall, 24 inches long, and 22 inches wide at the feet. This height is just short enough that I can put my knee on a board to hold it while sawing, but tall enough that I don’t need to worry about scraping my saw along the ground. All the joinery is mortise and tenon, and there is no metal hardware in anything.
They are made almost entirely from pine. Given their modest stature, I could cut all four horses from three 4×4’s, two 2×6’s, and one 2×4. This means that there is only about forty dollars of material in the whole set. The pegs that secure the feet to the legs and the wedges that secure the legs to the stretchers are made from some surplus walnut I had in the shop. It’s always best to make the fasteners from wood that’s harder than the wood it is securing, but maybe walnut was an extravagant choice.
I wanted to make these from cedar instead of pine, but it turns out that these days cedar is five times as expensive as pine. It used to be only twice as expensive as pine. My next big woodworking project is going to cost me $500 instead of $100 for the lumber alone. Gasp.
I cut all the pieces to length by hand, but I used the mortising machine to cut nearly all of the mortises, and the band saw to cut nearly all of the tenons. I smoothed the walnut fasteners with a hand plane, though. After completing all of the shaping and joining, it took me about three hours with the orbital sander to clean everything up and remove most of the saw marks.
When taken apart, I can fit all the pieces for three horses into a single large (27 gallon) storage tote. This means that in the winter I can put the horses away in the garden shed instead of having them sit outside like the old ones.
The tachi is a type of Japanese sword that is similar to a katana, but it is worn differently, has different fittings, and is usually used as a more of a formal/ceremonial sword compared to a warrior’s katana. I bought a small tachi as part of my mission to recreate a full bunkan sokutai.
When not in being worn or in storage, the tachi would have been displayed nearby the bearer in a vertical stand called a tachi kake. These are readily available to buy, both as new items and antiques, but of course I wanted to make one myself. I was able to settle on a design, and I still have an excess of surplus wood in the garage.
Here’s what it looks like after cutting and shaping, but before finishing. It’s a little easier to see the shapes of the pieces. This is all pine lumber. The upright and the bracket at the top are just 3/4″ thick cut from 1by. The brace at the bottom of the upright is 1/2″ thick pine I had around; most of the examples I see online are only 1/4″ thick. The base is cut from some surplus 2by, to keep it bottom-heavy when unoccupied. The brace is fitted in a slot that I cut all the way through the upright. Tenons at either end of the upright fit into through-mortises for ease of assembly and disassembly.
All told, this item is about 26 inches tall when fully assembled. The tapering curve on the upright piece is one of my favorite shapes ever. I did almost all of the cutting on the band saw, though, because it made things like this curve so much faster to make. I also used a router to bevel and round over all the edges on all the pieces to give it a softer look.
Here it is after about a half-dozen coats of black-tinted polyurethane. This stuff makes a good affordable lacquer substitute, and it dries in hours instead of weeks. I sanded the finish between every couple coats, but it still needs some final polishing. I also want to add some embellishment like I did for the kyousoku arm rest, but that might not happen until autumn.
For a better sense of scale, here’s another picture of the tachi kake before finishing, with my ko-tachi in the stand like it is supposed to be:
When I was getting the Debatable Lands Woodworking Guild started, I polled the people who were attending planning meetings to see what projects we could work on as a group to produce things for the Barony. One of the ideas was to produce “portable desk” type scribal boxes that the Baron and Baroness could gift to scribes. It’s taken me some time to get around to it, but I was finally able to plan out what such a thing might look like, and use up some surplus wood from the garage to make a prototype.
This simple, hinged-lid box is made entirely from pine, and finished with amber shellac. The walls of the box are half-inch thick, and the larger surfaces are 3/8″ thick. both thicknesses are the result of planing down some 3/4″ lumber to remove severe cupping warpage. The top and bottom were made from some 1×12 shelving, so I was able to make the full width of the box from a single piece without resorting to plywood.
The work surface is 11 inches wide and about 12.75″ tall, a fine size to accommodate 8.5″x11″ or 9″x12″ paper with some room to spare. A slight slope should make work a little easier on the wrists.
I have no historical examples for this kind of box, I am merely imitating other scribal boxes I have seen in use around the SCA.
The interior of the box is about 10 inches by 14 inches, able to hold supplies slightly larger than average to a depth of about 1 inch at the front and 3 inches at the back. It’s slightly less than that because I decided to add the two battens underneath the lid to support the thin wood during use and keep it from warping.
The box is assembled using modern wood glue and wire nails, and finished with three coats of amber shellac. I’m not sure why my shellac came out so streaky this time. It could be that the shellac needs more alcohol in the mix, or that it was very hot in the shop yesterday causing the finish to dry more quickly than it could even out.
Because I had suitable material on hand, shaping and assembly of the box took less than a day. I did some hand sawing, but a lot of the sawing was done on the band saw. Assembly was entirely by hand, even to the level of hammering in the nails by hand to avoid blowing out the thin wood sides with the nail gun.
A “rabbet” or “rebate” is a slot cut right at the edge of a piece of wood, as opposed to a “dado” which is a slot cut somewhere in the middle. Last Spring, when I was trying to get the BMDL woodworking guild going, one of the workshops I put together was about how to make these simple wooden boxes. The rabbet joinery is much stronger than butt joinery. Glue along two axes is stronger than glue along one, the rabbet around the bottom keep the whole thing square if you do it right, and the rabbet around the lid lets the lid fit snugly. I wound up making three boxes myself. Two were prototypes to test my process, and one was the “follow along” version made during the workshop. These sat around for about a year, but then I decided to practice finishing with shellac. I declared them “done” just recently.
I used some ancient Zinser-brand amber shalleac on two of them, in a futile attempt to get rid of the last of that stuff. On the third, I used a blonde shellac that I mixed myself from flake shellac and denatured alcohol. Some people don’t like the the color of the amber shellac. I think it’s OK. The blonde shellac looks a lot more natural,though. Here they are with the lids off:
The thickness of the walls i kind of overkill for a box this size, but planing the wood down just wastes it. If things ever get back to near normal, I should run a finishing workshop. A lot of people hate finishing, because nobody ever taught them how to do it well. I’ve learned so much through trial and error that I don’t mind it, even though it takes up a lot of time and delays the completion of projects.