TIL that traditional Japanese buildings do not use nails or glue. Instead, timbers are connected by elaborate dovetail joints.

TIL that traditional Japanese buildings do not use nails or glue. Instead, timbers are connected by elaborate dovetail joints.
TIL that traditional Japanese buildings do not use nails or glue. Instead, timbers are connected ...
pretty much useless

Look, I know these gifs looks really cool, but it's really misleading. I've grown up as a carpenter, learned how to build boats traditionally (American tradition, so no glue, mostly caulk and copper/brass nails)

Let's get some things straight.

YES, Japanese carpentry used no nails or glue. This isn't unique to them, nor does it make them better carpenters. Colonial Americans, ye olde Europe built without nails, Egyptians built without nails, and the Chinese built without nails. Did they use nails when they could? Yes. Of course. Nails are extremely effective at holding things together. Nails were so valuable that the Nords tell of people stripping ships of their nails. The Egyptians used something that the Japanese used - Pegs. A wooden dowel is only different from a nail in material, but functions the same way.

Part of the reason I'd guess that the Japanese took this anti-nail approach with carpentry was because of two things: nail rot and bad iron. As a nail rusts, it provides space for water to seep down into the wood (farther than it would have had their not been a hole). This expedited rot from the inside is Nail Rot, and it's a serious problem for boats. The Japanese were not blessed with the amazing ores that most other cultures had access to. I don't know what makes their iron worse, but it was.

These wood scarfs and joints in the OP's link are fascinating and masterful, yet (go to the very end if you want the all powerful Matthias' word, watch if you wanna see how much work it is). Look at where all the stress is placed on this joint. This joint has all these awkward angles in multiple planes, and slides together beautifully. First of all, do you have any idea how much time you'd waste making this? It's hours. It looks painfully delicate. It's essentially a pretentious, worthless version of an already pretentious dovetail joint. I don't like them, some people love them. They're good in drawers. They look pretty, but they're a lot of work to craft for really not that much. Moreover, the awkward angles don't do anything for the strength, only make it significantly weaker.

A wood's grain goes one direction: up the tree. When you're looking at the rings of a tree, that's the endgrain. Everything you own goes with the grain: your broom, the legs and seat of your chair, the 2x4s in the walls of your house. The grain provides the strength of the tree. Look how the joint from above clearly disregards and cuts across the grain. Many of those joints that guy does completely disregard the primary strength of wood. The reason anybody has ever done this is because it looks like a dovetail, but it isn't.

For the most part, the Japanese do three things:

*Mortise and Tenon: the classic "no nails" joint. These are the joints that Europe uses to build those beautiful white-walled/black-framed Timber Frame houses. They're strong (notice how it uses the entire height of the board, not a small lip), easy to make, and look like sex. One of my personal favorites, but by no means unique to any nation. I'm pretty sure chimpanzees are intelligent enough to understand these. There's many variations (in the vague sense) of this, like a butt joint (pegs) or a bridle joint (laying the tenon in an open topped mortise). Some bridle joints can be made into scarves.

*Butterfly Joints/Dutchman Joints: Imagine a dovetail, except instead of trying to waste time you actually need to secure two boards together. Unlike a dovetail, which is often a 90 degree angle, this flat joint makes it effective at keeping two boards tight together. It provides almost no integrity, and the boards can easily break by being levered apart. That's why one might often see a support beam below two boards secured this way: often times you'll see them in tabletops because a tabletop without some sort of base is simply a plank. They're cool, I guess. Pretty, and strong for what they do, but they don't do that much.

*The Traditional Japanese Scarf: This is the only wacky crazy Japanese scarf I've seen in real life. There's some variations on the internet, but I've never seen them IRL. It doesn't look that strong to me, but it's easily the strongest variation I've seen. The Japanese used these in the beams in their buildings when they couldn't find a tree the right length, and they overbuilt. I'm not really educated on how much stress these buildings were under, but I have no doubt that these were strong enough.

TL;DR: These joints are almost complete bullshit and would only serve as a timewaster practice for the new guy, or to be extremely pretentious and annoying. Maybe swindle some rich people, idk. If somebody tried to use these joints as a selling point with me, my jimmies would be rustled.

Anyway that's it. It was a lot of writing. I'll follow up if any questions pop up, and ignore pretty much everything else.

Seem plenty rustled already

But that's one of the points he was making: Many nations did that, not just the Japanese.

rustle intensifies

Pretty sure the distinction is that there are very few American structures still standing from long ago that are nail-less. Japan has a LOT well known structures from many, many years ago, still standing.

That's because there were very few American structures BUILT nailless.

Oh for sure. Japanese Carpentry is fantastic, but it's fantastic because they used the qualities of the wood really well. These nailless techniques are awesome, my gripe is with the 3D-model joints that OP linked. Japanese structures were also extremely overbuilt. Very few american structures are still standing from long ago because the used a lot less material since they achieved adequate strength with nails. Nails lead to nail rot eventually, but you could make a new house for significantly lower costs and effort than the through the techniques Japanese structures employed.

I'm by no means an expert on Japanese woodworking, but carpentry has some aspects that are universal. European Lumber Frame buildings are common today, and I'd bet money that those are of similar age to Japanese residents that are still standing.

So between holy places in general having pretty high budgets and overbuilding their structures with solid, time honored techniques? I'd be surprised if they didn't make it another 500 years. Wood can last forever if you help it.

That's because there were very few American structures BUILT nailless.


There were TONS of them, the difference is they held no significant religious or historical value and were mostly torn down.

No. He just is a functional carpenter over an art carpenter. I'm more impressed the Japanese found a way to make long standing buildings using little to no metal

You skipped over one important trait of the japanese: they don't necessarily do things for efficiency.

They have schools dedicated to the trimming and arrangement of flowers.

They have very elaborate, precise and delicate ceremonies to serve tea.

They push many aspect and skills to their limits for the sake of finding refinement and zen in this quest.

Your assesment of it being just for show, swindeling a rich person or bullshit misses the entire point for such easthetics...

Looks like you angered a bunch of weebs

Giving a shit about things tends to involve strong emotions, it turns out.

Except building without nails is far from being a Japanese thing

Rusteling jimtensifies

That may be true.

But I do not believe it was true for everybody. Not everybody was refined, not everybody had their own skill as the driving factor of their lives. Not everybody loved their traditions.

I may be wrong, but in my mind Japanese carpenters are the same as other Japanese people, who themselves are the same as anybody else.

They work, but they have hobbies to take their minds off work. They have sometimes partake in elaborate ceremonies, but they also sometimes lose all their money gambling and drinking. They hated school as schoolchildren.

In addition, carpentry is a vocation like masonry and farming. Typically, it's a blue collar job. Of course that wasn't always the case, especially when it came to religion. Many of the best carpenters I know never went to highschool. You're definitely not wrong, but the past wasn't a costume drama. People remain unchanged.

most of those joints are "show joints" that I doubt would ever be used in anything other than an artistic piece of furniture. The basic joints (Housing, mortice & tenon, and dovetail) are used extensively in traditional and modern furnituremaking to great effect. Dovetail joints in particular are easy and quick to make for a skilled craftsman.

looking through a glass onion

Yeah, don't look at America for examples of Western timber framing, look at Europe and the UK. Loads of old timber framed buildings there that have been standing since the early middle ages.

you don't realize how many weebs there are on the internet until you do something to anger them

they swarm like crazy

Isn't it amazing how we as humans have access to near endless information, and yet can't be bothered to look for ourse...

Literally type in "bad iron japan" or "low quality iron japan" or "impure iron japan" and you'll get hits. They have fine, imported iron today. Japanese pull saws are the standard in hand saws; I only use an American push saw when I want to make myself angry. Poor metal quality in feudal-Japan was something I thought most people knew these days.

Ever hear of how they had master swordsmiths who folded the steel thousands of times? This is why. It wasn't because they were making some sort of ultimate, perfect sword; it was because their iron was so awful that they needed to fold it so that it wouldn't break immediately. And even with thousands of folds, katanas were still extremely breakable.

It's almost like he's a carpenter or something.

You answered it yourself. Iron was of poor quality because iron production was not the greatest in Japan before mass industrialization. Proper woodworking would have been safer than using nails that would break when you were walking across a bridge.

Just a note: early Japanese iron was poor quality because iron ore was rare, but iron sand was plentiful. That being said, iron sand is much harder to work with because there's a bunch of other elements mixed in with no easy way to remove it.

One way was to heat up and fold the iron over and over again to remove these impurities, which has become a well known process in their sword making technique.

I mean, they still made iron obviously. The amount of work that went into a katana is disproportionately higher than that which went into a longsword. It also wasn't as common. I'm not a metallurgist though, I do wood.

People don't live in a vacuum though. They are influenced by the culture around them.

Carpenters in feudal Japan were regarded as artisans and craftsmen, rather than laborers.

Remember that this article is about wood joining techniques from the seventh century.

is that there are very few American structures still standing from long ago

American wooden construction isn't that old.

Carpenters in feudal Japan were regarded as artisans and craftsmen, rather than laborers

You could use this to describe any carpenter from a commercially complex and integrated society that allows specialization of labor. And until modern farming technology the vast majority of any society would have been poor farmers who wouldn't be able to afford a craftsman that needed months or years to build a house.

You're not kidding. What is with people putting Japanese culture on a fucking pedestal. Just because they do things differently doesn't mean they are the pinnacle of human evolution.

Most temples are rebuilt over a 40 or so year cycle, so they don't really last forever so much as they are under constant maintenance.

If you reread the comment to which you replied, you'll see he explicitly criticizes joints which place stress against the grain of the wood. That is pretty much a direct contradiction to your claims.

These look like those puzzles you can buy at the science museum gift store.

Here are some more: https://fabiap.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/wood-joints-in-classical-japanese-architecture.pdf

The main reason Japanese houses are built like this is to survive earthquake shakes.

The houses are designed to sway.

Truck drivers in modern America are some of the most no-nonsense get 'er done people around.

And yet there are trucking competitions where truckers show off their driving skills by maneuvering the rigs in expert ways they would never need to on the road.

Someone whose job it is to whitewash houses might paint on canvas or miniatures at home. Someone who codes for a living might take on code jams or other such challenges with crazy restrictions. You don't need to step in formation to play a musical instrument and many people just sit to do so, but you also have marching bands that make a show of it.

The point is that it's quite possible to have stolid, functional skills in a culture and use them in flowery, ceremonial, artsy ways in specific circumstances to show off their skills. Do you think tea ceremonies are the only way Japanese people drank tea, or do you think that most of the time they might just pour a cuppa? A carpenter skilled at functional wood joining may well spend his off-time creating crazy joints that work but aren't suitable for day to day use.


You completely missed the point then.

It wasn't just the quality of the ores but quantity that's why their armor was mainly leather and silk with small metal scales unlike European plate mail and chain mail

Does anyone know why woodworking developed this way? I was wondering if it was related to how katanas were produced like they were because the steel that they had was of very poor quality.

Edit: Removed a duplicate word.

Being Japanese does not mean the same thing as being Samurai.

Most of our country hasn't even been populated for 200 years by anyone making buildings. Country is only about 250 years old and most of our cities are far younger.

also that metals useful for construction werent very plentiful for people trying to build things in Japan world for a long time.

Nails before the industrial revolution where expensive as fuck, imagine the effort it takes to make ONE nail as a black smith. Now imagine how many are in your damn house right now.

Everyone who built with wood before "nails and glue" built this way.

"traditional" barns and buildings in the US were and still are sometimes built this way as well.

Traditional boats were built this way as well.

As the proud owner of an actual Japanese Puzzle box, I am obliged to link the following: http://www.hakonemaruyama.co.jp/japanese-puzzle-box-e.htm

In addition, carpentry is a vocation like masonry and farming. Typically, it's a blue collar job.

You are looking at it with westerners eyes. This is a culture that has an entire devotion to floral arrangement called Ikebana.

The ceremony for making Matcha tea is quite elaborate, old, and is considered as the summum in refined tea.

They don't have the same relationship towards work, craftmanship, hobbies.

You are making assumption based on your western view of all those things when you really can't when it comes to Japan culture.

who themselves are the same as anybody else.

not quite. culture is a real thing that actually exists.

Back in the day nails and glue were expensive.