Fabula Lignarius

Month: March, 2017

Black Forest Zendo plastering

After finishing the ceiling it was time for the plasterers to do their work. We contracted the local company Glück to do the plastering for us.


We used Claytec plaster for the whole project and did not bother to mix our own. Economically it didn’t make sense mixing our own clay plaster as we normally do and besides it would be very difficult to match the quality of the Claytec plaster. It depends on the project and the purpose but here it was certainly better to work with a ready-to-go quality product.


It can be challenging to find plasterers who are experienced with clay plaster and can work cleanly around the finished carpentry work. In Japan working cleanly and keeping the construction site orderly is the norm but in Europe that is not always the case. I was happy to see that the plasterers worked very neatly. I didn’t expect anything else, I visited some of their previous job sites and ensured that that their work was up to the standard we where looking for.


The plaster is build up in three layers with a jutte cloth in between after which a finish layer is added of less then 3mm. The finish is a white clay-plaster mixed with large grained sand to add texture. It was the client who chose this finish out of many samples.

We used the Yosima Claytec finish plaster that comes in wide variety of colors and textures. In Japan the common finish coat for plastering temples is shikkui, a lime plaster that is troweled endlessly to a perfect smooth and shiny surface. It takes tremendous skill to get this kind of finish to look decent since the slightest mistake or unevenness will show. What we used here is more forgiving. Glück did really good work and we are pleased with the result.


The humidity in the room changed from very dry, 20% because of the floor heating that was difficult to control at the time, to 94% because of the enormous amount of water that is mixed with the clay. It was the perfect test to see how the ceiling boards would hold up. (see the previous post here) The Western Red Cedar boards are fastened in a way that they are able to expand and contract with humidity. If this is not taken into account or if the fastening system is not applied properly you certainly end up with boards that are cracked right down the middle. I was happy that after the plaster had dried and we continued to install the tan tatami platforms I couldn’t find a single crack anywhere.

Stay tuned for the final push..


© All the pictures in this article where made by Jonas V. Nottbeck and are protected by copyright.

Black Forest Zendo ceiling 

After almost five years of preparation and planning we have finally finished the installation of the interior carpentry work on this project. It has been very pleasant to work for a community of people where everyone is so involved and appreciates our efforts to create something beautiful and long lasting. Here is the story of how we put together the ceiling (tenjo).

Often the craftsmen who conduct the actual work do not receive any credit and I have come across plenty articles where it sounds like a building project is realized by a single person. Let’s bring some attention to all the people involved. It gives a more complete account of the story don’t you think? Shawn McVeigh and Maxime Ducharme are two carpenters who have been working on the ceiling installation. Shawn is a Hawaiian carpenter trained by Dale Brotherton, he also helped us with some of the shopwork at East Wind in California. Max is a Canadian carpenter living in the UK who took one of my courses and worked on another project with me in the past. It is great to have competent and committed people to work with and they certainly deserve to be mentioned.

A traditional ceiling in a temple in Japan would often be a go-tenjo or checkerboard ceiling. However the design of this zendo is based on a similar design of a zendo in Crestone Colorado built by East Wind and designed by Len Brackett many years ago.

This design is quite unique with the 45 degree horizontal hip rafters running from the corner of the mume into the corner of the room. It allowed us to create a different feeling where the lower ceiling and the direction of the sao-bo wraps around the room and the upper ceiling. This type where the boards are held up by ceiling rods can be referred to as sao tenjo.

The frame to support the ceiling was accurately constructed on the ground before being raised into position. The location was critical since the hiprafters needed to land exactly in the corner of the room.


Preparation is everything…


For this project we used shaku as a measuring unit, and we always try to use gloves not to mar or stain the wood with our hands.


The ceiling boards are held in place with screws and wedges in such a way that they are able to move with changes in humidity. We used several thousands screws to construct this ceiling. I guess we are not doing the real thing since Japanese carpentry is conducted without the use of nails or screws..

JvN_8020After the center ceiling was raised we could continue on the perimeter ceiling installing the hips first, then the sao-bo and the tenjo-ita.


Sao detail around the Sierra-yama sugi (as opposed to Kitayama-sugi). We had to cut into the post to give the ceiling boards a ledge to land on.


The Ceiling board are laid down exactly in the same sequence as they are milled out of the tree. This ensures that the grain pattern is continuos. I am sure you can imagine that it takes a lot of care and attention during construction not to damage the soft Western Red Cedar boards. This is very unique material we are working with here! Long perfectly clear fine grained wood, there is only so much of it on the planet.


It is almost impossible to see on the picture but with the construction of a ceiling like this the center is slightly lifted, creating a very subtle dome shaped arch in the ceiling. this creates a feeling of loftiness. If you would make a ceiling perfectly flat it actually feels sagged and tends to weigh down on you and lifting the ceiling in the center eliminates this effect. Because of all the different parts of this ceiling creating that arch was a bit more challenging but it came out exactly how we envisioned it.

Below an illustration of which ceiling parts are perfectly straight and which ones are slightly curved. The green lines represent the mawaribuchi that are straight. The pink lines the mume which are curved and the yellow lines illustrate the arch of the ceiling. The curves are exaggerated for clarity.


Stay tuned for the completion of this project soon.

© All the pictures in this article where made by Jonas V. Nottbeck and are protected by copyright.