Fabula Lignarius

Black Forest Zendo joinery

First I had to get a head start on all the layout making sure everyone in the shop is occupied and doesn’t run out of work. This means I spend the weekend working. I don’t mind really since I always enjoy marking fine lines on freshly dimensioned wood.


I hope the pictures below give an impression of what we are making.

swordtip splice

tan joinery

sword tip 2

tan joinery 2

Defects like pitch pockets are inlayed.


Door parts.

diamond stile

door grating

I could write endlessly about the project and explain everything in detail but after a ten hour day I prefer to make myself a good diner and have enough rest instead of spending long hours behind a screen. Eventually the final result will tell the whole tale. In the end there is not much to say about it anyway, we just cut pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood and figure out a way of connecting them together assuring structural integrity and a pleasing aesthetic.

Up ahead is more joinery, some carving work and then the ceiling.



Black Forest Zendo

Several years ago we were asked wether we could design and build a traditional Japanese zendo interior. This is a Japanese meditation hall, traditionally a part of a temple complex, a building where sitting meditation is practiced. Here are some pictures that may give you an idea what such an interior looks like. In the Soto Zen sect sitting meditation or zazen as it is called, is the sole means of realizing enlightenment.


Below a picture of the Sōji-ji zendo.


We are doing this work for the Dharma Sangha a Buddhist centre in the Black Forest of southern Germany.

This project took a while to take shape but finally all the pieces have fallen into place and we are about to commence the work.

It doesn’t happen too often that you get the chance to construct such a building. It is one of these rare ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunities. I have worked for this community before (client wouldn’t really be the appropriate word) and developed a good relationship with them. It is very satisfying to work for a group of people who both understand and appreciate the work we do. You can imagine that I have been looking forward to this project. The last two weeks I spend with Len Brackett working out the design details. I look forward to get away from the drawing board and finally start cutting some wood.

In the mean time my colleagues have been making tansu that will sit on top of the tan platforms. Note the coped rails. We used fine and straight grained Port Orford Cedar for these face frames.


The wood we are using on this project is some of the best we have in stock. The Sugar Pine we will use for the eating board of the tan platforms was milled more then 30 years ago. and has been sitting around waiting for the ‘right’ project. The time has come..


Large Port Orford Cedar posts

The availability of all this fine lumber is something European carpenters like myself can only dream of. Trees just don’t grow this way in that part of the world. Using the appropriate timber is crucial for this kind of work to ensure an authentic feel and look.

Sugar Pine eating boards

Most of the Port Orford Cedar posts have a sewari (stress relief kerf) cut into them to ensure clean faces without cracks.

Port Orford Cedar posts

Tomorrow I start laying out all the components. Stay tuned for more pictures soon.






Tiny Structure 3

P1040064 copy

Tatemai (raising) is rewarding.

P1040013 copy

P1040049 copy


P1040050 copy


P1040055 copy

P1040057 copy



P1040118 copy

P1040119 copy

P1040062 copy

I wonder how this joint will hold up over time since the oak log is likely to warp without a sewari. Time will tell.

Tiny Structure 2

About a year ago I was doing this..


Many oddly shaped holes were made and sometimes patchwork is necessary.


The surface-polisher comes out.


All the ingredients are pickled and plastic wrapped for preservation. Shelf-life is estimated to about 160 years.


Last Season

A compelling journey might be a good way to describe the last couple of months. I was fortunate to be involved in several projects that both challenged and inspired me. Along the way I traveled to the New World, Blighty and Asia and enjoyed the company of some dedicated craftsmen.

Returning home a short while ago I am still trying to digest my experiences. The picture below taken in Guizhou, China illustrates well how I feel.


For now I am just enjoying some tea while figuring out what the rest of the year will bring. At the time I prioritized the work at hand above writing blog posts but I look forward to share some of last summers events with you here soon.

Using a Sumisashi and Sumitsubo

Upon request of several readers we will have a closer look at how you can use some of the Japanese layout tools I discussed in the previous post.

Snapping Lines with a Sumitsubo

Make sure your sumitsubo is prepared well and ready to go. See this post.

Since we snap center lines we have to mark the center first.

Mark the center by measuring and placing a tick mark.

mark center

Note how I use 100mm at the edge to increase accuracy. The lens of this camera creates a false perspective. It appears that the stick is less then 60mm but in fact it is exactly 60.


Set a marking/scribing gauge to distance approximately half the width of the piece. (about 1mm larger) Mark from either side and you will find the center exactly in between both marks. Very fast, convenient and accurate.

scribing center

Pin the line either to the end grain or on the surface. I prefer the end grain and early wood since it doesn’t leave a hole on the surface and the pin is easier to remove. When removing the pin after snapping twist it while pulling to avoid bending the metal pin.

pin line

You can rotate the pin to get your line spot on your mark. And make sure you tie the line to the metal pin with a halfknot.

half knot

After unrolling you can either grab the line before you place the other end on the mark or place the line down while creating tension on the line, the reel is now locked with your thumb or by the palm of your hand.


In order to make sure you snap a straight line without any curvature you have to hold your head still. Put down the line on the mark, make sure you have the right amount of tension and tap the line in front of you. This creates a tick mark. Now without moving your head you lift the line straight up and snap it aiming for the tick you just made.

The centerline is then marked with a Z-type mark.

Voila, two hundred and fifty eight words later we have…  a line.


Good or Bad

When holding the sashigane to make marks hold it with one hand and bend it slightly to lay it flat on the surface. The friction between the thickened corner and the blade should be enough to keep it in place.

good sashigane practice

good sashigane practice

This might take some practice but avoid using your fingers to hold the blade while marking a line. Sometimes you have to but in general this is considered bad practice.

bad, bad, bad

bad, bad, bad

Laying Out a Mortice

If you align the bottom side of the long blade with your centerline (CL) and mark along the top you have drawn a line that should be exactly 15mm (the width of the square) away and parallel to the CL. Often a mortice is located directly upon the CL. Let’s say your tenon is 90mm wide (which is common) you have placed the long blade with the bottom along the CL and the crossing CL at the 45mm mark. This way you can draw two sides of the mortice at once.

mortice layout step 1

Without moving the square you have placed a tick mark at 90mm.

mortice layout step 2

Use this tick to mark the other short side of the mortice holding the square to the edge of the timber.

mortice layout step 3

Only one side of the mortice remains to be marked and often I flip the square to draw this line since then the short blade has a longer bearing surface on the timber which aids a bit in accuracy.

mortice layout step 4

Mark the mortice and mark the depth if necessary. Eventually you add about 2mm of clearance to avoid that the tenon will bottom out. I Wouldn’t write 122mm, it is something you just know while cutting out the mortice.

mortice layout step 5

All the above takes about 7 to 8 seconds.

Secret Tricks

For what I am about to tell you the guardians of secretive craftsmanship might come and hunt me down. I couldn’t care less and in these times of global industrialism I will do anything that contributes to the continuation of this ancient craft. The last thing we need today is secrecy.

Take a fine file and make a mark on your sashigane at 28mm. You can now quickly use this to mark the offset of the pegholes of your tenons. Seconds saved, consistency guaranteed.

file mark

Invest in a reel of superfine braided dyneema fishing line and replace your sumitsubo inkline with this stuff. They don’t soak up too much ink thus leave a clearer and fine line. They are super strong and last a long time.

Cut back the top on the tip of your sumisashi, it will make it write in both directions which works great when doing layout on round logs.

cut tip

And remember, when laying out always think in function of the centerline!

This post has been a new experience for me and is written in a truly internet-like, how-to, step-by-step-guide way. I hope it will be useful to some. It seems a bit superficial but maybe that is just me being old fashioned. The next step up from here is video tutorials. Cold shivers down my spine when I only think of it. I don’t know I could ever go there, I am sorry. Pictures and text will have to suffice.