Fabula Lignarius

Tag: japanese carpentry workshop

Japanese Hip Rafter Workshop 2015

students workshop 2015

I did not meet my goal! I aimed for every single student to complete the whole model during the time of the workshop. Only three came very close. They where able to fit at least one of the jackrafters to the hip but unless the students are already very experienced woodworkers doing this kind of stuff all the time, I think it is fair to say that we could use another day. And for those who would work extra fast we could always delve into some related subjects. Like the joinery of the hiro-gomai where they meet on the hip. Hiro-gomai are the boards that lay on top of the rafters at the end of the eave.

I was pleasantly amazed by the accurate results the students achieved. It was sometimes difficult to avoid the knots in the wood but their careful approach certainly helped to achieve good results.

knotty wood


The first two days are the most challenging, a lot of head scratching and brain torture to visualize all the parts and how they fit together.


Things start to fall into place when the joints are being cut. At their own pace the students experience a eureka moment where suddenly they start to ‘see it’.

cutout keta half lap

Compound angle joinery always remains challenging. No matter your level of experience you can always come up with concepts to build that will take you out of your comfort zone. However building a hip rafter model is a great place to start and to take your first steps into this world of triangles. You could say that for any professional timber framer it is a mandatory skill. Laying out a hip rafter with only a square at your disposal should be part of everyone’s initial training.

compound angles

I can happily announce that the workshop was a great succes. It was a very nice group of people to spend time with and we had plenty of fun. I already look forward to the next edition. If you are interested in taking this course have a look here to subscribe, stay tuned for future dates.


Workshop Pictures


I have been neglecting my blog recently and could give you a whole series of excuses but I won’t. It is not that I lack any subjects to write about it’s rather time that is limited. There are only so many hours in a day.

The last two weeks I have been preparing for the upcoming workshop and now I am finally ready. I wrote a 25 page paper for the participants and made most of the parts for the model they will be building. This morning I found a mistake in the paper, a small one but still significant. I messed up some numbers while calculating the length of a queen post. No worries, no harm is done.

Usually I work at my friends workshop but since it has been quite cold lately I decided to work inside in our spare room. Did you know you don’t need a workshop to do woodworking. Just two square meters of free space is plenty, three would be a luxury. I worked like this before so I am used to it. Back in the days when I lived in an apartment on the fourth flour in Antwerp my living room doubled as a workshop.

on the floor

A wooden floor and a nice solid slab of Sakura (cherry) with a planing stop is all a man could hope for. It would make the perfect shop.

Oh, did you notice the sanding paper in the picture. I know that is really embarrassing I shouldn’t be using that. I needed a small wooden hammer (the one on the pillow) to set my planes and decided to sand away the file marks on the handle. It’s ok you know, sometimes you need to let go of all those preconceptions.

Workshop: Japanese Hip Rafter

From 28th to 31th of January 2013 I will be teaching an intensive training in roof geometry at Dictum in Niederalteich Germany. By making a model of a hip rafter we will explore some important aspects of the Japanese lay-out system. The hip rafter of a roof is a challenging piece to fabricate, especially if one chooses to employ intricate joinery as is the case in the Japanese tradition. Besides the woodworking itself we will delve into many related subjects so the participants will gain a thorough insight and  will understand the essence of the Japanese lay-out system. 

hip detail

Covered topics:

  • half lap joint of the wall plates
  • connection of the hip rafter with the crossing of the wall plates
  • connection of the jack rafters with the hip
  • structurally sound and elegant joinery solutions
  • geometry and the Japanese roof lay-out method

This is just a limited description and only lists the main subjects. We will be discussing much more like tools, efficient cutout methods, use of the sashigane and the urame (back scale), some trigonometry and mathematical approaches to solve cut angles etc.

I really look forward to teaching this course and I am sure it will be a very nice experience both for the participants and myself. The facilities at the Dictum workshop seem to be very nice and such an environment will benefit the participants progress. It will be all about learning, hand tools, concentration and having fun while doing all that.

The price for the workshop is 450€, this includes four full days of training, course material, a printed reference and all the wood to construct the model. For more details you can have a look at their website here.

Japanese roof geometry is often regarded as a difficult subject to understand or master and to a certain extent this is true. On the other hand a normal hip that is angled 45° in plan is not  the most difficult thing to understand or build. With some guidance, decent woodworking skills with hand tools and some focused attention most of us can understand the basics. It is definitely my purpose to demystify the Japanese lay-out system and lay a foundation for further study.

Due to some miscommunication there are some inaccuracies published on the Dictum website. I have no idea about the cause but I suspect they based the description of the workshop on information I had send them earlier. I guess this must have been misinterpreted somehow. I have contacted them regarding this matter but it seems difficult to make any changes and they prefer to keep the description as it is.

Nonetheless I feel that I must correct what is published since I find it important to be accurate about these matters. Based on their description of the course, here is my own and accurate version.

This workshop covers the detailed design and construction of a traditional Japanese hip roof. You will gain an insight into some aspects of Japanese architecture and the Japanese carpentry lay-out system. Using Japanese handtools and basic mathematics, you will learn the required skills to mark and cut the parts. Each student creates a 1:1 roof corner segment, consisting of a wall plate with interconnecting half-lap joints, the hip rafter and added jack rafters.

I must also note that “kikujutsu”, as mentioned in their original description, does not translate as ‘Japanese carpentry’ but as ‘the art of (Japanese) carpentry drawing’. I can only guess where they must have picked up this word since I had not mentioned it to them before.

They also asked me to write a description of myself which was then altered before it was published. Here is the original version. I find it difficult to write about myself in third person and hope that I don’t need to do it too often.

Mathieu Peeters was inspired by crafts from an early age, his father is a sculptor and his grandfather was a furniture maker. After working in the conservation trade he ended up in the California at East Wind inc. a leading company in Traditional Japanese Architecture. There he learned from some very skilled and accomplished carpenters and he now runs his own small company in Belgium. He is very passionate about his work and continues to study as much as he can about carpentry and related subjects so he can pass this on to anyone who is interested. He also teaches young carpenters at a local trade school.

Enough complaints now, let’s get back to the things that really matter and cut some tight joints.

EDIT: Dictum, upon request has kindly offered to change the descriptions and they now accurately represent what we are offering.

If you have any questions regarding this workshop please do not hesitate to contact me or Dictum directly true this form. You are all kindly invited to participate. I can assure you it will be a very rewarding experience.