Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Model Carpenter II

I'm always researching stuff relating to woodwork, architecture, and furniture, among other topics. Sometimes I stumble across pages on the web, or in books, that leave me more than a bit speechless with amazement. Today I wanted to share one of those discoveries with readers here.

In a past post called 'A Model Carpenter', I showed carpentry models made to study various roofing layout challenges. Another sort of model-making is that of scaled replicas/representation of famous (or not so famous, perhaps) full scale structures. Some of these models can be virtually as elaborate as the full size ones. Case in point, this piece of mobile sculpture, called a ya-tai:


That parade float may be small, but it is not the model in question. I introduce to you now the mini-yatai:


Ya-tai (屋台), as mentioned, are a sub-type of parade vehicle or float used in Japanese Shrine Festivals, and the above model is 1/12 scale, taking 3 years to complete (possibly about the same length of time as the full size unit takes to construct).

It may not look like much to some observers from afar, but when you start seeing pictures like this next one, you know without a doubt that the artisan isn't fooling around:


All of those pieces are separate bits put together to form that one corner bracket complex, and though the joinery is slightly simplified from the full size work, I find this very impressive all the same. How does he do that?! With little knives, fine saws, specialized jigs, and a lot of dedication, that's how.

All those little pieces would have to be made in large quantity for such a project - take a gander:


And this artist is not, as so many seem to do, making just a rough facsimile, but is building an accurately made scale structure - down to the fine hairs:


Note the little go/no go gauging block on the right.

Here's a picture, mid-way through the build:


A little further along:


If it wasn't for the background and the metal nuts in the scene, it could pass for a full scale piece.

All that carving you see is accomplished with a dremel style drill and lots of little gouges. Pretty cleanly done, I'd say, considering the piece below is about 1" tall:


The artisan has kindly allowed a window into his world by means of a build thread. click on the following link and follow along by clicking the blue text usually at the bottom of each page and marked 2ヘ, 3ヘ, 4ヘ, 5ヘ, etc (8 pages in total):

Suehiro Mini-Yatai.

One thing I admire about that artisan's work is the diversity of skills required to complete it. Fine woodworking, fine sheet metal fabrication, even fine needlework. It seems almost un-Japanese to be highly skilled at more than one thing. My swordsmithing teacher might well disapprove! Stereotypes do need to be smashed once in a while.

I hope readers here will enjoy that walk through, and be every bit as astounded as I am. It goes to show that one can create works of art and pieces of high technical difficulty in wood while using just a small amount of material and working on a kitchen table with a few simple hand tools.

And oh yes, the impatient need not apply! :^)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Weight of the Wait

So, as I wrote in the previous post describing my experiences at a recent furniture show, it would appear be hard to know whether I could measure it a success for some time yet. I didn't sell anything at the show, and I had met some great people, some of whom told me it might take three shows in a row before sales started coming along.

Well, they were wrong. I just got a commission today to build a dining table!! Yahoo!! I was shocked, though the client was definitely over-the-top keen on the joinery and designs I showed him at the show, and I am pumped, to say the least, that this client is so enthused about my work. And he has the resources to make it happen too, which is not an insignificant detail.

This table is not just any old table. It is going to be based on a 16th century Ming Dynasty piece which have been obsessing/drooling over for years and long contemplating building for myself. I was going to build it for myself because I doubted I would ever find a client who would be interested in such a highly complex piece, one with loads of concealed joinery. In fact, I had started drawing the table out on SketchUp a couple of weeks back, thinking that a couple of planks I had on hand might just make the beginnings of a nice dining table.

This table had a completely novel constructional system. It's absolutely unique. It's frame and panel, but doesn't look like it. It looks like a big slab of wood forms the top, but appearances are deceptive. It's not veneered - you know I don't do veneering. I'll explain more about the constructional details of the piece later on, but in my mind this table was so far ahead of its time, such a work of inspired genius on the part of the unknown craftsman who created it, that I was wondering if an advanced alien race on a spaceship had in fact visited China in the 16th century and revealed a few tricks. I'm only kidding here, sorta. The construction of this table blows my mind, and I have never seen it for real only in a couple of photos. I will do my best to honor the genius who created it with this dining table. It is to seat 10, so it will be the largest table I have made to date.

I need to check in with the client to see if he is cool with me doing a blog on the build. Hopefully he will be supportive.

In other news, the bell tower project planning and negotiating is still churning along, and the client in California has indicated he wants me to take care of all the project details, as he has come to realize how complicated many of those details are and that he would only be slowing the process down by being in the middle of that. So I'm starting in earnest to look at sourcing/pricing the wood, and may even be taking a trip to Alaska in the next while to look at some Yellow Cedar logs. A lot on the plate all of a sudden. Whew! It beats having little to do and worrying about when the next project might materialize of course, but sometimes these transitions can be abrupt. Holy crap - a lot of work lies ahead!

The lesson I take from this is that even though work has been scarce the past couple of years and a few choice looking projects have fallen through or been put on extended holds due to funding constraints, my constant drive to develop my carpentry by study and making models, by making speculative pieces like the lantern and tsuitate - and not for a 'market' but because I really liked the forms of those pieces - and by doing various exploratory drawing designs (one of which led to this table commission), and by taking financial risks like the recent show, by doing talks on Japanese carpentry, etc, well, it has really paid off. Fortunately, things seem to have worked out and justified my strategy, though even I had my doubts at times. At least for the near future, creative juices can flow and I can express my craft.

I did seriously start to consider a job at a hardware store to bring in some $$$, so I have made a close escape from a job I wouldn't be so excited (or particularly qualified) to do for the time being. I have to also credit friends and family for their support in recent times, both emotional, financial, and otherwise. And one more point - moving out to a new place means it can take a while to get established and that marketing is crucial when no one knows who you are. It's taken me two years on the east coast of the US to get things going.

'It's hard to count on anything' seems to be a common lament among those who craft things for a living, and it is so true. For the next year, plus some, however, I've got a pretty full slate and a couple of absolute dream projects to engage with. Sweet! I feel very lucky indeed, and I also believe that 'luck' sometimes is when preparation meets opportunity.

All for now. If you're struggling for work right now, or in a job you'd rather not be doing, how are you preparing for the future?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Show Off

Here we are again, life returning to normal, and I use that term loosely, following the Providence RI 16th annual Fine Furnishings Show. It was a new experience for me, and in my previous post I expressed some of the apprehensions I was having. I do appreciate the words of support and encouragement I received in the comments which followed.

So, "how did it go?", you might ask? Quite well I thought. I learned a tremendous amount and met some great people, both in terms of potential clientele who attended the show and in the other exhibitors. My booth was across the aisle from a fellow named David Stine, who has a 1000 acre farm and mills his own trees into slab-style (ala Nakashima) furniture. He does some 18 shows a year so he was a great resource and allowed me to pick his brain about the whole scene.

Actually, the response from the other furniture makers at the show to my work was interesting. It didn't take long for word to spread about the, and I paraphrase, "guy with the joinery and who uses no glue", and one by one different furniture makers came by and examined my work. Of course, the usual comments like, "I couldn't make a living doing that", or it's variant, "I couldn't do that sort of work fast enough to make it pay" were received, but I had long ago decided to discount such remarks and put them in the category of excuses and justifications. Many of the other furniture makers seemed quite impressed, and told me so, which was rewarding to hear. On the last day I had several from the North Street Bennett School come over and examine every nook and cranny of the pieces.

The show wasn't as big an event as in previous years, as the rows of vendor booths didn't quite reach to the back of the hall. I guess that times are tough, and many makers may well have quit the game or for one reason or another can't afford to attend. It seems like the people who sell the smaller cash-and-carry items, like cutting boards, photos, pens, glassware, and so forth, did some reasonable business during the three days. A few furniture makers sold a piece here and there, including one guy who sold a grandfather clock for $3750 early on in the show.

I didn't sell any pieces, and really, I didn't expect to. Not many people walk around with thousands of dollars in their pocket ready to drop it on a whim on something they like. Most people are quite careful with their money, especially in these economic times. And frankly, if someone just casually forked over the money for a piece from me, without it being much of a big deal to them, I would feel less than good about the transaction. I want the clients to be as excited about, and invested in, the pieces as I am. I did meet several potential clients of that sort, fortunately. There was a LOT of interest in the walnut vanity and the lantern. A lot of people seemed to think that the tsuitate, or room partition, was a headboard. I guess one could expect that with a piece of furniture that is not in the normal western set of pieces. And sure, it could in fact be made into a headboard.

A lot of people had trouble accepting the idea that the lantern was meant to be installed outside.

It was a real pleasure showing people some joinery samples and letting them take the pieces apart and put them back together. There were a lot of gasps of delight and fascination with some of the joints, and I think for many, it was a paradigm shift to realize that furniture could be put together, in part or whole, without recourse to metal fasteners or glue. Even some one-year old children, we observed, are fascinated with joinery.

A professor from a nearby university wants me to come and lecture to his design students about Japanese joinery so they can create CNC programs to make a joint. Apparently he feels the students in the program are lacking opportunities to actually make tangible items in a course revolving around virtual designing. I'm not sure how I feel about doing those lectures, but it was nice to be asked.

Speaking of being asked to do something, I received an invitation from the director of the Philadelphia Fine Furniture Show, taking place in March 2011, to attend and display my pieces. I'll be thinking about that over the next couple of months. David Stine thought it would be a good venue for my sort of work, though he himself had done poorly at that show when he had attended. The type of crowds at shows seem to vary in their interests quite bit with the respective cities that host the event, from what I gather.

It is difficult to assess just what constitutes success in one of these shows when so far, for me, there have been no direct sales. A lot of people told me that I won't really know until at least a year later, and David Stine mentioned receiving an order from a client who had seen his work at a show 4 years prior. Many also told me that it took attendance at three shows in a row before people started buying your work to any degree. I guess that people tend to trust more someone who they have gained familiarity with through prior exposure. We'll see.

At this point, I felt it was a good experience overall, and I was able to present myself and my work in front of an audience of people who were, for the most part, looking specifically at furniture, for one reason or another. I passed out plenty of business cards and other promotional materials, and found I was able to enthusiastically engage with complete strangers for three days on end. Even my wife was surprised that I could do that! Here we are in my booth at the show:


Having my wife there was a tremendous support - I really would have had a much tougher time without her. So, thank you honey!

Here's a few more shots of my furniture display, in 10'x10':


The tsuitate and the vanity:


The bed frame end boards and, on the floor, the joint I cut last year for the Boston Children's Museum Japanese New Year's event:


That's a wrap then. We'll see what unfolds as a result over the next 12 months and my hope is that, with just a single commission, I will have at least covered the costs for attending the show. Of course, I really hope it leads to more than that!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Into the Unknown

I'll be attending my first furniture show (The 15th Annual Providence, Rhode Island Fine Furnishings Show) as an exhibitor this coming weekend, October 22nd~24th, and am doing my best to prepare at this time. Having spoken with quite a few other craftspeople about furniture and craft shows, and have heard less than positive comments about taking work to shows, so I am going in without too many expectations. Well, I do have one expectation: that I will be about $2000 poorer for trying, and I do hope, therefore, that I manage to sell something. It would be great to at least break even.

Call it 'adventures in marketing' - it seems akin to a crap shoot, ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances. Of course, even if the show doesn't result in an immediate sale for me, I will have had the opportunity to meet many potential clients and gain some valuable public exposure. Who knows what may eventuate down the line a few months?

For sure, many more potential buyers and clients will be walking by my booth and having a chance to see my work than in any previous place or circumstance, so that does seem to improve the odds somewhat. But like a lot of ventures into marketing, at the minor-league level in which I approach it at least, you can have no real way of knowing if it was worth it - whether the approach you took actually pays, or will pay, dividends on the investment. I could for example, run an advert in a newspaper for 10 weeks, get no responses, and decide to cancel, concluding that it was an ineffective sales tool. But you never know if it might have been the 11th or 12th insertion in the paper that might have lead to some work, or the 240th for that matter. I could hear from a new client three years afterward who saw that ad and kept the clipping. Other woodworkers in recent days have related tales to me of dropping $3500~4000 on a magazine advertisement and not getting a single phone call. It's the great unknown to me this marketing stuff, and definitely not my forte. It feel like simply burning money. What ever happened to, "if you build it they will come?" Hah!

I'm not the glad-handing chatty sort of salesperson who would be right in their element in a three day show like this, so it will be a big challenge for me to retain energy and enthusiasm for the meet and greet over three long days. My wife will be coming along and helping me, which is a major godsend, and will allow me to take short breaks once in a while to re-charge, and she is definitely better at the socializing than I am.

Of course, wouldn't you know it, right before a big event like this, I have come down with a cold. Hopefully it will improve in short order. Meanwhile I am driving back and forth to the shop and getting things set up for my display booth. I've also been ordering up new business cards, color postcards, and even a banner. Look for my ad in the next Superbowl. Not exactly.

I'm feeling a bit self-conscious about all my work and worrying about all the imperfections in it that I am aware of, and how by showing the pieces in public I am, in my mind, thereby showing my personal imperfections as well. It's kinda like you're standing there naked and people are walking by, looking at you, commenting, maybe smiling, maybe grimacing, or simply oblivious, as the case may be. I'm also worried that everyone else will have more nicely decorated and set up display booths and savvier sales materials and presentations than I will muster. Hopefully I won't come across as too shabby.

It promises to be an intense and exhausting experience and I am both hopeful and nervous, excited and terrified all at the same time.

There will be no posts from me until early next week, and I will return with an account of how it all went, possibly with some photos as well. I hope your weekend is a good one, and if you are in the Providence area and interested in furniture, I hope you'll swing by and say hello.

Wish me luck. As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Truth is Plane to See?

Many woodworkers have become familiar with insert tooling, where small carbide cutters are installed in place for brazed-in carbide:


The advantages to the inserted tooling are numerous: replacing the blades (or simply rotating them in some cases) always will re-establish the original tool dimension and its cutting geometry. Re-sharpening a fixed blade version of the above tool will of course will reduce the dimension of the cutter. The insert, since no brazing is involved, can/should be of even harder carbide then otherwise, and this should result in a longer cutter life.

The possibility to insert knives of varying profiles into the same head also means that the cutter head is more versatile. Changing blades in an insert tooling system can be measured in a few seconds (as with the Tersa system) or longer, and since the knives are held in an indexed position there is not futzing about for ages with a dial indicator to set the knives in a multi-knife cutter all to the same height. Dull blades are not re-sharpenable (at least if you want to maintain original dimensions), and this definitely annoys some people. That said, HSS steel is highly recyclable, and carbide does fetch a pretty decent price as scrap. I've read that a coffee can full of worn carbide inserts weighs about 40~60 lbs and is worth about $200 as scrap (though you may have to ship it off if a recycler for that material is not local to your area).

The downsides to insert tooling relate mostly to the inherent (philosophical/ethical) negatives of disposability, and the potential or temptation this presents for some manufacturers to specify cheaper and cheaper insert tooling steel. The good news with that of course is that if the factory blades are junk, there may be better quality aftermarket products available.

One way to reduce cutting effort with a blade is to reduce the cutting angle by shearing the blade to the side. In machines, this takes the form of cutter heads with helical blades. Here's the old skool look, in this case a milling machine cutter:



And a newer application of a helical blade on a jointer:


The above set up is another potential application for insert tooling - small carbide/HSS cutters distributed around the cutterhead can take the place of single larger blades spanning the head. Here's a 'typical' planer/jointer cutterhead with rotatable 4-sided cutters:


Now, from what I have gathered, these insert-tool helical cutterheads seem to have their pluses and minuses - while the helical orientation promises (and delivers) a cleaner shearing cut and quieter operation, a lot of these sort of heads tend to leave fine lines on the wood surface, the more so the smaller the diameter of the cutter head. The lines result from geometry: orienting the 4-sided knives to the side slightly so they shear the cut results in a cutting profile that is very slightly convex. That is what produces the slight lines - it's a weird compound angle effect. Most people seem to accept this shortcoming in exchange for the benefits, and since most woodworkers do not obtain the material's final finish surface out of a planer, but rather by sanding, it may be of little consequence.

I'm not here today however to talk about insert tooling in the sense of woodworking machines, and I'm sure there are many places online where folks debate these matters for hours on end. More power to them. No, today I wanted to show you a different approach to insert tooling I came across the other day. I kinda get a kick out of it and have no idea how well it works, but it's cool and gives me pause to smile:


Comments? ;^)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Heavy Hobbit

This past long weekend my wife and I took a drive to the southern part of Connecticut to visit the Gillette Castle, since 1943 a State Park. With a name like that, you might think it ties to the company producing shaving products, however this is a different Gillette: William Gillette, an actor famous in the first half of the 20th century for his portrayals of the character Sherlock Holmes. If you're wondering where such expressions as, elementary my dear Watson, along with the props of magnifying glass, deerstalker cap, bent briar pipe, etc., come from, look no further than William Gillette.

Gillette died without a family to whom he could bequeath the estate, and evidently he was concerned over what fate might befall his castle on a hill overlooking the Connecticut river. In his will, he says the following:

"I would consider it more than unfortunate for me – should I find myself doomed, after death, to a continued consciousness of the behavior of mankind on this planet – to discover that the stone walls and towers and fireplaces of my home – founded at every point on the solid rock of Connecticut; – that my railway line with its bridges, trestles, tunnels through solid rock, and stone culverts and underpasses, all built in every particular for permanence (so far as there is such a thing); – that my locomotives and cars, constructed on the safest and most efficient mechanical principles; – that these, and many other things of a like nature, should reveal themselves to me as in the possession of some blithering saphead who had no conception of where he is or with what surrounded."

In this case, things have worked out well for Gillette, as the Castle is in a well maintained state at present, though the railway on the property of long gone. In the late 1990's an $11 million dollar renovation of this structure took place, and I gather it had fallen into disrepair before that - a narrow escape.

The topic of what happens to one's legacy after death, is of increased relevance to me of late, both in relation to my preoccupation with making things to outlast their owners, and, most keenly after viewing the recently-released documentary on the fate of the 20th century's greatest individual collection of art, the Barnes collection in Philadelphia. The documentary is called the Art of the Steal, and I highly recommend you check it out. Here's the trailer:



Gillette designed the castle and most of its contents personally, periodically checking every phase of their construction.Here's an aerial overview I found on the web:


Built of local fieldstone supported by a steel framework, it took twenty men a total of five years (1914-1919), to complete the main structure:


My initial response to the stonework, given the mortar visible everywhere, was not especially one of enchantment or a glowing appreciation of fine craftsmanship, but the structure overall did look intriguing. Here's another side of the structure:


From the castle's location on a bluff, one obtains a fine view of the Connecticut River:


Anyway, tickets in hand, we approached the entry, which right away captured my interest as the entire door frame was of thick timber which had been completely tool-worked:


Flash photography was not permitted inside the building, so I was unable to take decent photos of quite a few interesting bits. Nonetheless, the photos that did come out well should enable the reader to get a good sense of the interior.

Some people appear to believe that if a little of something is good, then a lot of it must be somehow better. While this may be true in certain cases I suppose, like if we are talking about love, it is often not true at all when it comes to architecture or other material things. One case in point would be log homes with log stairs, log furniture, log sinks and toilets, etc. Another is the Gillette Castle, where the delight upon seeing the tooled surfaces on the entry door frame vanishes in short order when viewing the rest of the interior - almost every stick of wood is similarly tooled:


Here's the light switch panel by the door:


Another light switch:


The first room one comes into after moving through the entry is the main salon:


A table:


A portcullis-like treatment above a window:


At least they held off on working the ceiling panels with the gouge:


I imagine this building would be a slice of heaven for someone involved involved in, say, role plays of medieval European castle fairs. I have christened this unique style, "Heavy Hobbit".

Another shot:


I like the use of exposed copper piping for the sprinkler system.

One of the neat aspects of this house are the doors and windows, which have their a variety of unique Hogwart's-esque latching and opening mechanisms. Here's a hinged window for example:


The latch allows for four different fixed positions:


And the catch, here on another window in the house, is obvious in function:


Now, as a child I used to read Hardy Boys novels, and I always remembered the tale, second book in the series as I recall, entitled "The Secret Room". I do like funky latches and catches, secret rooms and mechanisms. I guess Gillette did too, however unlike me he wanted the mechanisms to be entirely obvious. Apparently he liked to spy on his guests too, using mirrors and such contrivances. There are 47 doors in the house and each has a slightly different arrangement of latching and opening. It's cool, but it's a bit over the top. I like quirky stuff like this though, even if it isn't to my taste, at least it isn't unimaginative cookie-cutter clutter.

Here's we see one of those doors, along with what I presume to be a cover to the safe, in Gillette's office:


In many of the guest bedrooms, and elsewhere in the house, the walls are covered with woven fibers in various arrangements and patterns:


Some neat details to be seen - here in Gillette's study/office, one can see that the chair has been put on tracks so that its wheels don't damage the floor:


One of the unique 47 doors has a carved representation of woven slats:


One more, little closer in:


It looks pretty good, but it sure ain't subtle!

I hope you enjoyed the tour of the William Gillette Castle with me, and thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way on your travels today.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Minokō

Today I would like to talk about an important part of Japanese traditional roof work, the minokō. While I have made some mention of it in past postings, especially in the recently begun series on the bell tower design, I wish to dig into the matter here in more detail. As usual, I shall start my digging with the word minokō, and look more closely at the characters with which it is written in Japanese: '箕甲'

'箕甲' is composed of two kanji as you can see. The first, '箕', consists of '其' on the bottom, and a truncated form of '竹' on the top. The lower element, '其', stems from a pictograph, which looked like this:


The lower part of that pictograph is a table, leaving the top piece...


... which is a picture of a winnow. Winnows, for those of you unfamiliar with agricultural implements, is a device used to separate the grain from the chaff, as well as remove weevils and other pests from stored grain. There are a couple of basic types of winnow, but in this case, the element '其' refers to what is called a winnowing fan, a shaped basket used to toss the grain up into the air so the lighter chaff is blown away by the wind. Apparently it was a device associated to a table as well, judging by the pictograph.

Here's a French painting from the 19th century showing a winnowing fan from that part of the world in action:


In the Japanese case, the winnowing fan looks pretty similar to the French one:


You may notice that the winnowing fan in the above photo is made from bamboo. The upper element in the character '箕' is a shortened form of '竹', which, surprise!, means bamboo. It means bamboo because it derives from a pictograph representing bamboo:


The character '箕' then is a bamboo winnow, and is pronounced 'mi'.

The second part of the word minokō is '甲', the same character we encountered in a past posting, in the term for one of the eave edge build-up layers, the uragō (裏甲); '甲', read in this case, means carapace, husk, shell and armor. Here's the pictograph from which that kanji derives:


Thus, putting together '箕' (mi) and '甲' () gives 'mi-no-kō', literally 'the carapace of the winnower'. Look at the shape of that above-pictured Japanese winnower basket again, and notice the shape of the basket along the transition from the rim to the basin. Now check out the minokō in the architectural sense of the term:


The minokō, described in English as a drooping verge, is a feature often found on Japanese gables and hip-gabled roofs. It comes in numerous shapes and styles. The purpose of the minokō is to transition between the edge of the barge board in the gable to the roof surface. It is an artifact of the double roof system, and unique to Japanese architecture.

In Japanese architecture, unlike the continental antecedents, there is a division in the roof between the exposed elements, like the eave and exposed boards in the gable end, and the hidden rafters which are actually producing the roof surface. When you break up the structural from the exposed components, there is of course an increase of complexity, however what opens up as well is a huge range of design possibilities.

If the roof is only single layer, and you want to curve the rafters, then the gable barge board must be curved exactly to match the roof' profile. And since the common rafters are normally carried upon lengthwise purlins in the roof, the attachment of the verge boards, given their tall profile, is tricky. Ideally you would want to employ the purlins to carry the verge boards, or hafū, at their lower surface, just like the way the rafters are carried upon the purlins and ridge.

So, attaching the hafū boards to the purlins is one hassle in a single layer roof, especially when you want to accomplish it with joinery. And of course, the normal treatment with the gable end hafū is to place a board along their top edge which climbs with them to the peak, the nobori uragō as it may be termed. Adding more height in this area compounds the problem of fitting these wood pieces to the rest of the roof structure. The verge board assembly is in fact wanting to be higher than the rest of the surrounding roof surface. And this is what you will commonly see on Chinese gabled or hip gabled roofs - the end of the roof and ridge meet the gable edge and turn up slightly (or not so slightly a lot of the time it would appear).

By dropping the entire hafū and nobori uragō assembly down, in the double roof system, the problems of attaching the assembly to the purlins, along with the roof surface problems are solved. It means adding 'dummy' purlins and ridge pieces to carry the assembly in the gable, which is certainly an increase in framing complexity. These 'dummy' purlins and ridge, while sitting below the actual roof purlins and ridge, are not simply tacked on decoration - they do carry the weight of the verge board assembly just fine and mechanically connect to interior framing members. From the outside, looking up at the gable one can glimpse these exposed purlin and ridge pieces, and thus the structure looks as it should.

Much more important than these visual sleights of hand however, is that added bonus that comes with the double roof and the dropping of the verge board assembly down - now the shape of the hafū and nobori uragō are freed from the constriction of having to conform to the roof shape.

You can have a flat roof plane with a straight hafū, or a curved hafū. You can have the roof body in a concave curve, with a straight or curved hafū - and the hafū can be curved down to a much greater degree than the roof body if you want it to, as in this example:


The roof body can also be slightly convex (called "mukuri"), with either a flat or curved hafū in this structural arrangement. Having the double roof structural system, in summary, is incredibly versatile and opens up huge areas of architectural artistic expression.

Here's a cluster of shrine buildings, many of which feature a minokō, even the lantern:


All of the buildings in the above photo, even the littlest ones, have a double roof structural system. It's the normal system in Japan for important traditional structures of many types.

Lest you be thinking that the use of a minokō is confined to shrine and temple architecture, it also shows up on homes, and appears even on what some call the sine qua non of Japanese 'traditional' building, sukiya architecture. Look closely at these structures from Kyōto, part of the Miyako Hotel and very much in the classic sukiya idiom, and you will see the slight folds (the mino) in the roof at the gable:


Another example of a mino, this time on a smaller temple building:


On smaller structures the transition zone which makes up the minokō is achieved by the use of small differentially curved infill boards, which are later filled in on top by small wood strips:


On larger temples, the minokō cannot be accomplished by simply filling in with some curved boards -in this case the main roof purlins are made from logs which strongly bend at their lower ends:


Here's an example of a somewhat largish roof, midway through the copper shingling of the minokō:


Copper, in my opinion is by far the best roof material for roofs which have minokō as the shingles can flow so smoothly around the transition zone and allow for such a wide range of artistic possibilities. While minokō are also common on tiled roofs, they often look a little clunkier in my opinion, and the transition at the roof plane edge to minokō requires an additional tile ridge be laid along that area to keep the water out. Makes for a very heavy roof in the end:


If you return to that picture of the Japanese winnower basket, and recall that the word minokō refers to the carapace of the winnower, you may, who knows, have at first been considering the concave side, not the convex side. No need to feel astray as a result my friends, now that we've looked now at quite a few convex examples. You see, it so happens that architectural minokō may be concave as well, though only in copper work does this option become reasonable:


Another view of the above building's incredibly dynamic roof surface, which appears to almost be in mid-flight:


Wait - there's more:


And this one:


And another:


Undeniably beautiful! How about another one?:


So ends our mino diversion. I hope that I have managed to shed light on one of the lesser-known aspects of traditional Japanese architectural beauty, and to perhaps have given the reader an appreciation for all that goes into creating these sublime structures.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way today.