Monday, March 25, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Wera

I thought I'd start a new series here on the blog, despite the fact that there are several other series on the go, to one extent or another. It seems like a worthwhile thing to share my experiences with certain tools I've used past and present, to give some affirmation about my support for certain brands that manifest high quality of design and manufacture. I do this without commercial intent or prearrangement with any of the manufacturers - it's an unsolicited endorsement and nothing more. Depending upon the kind of work you do and the circumstances of that work, some of these product recommendations may or may not be of use to you. Your mileage may vary as they say.

Wera.

I was first introduced to Wera screwdrivers in 1984. I was working as a bicycle mechanic at Cap's Bicycles in New Westminster. B.C., and a few days after I started work there the store manger took me down to a local tool supply shop to obtain a toolbox and various hand tools. I still have most of those tools to this day, including this Wera flat-bladed screwdriver:


This screwdriver has been to hell and back, but this battle-scarred veteran keeps on ticking:


I've noticed that Lee Valley has started carrying Wera now, so chances are good that many readers will have also had experience with this German tool company. When I bought the aforementioned screwdriver, Wera was made in Germany, however I gather that much of their production now emanates from the Czech Republic. I have some of their newer products and the quality seems the same to me.

Wera touts several refinements and benefits to their products. Screwdrivers are one of those ubiquitous tools that many would probably think of as being fully worked-out designs. Well, Wera has found ways to make improvements here and there, and I find the differences are meaningful.

The lower portion of the handle is faceted to reduce the tendency of the tool to roll about:


The metal with which the shank of the tool is made has been cryogenically treated -  which means to cool the metal to below 190˚C (−310 °F) to remove residual stresses in the metal and improve the wear resistance of the steel. Durability and fewer failures due to cracking are added bonuses obtained by that process.

The tips of the tools are laser-etched to improve their grip:


The ends of the handles are marked with the tool's tip shape and size to make for easy identification if racked in a tool box:


All those are nice features, and not inconsequential. A product is the sum of its details after all. When I bought the Wera drivers those many years ago, however, a lot of the features just mentioned had not even been developed. What sold me on Wera was actually the handle.

At the time, most screwdriver handles had a shape like this:


Many screwdrivers in fact still have handles like that, as there are many companies out there who tend to stop development once they have a product to market, especially if sales are adequate.

In the tool store, there was a Wera handle demonstrator, which had a Wera type of handle on one end, and a conventional handle, like the one pictured above, on the other. The idea is that you find another person, and each tries twisting the handle, once from each end. Hands-down, so to speak, the Wera handle shape provide far greater torque, and simply felt good in the hand. It sold me right there as the difference was that obvious. Wera contends that their handle shape also reduces blisters, especially with the newer type, 'Kraftform Plus' which have some softer rubber portions built in.

All for today -thanks for dropping in.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Japanese Gate Typology (33)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:
  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon 
  3. Kōraimon 
  4. Yakuimon 
  5. Yotsu-ashimon 
  6. Munamon 
  7. Commentary
  8. Uzumimon 
  9. Yaguramon 
  10. Rōmon
  11. Shōrōmon
  12. Taikomon
  13. Nijūmon
  14. Sanmon 
  15. Niōmon 
  16. Nitenmon
  17. Sōmon 
  18. Wakimon 
  19. Chokushimon
  20. Onarimon 
  21. Tansōmon 
  22. Zuijinmon 
  23. Miyukimon 
  24. Agetsuchimon 
  25. Mukai-karamon
  26. Hira-karamon 
  27. Nagayamon 
  28. Ryūgūmon 
  29. Amigasa-mon
  30. Sukiya-mon  
  31. Torii  (Part I) 
  32. Torii (Part II) 
------------------

Torii (Part III)

Now we can turn to some examples of more unusual forms of torii. Many of these can be squeezed into the preceding categories of having either straight horizontal members (shinmei type) or have some curved horizontal members (myōjin type), while others are in a category all of their own.

Torii-mon (鳥居門). Torii can be normally described as being a gate without doors, however there is a rare type which does have doors. It conforms otherwise to the miwa-torii pattern described in the preceding post in this series. The gates are only opened on special occasions, once-a-year typically. Here's an example, Hibara Jinja 檜原神社 in Nara:


Hakozaki torii (筥崎鳥居).  This is a gate with the members are made of stone and have quite unusual proportions. The ends of the horizontal members only project a short distance beyond the thick posts, and a central strut (gakuzuka) is present. Named after the shrine where they appear, Hakozaki Shrine in Fukuoka:


Another one from the same site:


Usa-torii (宇佐鳥居). Of the myōjin type otherwise - however has an unusually exaggerated upward sweep to the kasagi-shimaki assembly of uppermost lintels. Takes its name from the Usa Jingu (宇佐神宮) in Ōita Prefecture:


 Mitsu-bashira torii (三柱鳥居). As the name implies, this is a torii with three () posts (), not two. Also called a mihashira torii, which is simply a different reading of the same characters. The form is that of the myōjin type, however there are three of everything. Not a common gate form, and most seem to be located in and around Kyoto. This one is from Mimeguri Jinja (三囲神社):


Another from Konoshima Jinja (木嶋神社) in Kyoto:


The origin of the three posted form remains a bit murky, however there is some possibility that it associates to Nestorianism, an ancient Christian sect, in which case the three posts are supposedly symbolic of the Holy Trinity.

Momo-gata torii (桃形鳥居). A torii in the shape of a peach. Occurs at a shrine, Momotaro Jinja (桃太郎神社) dedicated to the Japanese folklore tale of Momotaro, the boy who emerged from a peach pit, located in Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture:


A style of gate which is ever so slightly in the 'Disneyland' genre.

Harai-mon (祓門). A gate of purification. This unusual gate, composed of a pieced slab of stone, is located at Ogi-kubo-Hachiman Jinja (荻窪八幡神社) in Tokyo:


Last, there is a shrine in Tokyo's Minato Ward called Karasumori Jinja (烏森神社) which has an unusual pair of torii - I haven't been able to determine if the torii have a special name or not. The first, is made of wood:


The second is of stone or concrete:


That wraps up the series folks - I hope it has proven informative. Thanks for your visit!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Japanese Gate Typology (32)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:
  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon 
  3. Kōraimon 
  4. Yakuimon 
  5. Yotsu-ashimon 
  6. Munamon 
  7. Commentary
  8. Uzumimon 
  9. Yaguramon 
  10. Rōmon
  11. Shōrōmon
  12. Taikomon
  13. Nijūmon
  14. Sanmon 
  15. Niōmon 
  16. Nitenmon
  17. Sōmon 
  18. Wakimon 
  19. Chokushimon
  20. Onarimon 
  21. Tansōmon 
  22. Zuijinmon 
  23. Miyukimon 
  24. Agetsuchimon 
  25. Mukai-karamon
  26. Hira-karamon 
  27. Nagayamon 
  28. Ryūgūmon 
  29. Amigasa-mon
  30. Sukiya-mon  
  31. Torii  (Part I) 
------------------

Torii (Part II)

Last post we looked at torii which have straight framing members, categorized as Shinmei torii (神明鳥居). Today we look at torii with curved horizontal members, myōjin torii (明神鳥居), and like the shinmei type, there are several sub-types of torii falling under this banner. We'll consider them one by one. Myōjin torii are the most common type of this gate form encountered.

San-nō torii (山王鳥居). The word san-nō literally means mountain () king ().  This is a torii which has a gable like structure on top of the upper lintel, kasagi:


Only a slight curve to the kasagi on this one. This form of torii is particularly associated with Hie Taisha (日吉大社), a large shrine located at the foot of Mt. Hie in Shiga Prefecture. The one pictured above is from that shrine, as is this one:



An interesting fact about the name, san-nō concerns the two characters used: 山王. You can see that the first character has three vertical line predominating, while the latter has three horizontal lines dominating. If you exaggerate the form of the mountain king gate's 'roof' in either a horizontal or vertical manner, it is thought that either character is thus indicated. So the form of the gate is itself suggesting the characters by which it is named.

Miwa-torii (三輪鳥居). The gate of the three () rings (). This is a gate with three sections, the center of which has plumb posts. Here's one from Ushijima Jinja (牛島神社), also known as Ushi Gozen-sha (牛御前社), located in Tokyo:


The flanking openings are called ekidorii (掖鳥居) or sodetorii (袖鳥居), eki meaning 'sides of the body' and sode meaning 'sleeve'.

Another miwa-torii, made in stone, at Mitsumine Jinja (三峯神社) in Saitama Prefecture:


Inari-torii (稲荷鳥居). Also known as daiwa torii. Inari shrines are dedicated to the fox deity:


While Inari shrines can have a variety of different torii, 'Inari type' gates are characterized by a few details which set them apart:
  • a circular support plate, or daiwa (台輪) is placed atop the two main posts to keep moisture away from the posts' end grain.
  • the support stones for the main posts are shaped like upside-down bowls
  • the ends of the kasagi and shimaki beams are beveled downwards, while the ends of the penetrating tie, nuki, are cut square
Here's an example from Fushimi-Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) near Kyoto:


This shrine is also famous for the thousand-torii (千本鳥居) pathway as it is called which forms a veritable tunnel of myōjin torii:


As you can see, these torii, which are votive offerings (or 'hōnō'('奉納') - see the characters, reading right to left, on the posts?), are made in wood, stone and steel:


More pathway madness:


Ryōbu torii (両部鳥居). The word ryōbu means 'both sides' - this is a torii with a pair of support posts (hikae-bashira), front and rear, and associated cross ties (nuki), which help keep the structure upright:


As you can see, with the presence of daiwa, and shape of foundation stones, these are a development from the Inari type.

Here's an example, probably the most famous torii in all of Japan, located at Itsukushi Jinja (厳島神社) in Hiroshima Prefecture:


Notice the use of housed sloping caps above the wedges used to lock the tie beams to the posts.

Another example of a ryōbu torii, this one located at Kehi Jingu (気比神宮) in Fukui Prefecture:


This one has a pleasing combination of round section main posts and octagonal section support posts. The fact that the main posts are inclined, uchi-korobi, while the support posts are plumb, makes for compound mortises where the ties penetrate the posts.

In the next post in this series, we'll look at assorted unusual examples of torii. Hope you'll return for the tour, and thanks for dropping by the Carpentry Way. On to post 33.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Japanese Gate Typology (31)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:
  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon 
  3. Kōraimon 
  4. Yakuimon 
  5. Yotsu-ashimon 
  6. Munamon 
  7. Commentary
  8. Uzumimon 
  9. Yaguramon 
  10. Rōmon
  11. Shōrōmon
  12. Taikomon
  13. Nijūmon
  14. Sanmon 
  15. Niōmon 
  16. Nitenmon
  17. Sōmon 
  18. Wakimon 
  19. Chokushimon
  20. Onarimon 
  21. Tansōmon 
  22. Zuijinmon 
  23. Miyukimon 
  24. Agetsuchimon 
  25. Mukai-karamon
  26. Hira-karamon 
  27. Nagayamon 
  28. Ryūgūmon 
  29. Amigasa-mon
  30. Sukiya-mon  
------------------

Torii (鳥居), Part I.

Tori () means bird, and i () means to sit/rest, so this gate's name means: a roost. I suspect that for many westerners, this is the form that first comes to mind when mentally envisioning a Japanese gate.

The origins of torii are, as they say, shrouded in the mists of antiquity. The are historians who argue for a Chinese or Korean derivation for this gate type, and there are others who insist it is an indigenous Japanese construction. One thing is certain though, and that is that torii associate to Japanese shines, or jinja. Where you see a torii, it is a matter of looking through the gate, and following along the path until one comes to the shrine. Torii, given that they are religious architecture, are not suitable structures to erect in front of a house, a garden, or, as in the following photo, a massage and day-spa business for that matter:


A mere 35 minute's drive from my house. Regardless of how good the massage might be, or how friendly the dog is, I would nevertheless describe the above scene as 'cringeworthy'. Those of a more charitable bent might simply call the use of a torii in front of a massage studio cultural appropriation, and that is something that goes both ways, east and west.


Torii are thought to have existed since at least the middle of the Heian Period (794 to 1185), given their mention in a document called the Izumi Kuni Oo-jinja Ryūkichō (和泉国大鳥神社流記帳), an inventory of the property of the Oo Shrine in Izumi, a document dating from 922.

It is likely that torii developed from a process where a sacred spot was initially designated by the placing of 4 posts to surround the area. Straw ropes were then tied from one corner to another to define the sacred space. This designation of special places as sacred ground was discussed in an earlier post from the 'word is Out' series, in regards to the word temple (in connection to the word template).

There is a type of torii still extant which manifests this very simple idea, termed shime-nawa-torii, (注連縄鳥居) or shime-bashira (注連柱) or, in an alternate reading of the first two characters, 注連, as chūren-torii (注連鳥居). A famous example can be found in Nara Prefecture, at Ōmiwa Shrine (大神神社):


Another example of this archaic from of torii, also in Nara, is found at Hibara Jinja (檜原神社):


In some places you will see chūren-torii where the slender rope is supported with a wooden lintel which goes across from post top to post top - the transition for a two post gate with straw rope hanging across, to a gate with two posts and a horizontal lintel is not difficult to imagine. The single lintel proved to make for a weak bit of construction, so a secondary lintel was later added below to improve lateral stability.

There are two main classes of torii, and many sub-types. The two main divisions are between those torii which have straight timbers, shinmei Torii (神明鳥居), and those which have curved timbers, myōjin torii (明神鳥居). Notice the characters used for the two types, shinmei (神明) and myōjin (明神), are simply reversed in order from one another. One of the vexing aspects of the Japanese language is that Japanese characters can often have multiple readings - here the character '' meaning 'god' is read shin as a prefix and ~jin as a suffix, and the character '' meaning 'bright', or 'morning', is read as either myō or as mei, depending.

In this post we'll look at the simplest forms of torii and follow up in the next post or two with a look at the other types.

Shinmei Torii (神明鳥居).

Also referred to a two-post torii, futabashira-torii (二柱鳥居).  The horizontal members are straight, the posts stand either plumb or inclined inwards (termed uchi-korobi). There is a top lintel, kasagi (笠木), which may be rounded (called marukasagi, 丸笠木), flat, or peaked so as to shed water, in which case the lintel section is pentagonal.

Here's a drawing of a generic shinmei torii:



As you can see, the relation between post spacing and overall length of the kasagi is on a 3:5 ratio. The lower lintel meets the posts but does not pass beyond.


Gates with only two posts, if entirely of wood, must have the lower post ends buried deeply into the ground - up to 7' or so - in order to be stable. Of course, even with charring and preservatives, the lifespan of softwoods in contact with the soil is on the order of 15~20 years or so, which means that these sort of torii, more than any other kind, are essentially disposable structures. This fits in well with Shintōism's cult of purity in which structures are built anew on a 20 year cycle - shikinen-zokan as it is termed. I wrote about this practice in more detail in a 2009 post entitled 'Tradition?'

Given the marginal durability and high cost of 'pure' materials, it is no surprise that an awful lot of shrines in Japan now have torii made of welded steel, concrete, or stone. I'll try to stick with wooden examples as much as possible here in this series however.

Let's look at an example of a shinmei torii. The first is at Kaiko no Yashiro (蚕ノ社) in Kyoto:


If one made the same structural arrangement as above, but using logs with unpeeled bark, or kuroki (黒木), the gate takes the name of kuroki torii (黒木鳥居), one of the sub-types of shinmei torii. Here's one such gate, at Toyuke Dai-jinja (豊受大神社) in Kyoto:


Detail view:


Leaving the bark on makes this type of torii the most short-lived example, failing within 10 years typically. Some modern reconstructions involve synthetic materials, concrete, plastics even, however I'll spare readers the indignity of pictures.

Another variant on the shinmei pattern is to have the lower tie beam, nuki, extend through the main posts, and connect to those posts with a wedged cog joint, watari-ago tsugi. This type of torii is termed a kashima torii (鹿島), is named after the place where it first appeared, Kashima Jingu (鹿島神宮) in Ibaraki Prefecture, however the current gate at the site is made of stone:


Here's a wooden example of the kashima type, Ōsawa Onsen Jinja (大沢温泉神社) in Iwate Prefecture:


Another variant form on the shinmei pattern features an upper lintel composed of two pieces, the kasagi on top and shimaki below. The ends of these two beams are cut at a slant and a strut, or gakuzuka 額束 is fitted between the underside of the shimaki and the nuki below. This form of gate is termed the hachiman torii (八幡鳥居). Hachiman is a figure from Japanese mythology, and is the god of archery and war. Many Shintō shrines are dedicated to this figure.

An example of hachiman torii, from Iwashimizu Hachiman Jingu (石清水八幡宮) in Kyoto:



Another form of shinmei gate is called the kasuga torii (春日鳥居). It is virtually identical in detail to the hachiman type, with the exception being that the ends of the double top lintel, kasagi and shimaki, are not cut at an angle. Here's an example, from the site where the first kasuga torii appeared - Kasuga Shrine (春日大社) in Nara:


Notice that there is a subtle proportioning at work here with the horizontal members - they decrease in section height as you move from the nuki at the bottom, to the shimaki, an then the kasagi. Originally, this gate, which has it's own special name Ichi no Torii (一の鳥居) was built in the Heian period and had a flat top beam. Currently, the style has been changed from it's original form, to have a slightly curved top beam, which technically makes this gate now in the myōjin style rather than the shinmei. As such it makes a good place to end today and serves as a segue into the following post in this series which will deal with torii having curved and straight members.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. On to post 32

Friday, March 8, 2013

Japanese Gate Typology (30)

This is a series of posts describing the many varieties of Japanese gate, or mon (). If you look at the preceding kanji more closely,  you can think of it as a picture of a pair of swinging doors, reminiscent of saloon doors in a wild west movie. I thought that it would be a nice idea to bring more awareness to a western audience as to the tremendous diversity in forms and types of Japanese gates. This series intends to be a gateway to gates.

Previous posts in this series:
  1. Heijūmon 
  2. Kabukimon 
  3. Kōraimon 
  4. Yakuimon 
  5. Yotsu-ashimon 
  6. Munamon 
  7. Commentary
  8. Uzumimon 
  9. Yaguramon 
  10. Rōmon
  11. Shōrōmon
  12. Taikomon
  13. Nijūmon
  14. Sanmon 
  15. Niōmon 
  16. Nitenmon
  17. Sōmon 
  18. Wakimon 
  19. Chokushimon
  20. Onarimon 
  21. Tansōmon 
  22. Zuijinmon 
  23. Miyukimon 
  24. Agetsuchimon 
  25. Mukai-karamon
  26. Hira-karamon 
  27. Nagayamon 
  28. Ryūgūmon 
  29. Amigasa-mon 
------------------

Sukiya-mon (数寄屋門)

Here we have a gate type defined by more by its style and form than the structural arrangement of its members. Sukiya (数寄屋) is a word out of the Japanese tea ceremony world, suki (数寄) meaning an enjoyment of, and appreciation for, refinement. The suffix ~ya () means house or place, so the term sukiya can be translated as the abode of refinement. In fact the word is originally thought to refer especially to a teahouse, a place where people with a love of art and aesthetics would gather to appreciate tea along with the fine implements it was prepared and served with, perhaps discuss poetry, and so forth. In the Japanese traditional arts world, or geidō (芸道), which refers to the making of arts and handicrafts in that uniquely systematized Japanese way, an art appreciation devotee is referred to as a sukisha (数寄者).

As architecture, the form of building in the manner of the teahouse is termed sukiya-zukuri. In its way, sukiya may have been a reaction against the architecture of its day in the same way that the Arts & Crafts style was a reaction to the ornateness, complexity and occasional excesses of the Edwardian/Queen Anne style, and to the loss of hand-worked goods, and a statement against industrially produced goods in general. It was a movement created by the leisure class at the upper end of the social scale. In turn, Art Deco was in part a reaction against the Arts & Crafts movement, putting forth an ideal of sleekness and luxury. And on it goes, one reaction begetting another.

Sukiya was developed by the literati as a 'return to roots' as well, literally in some cases. While the wealthy could afford to gold-leaf the outsides of their teahouses, people recognized that simply topping the neighbor's teahouse with an even more lavish structure is a superficial pursuit and it even gets a bit boring after a while, so an admiration for the simplicity and humbleness of the rural farmhouse  - and the lack of pretense which associates - came to inform the architecture of teahouses. This is an ideal in which all who have crouched through the tiny crawl door (nijiri-guchi) to enter within are, theoretically at least, social equals. Mind you, it wasn't too often that members of the peasantry or untouchable classes got to have afternoon tea in such structures though. So, a certain amount of artifice - call it wishful thinking if you prefer - is inherent in the philosophy. 

While the ideal with sukiya is the use of humble materials in direct way, such as bamboo (decorative) rafters, irregular alcove posts with their bark still intact, plaster work which has been deliberately done in an 'amateurish' manner, etc., etc., the reality of fabrication in that idiom is that a great deal of artifice is often required. Sukiya style teahouses, with their slender structural elements, giving a hint of ricketiness, often require a lot of concealed metal connectors to pull off the effect. The liking for thin column sections has led to the development of laminated posts to provide adequate strength, using strips about 1cmx2cm, which are then jacketed with perfect vertical grain material - so, 'natural' materials should be taken with a grain of salt. A striving after a specific type of 'rusticity' or 'preciousness' has led to the mass production of purpose-made components, like rafters deliberately grown by coppicing a cedar, like alcove posts that were bound when growing to produce specific patterns on the cambiumThere are large hardcover textbooks in Japanese detailing nothing but sukiya materials. It's no exaggeration to say there is a sukiya material industry in Japan.

The sukiya aesthetic has become popular beyond the making of teahouses, and sukiya-fū (~style) residences and other structures are widespread. Many Japanese like the 'lightness' in the structural elements of sukiya-zukuri, and feel it also conveys a feeling of lightness, a space unburdened by the weight of serious, 'heavy' feelings. 

Sukiya gates are in various structural styles, but most commonly seen are variants on the munamon or yakuimon pattern. They are residential and garden gates exclusively. As with other sukiya work, the timber sections are on the slimmer side, material in the round is commonly employed, and roofs are flat or feature but slight curvature. Most commonly seen are gable, or kirzuma roofs, however hipped roofs are also used. Carving does occur, but in a minimum fashion.

Let's look at some examples. 

A typical munamon type of structure, in construction, with centered main posts:



A view of the gable end - some simple crosspiece end treatment, and a single layer mayubi on the hafu (barge board):



The sapwood on the main crossbeam is not the best use of material.

A lot of times you will see gates combining stone or concrete columns, stone veneered, with a roof structure, here hipped, parked atop:


The style of the above gate would be termed 'sukiya modern'.

Another gabled example, with flanking doorway:


A larger gate, entirely of unbarked logs:


Gotta love Japanese copper drainpipes!:


Another with kirizuma roof:


A commonplace in sukiya roof work, seen also in the preceding example, is the use of covering materials in combination, here we have a copper shingled roof with the tiles cap roof:


A hipped roof example with a minimalistic tiled ridge:


Another one with a hip roof, and pole rafters:



I mentioned the occasional presence of carved parts, so here's an example:


I tend to like structures with an interplay of rectilinear and 'in the round' components. Too much of one or the other can lead to bland predictability, at one end of the spectrum, or a certain contrived feel, even gaudiness, at the other.

All for today. I hope you've enjoyed the tour so far through the world of Japanese gates - more to come. Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. On to post 31