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Traditional Chinese Woodworking #7: Glue-less edge joints

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Blog entry by chscholz posted 01-19-2011 08:32 AM 5490 reads 3 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Sharpening Part 7 of Traditional Chinese Woodworking series Part 8: The Huntington Gardens »

When mentioning that Chinese woodworking does not use glue I always get the question how to edge-joint without glue.

On a recent trip to Southern China I had the opportunity to see a very nice example on what it looks like.
The Perl River Delta (roughly the triangle spanned by Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Macau) is quite pleasant in Winter but extremely hot and humid in Summer. Since electricity is quite expensive people there tend to use the AC orders of magnitude less than in the US. This puts quite a bit of stress on wooden furniture.

We noticed that one of the two beds in the apartment developed bad mold. Further investigation showed that one bed was completely made out of particle board the other had key parts made out of zhangmu (camphor). Moreover the bed made of camphor did not use glue.

Removing the mattress (which is surprisingly thin and rock hard, the first night is painful, eventually it becomes quite comfortable) it turns out that the mattress is simply supported by a wooden board.

The interesting part, at least for me, came when removing the board that is made up of three sub-assemblies.
Each sub-board is consists of 4 or 5 camphor planks that are held together with two tapered dovetailed clamps.



I have no information about the origin of this bed other than it was purchased locally, and most likely was built and assembled by a local carpenter shop using whatever tools were available.

In my opinion this is a clear example where traditional methods (edge-joint boards assembled without glue) are vastly superior to it’s modern equivalent. Or in other words, methods that are perfectly appropriate for say Rochester, MN, are completely inappropriate to the tropical climate in Zhuhai, China. Unfortunately in the name of progress these traditional methods are rapidly disappearing.

BTW, the holes you see in the bed posts are not because this is a bunk bed (it is not), the holes are there to attach sticks to the bed posts that hold up the mosquito nets.

Thank you for listening.

Chris

-- Chris Scholz, Arlington, TX, www.Galoot-Tools.com



12 comments so far

View naomi weiss's profile

naomi weiss

199 posts in 2145 days


#1 posted 01-19-2011 10:09 AM

Cool! Thanks for posting! You can totally see where Greene and Greene drew their inspiration!

-- 'Humility is a duty in great ones, as well as in idiots'--Jeremy Taylor

View tenontim's profile

tenontim

2131 posts in 2496 days


#2 posted 01-19-2011 02:34 PM

This is great stuff! This is the kind of woodworking you don’t hear about all of the time. Now I’m going to have to try this on something. Thanks for the post.

View Div's profile

Div

1653 posts in 1692 days


#3 posted 01-19-2011 10:18 PM

Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View Dennisgrosen's profile

Dennisgrosen

10850 posts in 1867 days


#4 posted 01-19-2011 11:44 PM

I think its a well known tecnique in europe too
or at least in Skandinavia since using the sliding dovetail
is well known in stabledoors here in Denmark
but remarkeble that they hadn´t use nails or dovels too

thank´s for sharing
Dennis

View lilredweldingrod's profile

lilredweldingrod

2495 posts in 1858 days


#5 posted 01-20-2011 12:04 AM

Very interesting! It is always a great day when you learn something…...old? Well an old technique that is new to us.
A very simple thing that makes you stop and think, “Now why didn’t I think of that?” Great!

View chscholz's profile

chscholz

36 posts in 2828 days


#6 posted 01-20-2011 10:13 AM

Thank you y’all for the kind words. Hey Dennis, show us some of the European barndoors

-- Chris Scholz, Arlington, TX, www.Galoot-Tools.com

View Dennisgrosen's profile

Dennisgrosen

10850 posts in 1867 days


#7 posted 01-20-2011 05:20 PM

Hi Chris
now don´t hold your breath now….LOL
I will do what I can….....just have to borrow the wife´s camera ….remember to bring it with me …LOL
wellyou know how it is when you work 10 -15 hours a day …easy to forget things :-)
but I have made a written note now and its on the fridge door ..LOL
but in the meentime take a look at mafe´s blog here there is some close up on some doors
but not the sliding dovetail …sorry but I think you wuold like to see the pictures he has taken
from a woodworking/carpenter weiw its queit interressting :-)

http://lumberjocks.com/topics/19623

take care
Dennis

View swirt's profile

swirt

1952 posts in 1723 days


#8 posted 01-20-2011 09:11 PM

Very interesting Chris, thanks for sharing. When I look at the photo of the whole panel, it seems that the sliding dovetail is skewed a bit (not at a right angle to the boards’ length). Is this accurate or is it just an illusion from the camera lens?

-- Galootish log blog, http://www.timberframe-tools.com

View chscholz's profile

chscholz

36 posts in 2828 days


#9 posted 01-20-2011 11:28 PM

Dennis,

how did you know this, indeed, I do love Mafe’s blog!
Yes I do know 10, 15+ hour days, this might sounds strange but I actually enjoy what I am doing. There were times when I had all the time I wanted. Did not work for me.

Swirt,
you are a keen observer. This is not an optical illusion, the dovetailed clamp and the matching dovetail have non-parallel faces in the lengthwise direction.
I suppose when the carpenter makes the dovetailed clamp he makes it longer than the width of the panel. drives the clamp in real well and saws off whatever sticks out. In Chinese woodworking any panel (tables, chests, even drawers ) is made that way. When used for fine furniture the dovetailed clamps appear to have parallel sides though. Maybe because the takes more care when cutting the joinery?
I have been told that that’s how they’ve been made since at least the Song Dynasty (960 and 1279).
Closeup of dovetailed clamp of an antique chair.

-- Chris Scholz, Arlington, TX, www.Galoot-Tools.com

View Dennisgrosen's profile

Dennisgrosen

10850 posts in 1867 days


#10 posted 01-21-2011 12:42 AM

A lucky punch I gess LOL

maybee you like this too
http://lumberjocks.com/Dennisgrosen/blog/20701

take care
Dennis

View swirt's profile

swirt

1952 posts in 1723 days


#11 posted 01-21-2011 06:19 AM

I am surprised the tapers go in the same direction. I would think there would be more holding power if one of the two clamps tapered in opposite directions.

-- Galootish log blog, http://www.timberframe-tools.com

View chscholz's profile

chscholz

36 posts in 2828 days


#12 posted 01-21-2011 08:59 AM

Hi Swirt,

an interesting observation, I for one was not aware of that. It’s a lot easier to assemble when the tapers go in the same direction though. We are not talking fine furniture here. I’d say this bed is the equivalent to IKEA furniture in the US. I figure the woodworker who build the board got payed by how many of them he cranked out per hour with an acceptable level of quality.

Chris

-- Chris Scholz, Arlington, TX, www.Galoot-Tools.com

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