Forgive me, I don’t hang out here all that often. I finally had the opportunity to visit a master woodworker who still uses traditional methods and tools. So I thought I share a few snapshots with y’all.
In fact traditional Chinese woodworking has been quite illusive. A few times a almost had the opportunity to visit a traditional shop it turned out that the woodworker retired and gave all his tools away. Finally, three weeks ago and with the help of good friends we were able to locate a traditional woodworker. Let’s just say it took a fair amount of preparation. few packs of cigarette and a quite a few cups of baijiu (bai: white, jiu: generic term for liquor, be warned baijiu is quite potent stuff at least 55% alcohol I have been told) before we finally were ready to visit Liu Shifu.
When we entered his workshop (roughly equivalent to a single car garage), Liu Shifu (Shifu: respectful title for Master craftsman, roughly equivalent to Saint for galoots, Liu: last name) was busy pounding mortises into a rain that was to be come an yigui (yi: cloth, gui: cabinet, looks to me as if built-in closets are a very American invention).
Liu Shifu was so kind to empty his toolbox for me, All together I estimate he had about 50 different planes as well as various other tools (more on that in a later blog in case anybody is interested). All tools are made by himself, whatever was needed for a by specific projects. Liu Shifu explained the use of various planes for various purposes, the importance of different bedding angle, demonstrated his collection of hollows and rounds, molding planes etc, amazing stuff, indeed.
In the West we often hear that Chinese planes, similar to Japanese planes are pulled. Not so. Chinese planes are pushed, never in pulled (at least that’s what the Master says).
Another typical Chinese tool is the bamboo ink brush, a highly effective marking tool, simply cut out of a piece of bamboo (which is plentiful in the region). .
It is certainly instructive to compare tools and methods of current traditional Chinese woodworkers with tools and methods that we (notably Roy Underhill, Adam Cherubini and otheres) believe our ancestors used not too long ago. Obviously there are many differences in the details (e.g. not a single drop of glue in Liu Shefu’s shop) but my hunch is that, looking at the overall picture, we might discover many similarities.
Thank for listening!
Chris, Arlington, TX
-- Chris Scholz, Arlington, TX, www.Galoot-Tools.com