Japanese tools #6: Sumitsubo II (Japanese ink pot)

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Blog entry by mafe posted 09-24-2011 10:44 PM 17345 reads 3 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Sumitsubo I (Japanese ink pot) Part 6 of Japanese tools series Part 7: Sharpening station for water stones the base »

Sumitsubo II
Japanese ink pot.

This is part two of the Sumitsubo blog.

This is where we ended last blog.

What I do here might seem destructive to some.
I dye the Sumitsubo black.
Why? Because it will be used with black ink and I then will not have to worry for stains later, and also I think it will be a beautiful contrast to the light colors of the plane bodies.

Color the wheel and smoking the pipe.

Hanging to dry.

Here the handle.

Then some layers of shellac, I think I gave it five.
Adding it with a cloth in thin layers.

And sanding in between.

Last layer.

And here we are.
I banged the rod for the handle a little flat where it was going through the wheel, and put some clay epoxy in the wheel hole before I mounted the handle.
It seems to work.
I don’t know about you, but I really like it.

So my ‘stuff’ arrived from the shop.
Silk line – Tsuboito.
Ink – Sumi, here in the form of chips.
Bamboo Marking Pen – Sumisashi.
(Yes I should have made my own, but I have no source for bamboo – sorry).
I also bought a Japanese square.
(Cord for my frame saws and two extra wheels for Veritas wheel marking gauge).

I rolled up some silk line – Tsuboito, remember that 7-10 meters should be more than enough for most tasks., in fact 3-5 should also do it, and I have 72 meters here so enough for the rest of my life.

On my lathe I turned this little fish shaped Karuko
Added a broken drill bit that I grinded pointed on a running dish sander while it was spinning in an accu drill, but this can also be done with a file on a drill.

Big fish – little fish.

The line is fastened to the fish and then you make a loop around the pin.

Time for the wadding.
App double than the size of the pot.

Make half of it wet and place it in the bottom of the pot.
Let the line run over.

Add ink chips.

The rest of the wadding on top.
Make some ink by grinding some ink shaves and dissolve it in water. (or buy pre made water based ink)
Eating the big fish…

Many ways…

A little water on top.

The ink.

So we are ready to use it.
Put the Karuko in the one end of the wood you want to mark.

Run the line to the other end.
Lift the sting and snap it down.
Then you will have an ink line on the wood.

It can also be used for marking with the Sumisashi just as we would use a pencil.

Ink line (I need more practice or more ink…).
Sumisashi lines.

The square Sashigane is shaped so ink will not get trapped under it (it’s rounded up).

And this is where this blog ends.
With a picture of my new Sumitsubo ready for future projects.

For me this has been a really interesting tour in the Japanese world of tools, I will continue, and continue to share it with you.

Japanese carpentry tools museum:

Sumitsubo set up and use:

In use:

Hope this blog can inspire others to make a Sumitsubo, or perhaps just to have been an interesting reading for someone interested in the Japanese tool culture,

Best thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

11 comments so far

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4125 days

#1 posted 09-24-2011 10:49 PM

Great tutorial Mads. Thanks for taking the time to document it for us.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Sodabowski's profile


2374 posts in 2861 days

#2 posted 09-24-2011 10:50 PM

Wait, what? no source for bamboo? how about the disposable sticks at asian restaurants?
Love the finish you chose, though I’d have stained the carved parts in red for more visibility :)

-- Thomas - Pondering the inclusion of woodworking into physics and chemistry classes...

View Brit's profile


7387 posts in 2870 days

#3 posted 09-25-2011 12:50 AM

Very interesting Mads. I guess black is the only choice for a project like that. Do you have to clean it out after every use or is there a way of keeping the ink and wadding in it without it drying out? It seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to draw a line. What’s your view?

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View meikou's profile


115 posts in 3662 days

#4 posted 09-25-2011 12:59 AM

Glad to see you got all the parts you needed and top marks for getting a sashigane

Brit – The wadding dries up but you can usually revive it with a bit of water.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

20600 posts in 3133 days

#5 posted 09-25-2011 01:19 AM

Very cool, my friend. You sure find the most unique tools to make and do such fine job producing them!

Thanks for the tutorial on making one….................Jim

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4155 days

#6 posted 09-26-2011 02:31 AM


-- 温故知新

View llwynog's profile


288 posts in 2606 days

#7 posted 09-26-2011 07:14 AM

Love the small fish/ big fish look !
Great work ones again Mads.

-- Fabrice - "On est bien bête mais on sent bien quand on se fait mal" - my grandfather

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4155 days

#8 posted 09-26-2011 10:33 PM

Hey mafe:

Here’s an idea for your next Sumitsubo. :)

-- 温故知新

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4155 days

#9 posted 10-05-2011 02:28 PM

Hey Mafe:

Here’s a link to some interesting Sumitsubo that I saw recently: Sindelar Museum.

-- 温故知新

View mafe's profile


11730 posts in 3117 days

#10 posted 10-05-2011 07:18 PM


Hobo, what a wonderful museum and some beautiful tools, I could spend days there. I am really into the Japanese tools these days, just received another plane and some hand drills, as I said before, it is the Zen in this, the simplicity, it is really amazing.
I might have to throw the towel for the big one…
Ichiban, had to look that one up, and smiled after thank you.

llwynog, it made me think of the famous business book ‘eating the big fish’ so I smile when I look at them.

Autumn, I smile all over the face now, thank you, also I have the color of the Ume ‘plum blossom’.

Jim Jakosh, I admit it, I like making these tools, I’m addicted need help even, but it keeps my head busy and my heart full.

meikou, yes the parts arrived, I think I might go for liquid ink since it is faster to get to rerun once dry. But it has been a wonderful learning and I felt so good when it was working (proud in a way).

Andy, no you don’t need to clean after each use, just rewet it and it should be fine. But yes our chalk line might be easier, or a modern Japanese ink line, but they will never give the smile that this one gives, and that alone has a value in my universe, smiles.

Sodabowski, I choose the black since I wanted to use it with black ink and found it as a wonderful contrast to the oak planes and tools. Chop sticks, yes why not I might try just for fun.

Wayne, the pleasure is all on my sides this was a true learning project, learning and fooling around in a nice harmony.

Thank you all for your wonderful and warm comments.
The very best of my thoughts,

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View mafe's profile


11730 posts in 3117 days

#11 posted 04-21-2015 10:16 PM

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

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