Bokken Meditation Bench

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Project by jsheaney posted 01-27-2013 07:17 PM 3931 views 5 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I call this a meditation bench, but it is as much a statement about meditation as it is a place to sit and meditate. My experience with meditation stems from my training in Budo, Japanese martial arts. There are many references to my training in this bench.

This was an extremely challenging project for me. Not only was the joinery tricky, but most of the components have some sentimental value and could not be replaced, so I had no margin for error.

The seat is walnut and the bowtie inlay is cocobolo. Both were given to me by someone important to me. The stretchers are bokkens, wooden practice swords used in Aikido training. I used them for years. The blade edges are bumpy from whacking other weapons. The grips are discolored from my years of training. They are made of Japanese white oak. Only the legs have no sentimental value. They come from a wide, thick slab of cherry that I purchased for this project.

It was important to me to maintain the integrity of the bokkens. They are incorporated into the bench permanently, but they were not cut into three sections. I did cut joints into them, though. The bench itself needed its own integrity, so there had to be shoulders to support the legs. Each leg is from a solid piece of cherry that I ripped up the middle, cut matching joints and then glued back together, sandwiching the bokkens in between. The trick was finding a straight line through the grain and ripping it with a thin kerf blade to hide the glue line. The edges of the legs were then cut relative to that center line.

The smaller, lower bokken is curved. I cut the joints perpendicular to where the legs intersected. This defined the slight cant of the legs. The upper, large bokken is straight and so has angled joints matching the cant of the legs. Figuring out how to do this precisely was quite the puzzle and I seriously do not have the space here to describe the solution. I’ll just say it was nerve wracking, but I’m happy with the end result.

The curve of the seat matches the curve of the small bokken. Miraculously, the grain of the walnut slab closely matched this same gentle curve. Also, there were two bullseye patterns that I was able to roughly center over the legs, so the bench has a nice symmetry to it. The edge profile echoes the profile of the bokkens. The beveled back edge was done with a chamfer bit, but the curved front and ends were done entirely with hand tools.

I used through tenons because I wanted to carve kanji characters into the end grain. I originally planned on three tenons, but the middle one would have exposed the seam in the legs, so I opted for four. The carving was done by wodburning to get the nice deep inky black. It was the very last step prior to finishing, so it was also very nerve wracking.

The inlay in the center is a pagan symbol representing a crucible. It means purification by fire or trial by fire. The wood is yellowheart, which is a really great color for this application and it has a nice fine grain. However, it is a very hard, dense wood; too much so for me to do the entire inlay by hand. I really wanted the main inlay to be one piece and I just couldn’t get the circles right. I created a set of patterns using SketchUp and sent it to a friend that has a CNC machine. He routed the yellowheart positive and three templates from 1/4” MDF. That was also a long arduous process and involved quite a bit of hand work.

I started with a couple coats of shellac on the legs and seat, followed by numerous coats of Bush Oil. I finished the legs before attaching the seat. The stretchers received no finish due to the history of the bokkens.

This was a very challenging project, the most difficult I have done, so far.

-- Disappointment is an empty box full of expectation.

10 comments so far

View a1Jim's profile


117232 posts in 3720 days

#1 posted 01-27-2013 07:20 PM

Wonderful bench,nice work.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2504 days

#2 posted 01-27-2013 07:24 PM

Great work with lots of meaning.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View Jamie Speirs's profile

Jamie Speirs

4168 posts in 2999 days

#3 posted 01-27-2013 07:54 PM

Very well done it is an excellent bench
Nice design with lines that just flow, nice


-- Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others, and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own. --Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

View stefang's profile


15944 posts in 3477 days

#4 posted 01-27-2013 09:09 PM

Excellent design and workmanship, all the more so because of it personal meaning and the ingenuity to make that way.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Skelatile's profile


70 posts in 2939 days

#5 posted 01-27-2013 11:14 PM

Beautiful work

View Boatman53's profile


1059 posts in 2339 days

#6 posted 01-27-2013 11:27 PM

Very nice bench, I like it a lot. I miss Aikido and bokken practice.

-- Jim, Long Island, NY home of the chain leg vise

View Fishinbo's profile


11362 posts in 2318 days

#7 posted 01-28-2013 03:10 PM

Great looking bench! A great story combined with great technique, create lots of character to it.


View BigMig's profile


465 posts in 2756 days

#8 posted 01-28-2013 04:24 PM

Now that’s just showing off. Just kidding. Wow, maybe someday i’ll get part of the way to where you are.

Thanks very much for sharing a very inspiring work of art.

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View airfieldman's profile


184 posts in 3953 days

#9 posted 01-28-2013 07:37 PM

A great example of the “journey is the destination” IMHO. Well done.

-- Measure with a micrometer, mark with a crayon, cut it with a chainsaw.

View Mean_Dean's profile


6876 posts in 3290 days

#10 posted 01-29-2013 04:03 AM

A special piece. Something to be cherished, and handed down to your future generations.

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

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