Tansu furniture plans?

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Forum topic by JACOBB posted 12-06-2009 10:27 AM 19596 views 3 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7 posts in 3351 days

12-06-2009 10:27 AM

Topic tags/keywords: tansu


I’m really interested in taking on a Tansu style ( dresser. I’ve done quite a bit of Googling and have come across dozens of places selling the furniture but few resources for designing and building in the Tansu style. Any help is appreciated!


10 replies so far

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1170 posts in 3693 days

#1 posted 12-06-2009 10:50 AM

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#2 posted 12-06-2009 12:59 PM

I’d stay away from the Jeff Gref project link. He clearly knows nothing about the subject.

”Tansu” are not just “chests of drawers” as he says. The word means, and it is applied to, any kind of cabinet. Also, traditionally, ”tansu” make NO use of dovetails whatsoever but wide (3-4” per tail) pinned bridle joints. The lower double doors are unseen in traditional Japanese furniture, they are proper to Western cabinets though. To add insult to injury, ”tansu” have no feet, the case usually rest on top of the ”tatami” itself. Being a soft flooring, feet would destroy it in a hurry. Only ”kuruma dansu” had big wooden wheels to move them around (and weren’t used inside the elevated parts of the house).

If I were you, I would just do a Google Image search for tansu and then devise my own cabinet based on them. Against popular, but uninformed, belief in the Western world, ”Tansu”are very poorly constructed and not really “designed” but mostly winged it to cover the necessities of the moment. They are very light, under-engineered and require the metal brackets to guarantee structural integrity.

I wouldn’t worry much about pure design but concentrate on maintaining the proportions and the kind of elements true to the style (i.e. sliding doors, choice of pulls and kind of joints and final finish color).

And don’t forget to show us the final result!

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7 posts in 3351 days

#3 posted 12-06-2009 03:15 PM

Ya, I’ve never seen another Tansu piece with dovetails and I think the ones on Jeff’s cabinet really detract from the look of the piece.

In looking at photos I’m understanding how I want mine to look but I’m unsure about the jointing used since it’s all covered by metal plates and I haven’t seen any photos with the drawers pulled out to show the interior construction. The drawers do not have rails, correct? They just slide on interior wood framing? I want to build this piece with traditional construction if possible.

I had no idea that were poorly constructed! By the looks of them I thought they were super heavy and bullet proof. I’m really excited to get cranking on this. I plan on using reclaimed wood. I’m going to for the antique look.

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Tim Dahn

1577 posts in 3799 days

#4 posted 12-06-2009 04:16 PM

Jacob, Thes site may be of interest to you. and

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

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1381 posts in 4362 days

#5 posted 12-06-2009 05:40 PM

I’ve been buying tansu hardware from:

Lee Valley

-- 温故知新

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7 posts in 3351 days

#6 posted 12-06-2009 07:40 PM

Timbo, That is too perfect! I will be moving to SF in March and I now cannot wait to enroll in those classes. I had no idea that was such a huge Japanese carpentry community in northern Cal. Fantastic!

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593 posts in 4206 days

#7 posted 12-07-2009 02:02 PM

You’re right, JACOBB, no guides, the drawers run directly over the dust frames (They are not real frames either, just panels of wood that divide the case).

The drawers themselves are very often butt-jointed and nailed together. Sometimes half-rabbeted too.

The woods and the construction methods make them very light because furniture in a traditional Japanese house is never static. House volumes (it’s hard to call them rooms, actually) are multi-function and when the cabinets have to be hauled upstairs you really want a feather-light item. If you’d ever climbed the stairs in an ancient Japanese house you’d understand. Most stairs are barely 30” wide and rise to angles over 60º. Head clearance is often around 6’ and head clearance of any door reach up to 5’ 7” or so.

Imagine handling something big and awkward in these situations!

If you need it, you can PM me your mail address and I’ll try to send you some images.

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Tim Dahn

1577 posts in 3799 days

#8 posted 12-07-2009 07:07 PM

Glad that helps JACOBB, wish I was closer to take those classes too.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

View LesB's profile


1909 posts in 3677 days

#9 posted 12-08-2009 02:42 AM

Check my project postings. I made a couple of Tansu type cabinets. One large Oak one (8’} and one of Myrtle wood we use in the dining room.

-- Les B, Oregon

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David Bareford

66 posts in 1841 days

#10 posted 07-28-2015 01:37 PM

I realize I’m years late to this party, but I thought I’d post a link here for others searching for tansu information. Here’s a link to some good drawings of some nice Japanese joinery:

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