The Kezurou-kai (wood planing meet) is held each May at a “festival” intended to showcase and preserve traditional Japanese tools and trades. The goal of the contest is to use a hand plane to create the longest thinnest shaving. It’s not shown in this video, but judges use a micrometer to measure the thickness of the shaving—which for one such as this will be a fraction of the thickness of a human hair. As you can imagine, sharpening skills and the ability to set the blade in just the right position are as important as pulling the plane. Planing wood in this manner might seem odd, but the fact is it creates a mirror-like surface that no amount of sanding can duplicate.

In the 1980s Makita and Hitachi exported machines that used powered feed rollers to push stock past a fixed overhead blade; instead of removing a whole bunch of chips it took the kind of single continuous shaving Kezurou-kai contestants strive to create by hand. Makita called their machine the Precision Planer. A cabinet maker I knew owned one and the stock that came out of it was impossibly smooth. As far as I can tell Makita and Hitachi no longer make these machines, but industrial versions continue to be available from Marukana. With the industrial machines the rollers are overhead and the blades are on the bed—and can be rotated to cut skew to reduce the incidence of tear-out. You can see one in action in the video below. I like the way it can be set to feed in two directions. When set to this mode the infeed and outfeed sides are the same; instead of running back and forth the operator can stay put on one side.

I have no idea what to call the tool in the video below. It’s a knife-like blade attached to a pole and the guy in the video uses it to shave the face of a cedar beam. As you can see, attaching the blade to a pole provides a great deal of power and control—more than one would have with a chisel or slick. Very cool.

The photos below were shot during a visit to Hida Tool and Hardware in Berkeley, California. This unassuming store specializes in Japanese tools for woodworkers, gardeners, and chefs; I’d driven by it for years without knowing it was there. I stopped in a couple of months back and while I was there a landscaper came in with a lopper he’d purchased from Hida several years earlier. He liked the tool and was ready to buy a new one. The gal behind the counter took a look at the damaged loppers, saw what the problem was, and made the repair for free. It’s a cool store and worth a visit if you are in the area. If you can’t make it to Berkeley you can always check out their website.

Japanese Style Hammers at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California
Japanese Style Hammers at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California

The defining features of a Japanese carpentry hammer are an elongated “neck” out to the striking face and a short sharp claw. The sharp end digs in like a cat’s paw and the short distance from claw to pivot point provides greater leverage when pulling nails. I can’t tell you why the neck is that way; it could simply be a matter of style. How else to explain the square face and asymmetrical claws on a German hammer, the untapered neck on an English hammer, and what we consider to be a “normal” American hammer? For more on hammers, see Chaz Arthur’s Amazing Collection of Framing Hammers.

Tabi shoes at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California

Tabi shoes at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California

This particular jika-tabi boot is not OSHA approved, though it’s possible to get a steel toe model. Why would anyone wear something like this to work? Because the separate toe supposedly provides better balance and agility. Ninjas were said to wear this type of boot and in Japan it is part of the “uniform” worn of Tobi, tradesmen who specialized in working high off the ground.

Bamboo Splitter at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California

Bamboo Splitter at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California

You may remember this unusual device from the story: What is the Strange Hand Tool. If not, check it out.

Nail pullers and pry bars at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California
Nail pullers and pry bars at Hida Tool Store in Berkeley, California

When I began my career as a carpenter Stanley dominated the hand tool category and I’d have been amazed to see these Japanese cat’s paws and pry bars. But by the mid-1980s Japanese tools were finding their way into the U.S.—first with woodworkers and later with carpenters. This style of cat’s paw and pry bar became so popular that companies such as Estwing and Stanley began making them too; now they’re just regular old tools. However there is a tool in here that’s still kind of different. Check out the purple tool on the right end of the middle row. It’s a Dogyu brand high heel bar, a fine nail set on one end and a nail puller on the other.

For more on construction in Japan see:
Japanese Stair Builders in Action
Insane Japanese Joinery
Insane Japanese Carpentry
New Tech Japanese Timber Framing
The Strangest Tool Using Contest of All
A Traditional Locking Scarf Joint Not so Traditionally Made