Whilst building the tea house in Japan we used a many axes and adzes. The axe that got most use was the carpenters ono, a bearded laminated axe that comes in various sizes from small one handed hatchets used for removing the waney edge of boards to large heavy versions used for squaring beams.
This one is a typical felling axe.
And this is the big masekarai, the very heavy axe used for rough hewing along the grain.
Once the timber is roughly hewn to shape it is “surfaced”, this can be done with a plane or the chouna or adze. This tool was not only a delight to use but it left a delightful texture on the work, if there was one tool I could have brought back from Japan it would have been a chouna. Most of those on site were old ones and there are only a couple of smiths making them now. Here are more chouna than you are ever likely to see in one place. It was a fantastic opportunity to work with many different ones to work out how they worked and what the differences were. Clearly different carpenters each sharpened them to suit their own style, generally though the outside bevel is slightly convex and the inside completely flat. This helps the adze to bounce up out of the cut rather than digging in.
Here Tani is giving us instructions on how the head should be mounted on the handle if we were ever lucky enough to acquire one.
This is how the chouna is used, the flexible handle allows very rapid strokes and the head is going into the wood then bouncing out leaving a range of very distinctive patterns depending on how it is used. This table top was textured with the chouna made by a very talented furniture maker we visited Takahiro Yoshino.
Folk from Yorkshire may now be thinking or Robert Thompson furniture but the texture from the Japanese adze is crisply cut and somehow alive. Thompsons I presume sand theirs after adzing resulting in a surface that I find very dull in comparison. I could have bought a new chouna and handle in Japan for £200-£250 but they were out of my budget and not as nice as the old ones. Thankfully on my return I have been corresponding with my Japanese friend Tomio Imaru and he is willing to search out and buy some old ones for me. I look forward to experimenting with these beautiful tools and introducing some new textures to my own work.