Edo wood joinery

Edo wood joinery Edo sashimono

Hidden joinery using traditional techniques
Detailed craftsmanship and beautiful lacquered wood


What is Edo wood joinery ?

Edo sashimono is a type of wood joinery made in Tokyo with hand-cut dovetail joints and without nails. The word sashimono comes from the process of measuring with a monosashi or woodwork ruler.
This craft is characterized by its restrained ornamentation and simple lacquering techniques that bring out the natural beauty of the mulberry, zelkova, or paulownia wood grain. Kyo sashimono (Kyoto-style wood furniture) was particularly known for storing tea utensils and being used by the Imperial Court and aristocracy, whereas Edo sashimono was used by samurai families and townspeople including merchants, and kabuki actors. To show the quality of craftsmanship and wood and underline that these pieces are not heavy and rustic, but rather chic and smart, sometimes light thin boards may be purposefully used.
The joints of Edo wood sashimono are made in such a way that they are barely seen from the outside. Despite its delicate appearance, Edo wood joinery is sturdy and can be used for many generations.


This craft is based on the Kyo wood joinery produced as part of the Heian period (794-1185) court culture. In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), carpentry skills evolved, giving rise to professional cabinet-makers who made furniture pieces like chests of drawers, display cabinets, and boxes for storing tea ceremony items. These articles were used by the Imperial Court and nobles. Kyo wood joinery developed as the tea ceremony culture, chanoyu, did. Another type of wood joinery is Osaka karaki sashimono, derived from Chinese joinery techniques studied by Japanese missions visiting the Tang dynasty (618-907).
Edo wood joinery began in the Edo period (1603-1868), when the Tokugawa shogunate (feudal military government) relocated artisans from across the whole country to establish artisan towns specializing in a particular craft such as blacksmithing, dyeing, and carpentry in some areas of Edo. In the middle of the Edo period, as handcraft manufacturing developed and demand increased, the carpentry work was subdivided. As a result, cabinet making was established as a separate profession along with temple and shrine carpenters and artisans of doors and shoji screens.
Edo wood joinery continues to evolve and was designated as a Traditional Woodwork Craft by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry in 1997.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Drying Since the beauty of the wood grain is important in Edo sashimono, the wood materials: mulberry, zelkova, paulownia, or cedar are purchased from decorative timber specialists, not from general timber merchants. After the logs are delivered, they are sawn into a variety of thicknesses and sizes, stacked outside the workshop, and left to dry.
  2. 2. Preparing the timber How the timber is cut is essential as it will help the beauty of the wood grain to stand out. Wood is cut based on how to best display the unique features of the wood grain. The thickness of the timber is measured using a line-marking gauge and ruler, and then planed or shaved to the proper size.
  3. 3. Joint processing Wood is carefully planed to the exact dimensions, and dovetail joints are marked and cut by a chisel. Joints must be absolutely perfectly cut, or they will not fit. The accuracy of the joints showcases the precision and expertise needed for the craft. It can be said that the workmanship of Edo sashimono rests on having both accurate and hidden joinery.
  4. 4. Temporary and final assembly Firstly, the piece is temporarily assembled to check that the dovetails are aligned and will firmly interlock. After a thorough inspection, the piece is disassembled. Then a strong glue is applied to the surfaces of the joints, which are first fitted by tapping with a fist. A hammer is then used to ensure all parts fit closely and firmly.
  5. 5. External finishing The surface is planed smooth with a hand plane while any fine scratches are checked for by fingertip and corners are rounded off. To finish the wood, scouring rush plants or sandpaper is used to polish the surface. Then the item is checked again.
  6. 6. Lacquering and attaching metal fittings Finally, lacquer is applied. Large items are lacquered by a lacquering expert, but most items are lacquered by the wood joinery expert. Lacquering can take several days as many coats of lacquer are applied and it involves brushing on a single coat followed by a day of drying. When lacquering is complete, metal fittings are attached to finish the piece.

Where to Buy & More Information

Edo Taito Traditional Crafts Center

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