Limited Edition of Classic “Japanese Woodworking Tools” Available at Woodcraft

A handsome Limited Edition copy of Toshio Ōdate’s classic Japanese Woodworking Tools is available from Woodcraft while supplies last.

Ōdate wrote the book in 1984 to introduce the English-speaking world to Japanese tools, craftsmanship, tradition, and philosophy of the shokunin, the traditional Japanese craftsman who worked strictly with hand tools.

Nearly 40 years later, Ōdate sees shokunin becoming a lost art in Japan and is determined to preserve the centuries-old tradition.

To support his efforts, Linden Publishing printed this special hardback edition that comes in the attractive slipcase shown here.

According to the publisher, “We have spared no effort to make this special edition a permanent, long-lasting book that will last for decades to come. Printed on acid-free paper, hardbound, and protected by a handsome slipcase, this is an archive-quality heirloom edition that will last for more than a lifetime. To add to the distinction of Toshio Ōdate’s legacy, each copy of this limited edition is numbered, signed by Toshio Ōdate, and handstamped by the author with his family crest.”

Shokunin – More than technical skill

In his two-page Introduction, Ōdate wrote that the word shokunin is defined as craftsman or artisan, a literal meaning that is not sufficient to describe what is expected of a Japanese apprentice.

“The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only have the technical skill, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. These qualities are encompassed in the word shokunin but are seldom written down.”  He also observed, “The shokunin has a social obligation to work his best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, if society requires it, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.”

“Now I have the opportunity to write about the shokunin’s tools,” Ōdate wrote. “I will present the information as simply and directly as possible. Just as important, however, I will share as much as I can of the philosophy and attitude that are inseparable from the shokunin’s craft. I will be very happy if you understand not only the tools, but a little bit about the spiritual relationship a shokunin has with them.”

The Work Place

In the Workshop chapter, Ōdate describes his life from age 7 in 1937, which included wartime Japan and after. His family moved a lot because of circumstances. Ōdate was 16 and sand-casting farm implements when his parents decided he should be apprenticed as a tategu-shi (sliding-door maker) to his stepfather, a well-known master shokunin, so he would make more money and have food to eat. It was unusual to apprentice in a family, and Ōdate’s stepfather chose to treat him as a stranger during the apprenticeship.

The life that Ōdate describes tracks him and his stepfather as they work at people’s homes in varying conditions and under age-old traditions, with their manner, speed and skill, as well as any errors, under constant scrutiny. Planing beams and horses were made at each worksite and left there for the next time they were called. Their work was primarily making sliding doors.

Japanese Hand Tools

Ten chapters are devoted to Marking Tools, Saws, Chisels, Planes, Sharpening Stones, Sharpening, Adze and Axes, Hammers, Gimlets, and Knives and Other Tools. Ōdate offers a good bit of history, along with how to use, care for and appreciate these tools.

A Failed Mission Finally Succeeds

Twenty-five years before he wrote this book, Ōdate came the U.S. to demonstrate Japanese craftsmanship and introduce Japanese woodworking tools to Americans. In his Afterword section he explains his plan did not work out for various reasons, but he stayed and became a sculptor. In the next quarter of a century, Ōdate said his time in America helped him become better able to explain the shokunin and their tools, and Westerners seemed more interested in learning about them, so he was finally able to complete is original mission.

 According to Linden Publishing, Japanese Woodworking Tools remains the only English-language source on the traditions and training of the shokunin.

Ōdate also wrote Making Shoji that was published in 2000.

Back to blog