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Crafting a Japanese Teahouse with Yann Giguere of Mokuchi Woodworking
by Lara Netting, Trustee

The Hammond Garden Revitalization Symposium on September 24, 2021, featured visiting artist Yann Giguere from Mokuchi Woodworking. He demonstrated Japanese-style teahouse construction to an audience of over 60 people. Working with wood samples, hand tools, and humor, Mr. Giguere shared his craft and a few “trade secrets”. Symposium event page  (Image #1)

Yann Giguere Showing Tight Joinery

1. Yann Giguere Showing Tight Joinery

Yann explained how 16th century tea master Sen no Rikyū imagined a teahouse as a humble building that could offer respite from daily affairs. Over the centuries, the resources lavished on teahouses led to a sophisticated craft tradition. The historic model was a peasant’s hut and materials included stones, wood, and wisteria vines. Each detail of the intimate space is noticeable, from the patterns on the tree trunk used as a post, to the seamless joint between that post and the beam above. As Yann expressed: “It’s a very Japanese thing… a very very expensive way to have a very ephemeral object.”

Yann Giguere Showing a Mortice and Tenon

2. Yann Giguere Showing a Mortice and Tenon

Yann showed the audience the precision handwork behind the appearance of a tea house emerging from nature. With posts springing from stone bases and timbers growing together, Yann would use saw and chisels, to fashion the mortice and tenon that lock wood to wood and wood to stone. (Images #2 and #3) Yann’s set of chisels allowed him to also scribe a post, trimming its base to perfectly match the irregular stone upon which it stood. He joked, that an excited novice might fashion this tight fit from outer edge to center, but an experienced builder knows they must 

leave a little breathing space between wood and stone at the center. Yann also shared that in modern contemporary practice an iron rod is typically inserted in the stone and post, and concrete poured between them after the scribing. “In most cases if you’re trying to get a building permit you need to show that you are trying, trying to do [it] their way.”

Yann Giguere Sawing a Tenon

3. Yann Giguere Sawing a Tenon

While rounds of Cryptomeria japonica (杉 sugi) account for much of the wood in a teahouse, there are also flat pieces. Yann awed the audience with samples that he had hand-planed to silky smoothness. He planed more on the spot, producing long shavings as thin as tissue paper. Is there a use for these, the audience wondered? “There have been many, many attempts to make many many different things from them … their best use seems to be fire starters!” Pausing for the audience laughter, he explained how these shavings, being so thin, lost moisture too quickly to be useful for crafts. (Image #4) In Japan, these tools are for specialized craftspeople, but without this network in North America, Yann does much of the work himself. He ended his demonstration by briefly mentioning various devices, in addition to carpentry tools that he uses in teahouse production. A bamboo splitter is used to create bamboo elements within the house and in the surrounding garden. A trowel is used to spread the teahouse walls with clay and straw plaster that evokes a hut, “one that no peasant could afford.”

Paper Thin Shavings

4. Paper Thin Shavings

It was a privilege to host Yann Giguere at the Hammond and we look forward to the day when a hand-built teahouse will stand in our garden. For further information on Mokuchi Woodworking see: https://www.mokuchiwoodworking.com/

Essay by Lara Netting, Trustee

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