I don’t do a whole lot of review and recommendation writing on here, but on occasion something comes along that I’m so enthusiastic about that I feel the need to post about it.
Even though it’s been a few years since I managed to post frequently about it, the kumiko and shoji work on my blog still garners a lot of traffic. I don’t attribute this to my skills at either blogging or the work itself so much as the real lack of solid instructional information that’s available, particularly when it comes to decorative kumiko work.
So how does this compare to previous works on the subject? Well – for anyone interested in this sort of work, this is simply the most detailed and comprehensive introduction available. While I am a great fan of Toshio Odate’s Making Shoji, I have to say that for those interested in actually doing shoji and kumiko work I find King’s new treatise clearly better.
Odate’s text still reigns as an introduction to the spirit and attitude of the japanese doormaker of the past – and it remains worth the cost just for the descriptions of Odate’s own apprenticeship. But for sheer techniques and methodology, King’s book is vastly more detailed and comprehensive. Where Odate is part good-read with instructional details interspersed, King has delivered the definitive manual for the craftsman interested in learning the traditional methods.
The long and short of it is that King (who trained in a traditional program for shoji and kumiko work in Toyama, Japan) takes a remarkably no-nonsense approach to every aspect of the work. There is none of the ‘spirit of the tools’ discussion that plagues so much of japanese woodworking material. But at the same time, there is no ‘westernization’ of the methods and techniques in here. The traditional methods and design are upheld completely. While the author covers the typical japanese tools used incredibly well, he also points out where suitable western equivalents will work well, and the cases where there really is no suitable substitution. The book also includes what I consider by far the single finest english language introduction to kanna (japanese planes) ever written. For that alone, I think the purchase price is well-justified.
This book is Volume I. King plans two additional volumes as well. There is a gallery of the projects covered in this (and future) texts available at Des and Mariko King’s website. The volumes are all self-published to allow him to retain complete control over the material, but can be ordered from Amazon in the US.
I’ve communicated off and on with King via email for a few years now, and I have always found him to be an invaluable resource. His website is a feast of visual and written information, particularly on complex kumiko design. It’s impossible to view it without seeing his commitment and skill. This new book takes it a step further. I cannot recommend a book more highly than this one.