Kanna: An Exploration of Traditional Japanese Carpentry


To celebrate a year on from our launch at Design Junction 2014 we held an in-store exhibition for London Design Festival 2015. Named “Kanna” the exhibition explored the history, tools and techniques used in traditional Japanese carpentry.

Hinoki Wood Shavings from "Kanna" wood planes

Hinoki Wood Shavings from "Kanna" wood planes

In the months prior to Kanna we began our research and sourced a selection of traditional carpentry tools from retired Daiku (大工 - Japanese carpenters) in Japan. With several hundred different types of tools to choose from, we curated a broad selection to represent the many specialisations in Japanese carpentry. 

We approached this by focusing primarily on Kanna (鉋) - Japanese wood planes, Nokogiri (鋸) - saws, Nomi (鑿) - chisels and Toishi (砥石) - whetstones. Similarly for wood joints, we chose to pick only four common and traditional examples of splicing and joining wood together.

To demonstrate and accompany our stand we hand drew illustrations of our traditional tools, wood joints, bags and boxes. The tools in particularly were admired by local woodworking enthusiasts and professionals.  Some of our tools were sold after the exhibition, but a few are still available for sell; please get in touch if you are interested. Authentic Japanese carpentry tools are quite hard to find in the UK.

As well as tools we also imported from Japan bags of Hinoki (檜) wood shavings. Hinoki is a premium Japanese cypress than can only be grown in Japan. Due to strict regulations of the circulation of timber, Hinoki is very rarely seen in the UK as lumber. We gift wrapped each Hinoki shaving and offered them to visitors. Hinoki has a natural lemon scented fragrance and has anti-bacterial and insect repellent properties. The shavings can be dropped in a bath to increase the scent or placed with clothes to keep moth at bay.

With our furniture line, Inako Series exhibiting at Design Junction we set about designing and making our exhibition stands for Kanna. The challenge was to design and build two stands with limited tools and space. The design had to fit in with the shop's interior but be noticeably separate for the exhibition. After several proposals we decided on a large central plinth built around a pine frame and pine slats. This would be relatively easy to make ourselves and could be built in store before Kanna.

Our Yaki-Sugi attempt

Our Yaki-Sugi attempt

We were very keen to use Yaki-Sugi (焼杉) to darken some of the pine. Yaki-Sugi is an ancient Japanese technique to seal and weather-proof wood. This is done by burning the exterior surface of wood in a controlled manner. Traditionally done by placing wood over a central fire, the technique although a craft in itself, is relatively simple to emulate with modern tools. However, with health and safety in mind and the prospect of a fire in the shop we decided on a wood dye instead. The result was quite faithful in colour to Yaki-Sugi but lacked the rich depth in tone and texture.

As for our carpenter's tool bags and boxes these are both products that we now sell in the shop (not available online). Inspired by their traditional roots, they are both contemporary designs of apparel used by Daiku in the past.

Illustrations of carpenters carrying wooden toolboxes can be seen in silkscreen paintings that date back to the 14th century. Our toolboxes are inspired by this tradition and are made of Japanese red cedar in Tochigi, Japan. Consisting of six different sizes, the boxes are designed to stack together neatly - each box doubles in size, allowing the boxes to interchange and interlock. Although traditionally used for storing carpentry tools, these boxes are also ideal as paper trays, shoeboxes, storage boxes and bed trunks. The red cedar is naturally water resistant and has a pleasant fragrant scent typical of a native Japanese cedar. The toolboxes are not available online, for more information please get in touch or visit in store.

A Carpenter's Tool Bag and his tools

A Carpenter's Tool Bag and his tools

As for the tool bags, they are intended for heavy-duty work and are sewn together from heavy cotton canvas. They have external pockets for carrying hand tools and a metal clasp for bracing the bag’s sides together. Although once used for tools, they are ideal as an everyday commuter bag or a sturdy shopping bag. They come in three sizes and three colours. The tool bags are not available online, for more information please get in touch or visit in store. 

We hope this overview gives a small glimpse into the work and thought behind Kanna. We would like to thank all visitors for their positive response. Kanna was more popular than we anticipated and is something that we hope to build upon for next year's London Design Festival.

Native & Co 

Carpenter Tool Boxes

Carpenter Tool Boxes

Traditional Carpentry Tools

Traditional Carpentry Tools

A Carpenter's Box with Carpentry Tools

A Carpenter's Box with Carpentry Tools

A full set of Carpenter's Boxes and his tools

A full set of Carpenter's Boxes and his tools

Our Illustration Boards

Our Illustration Boards

A carpenter's tool box filled with Hinoki wood shavings

A carpenter's tool box filled with Hinoki wood shavings