The best books on Japanese carpentry and construction

The Books I Picked & Why

The Complete Japanese Joinery

By Yasuo Nakahara, Hideo Sato, Koichi Paul Nii

Book cover of The Complete Japanese Joinery

Why this book?

This book, first published in 1995, is a detailed how-to guide that answers a lot of questions about how carpentry is practiced in contemporary Japan. The drawings and plans are fabulously informative. It does not focus on tool use per se, but beautifully conveys the structural logic and reasoning that lie behind the joints and connections themselves. I keep it handy as a reference.


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Measure and Construction of the Japanese House

By Heino Engel

Book cover of Measure and Construction of the Japanese House

Why this book?

This book is a classic and is a beautifully informative excerpt from the author’s longer and more extensive The Japanese House: A Tradition for Contemporary Architecture which is long out of print. The drawings and plans are wonderful, and illuminate the Japanese House layout, modularity, proportions, and many structural and ornamental details. I particularly love the white-on-black visual treatment used for many of the plans. 


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Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use

By Toshio Odate

Book cover of Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use

Why this book?

This book, initially published in 1984, was the first detailed treatment of Japanese carpentry tools and techniques available in English. Because of how effectively it conveyed such aspects as the advantages of the Japanese-style saw — cutting on the pull stroke rather than pushing allows the blade to be thinner, lending greater accuracy and a narrower kerf — I think it really opened the eyes of many Western cabinetmakers who began to adopt Japanese tools from that point on. Odate points out that it’s impossible to really learn techniques from a book, but his explanations whet our appetites.


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The Art of Japanese Joinery

By Kiyosi Seike

Book cover of The Art of Japanese Joinery

Why this book?

This is the book that got me hooked on Japanese carpentry when I was in college in the late 1970s. There’s not much explanation, really, but the black-and-white photos convey the sheer beauty of Japanese joinery in an evocative and compelling way. The drawings resolve some of the mystery. 


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Building the Japanese House Today

By Len Brackett, Peggy Landers Rao, Aya Brackett

Book cover of Building the Japanese House Today

Why this book?

Len Brackett trained with superb carpenters in Japan and returned to the US West Coast to create exquisite Japanese-stye houses and other buildings. His work is in extremely high demand. This book shows how high-quality Japanese-style design and construction can be adapted to our current lifestyles without sacrificing either aesthetically or functionally. Brackett’s descriptions of his design and construction process, as well as of the wood material he uses, are enticing and provide a lot of technical and philosophical insight.


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