Saturday, October 31, 2015

Woodworking Trip to China

I have so many pictures, you might think I went there for a year.  In truth, I was only there for seven days, and it wasn't really for woodworking, although you might not know that from my pictures.

I have lots of other pictures, too, but since this is marginally a woodworking blog, here are some of my photos that had something to do with woodworking.

First up is a KFC on Wangfujing Street.  What could say "woodworking" better than fried chicken?
I don't think this KFC is in Kentucky!
China has an old woodworking tradition, along with many other hand-crafts.  In one department store on the touristy shopping street, I ran across this display of an antique loom.  I couldn't tell you what it says, other than "Do Not Touch," as I don't read or speak Chinese, but neat to see nonetheless.
A neat display of a wooden loom.
The Frau and I spent a whole day in the Forbidden City gawking at all of the cool old buildings.  This was my first time being exposed up close with ancient Chinese architecture.  You can probably tell I was impressed with joints and details by the photos I took.
This is just part of a door.

Part of the same door.

Here is the whole thing.  Likely the doors on this palace have been here for a very long time.  "A very long time" in Chinese history is a lot longer than in Western culture.
The corner roof joints on Chinese buildings are famous for their beauty and strength, and like any good wooden building joint, uses no metal fasteners. 
The little water beasts on the corners of the roof are to help protect the buildings from fire.  I suppose they work, as this building hasn't burnt down yet.

Here I was a bit closer to a building to show the corner joints.
The undersides of the roofs showed some more highly decorated architectural details.
Keep in mind this is a building intended to be occupied by the emperor.
What about woodworking for regular people?  Well, if you have been reading my blog, you'll know I could be just as impressed by that.  One of the reasons we ate at one restaurant was the furniture that was in use.  All of this furniture had good, old fashioned joinery.
This chair is very similar to many others that I saw there.  Mortise and tenon joints, along with frame and panel construction.  The weirdest thing about this one was that it's seat was  only about ten inches off the floor.
And the table was extremely sturdy.  It was a bit short for what we in the west would use to eat on, but perhaps that helps.
Don't ask what the bucket was for.  Every table had one, but we didn't ever see it in use by anyone.
Just for your curiosity, here is our bill for dinner that night.  Four main dishes and two bowls of rice came to about $16 US.
This makes it tough for us illiterate dullards to check the bill.
I was pleased to see so many trees there.  Even in town, although most Beijingers would say there aren't enough.
We spent one day at the Great Wall.
We did indeed do plenty of touristy stuff.
Gratuitous shot of me being a tourist at the Great Wall.
There were plenty of trees that I recognized in Beijing and the area, including birch, oak and maple.
Oak leaves

A maple leaf at the Great Wall.
It was so beautiful that day,  I couldn't help but take lots of pictures. 
Here's one uncharacteristically devoid of crowds.
Being me, I had to visit a flea market.  This is near the famous Dirt Market.

I actually found some hand planes!

And some bow saws.  These are all new tools, and I didn't want to bring them home.
I did find some old tools.  In fact, I bought a set of dividers that I forgot to photograph.  I'll have to do a blog post on those later.
There is an old wooden plane in this photo.  Can you see it?
This place was too big to comprehend, and I think one could spend many hours here.
Interesting architecture on the buildings in the market.
This whole market was very organized.  The stalls were all set up according to what it was they sold.  This would make it easier if you went there for art, teapots, coins, or whatever.  Everything easy to find.
Does this count as hand tools?
I did get some photos of some wooden ware.
I think the stumps in the bottom of this photo are ebony or similar.

Carved panels.
Plenty of other stuff, too.
Lots of pottery.
More close-ups of architectual details.  This time at Bei Hai Park.
The colors and painting of some of these buildings is gorgeous.

Look!  Dovetails!

More obligatory tourist pictures.

Trees in the Lama temple.
I get the feeling the Chinese view trees (at least most of the ones I saw in Beijing) as sacred, and something that should be preserved at any cost.  When I first arrived, there was a worker shoring up a tree on the street with pallet wood and a pneumatic nail gun trying to save a branch with a big crack in it.
Here at the Lama Temple is a typical view of a tree being supported by a metal pole.
I think we in the west would cut down many of these trees for safety and try to grow new ones.

I just couldn't quit taking photos of architectual details:
Another corner roof joint.

The paint accentuates the structural details.  I think in the West at the time, we were trying to cover these bits up.
Here is a beautiful stove in the Lama Temple complex.
These temples had many people burning incense.  One would think burning incense near wooden buildings could be hazardous.
Perhaps not too hazardous, as this is what they had for fire safety there:
Chinese fire extinguisher?

More obligatory tourist poses.
A walk through a traditional Beijing Hutong revealed some neat everyday furniture. Here are a pair of what look like saw benches.  However, I don't know they were tools, as there is a lot of ornamentation on them.
I really like the double tenons offset for joinery.
I liked both the door and the sign for this business.
Weirdly, I ran across this dovetailed chest just sitting out on the street.
Above that was a six board chest, and next to it was another saw bench looking piece.
Cool furniture left to the elements.
Here is a close up of the bench. 
More double tenons, this time in a row.

The Frau really liked this door.
Everytime you run into a traditional building, it is hard not to take pictures.
This one had some metal pillars, but the roof is wooden.
I love the painting.

Here is a neat doorknocker near the Temple of Heaven.
Being a tourist again:
Many people were getting their photo with this tree, so I thought I would get one, too.
If you ever get a chance to visit Beijing, I give it a hearty recommendation.  There is lots to see there, and most of it is so different to what we know in the west.


  1. Looks like you had a great trip. Nice photos.

  2. They sure weren't afraid of ornamentation when they built the Forbidden city.
    Thanks for sharing the pictures.

  3. Walking the Great Wall of China is one item on my Bucket List that will probably never get crossed off.

    1. The Great Wall was clearly the highlight of our trip. Well worth it.

      The flights from here weren't outrageously expensive. We got a good deal on a nice hotel, and everything there like food and entrance fees to things were really pretty cheap.

      If your backside can deal with the flight, I would recommend going.

  4. Nice pics! I like that chair from the restaurant! There are so many places we need to visit! We set our mind on Vietnam for our next trip.

    1. Thanks! Like you, I am especially drawn to pieces that I might be likely to build, or to use elements from in my work.

      This trip really did impress upon me that the world is a big place, and as well traveled as some would think I am, there is a lot I haven't seen yet.

  5. for the construction of the Chinese gate bench, look at Greg Merritt blog:

    There are six posts for the complete construction.
    Lots of intersting things in Greg's blog.

    1. Hi Sylvain, thanks for the link. I rally like Greg's blog, but somehow I missed that one. Good to know this has a proper name.

  6. Great pics of local items. So many times the only things we see of a culture are the high end historical pieces in museums, which often seem so extreme and foreign from each other so it is really nice to see some everyday items. Looks like you guys had a good trip.

    1. Thanks, Jeremy! I agree. I love looking at the fancy stuff, but the real people's stuff is just as neat to look at for me.

  7. Hi Brian - I loved this blog and photo-journey of your week in China. I think it's great that you blended the beautiful Tourist Locations with the photos of trees, local ("outdoor" furniture), and furniture. Your personality shines through this blog and your Pictures. Regards. John

    1. Thanks, John! I took other pictures, too. I'll have to show them to you.

  8. Loved the Journey through Beijing with you, Brian! No one would ever have had the privilege of seeing so much beautiful wood and painting, etc. Only you would notice those things! Thanks for sharing them with us!

  9. HI Brian
    Great pics, I too am drawn to some of the architectural details when I visited foreign locations. Always interesting to see something different.


    Bob and Rudy

    1. Thanks, Bob!

      I have to say I think I was more drawn to the food! Yum.

  10. Have you ever posted a photo of the dividers that you bought secondhand?

    1. I thought I did, but I don't see them here. It must be up on Instagram. I'll have to do a post on them soon!