The Making of Chashitsu, skills and tools

I was asked what I knew and what resources I used to build my Tea room. I actually thought that was a very good topic for a blogpost. So here we go.

I stayed one year in Midorikai and had the pleasure of seeing a lot of different Tea rooms. So I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted the room to look like. I refereed to a very nice book to confirm my Tea-room layout. It is a great book so I have included a image of the cover. It is probably 10x as good if you can read Japanese, but even just looking at the images provided me with valuable aid.
The room I was using forced some constraints on me. For instance there is no way I could make two entrances, or make the tokonoma full size. So there I had to improvize a bit.
Design book

To figure out exactly how much space I had available and how to distribute pillars and tatami I used Live Interior 3D. This is a software for Mac that is very easy to use and create great floor plans. It even made a movie of my design. I posted the movie in a earlier post. I sent the floor plans and the movie  to the Tea teachers I know asking for feedback. They gave me good advice on things that I had forgot, or improvements that I should consider.  After a few iterations I had a final design.

Then to the woodwork. I’m not a carpenter. However, neither am I the least handy person I know. My dad loves building and renovating. He built our first home from scratch and renovated a house from 1935 as our next home. So this has exposed me to a certain amount of carpentry, but mostly as the assistant fetching tools and wood. Also I might note that this is not my first Tea-room. I’m going to make a image post about the evolution of my Tea spaces later. Sufficient to say I have tried and only partially succeeded in making a room based on shoji walls, but I had previously made fake mud-walls successfully.

From my experience with the different rooms I have made Tea rooms can be a fairly simple structure. Basically you need a frame around the tatami and some walls. The walls can be as simple as a painted sheet of wood, or as complex as a real mud wall or fusuma. I believe that with some experience from renovating, making a garden fence or some such thing that most people should be able to make a decent room. The main problem with making a room I guess is that unless you have seen a lot of Tea rooms you need a few iterations to get it the way you wanted. Some one once told me that if you are building your own home you need to to it five times to get it perfect, I guess Tea-rooms are the same in this regard.

The most challenging things for me was:

  • Making a platform for the entire room to rest on. It has to be perfectly even and stable. The main purpose of this was to allow a sunken ro, but also to reduce the height of the room.
  • Hiding the fact that I had cheated. I want the room to appear authentic as much as possible. That is no visible torx, no apparent modern materials and so on. My room is far from perfect in this regards, but there is very few obvious cheats visible.
  • The level of details involved in cutting every piece of wood the exact right size. I got some small gaps that should not be there because I failed in this.
  • Making shoji.
  • Trying to get everything as “correct” as possible from a Tea perspective. I very much want to avoid to having to settle for workarounds. Again that was impossible for some things like the doors and tokonoma.

Over the years I have accumulated a decent selection of carpentry tools that helped me a great deal while making this Tea room. I also used the Tea-room as excuse to buy some new ones 😉  This is a list an the main tool and the what I used them for:

  • Electric drill, everything in my room is fasten with torx screws. So this has been a absolute must have tool for me.
  • Jigsaw for cutting the boards I used as walls
  • Miter Saw with Laser Marker, for cutting all the planks and pillars. I could have substituted this one for a handsaw and about a million calories. I would still be working on the floor if I had not had this.
  • Sanding machine, all pieces of visible wood was given a quick sanding with this machine. Again something that you could do without if your willing to put in the extra effort and do it by hand.
  • A machine to make grooves in pilars. Sorry could not figure out what it is called in English. All my walls slide into groves to make the transition between walls and pillars as smooth as possible. This is not strictly necessary. The only place you really need it if for the doors. They need to go into grooves if you do not want to cheat and use a modern solution with wheels or something suspended from the roof.
The main lessons learned from building my room is:
  • Thin plaster walls are easy to work with and cheap to buy. However, if I could do it over again I would have made it all with the 21mm wood sheets instead. The plaster bends slightly and will not support any weight if you touch them.
  • Make the mizuya shelves very deep. I got only 20cm, but 27cm would have been way better.
  • Lighting the room by using a shoji window with spotlight behind works very vell. But it would have been a good idea to have more than one window. With only one window spots can become very dark when someone or something is blocking the only window.