Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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bigato
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Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by bigato » Fri Feb 15, 2019 8:24 pm

If you got excited to learn about the idea in the title, I'm sorry, but you are here to teach me. So far this is only an idea and I'm hoping to learn from your collective wisdom.

As I mentioned in my journal recently, I'm heavily focused in buying a place, most likely an apartment, as a way to accelerate my way to FI in this currenty city. From my analysis so far, I'm leaning towards the smaller and centrally located places. In the process, I'm also discovering that I miss owning my place and also miss being able to build stuff. Thus I'm also obsessing over tiny houses again and by consequence having several woodworking ideas. I also happen to be lucky enough to have a close friend who is architect who loves tiny houses and nerdy stuff, and it's likely that I'll count on her on some capacity for a future project.

The questions that I want to pose you guys is related to one of the ideas I'm considering, which is to buy a tiny place, move in and build the thing from inside. I had some experience trying this approach in the past and I know it's not such a great idea, so this time I probably will just pay someone to do part of the work before I move in, specially the part that would involve the masonry and tiling work at the bathroom. I have very little skill for that, and not having a proper bathroom while I am working because I'm tearing it down, would not be such a great idea.

The part that I intend to do tough, is mostly everything wood. That I feel confident enough that I can learn and deal with the mistakes that will happen in the process. Usually when people say tiny house on the internet, they mean something like 320 square feet (30 square meters). Now that's the size of the place I currently rent, a kind of a bachelor's apartment I think you americans would call it. This is pretty common in here as a more affordable type of housing. And I know that at size space would be plenty to bootstrap the project from inside. Gosh, most tiny houses at this square footage usually come with very tall ceilings such that having a loft is an obvious call.

While some of the places I'm considering buying actually have around 320 sq feet (30m2), some even ceilings as high as 10 feet (3m), this is not always the case. Actually, one of the places I liked the most because of cashflow and other considerations (building/place/confort/sun exposure, etc), is a 160 sq ft (15m2) with ceilings 7.5 feet high (2.3m).

I want to use japanese tools and techniques and avoid power tools, because it is a residential area but also because I prefer the simplicity. I happen to also have a work colleague who knows some carpentry, so he will be the one to tell me which local wood to get, where to find it, and local knowledge like that. One of the benefits of working among so many nerds: there's always someone who has a similar interest when you are obsessing over something new. But I don't think he knows anything about japanese woodworking, and I don't know where to ask for help either. While I can work my through youtube videos starting with the most basic stuff and simple projects, I would like some guidance on where to start. Most specifically, what tools are the absolute minimum to buy? Once I start doing some stuff, I'll probably know where to head next or at least what else to ask. Please keep in mind that from where I am, if I buy things in dollar, stuff arrives here very expensively. Like if X is 10 dollars more expensive than Y for you, it means that it will be like 4 times more expensive for me because of shipping and taxes. Because of that, I'm not looking for the very best, but for stuff that is at least good enough for a beginner, or that has a good cost/benefit. If I can find locally produced tools, I'll probably buy them, but I wanted to know from you when it is the case that I should get the best tool, and which brand, and what are the other cases where it doesn't matter that much.

Second question is, if you have some experience of woodworking and/or building, do you think that boostrapping a tiny 160 sq ft (15m2) house from inside is a really bad idea? Do you think it is doable? I'm known for being overconfident at times.

Edit: for inspiration, here is an apartment measuring 10m2 in Brazil, Sao Paulo. It costs R$150,000 currently. The average person in that city makes around 1,500 a month, so around 100 months of average salary. The minimum wage is 1,000 a month.
The tiny apartment complex has several shared spaces and services, things like coworking, shared bicycles and a load of other nice stuff that almost makes me want to live there if it wasn't such a stressful city for me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns2uotBU_lQ

Campitor
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by Campitor » Fri Feb 15, 2019 9:44 pm

Japanese woodworking can be done with western hand tools that are probably available in Brazil. Below a starter list - please be aware that saws are designed for hardwoods and softwoods. A hardwood saw can cut hardwood but a softwood saw will lose its teeth trying to cut dense hardwood.
  1. A Ryoba (a double edged saw with a side for cross cutting and the opposite side for ripping. The western equivalent is a panel saw (ripping) and a cross cut saw - unlike the japanese saw, they will need to purchased separately.
  2. A dozuki (dovetail saw) - the western version is just called a dovetail saw.
  3. Chisels suitable for the tasks your undertaking - get a 1" wide chisel, 1/2 Chisel, and a 1/4" chisel - the other sizes can be purchased later if needed.
  4. A coping saw for cutting curves into wood or coping joints together.
  5. A jointer plane (for flattening surfaces) and a regular jack plane for removing wood quickly where precise flatness across a long distance isn't required - like planing down the bottom of a door.
  6. a 600 grit and 1000 grit sharpening stone for sharpening chisels and plane irons - you can get other grits later.
  7. Files for sharpening your saws - please be aware that induction heated saws can't be sharpened - they stay sharp longer but the induction hardness makes it extremely difficult to sharpen - the metal is too hard.
  8. A good straight edge for making precise lines.
  9. A square for marking 90% angles.
The above tools will let you build most of the items needed to renovate this small space and make some minimalist furniture if you up to it. And some japanese woodworkers don't use a dedicated bench - they build sawhorses and just put a thick plank of wood on it for a makeshift workbench.

Some videos to inspire you:

https://youtu.be/yx0TLg10mhU
https://youtu.be/cZN6AtS4LNQ

7Wannabe5
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by 7Wannabe5 » Sat Feb 16, 2019 7:35 am

bigato wrote: I miss owning my place and also miss being able to build stuff.
Yeah, this is why I found myself bouncing hard off of extreme minimalism. For some reason, typing into a computer and/or attempting to increase the musculature of my own abdomen does not satisfy the urge to create something tangible. When I am "homeless", no matter how posh my current accommodations, I have dreams in which I am doing something like scraping old paint off of a windowsill.

Unfortunately, I can't shake this feeling even though my tendency towards being a generalist, also leaves me far from mastery of any given craft. For instance, only helpless babies will wear something I knitted. Therefore, Japanese Woodworking is far beyond my capabilities in carpentry.

Also, due to stupid archaic codes and such, the tiniest house I can build on my urban property is 800 square ft., and the smallest I could subdivide it into independent units would be 400 square ft. That is why I might choose to buy some rural property where I can do just about whatever I want instead.

Good luck with your project! Will look forward to before and after pics.

FBeyer
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by FBeyer » Sat Feb 16, 2019 8:39 am

You don't need a Japanese saw to do japanese woodworking.
There is one technical differences between japanese and western saws: Western saws cut on the push, Eastern saws cut on the draw.

That means the metal is thinner on Jap saws compared to western. That means they cut more easily, because they remove less material than a western saw. They pull dust unto the working piece so you have to blow saw dust away from the cut MUCH more often than usual.
Jap saws cut very neatly IFF you start right. The first 5 seconds of a cut determine if it'll be crazy easy or crazy hard to finish the cut accurately.
Jap saws -if ground right- can cut exactly flush with a surface. You can cut dowels off of furniture pieces without needing to sand or plane afterwards, and you can do so without scratching the surface.

Western saws generally explode their way through wood. IME they cut much faster than japs saws, and they 're easier to correct if your cut warps underway.

The jap saw is much more versatile, but it's unforgiving compared to a western saw. And you have to be patient with your work...

Campitor
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by Campitor » Sat Feb 16, 2019 9:50 am

I use western saws and japanese saws. The japanese saw leaves a smoother cut. It's true that japanese saws, because they cut on the pull stroke, will pull sawdust "towards" you. However japanese saws were not meant to be used in the same position as a western saw (overhead push stance). Japanese saws were meant to be positioned either underneath a horizontal piece of wood or the wood positioned vertically while the saw is held perpendicular; this causes the sawdust to fall to the floor and away from the cut line. Obviously this isn't a hard rule but there's a reason why it's done this way - most japanese didn't use western style benches - they worked on the floor so sawing downward was a natural motion - lifting a saw upward and letting gravity assist on the pull stroke was easier. See videos below for reference:

Cutting vertical wood: https://youtu.be/dibIlrai8fU?t=132
Cutting horizontal wood: https://youtu.be/kDbA9N80ioI?t=235

Please note that in the videos the wood is mirrored on the saw - a shiny saw helps you cut straighter - if the reflection of the wood in the saw creates a perfect mirror image in all aspects (angle, pitch, etc) - this means the saw is being held in perfect cutting position - your cut will be straight and parallel.

jacob
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by jacob » Sat Feb 16, 2019 10:07 am

I'm crude and lazy, so I file all my saws rip (in the tradition of Tage Frid). Filing crosscut is twice as much work and I wouldn't even know where to begin with a Japanese pattern. As far as I understand, Japanese saws are hardened to a higher Rockwell and so last longer ... but that also makes them harder to maintain.

The rip-only approach works because rip also works for crosscutting (but crosscut is terrible for ripping). It does tear the grain a bit but this can be fixed by using a finer toothed saw or end planing.

Lately, I've experimented with building my own frame saws: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4LohjmskEk (Paul Sellers)... The ultimate goal is to make my own blades out of bandsaw blanks/coil stock. Once they get dull, I'd simply replace them. The dull ones can be sold to knifemakers on eBay.

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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by jacob » Sat Feb 16, 2019 10:46 am

Here's my list similar to Campitor's and constitutes what I would get insofar I knew what I know today. It's Western style handtools and optimized for softwoods (I'm a cheap bastard so I build everything out of cheap pine (lots of knots) and framing timber like SPH/HF).
  • Cheap woodworking square 8" or so. People often recommend a fancy $$$ combination square, but these are powertool users.
  • Mortise gauge (for mortises and tenons)
  • Sliding bevel (for dovetails)
  • Panel saw filed rip 8-10tpi (for sawing everything) [ I have a Disston D-8]
  • Dovetail saw filed rip 12-14tpi (for sawing finer things, especially dovetails, but also tenons)
  • Mortise chisel(s). If you work with 2x4s all you're ever going to use is 1/2". You can use a bench chisel, but the mortising chisel is so much easier.
  • Bench chisels, because your mortise chisel is too square you get into the corners of dove tails. 1/4" (corners), 1/2" (most work) and 1" (straight lines).
  • #7 jointer plane. For softwoods get a low-angle. For hardwoods get a normal angle. If you only want one, get the low-angle.
  • #5 jack plane. Low-angle. You can also use this for planing end grain once you've built a shooting board.
  • #4 smooth plane. (If you want your surfaces to feel like glass. If you build "rustic" stuff, you don't need this.)
  • Scrub plane. (Used to quickly remove a lot of wood. Sometimes it's faster than resawing!) Some say it's a novelty plane, but I love it.
  • Chuck brace and a set of augers. Get a standard chuck (3 jaws, not 2) that will take normal hexbits as well. Then you can also use it as a mighty screwdriver.
  • A mill file, a triangle file for each saw, and an auger file.
  • A sharpening system of some kind. I started with sandpaper on glass (scary sharp) ($) but am looking to transition to water stones ($$$).
In my experience, tools compensate for lack of skill. After all, all the above is are metal edges arranged in various ways (a chisel is just a knife at the end of a stick, a rip saw is just a bunch of tiny chisels lined up, a plane is just a knife held at a constant angle), so technically everything can be built with a knife. What this means is that you'll probably need to start out with more tools than you'll eventually need or want. At least that has been my experience. Case in point, Paul Sellers in the video above uses his finger+pencil as a mortising gauge. I'm definitely not there yet.

Add: if you don't want all the planes, start with #5. Start with the bench chisels. Start with the panel saw.

As for work benches, I used and abused a Black&Decker workmate for many years. I recently built my own Nicholson style bench which in retrospect I should have done years ago. The reason it took me so long was that I was way overthinking it + there were other things to build instead. I suggest going on youtube and finding a weekend build for a bench made out of 2x4s. It's going to be more functional than the workmate. It's also going to be much uglier and cost about the same ... so ... and if you already have a sturdy(*) table, you can just attach a vise to it.

(*) It does more damage to you than the table if you kick it hard.

Campitor
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by Campitor » Sat Feb 16, 2019 12:26 pm

Workbenches and hand tools - they go together like a hand and glove. Workbench designs are a rabbit hole for me. And I agree with Jacob in regards to tools and skills - especially with hand tools. I've seen guys use hacksaws to make tight-fitting dovetails. Jacob's tool list is more complete. My list was a starter list to get you going. Mortising chisels are great and I would buy them but I make do with my regular bench chisels. I keep them razor sharp always and I'll strop them frequently with a 5000 grit sandpaper on a dead flat ceramic tile. You can use an auger to remove most of the waste and then use the regular chisels to remove the rest.

Before you buy any tools, please check what kind of wood you have available and what is cheapest. Hardwoods cost a lot in the US but in South America, where hardwoods are plentiful, they can be cheaper or more readily available than softwoods; sorry rainforest! So if you're going to primarily work with hardwoods (softwoods can be very tough on tools too), make sure your saws and chisels are designed for it. Here is something that can help you determine the toughness of wood: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janka_hardness_test


PS - hardwoods, especially those from South America (you're in Brazil - correct?), have a lot of resins which can be extremely irritating to the lungs - keep the sawdust to a minimum or wear a mask.

bigato
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by bigato » Wed Feb 20, 2019 2:42 pm

Thank you all very much for the time spent writing such useful answers!
And it will be softwood, it's way cheaper even here in Brazil. I don't need stuff to last a lifetime when my interests themselves change every three years or so.
But I'm still exploring the local real estate market to learn the better deal I can get, one that I could even make some money out of it, so it will take a while until we have photos.

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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by jacob » Wed Feb 20, 2019 3:22 pm

I've been selling some of my "built to last a lifetime" tools on ebay again. I get about the same as what I paid for them (on ebay).

Also I forgot to add a couple of planes to my list: rabbet block plane. Being able to trim your tenons makes life easier until you've learned how to saw perfect lines (1/2 kerf tolerance). Alternatively, a regular block plane + a shoulder plane.

bigato
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Re: Bootstrapping a tiny house from inside with japanese woodworking

Post by bigato » Wed Feb 20, 2019 4:16 pm

Thanks!
When I said I don't need stuff to last a lifetime, I meant stuff I build and that's why I'll be going with softwood rather than with the generally more expensive and durable hardwood. But I definitely agree on your point regarding reselling prices for good quality tools.

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