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Has Anyone Made an Ofuro (Japanese Soaking Tub)?

Julimor's picture

My doctor was over at the house today and wanted to see the progress on a dining room chandelier I'm making for him.  After the tour he said, "Next I want you to make a Japanese soaking tub for me."  (He thinks I can make anything.)  His wife, who is Japanese. called it ofuro.

I did some web browsing and found different pictures of ofuros.  He wanted a rectangular one.  I found they are usually made from hinoki wood found in the mountains of Japan, but I'm guessing you can't get that around here.  Other woods used are cedar and teak.  From what I've read, the tub stays filled all the time and the watertight properties come from the wood swelling, like in wood ship building.

I was just wondering if anyone here has tackled this project.  If so, please share your experience.

BruceS's picture

Deep pockets (post #169195, reply #1 of 19)

At $5200 no wonder they want one made.   Ask for $4900  and go for it.

Work Safe,  Count to 10 when your done for the day !!

Bruce S. 


islandhack's picture

japanese soaking tub (post #169195, reply #2 of 19)


I built a 3x4 foot Japanese tub, about 30" tall, a few years ago, using edge-splined 2x8 western red cedar and epoxied box joints.  It has a floor of spline-joined yellow cedar.  I have been using it regularly for 3-4 years, and have had no leaks or problems of any kind.  I left the wood unfinished. 

Unfortunately, I don't have any photos at the moment.


hammer1's picture

I've never made one but I (post #169195, reply #3 of 19)

I've never made one but I have this link in my bookmarks. I have worked with Alaskan yellow cedar/cypress and like it.

Beat it to fit / Paint it to match

Julimor's picture

From the research I've done (post #169195, reply #4 of 19)

From the research I've done it seems cedar is the wood of choice.  Teak is said to be a bad choice, which is good considering how expensive it is here.  All the articles I've read (and there hasn't been many) say to leave the wood unfinished.  The biggest challenge comes in making the joints tight enough so the swelling of the wood will make it leak proof.  One article I read said it's good to have shipbuilding skills.  It's been a while since I built a frigate! ;-) 

RalphBarker's picture

re: shipbuilding experience (post #169195, reply #5 of 19)

I'd say more like experience as a cooper at a whiskey-barrel factory. Wooden-ship builders get to caulk their joints. ;-)

Julimor's picture

Yes, that's a better (post #169195, reply #6 of 19)

Yes, that's a better analogy.  Fortunately, the tub I would build wouldn't have any curves in it.  If it did I might have to call Jack Daniels.

caryhson1's picture

ofuro (post #169195, reply #7 of 19)

I will be making one next year sometime. I don’t think the wood choice is particularly important if you give it a good water proof finish (still testing/developing that one).

That being said, if you want to leave it unfinished I suggest using Alaskan Yellow Cedar or old growth Redwood.  

Check out bath-in-wood. com and  bartokdesign. com  for some inspiration.

Remember, when designing and estimating materials, to put in a seat that allows for cleaning/drainage.

"Wood represents a connection with nature's beauty and serves to remind us of the magic of ancient craftsmanship."

catherine3's picture

Japanese uforo - soaking tub (post #169195, reply #8 of 19)

 Hi - i saw your post.  I have an ufuro for sale - never unpacked.  On ebay:


Let me know if you or your client is interested!





sawmd's picture

ofuro (post #169195, reply #9 of 19)

My wife and I are remodeling a house in Bellingham, WA, and have been looking for a hinoki ofuro.  I was born in Japan and have fond memories of bathing in my grandmother's ofuro.  I see that your ofuro is no longer listed on Ebay, but if you are still interested in selling it, I would love to talk to you about it.  My younger son lives in San Francisco and we come down frequently.


Steve_Beaverton_OR's picture

I made two! (post #169195, reply #10 of 19)

I have made two.  The first one weeped just a bit.  The second one does not leak at all.

I used Port Orford Cedar, which according to my research is very close to the traditional Hinoki wood that was used in Japan.

Cost for this tub is approximately $800 to $900 in materials.  It is not a project for a novice.

I have installed both of these tubs in a wet room, meaning all surfaces are fully sealed and slope to a drain just like you would build a shower.  In fact, the tub sits at one end of an enclosed shower.  I let it drain directly onto the shower floor.  I specifically built the shower with a linear style drain, so my shower floor only slopes in one direction toward the drain.  Typical showers slope in two directions.

I am 6' 3" my finsished tub inside dimensions are 43" x 30" and 31 " deep.  I could have gone a bit smaller (narrower and shallower) and still had plenty of room.  In fact, I could fit two people in this tub without being crammed.

Warning, water is heavy.  Filled, I estimate that this tub is well over half a ton.  Secondly, even though this tub does not leak, I still strongly recommend putting this type of tub in a wet room.

You are going to need a BIG water heater.

How I did it:

  1. Purchased 2 x 6 x 12 nearly clear, flat sawn Port Orford Cedar.  This is about as close to the tranditional Hinoki as one can get in the United States.  Quarter sawn woud be even better.
  2. Cut the 12' stock to rough lengths.  I chose approximately 36" and 48" lengths.  Working around knots and other defects.
  3. Ripped the stock lengthwise, ending up with stock that is about 1 1/2 by 2 3/4
  4. Procured a standard western style drain
  5. Ran all the stock through a planer to end up with square corners and true, clean stock
  6. Laid out the bottom of the tub by laying one board flat and one on edge.    Water is heavy, I wanted a solid bottom and laying one board on edge provides more strength than simply joining all the boards flat.  This also provides area for the drain.
  7. Using a dowelling jig, I drilled dowels approximately every 8 inches.
  8. I used one wider board to accommodate my drain.  I recessed the drain into the board using a whole saw and some chisels to clean up the area.  Tested the drain to see that it will sit just below the surface of the tub's bottom.
  9. Used Titebond III and clamps, I glue, dowell, and clamp the bottom together.
  10. After the bottom was dry, I cleanup up the bottom until it was flat on the inside, cleaned up the edges until square and true.
  11. I decided my sides would sit inside from the bottom edge.  So the tub looks like it's sitting on a platform.
  12. I cut the sides to length, a 45 degree cut on each end.
  13. Next comes the interesting part.
  14. I wanted a strong joint, and no end grain showing.  So I decided I needed some way to create interlocking joints.
  15. I decide I will use a spline to lock the 45 degree joints, and I will alternate its direction on each subsuquent layer as I build the sides up off of the base.
  16. I take half the long sides and half the short sides and sort them into a group.  I create a second group with the other pieces I have cut for the sides..
  17. I put a long 1/2 inch straight bit in my router table.  I set an arbitrary height for the bit and an arbitrary distance for the fence.
  18. I take one group and I run them through the router, lying down on the table, with the 45% angle cut down and toward the fence.  So now I have a dado running, across my 45 degree cut,  that will accept a locking spline.  I repeat on the other end.  The repeat for all remaining pieces in the first group.
  19. I take the second group. Clamp a Jorgensen clamp to the stock that will ride on the top of my fence.  I raise the bit higher and cut a dado into this stock.  To be clear, this stock is perpendicular to the table for this cut -- standing on end.  The long side of the stock is against the fence, so it will align with the cuts from the prior group.
  20. Now each piece of stock is cut on both ends.
  21. Next I cut some 1/2" splines to fit the length of the dado.
  22. I glue and pin the spline to the short grain side first.  I use pins to strengthen the joint as the short grain does not create a particularly strong glue joint.
  23. I create my first side layer by gluing and clamping these two pieces the corresponding long grain cuts that were cut in group two -- standing on end as we ran them through the router table.  I let this dry.
  24. When dry, glue, clamp, and screw to the bottom using large stainless steel wood screws.  This fit needs to be excellent before clamping and screwing.  Any gaps will be a potential leak. Trying to pull the sides into gaps will only create more problems later as you try to build the sides up.  Take the time to get this right.
  25. Start working in layers.  Choose 2 pieces from each of  the two groups.  So the next spline is oriented excatly the opposite of my first spline.  This forms a locking corner that cannot fail or move.  Glue and pin the splines to the end grain (short grain) side and glue the long grain.
  26. I glue all edges, clamp to pull down onto the base, and to pull the splines together.
  27. Next, using a dowelling jig, drill, glue, and dowell the layer into the layer below.  1/2 inch dowels were used on this project.
  28. Keep repeating, alternating the directions of the splines unitl you have achieved your desired height.
  29. At the top, lay the last layer flat, drill holes that align with holes from the prior layer, but that remain concealed from top view.  In the corners, I created a through mortise, for strength and for decorative effect.  Then glued and pinned the corners with a square hardwood pin.  Finally I glue and clamp the top layer on the tub, by fitting it over the dowel pins I have left protruding from the prior layer.
  30. Next I cut 5 runers for the bottom.  These runners have a 2 degree slope and are affixed to the underside of the tub using Miller Dowels.  They match the slope of my shower floor perfectly, allowing the tub itself to sit level.
  31. I sanded, and varnished the outside using marine grade Spar varnish.
  32. Do not varnish or use other finishes on the inside.  Raw wood is better here.

Caring for this tub.   I use it about once per week.  I fill it up with hot water, drain it when I am done. I do not use any soaps, salts, oils or other contanimants in this tub.  I follow the tradition of scrubbing before entering the tub.

So far, it's holding up perfectly.  It's been about 3 months.

Oh, tub one.  Build it very differently.  However the leak has stayed about the same over several years.  It weeps at first then stops as the wood swells.  More importantly, it looks as good as the day I built it.  On this tub, I joined boards with full length splines, used a sliding dovetail to join the sides together.  Chose Resorcinol for the glue.  This glue is red and it can be tricky to try to prevent staining the finished product with the glue.  It's holding up well.

bytorid's picture

Your Tub (post #169195, reply #11 of 19)

Hi Steve!

I am a Oregon woodworker who is also interested in making one of these. Would you have any pictures that you could share?

ofurobuilder's picture

There is a LOT to building an ofuro (post #169195, reply #12 of 19)

I just stumbled onto this discussion and since we are mentioned a few times as a source - thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts.  

First, full disclosure:  I am the President and lead engineer of SeaOtter WoodWorks and we have been building and selling wooden ofuros for many years.  Over the course of this time we have travelled to Japan to gather information, tested many designs,  and have morphed those techniques into our own process which is complex and superior to any ofuro tubs built elsewhere.  

We hand-craft furniture quality bathtubs to order and stand behind our work.  Our tubs are guaranteed.  Our customers are pleased.

Our tubs are designed to be as trouble free as a bath made of any other material.  We do NOT expect our clients to keep water in their tubs after the bath is over.   That is a bad idea for lots of reasons, but the main ones are -  elevated moisture in the home leading to mildew probems;  safety (children in the home?); and the general inconveniece of having a tub full water in your house.  

Our tubs are left empty after each use.

I will not be disclosing our secrets since our design is proprietary and protected.  It was interesting to read the various design ideas - but all of them ignore the elephant issue - wood movement.   I would caution consumers who are hoping to save a little $ by having one built by thier local cabinet shop.  And I would caution the woodworker who takes on this project because it looks interesting.  We have seen our share of disasters from this approach and have been asked to replace a number of these tubs with one of ours.


Kyoto_tub.jpg31.09 KB
Steve-Beaverton's picture

Hi Everyone, I have been (post #169195, reply #13 of 19)

Hi Everyone,

I have been enjoying the ofuro without any "disasters".  Perhaps the comments about wood movement have some merit.  If I let this tub sit dry without using it I do get some movement -- one of the glue joints in the bottom opens up.  It closes up and does not leak when I fill the tub.  It has not been a problem, however, as it does not leak.

If I build another, I would probably not use the platform approach and would probably dado the bottom into the sides and allow the bottom to have some room to move.

As far as disasters are concerned, none so far.  I have given the potentinal for bursting of a seam great thought and concern as I did not want to have the possibility of flooding my home.  My design has mechanical strength, because each of the layers has the joint running in opposite directions, and each layer is dowelled.  Accordingly this forms an interlocking joint that has mechanical strength even wihout glue.  Run your splines so that you are relying on long grain for joint strength.  As far as vertical movement is concerned, the sides can all move equally at the same time -- so I am less concerned about movement of the sides.  Wood movement of the bottom seems to be the larger issue.

Some pictures are attached.

I would be very interested in what others learn by building on or taking a completely different approach.  Please share your stories.


Enjoy and good luck,


koolrain's picture

ofuro (post #169195, reply #14 of 19)

My grandfather made one out of redwood.  with a steel plate bottom because it was fire heated.  you could just change the heat source.  There was also a wooden grate to keep your body parts away from the iron plate bottom.

leminhtien's picture

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brendan8's picture

Wow!  This looks great. (post #169195, reply #16 of 19)

Wow!  This looks great.  Any chance you would make one?  

Best regards,


maryfink1's picture

Oh, I heard  a little about (post #169195, reply #17 of 19)

Oh, I heard  a little about Ofuno. I really like japanese culture and i think it's really cool and interesting idea. Could you please sent me pictures which you found? 

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