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Karesansui (Sand & Rock Garden)

Julimor's picture

When I made a LED dining room fixture for a client I made a major error towards the end of the build and started from scratch.  Some of the wood I used has been sitting in the shop waiting for my brain to come up with a .  A few weeks ago the light went on while watching an old Karate Kid movie (the one with Hilary Swank).  She was living with monks and walked into a sand & rock garden.  I did a little research on the subject and found it's called a karesansui.  I got some ideas and began the project.  (This will be a gift to the client for his office to keep his patients busy while waiting to see the doctor.)

The black between the mahogany edging and maple sides is aquarium gravel.

When I bought the rocks, black gravel, sand and little Bonsai tree I also bought a statue and a larger Bonsai.  But that was too much in that box, so I was thinking of taking them back.  But the idea that the tools really had no place to sit other than on the edge of the box was bothering me.  One thing led to another and the next thing I knew I had made this:

The statue is of Siddhartha, young Buddha. Legend has it he sat under a tree thinking about the meaning of life and almost starved in the process.  This is the same height as the karesansui box and is intended to sit at the end of the box.

I made a second rake because it works better.  But I kept the original and made the holder for all three.

The woods are maple, padauk, mahogany and jatoba.  The round piece under the tree is jatoba.  Bad choice for turning! 

I'll be stopping by his office Saturday.  I'm hoping he'll be in with a patient when I get there and I'll have everything set up when he comes out.  He's 82 and still works 6 days a week!  He deserves nice things.  I hope he likes it!

Westchester's picture

New Project (post #170882, reply #1 of 24)


I'm always amazed how you get through these projects so fast - your creativity and hand skills are really great.  Knowing that you do this after your regular job - incredible !   Great Karma in your direction !


Julimor's picture

Thanks SA. This wasn't (post #170882, reply #2 of 24)

Thanks SA.

This wasn't really that hard.  Nothing like that light fixture!  Many of the pieces were already resawn and ripped from the light fixture project.  But still, I was surprised I didn't get stymied or frustrated like I have on other projects.  Things went pretty smoothly.  I had only one boo-boo.  That came when I was mounting the gates to the platform. 

I had planned on securing them with screws but one of the feet from the platform was in the way.  So I ended up using a 1/4" dowel one one side and a screw on the other.  The boo-boo happened when I was drilling the bottom of the completed gate (already finished too) for the dowel and I drilled right through it and into one of the slats!    Now, if I had measured how deep I needed to drill before I started to drilling...


Westchester's picture

Client Project (post #170882, reply #3 of 24)

Julie - I know that feeling when you're almost done and you take your eye off the ball.  Lucky thing for me that they make so many different kinds of repair fillers. 

Going back to the turning - I can't work with that wood - some of those woods I'm allergic too so I stay away.  I noticed when turning woods lke cocobolo or padauk  my hands were stinging and I realized my skin was reacting to the dust. Watch yourself breathing that stuff even with a mask and dust collection.  

They were difficult to turn -  using mostly scrapers.   Do they take a finish for you or are you just waxing ?  The basket weave is very cool - well thanks for the photos - on going and completed jobs or workshop photos always make this forum more interesting.


Julimor's picture

Unfortunately... (post #170882, reply #4 of 24)

SA - Unfortunately I happen to be allergic to wood.  When I moved from red oak to walnut, padauk, teak and certain other woods I had to be very careful about breathing protection.  And spray lacquer creates a 7-alarm fire in my sinuses, I have to use a respirator.  But I have found such a peace and satisfaction from working with wood that I'd rather wrap myself in a space suit than give it up.

The project pieces are now sitting on a table waiting to be delievered tomorrow.  While watching a movie last night, the statue platform just kept drawing my eye.  I found it more satisfying than watching the movie.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but it seemed like it was calling me.  Nothing I've ever made has had that effect on me.  Maybe there is something to the Japanese element?  It can't be in my blood, I'm 100% Irish! 

Anyway, as I lay in bed last night I started envisioning a new project using Japanese influenced design.  Several ideas popped in my head but I couldn't envision a completed piece.  Today I'll start putzing around the shop and see what ideas surface.

- Julie

Westchester's picture

Tansu anglo Irish :>) (post #170882, reply #5 of 24)


I can just see that mulberry + elm wood glistening after your plane cleans up the edge. The craftsmen ship of old Eastern masters is about to be uncovered.  I'm envisioning a Tansu cabinet with four leaf clovers carved in the doors.  Don't forget to send photos -

Merry Christmas,



Julimor's picture

Not good... (post #170882, reply #6 of 24)


Julie-san not feeling so Zen right now.  The gift was very poorly received.  I don't know why.  I was thinking of just taking it back but I was taught that's very poor manners.  So I left it at his office.  I called the next day and apologized for the intrusion (that's how I felt from his reaction) and told him I'd take it back, no hard feelings.  I had to leave a message so let's see what he has to say.

Thanks for all the kind words SA.  Merry Christmas to you and yours,


roc's picture

Be of good cheer (post #170882, reply #7 of 24)

You are doing great !


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

Julimor's picture

Thanks Roc! (post #170882, reply #8 of 24)

I found out what the problem was. I mixed Shinto with Buddhism. As I understand it, the gates and Bonsai are Shinto. Buddha was said to have sat under a tree called Ficus religiosa or the Bohdi tree.  The doctor's wife was so upset she probably won't talk to me for some time to come. I was advised not to even apologize.

And I thought Buddhists were supposed to be accepting...

I have to go pick up the offending piece but the doctor will probably keep the karesansui and tools, but not the Bonsai bush!

Westchester's picture

Doctors Wife (post #170882, reply #9 of 24)

What a great Holiday spirit Mrs. has.  You see and read everything regarding the level of Asian respect folks in the East have for their fellow man;....... but this is an insult in my view.  Fine woodworking is an art and you presented her this art as a gift - this gift came from your hands, and your heart - I don't care if you didn't get the symbolism correct - the fact that she dismissed your gift shows her ignorance.  This was just rude - there is no other explanation. 


RalphBarker's picture

Blood (post #170882, reply #20 of 24)

"It can't be in my blood, I'm 100% Irish! "

I recently came to understand a particular food . . . uh, let's say preference, since it falls a little short of an obsession, I have. Turns out my great-grandmother's great-great-great grandmother was a woman named Lucy Bacon. I'm now at peace knowing I have Bacon blood. ;-)

Thus, being of mostly English extraction, I thought both pieces were very well done, and was more than a little surprised at the reaction of the doctor's wife. So much for tolerance and cross-cultural educational opportunities, eh?

roc's picture

That begs the question . . . (post #170882, reply #10 of 24)

What do you get when you cross . . 

(this isn't a set up for a joke by the way.  Sorry)

What do you get when you cross a Shinto . . .

PLEASE no body get offended , that is not my intent, just sip your  hot coco and stay in the holiday spirit.

What do you get when you cross a Shinto person with a Buddhists ?

A Taoist.

Tell her from me it is ok to get all snobby and stick her nose in the air but once she gets it all out then it is her duty to nice up and educate the uninitiated nice artist person (that's you)  who is going way out of their way to be friendly and cool and stuff.

The only time it is ok to stay all snobby and keep the nose in the air is over matters of sharpening procedures.

Not over mere religion / faith stuff.

:   )


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

Julimor's picture

Thanks guys!  I've licked my (post #170882, reply #11 of 24)

Thanks guys!  I've licked my wounds and retired to my lair.  But I'll be back!  Yesterday I bought some BEAUTIFUL pieces of wood!  One a 16x50 sapele with very nice figure and the other a 16x64 piece of bubinga.  Both are 1-3/4" thick.  I also picked up some nicely figured 4/4 maple (I was almost out) and a 8' length of figured 4/4 cherry (never had figured cherry before).  And they had a cart of 4/4 genuine mahogany for half price, so I replenished my stock there too. I can't say what I spent because it will prove I must have been suffering from temporary insanity!

What I'm going to do with my "Christmas present", I'm not sure.  I'll let the wood speak to me. I've never worked with sapele or bubinga but I have a feeling whatever comes from this wood will be very cool.

roc's picture

sapele (post #170882, reply #12 of 24)


Hey if you can find time tell me about sapele, or any one else that wants to enlighten me.  I looked in my favorite book ( Nick Engler's Woodworking Wisdom ) that has lots of color photos and great info on many types of wood and in my file full of torn out magazine articals on various kinds of wood.  Nada.

Bubinga I know about, bubinga I can talk about . . . I feel like I am Mr. Bubinga.

Sapele . . . I haven't a clue.

I was picturing in my mind lace wood but that turned out to be lace wood not sapele.

(feel free to start another thread if that seems right.  We can even call it "roc is a big dumb head 'cause he doesn't know what sapele is".)

PS: sounds like you had a great time at the wood supplier.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

Westchester's picture

Make an Easter Present ! (post #170882, reply #15 of 24)


Genuine Mahogany -    what wood name is that sold under ?  I'm glad you landed on your feet I knew you would.  Can't wait to see what's next.  If you run out of wood we can cut up Roc's workbench and ship it to you - he rarely uses it anyway. 

Does your supplier sell any natural slabs - as long as you touched on this Asian theme - does Nakashima inspired sound appealing ?

Merii Kurisumaco


Julimor's picture

SA - The wood is only marked (post #170882, reply #13 of 24)

SA - The wood is only marked "gen mah" and the sign on the cart said "Genuine Mahogany."  It's my understanding that they use that term for Phillipine mahogany but I could be wrong.  Next time I'm there, I'll have to ask.

As far as the slabs, I was looking at some short ones (less than 4') that were walnut. All were 2-1/2" thick.  I've been reading a lot about old George and there's an interesting audio on the FWW site where they interviewed his daughter and her shop foreman. It made me want to take a trip to New Hope, PA again and visit their shop. Last time I was there I had no idea that's where the famous man had his shop.

While I love the live edge and thick slabs, some of Nakashima's pieces don't appeal to me, like that Windsor-type chair with the one arm cut from a slab. It reminds me of those crabs that have one huge claw.  HA!  But there's no doubt the man was a genius!  And I want to read up some more on him.  I'd love to learn his methods of design.

Back to the slabs... I told the doctor about live edge slabs a few months ago and he asked me to look into replacing the glass on a coffee table in his other office with the slab.  So I checked out the shorter slabs (All these slabs are walnut but they do have other woods, I just didn't ask because I was interested in the walnut) and all seemed too small for a coffee table top, mostly too narrow. But they have several HUGE slabs on display so I asked the guy up front if they had anything more.  They do!  But the shortest slab was around 8' and ran almost $900, too much to buy without asking the doc.  The longest I saw was around 16'.  I think that was about $2500.  The shorter pieces ran from about $150 - $250. And the guy said they had more coming.  So I may go back and check them out and maybe bring one home for myself.

Now see what you're making me do?

Julimor's picture

I checked their website on (post #170882, reply #16 of 24)

I checked their website on what they call genuine mahogany:

  • Common Names - Honduras Mahogany, Tropical America Mahogany
  • Source - Central and South America
roc's picture

Westchester (post #170882, reply #17 of 24)

 No she can't have my work bench.  (even though I never use it)

I heard that when you get REALLY good all you need is a hammer.  That means no work bench is necessary right ?

I'm kind of in transition right now.  I don't want to give up the bench in case I can't achieve the highest level . . . variously known as :

Hammer time




It kind of sounds counter intuitive, to me anyway, that the highest level is just a hammer but I have found that I live in the land of paradox where . . .  if a thing is bound never to happen then that thing will resolutely refuse not to happen as soon as possible.

We've all experienced THAT.


PS: in the definition of hammer it says and I quote :

"a tool with a heavy metal head "

end quote

I have tried the lanthanide series and am now working my way through the actinide group of heavy metals.  It is slow going now, what with the limited availability of large enough quantities to form a hammer that Thor would be envious of ( which is MY REAL GOAL ) not to mention the tedious instability problems.


. . .  any sapele wisdom ?


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

Julimor's picture

Sapele (post #170882, reply #19 of 24)

roc wrote:
. . .  any sapele wisdom ?

I went to Sawmill Creek and made a post with pics of the piece I have.  Here's some replies:

you will need to be careful to avoid tear-out due to the changing grain directions, Specifically, if you plane the board (hand or power) take shallow cuts, especially near final thickness, to keep it clean.

If working by hand, you make need to use some combination of a high-angle blade, uber sharp blade or very close chip breaker on your plane, or a scraper for final finishing.

If working by power, you may well need to allow additional time for sanding and may need a hard pad to avoid low spots..

In either case, watch for and be careful to maintain flatness on the surface, otherwise you may find some softer spots lower than others.

Another interesting tip:

It works similar to mahogany. A trick I learned from David Marks is to use potassium dichromate to darken the color. Freshly cut sample will almost be goldish/Brown in color, but as it ages it turns more red. The potassium dichromate gives you that dark red look instantly instead of waiting years.

Julimor's picture

Sapele (post #170882, reply #14 of 24)

Roc - Here's some pics of the sapele. I splashed on some mineral spirits but other than that did nothing to it.  Still, the pictures really don't do justice to the beauty of the wood. Between my camera and the shop lighting it's hard to get a decent picture.

This is a pretty heavy piece. I have no idea how workable it is.  I'm a newbie too!  With all the figure, I'm thinking it will be difficult to work.

roc's picture

Julie's Sapele photos (post #170882, reply #18 of 24)

Thanks !

OK that is kind of like lace wood a little.  I was remembering that color at least and WOW nice waves and figure.

>Hard to work. < 

That is part of the fun / challenge.  You are being modest.  You will have a great time I'm sure.

Happy Holidays !

PS: wow you have a good suplier.  Nice and clean and smooth.  Most of the 8/4 planks I see are one step short of rough cut, rolled in the mud and left to dry.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

Westchester's picture

Wood Figure (post #170882, reply #24 of 24)

Cut out from American Woodworker c.1999


Burl005.jpg2.55 MB
Julimor's picture

The saga continues (post #170882, reply #21 of 24)

And I guess I'm hijacking my owh thread...

I was down in the shop this morning, curious to see what a little handwork could do to the piece. I first sharpened the iron on my smoothing plane. The piece is so flat I just didn't see the need to use a jack plane on it, at least not for this test.

I started by planing from the far end towards the end closest in the pic above. I skewed the plane at about 30-40 degrees and used a high angle frog on the plane. You can see the shavings at the bottom. The results were so-so with some sections lifting to create a 60 or 80 grit sandpaper feel but almost no chip-out. I only planed half the width, on the right.

This is taken from the other end (you use the can of mineral spirits for camera orientation in the 4 pictures). The section on the right was planed in the opposite direction, towards the right. The results were much better with no "sandpaper feel" anywhere. I've worked high figure maple and found it to be much more difficult to get the same results as I did with the sapele. That was a nice surprise.

This was taken from the rear of the bench. It seems a better angle for getting a real feel for the appearance. There is a difference between the planed section and the untouched section but the picture doesn't show it. That separation line is about the half-width point.

You can see the area planed a little better in this picture. It starts in the lower 3rd on the right and runs up to about the half way point where the mineral spirits are. I tried the spokeshave to see if I could get better results. I didn't. I need some practice using a spokeshave on high figure woods. It chattered a lot and was very difficult to set perfectly.

When I bought this piece (and a 17x64 8/4 piece of bubinga too ) I was thinking I could take the bandsaw to any sections I wanted to resaw. I have an 18" Jet and it's handled anything I have taken to it very well. But I never bothered to measure cutting height for resawing. When I got home, I found it's only 10". When my eye caught this piece in the store, I was thinking "resaw and bookend". If I go that route, I'll have to take it back to them and have them do it.

Still, this piece is really inspiring me. I sometimes let pieces like this sit in the shop a year or more, waiting for the "idea light bulb" to turn on. I'm not sure I can wait that long! But I do have some projects lined up to do immediately so I will have to use all the self discipline I have (which isn't much) to get those things done and ignore that devil whispering temptations in my ear.

oldusty's picture

A lesson learned (post #170882, reply #22 of 24)

 Hi Julie ,

        You must have felt devastated , this was a sensitive area .maybe you could re group

          your offering to be more correct for the Doctor , perhaps he will understand your intent .

           Some beautiful wood you have there

        regards dusty

Julimor's picture

Lesson learned indeed! (post #170882, reply #23 of 24)

Hi Dusty,

I think the doctor and I are okay now. The wife? Not so sure.  While the reaction left me shocked (he's always been a fan of my work) I knew I couldn't carry that with me. But while many women go out and treat themselves to chocolate ;) I treated myself to some gorgeous wood. Problem solved!