Never Stop Building - Crafting Wood with Japanese Techniques
Crafting Wood with Japanese Techniques


A carpenter’s notebook. The Never Stop Building notebook page features semi regular updates and musings on carpentry, building, Japanese woodworking, craft culture, travel and other topics.

Keeping Track of Grain Orientation

A quick note that I thought would be worth sharing. Perhaps this is detailed elsewhere, but when the idea popped into my head I was rather proud of myself.

It is often helpful to know how the wood we are using is oriented in the tree. This is particularly needed for Japanese carpentry where the position is important for aesthetic, strength and quasi-spiritual reasons.

In temples, for example, and most Japanese structures, the columns are oriented so that the top of the tree is at the top of the column, as it once grew. Also the side of the tree that faced north, would also face north in the building.

Aesthetically, wood can look jarring if it is placed “upside down” in a panel, and planing can be difficult if some boards are facing bark side out and others bark side in, with relation to the “front” of a panel.

Here is a trick for keeping track of this orientation as you mill lots of panels from larger stock:


In the above you will see several boards that were re-sawed out of larger pieces. Before cutting I drew a double line across the end of the board. Black then red, making sure my lines would cross through every re-sawed board. The angle is not important, but as I write this, it could be used to indicate where the center of the tree is.

The key is “Red = Right”, and the rules are:

  • If red is on the right, the bottom of the board is facing the ouside of the tree.

  • Also, the marks are placed on the end of the board that would be higher in elevation within the tree.

Thus, if I orient boards for a panel, as long as all the markings are on the top, and the red line is always to the right of the black line, my boards will have the desired orientation.

woodJason Foxlayout, grain