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.

Menjivar-Smith Econest Sanctuary Testimonial

I’m very humbled by the kind words presented to me by my client after having worked on their home and completing the projects including the Mandala ceiling, Tokonoma and a set of Shoji Doors. Here follows the full text of his testimonial.

I met Jason Fox back in August 2016, during an EcoNest timber and clay straw workshop in Ottawa, Canada. The workshop started with the sharpening of our tools, and most of the US and Canadian participants including myself, were novices at this activity. Not Jason, who finished first, and was complimented by EcoNest master builder Robert Laporte for the sharp edge of his chisel. I didn’t know at that time Jason was way ahead of all of us, having started his carpentry training at an early stage of his life, and he was only adding one more workshop to his kit. This workshop, however, proved to be a defining event for Jason and myself.

EcoNest, headquartered in Ashland, Oregon, is a construction company specialized in biological building. Their houses are not conventional, using timber, clay and straw to build the main frame and the walls. For them to engage in a new project, the prospective homeowner needs to be part of a workshop building a similar house, so they learn the ropes, both of EcoNest housebuilding methods, and the organization of the workshop to build the house. That was the reason behind my visit to Ottawa, and of my serendipitous encounter with Jason.

Long story short, EcoNest agreed to start building our house in April 2017, and Robert Laporte made sure Jason was part of the workshop team, since our jobsite in Warfordsburg, PA is not far from Baltimore, MD, Jason’s HQ. Besides helping with the making of the timber framing (and recording the entire process in video), Jason helped with the installation of the house main frame. Once finished, Robert Laporte asked him to build the Mandala for us, a centerpiece in the ceiling of the house, literally. Our Mandala detoured from the typical structure designed by EcoNest, as it was modified by an Egyptian Sacred Geometry architect, to include an Islamic shape for the protection of the house. Jason, as it is his habit, video recorded the process of building the Mandala, making a YouTube video at higher speed which I titled “Dancing with Woods,” you can watch the video on his webpage.

Once he finished the Mandala, we engaged Jason with the building of our Tokonoma, a centerpiece of the living room in any EcoNest design. The building of a Tokonoma is not an easy enterprise, even for a master carpenter, since it comprises multiple elements of Japanese culture. The builder must be not just immersed in all aspects of Japanese carpentry and building culture but be able to manifest the subtle and sophisticated details of a sacred space in wood. Even a master carpenter could not pull that level of expression, without having “gone native,” as anthropologists call the integration and ownership of cultural patterns alien to one’s culture.

Jason has gone native into Japanese building culture, blending his search for the creation of beauty and carpentry mastership, into the rich sea of Japanese building traditions and culture. His latest work with us was the building of the shoji screens for our inside doors, since the EcoNest design incorporates many aspects of Japanese architecture. After the Ottawa workshop where we met, Jason and I made fateful decisions on our own that brought us to cross paths again, meaning, he made the life- changing decision to go full time into Japanese carpentry, and I decided building an EcoNest sanctuary had the urgency of now.

My wife and I have been blessed by Jason’s full-time embrace of Japanese carpentry, since we have been the first beneficiaries of his new path. We are very pleased with Jason’s detailed work and his manifestations of Japanese culture, and with his conceptual planning and presentation of his projects. For every structure Jason made, he has presented us with a full design and many options to choose from in type and quality of woods, final product versions, and choice of price, which makes it easier given the complicated aspects of Japanese carpentry. My wife, who is not a carpentry expert by far, worked out all the, for me, complex aspects of the Tokonoma design with Jason, a task I was grateful not to be part of.

Any recommendation I could make of Jason Fox based on his work in our EcoNest sanctuary would fall short, since he’s a young man and a serious student of his trade, always exceeding his customer expectations and his own. The only recommendation I could make is, if you have any plans to work with Jason, better hurry before his designs make him famous and his fees fly sky-high. Final words and a warning. Jason’s customers will never be disappointed by his work, guaranteed. He will always make sure his next project is better than the last one, as he’s constantly learning as he works. The warning is, Jason cannot be pressured into producing at rat-racing time, do not expect creation of beauty to be like building a brick wall. Jason has entered a building cultural tradition where time is eternal, and the creation of beauty requires a lasting eternity.

Ivan Menjivar
Proud owner of an EcoNest sanctuary,
Warfordsburg, PA
October, 2018

Jason Fox