Over the last few years I've been using my background in woodworking (a hobby starting from childhood) to make bonsai stands. At first, this was just a way to have good-looking bonsai stands at a reasonable cost; I figured that a bonsai stand couldn't be that difficult to recreate. More recently, this work has turned into a desire to create unique pieces in the tradition of both western and eastern woodworking.
Anyone who's ever thumbed through an issue of Fine Woodworking is familiar with the concept of a mortise and tenon joint, one of the foundations of woodworking in western traditions. The intricate and complex joints that have historically been used in Japanese and Chinese furniture are far less familiar to the casual woodworker.
I used this Kokufu-ten show book as reference material.
A concept drawing for a stand at left and a traditional stand at right. For this article I’m focused on replicating the stand in the photo.
I normally start with creating the top of the stand. The size of the panel is largely determined by the size of the bonsai pot that you want to put on it. Traditionally, the feet of your pot should sit comfortable inside the rectangle created by the outside of the panel and inside of the frame.
Gluing up the two halves of the panel for the top.
The frame for the panel is four pieces of wood - just like a picture frame - mitered at the corners. For this stand I’m also using an integral through-tenon, which is a piece of wood that will neatly hold the joint together even absent any glue.
With the panel ready, and the frame pieces already cut to include a groove to fit the panel sides, I set up a table saw sled with a miter jig to cut the sides off the tenon and create the miter.
The mitered frame pieces, with integral tenons, ready for some fine-tuning and dry assembly.
The integral tenons slide into mortises in the front and back.
Looking at part of the assembled top, the end of the tenon is visible on the front of the stand. Pencil marks show how the side piece goes through the front piece.
With the top done I moved onto the leg assembly. The simple elegant look of a three-way miter belies the complexity of creating a system beneath the facade that will hold three pieces of wood together. Glue alone is not enough.
The top of the legs – they contain a miter on the outside, and two different mortise and tenon systems on the inside.
A view from the back as the joint comes together.
The traditional stand in front with a second stand, destined for a slightly different finish behind. The two are similar, but the leg joinery is different. They will be similar in size, but have different looks when finished. Both stands are simply fit together here, no glue except on the center joint of the panel. The joinery is such that the stands hold themselves together. Ultimately they’ll be glued together also.
After creating the joinery and fine-tuning the fit of the pieces it’s time to cut the legs to shape. I use a template to make sure each leg is the same. And another template for the aprons.
A view of the legs and side pieces after cutting them on the bandsaw.
With the pieces roughly shaped on the bandsaw, the look starts to become more obvious.
The next steps will be to do the final shaping in the legs and aprons, then glue them and add the finish. There’s more sawdust on the way.