Issue 16 T.O.C. – Michael Updegraff – “Kezurou-kai in the United States”

This post is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Sixteen. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is to come. 

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Michael Updegraff – “Kezurou-kai in the United States”

Trends in culture wax and wane, often ending in a hangover of ignominy as no one clearly remembers what the hype was all about. As fads come and go, many look for stability in traditions that have stood the test of time. These traditions transcend geographical restraints, growing slowly but steadily as the world moves on around them. Such is the case with Japanese woodworking, which has captured the collective imagination of Western furniture makers. 

The Kezurou-kai movement is the organized outworking of that captivation. It began decades ago in Japan, as woodworkers gathered together to showcase their skills and tools and compete in a plane-shaving competition – the thinnest shaving wins, and competition was fierce. Now, “Kez” events take place all over the world, as hobbyists and professionals seek to incorporate the aesthetics and techniques of Japanese woodworking into their own shop practice. 

In Issue Sixteen, author Michael Updegraff explores the traditional roots, unending enthusiasm, and long-term viability of the Kez movement. Taking in the sights and sounds of a Kez event in Maine, he describes the similarities and differences between West and East in terms of woodworking tools and practices, then delves into how Kezurou-kai plane-shaving competitors are able to make such inconceivably thin shavings with seemingly simple tools. Looking into the dark arts of blacksmithing and metallurgy, he shows how a perfect edge can be forged on an anvil and sharpened on waterstones to take a shaving 20 times thinner than a human hair. 


Through interviews with Yann Giguère and Jason Fox, two of the prominent figures in the American Kez movement, Updegraff looks at the way many aspects of Japanese woodworking are made accessible through these events and shared, open-source, with the attendees – a clear divergence from traditional practice, to be sure, but perhaps the best pathway available for keeping the old ways alive. 

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