suma what?!?

remember when you were a kid, you'd do something stupid and blame it on your friends?  your mom would ask, 'if all your friends jumped off the golden gate bridge would YOU?'

my mom never asked that question.  she knew i was the friend talking you into it.

so here's my latest bridge..

i first read about the sumitsubo in toshio odate's, Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use, which if you're new to all this, is pretty much 'the book' on japanese tools.  the sumitsubo seemed to me at the time, both messy and complicated.  look at the fingers of a japanese carpenter and compare the load of gear above to a pencil and i'm sure you'll agree.  i 'couldn't hear jimmy' at the time (first to name the reference in the comments gets cool kid pts.) and dismissed the sumitsubo as a quaint tool of antiquity.

then i got jay van arsdale's Connections dvd a month or so ago.  i'm hoping to get to a full review of this dvd soon but he spends a good bit of time talking about the sumitsubo, it's advantages over pens/pencils, etc..  watching him use it made it seem like a lot of fun and i'm willing to put up with a little mess for a good bit of fun and an interesting learning curve.  that's why i work wood in the first place..

so, i ordered up the gear shown above from hida tools.  i'd offer a linked list of the above but their website makes that difficult.  clockwise from left..

tsubosei brand wood sumitsubo 180mm $64.10
takumi brand silk line .25mm                      1.70
karuko pin (oak, kind of hidden in pic)       2.60
takumi brand black ink 160cc                    7.90
bamboo sumisashi (pk of 2)                       4.80
takumi brand raw silk sumiwata                  3.30

total: $84.40

not sure i should have added that up.  don't know about you but i bet i can get a MOTHER of a mechanical pencil for $84.40 ;).  there are far cheaper, plastic options that can easily save you $50 here but i enjoy beautiful things on my bench.

so here's a not-so-brief walk through of me trying to put this thing together..

here are a couple of shots of the sumitsubo out of the box..

i always like to start by reading the instructions..

of course, i don't read japanese so i decided that they weren't in fact instructions, but a charming little shinto poem imploring the spirit within the sumitsubo to cut down on my layout errors.  emboldened by the spirit's benevolence and referring to toshio's advice in his fore mentioned tome,  i charged on..

i soaked the silk wadding in water..

wrung it out and arranged it into a shape roughly twice the size of the sumitsubo's ink pot..

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arranged half of the wadding within the ink pot, then fed the silk line through the grommet shown at the top of the sumitsubo, over the wadding and through the grommet on the wheel side of the ink pot..

i then attached the line to the wheel (as you would attach fishing line to a reel - toshio) and wrapped up all but about 2' of the line on the wheel.  then i saturated the first half of the wadding with sumi ink.

i tucked the rest of the wadding into the ink pot, sandwiching the line between the two halves and saturated the top half of the wadding with the ink as well.

here's the glamour shot.

i removed the sumisashi from the packaging.  there are two, this one felt more ninja..

i shaped each end of the sumisashi (chisel left, hammer mashing on the right),  dabbed the ends in the ink pot and took her for a spin.  cool eh?

pretty sure i'm going to have a lot of fun playing with this.  i'll post again after i've had some time with it.  happy to field any questions or comments.

now, go explain this one to your mom..


  1. For a hobbiest, the biggest problem is the open ink pot drying out between sporadic use/watering. It can take a while to rehydrate. When I'm in that mode I often resort to a small tupperware container as my ink pot. :(
    I love doing layout with the sumisashi. Enjoy!

  2. ha! yes, i've spent a good bit of time fiddling with that so far. my plan is to turn a small container and lid for exactly that purpose. a lathe will be finding its way to my shop shortly and that seems like a good, early project..

    i really dig the sumisashi so far. didn't take much time at all to get comfortable with it.

    thanks for the tip!