Eleven years ago, I made this hexagonal bento box in a class taught by Pittsburgh’s Tadao Arimoto. At the time, I did not know much about making bento lunches, so the box mostly sat on a shelf as a display piece. It waited patiently for me to expand my studies of Japanese culture to include food, and for me to start shopping at the Tokyo Japanese grocery enough to develop a menu for lunch. Back in 2019, I started making bento lunches to eat at work, and I discovered that the box was not sealed! I got salad dressing all over the tablecloth, and had to use plastic bento boxes for my lunch.
A year or two ago, I sanded the inside and outside of the box to smooth out the uneven epoxy surface. The box sat in this state for a couple of years, still waiting for me to make time for it. This summer, I finally cleared off the workbench for a couple of days so that I could mix up some epoxy and refinish the box.
It’s completely sealed now. I could probably take soup in it. The lid edges are almost the full height of the box, so it might not even spill very much if tipped. Even though I don’t go into the office at all these days, I made lunch at home and served it to myself in this box because I believe you should always let things fulfill their purpose.
The tachi is a type of Japanese sword that is similar to a katana, but it is worn differently, has different fittings, and is usually used as a more of a formal/ceremonial sword compared to a warrior’s katana. I bought a small tachi as part of my mission to recreate a full bunkan sokutai.
When not in being worn or in storage, the tachi would have been displayed nearby the bearer in a vertical stand called a tachi kake. These are readily available to buy, both as new items and antiques, but of course I wanted to make one myself. I was able to settle on a design, and I still have an excess of surplus wood in the garage.
Here’s what it looks like after cutting and shaping, but before finishing. It’s a little easier to see the shapes of the pieces. This is all pine lumber. The upright and the bracket at the top are just 3/4″ thick cut from 1by. The brace at the bottom of the upright is 1/2″ thick pine I had around; most of the examples I see online are only 1/4″ thick. The base is cut from some surplus 2by, to keep it bottom-heavy when unoccupied. The brace is fitted in a slot that I cut all the way through the upright. Tenons at either end of the upright fit into through-mortises for ease of assembly and disassembly.
All told, this item is about 26 inches tall when fully assembled. The tapering curve on the upright piece is one of my favorite shapes ever. I did almost all of the cutting on the band saw, though, because it made things like this curve so much faster to make. I also used a router to bevel and round over all the edges on all the pieces to give it a softer look.
Here it is after about a half-dozen coats of black-tinted polyurethane. This stuff makes a good affordable lacquer substitute, and it dries in hours instead of weeks. I sanded the finish between every couple coats, but it still needs some final polishing. I also want to add some embellishment like I did for the kyousoku arm rest, but that might not happen until autumn.
For a better sense of scale, here’s another picture of the tachi kake before finishing, with my ko-tachi in the stand like it is supposed to be:
A “rabbet” or “rebate” is a slot cut right at the edge of a piece of wood, as opposed to a “dado” which is a slot cut somewhere in the middle. Last Spring, when I was trying to get the BMDL woodworking guild going, one of the workshops I put together was about how to make these simple wooden boxes. The rabbet joinery is much stronger than butt joinery. Glue along two axes is stronger than glue along one, the rabbet around the bottom keep the whole thing square if you do it right, and the rabbet around the lid lets the lid fit snugly. I wound up making three boxes myself. Two were prototypes to test my process, and one was the “follow along” version made during the workshop. These sat around for about a year, but then I decided to practice finishing with shellac. I declared them “done” just recently.
I used some ancient Zinser-brand amber shalleac on two of them, in a futile attempt to get rid of the last of that stuff. On the third, I used a blonde shellac that I mixed myself from flake shellac and denatured alcohol. Some people don’t like the the color of the amber shellac. I think it’s OK. The blonde shellac looks a lot more natural,though. Here they are with the lids off:
The thickness of the walls i kind of overkill for a box this size, but planing the wood down just wastes it. If things ever get back to near normal, I should run a finishing workshop. A lot of people hate finishing, because nobody ever taught them how to do it well. I’ve learned so much through trial and error that I don’t mind it, even though it takes up a lot of time and delays the completion of projects.
Mr. Arimoto has a large job to deliver a few dozen rustic-looking tables and booths for a new restaurant somewhere out in the suburbs.
I have been helping out in the shop, mostly scraping, sanding, and finishing. Since I have lots of experience doing this kind of thing for fun, it’s good solid work. My days have been spent leaning over one table top at a time, chatting with Mr. Arimoto when noise allows. This does not leave much brain left at the end of the day for composing thoughtful blog posts.
On the other hand, it gives me lots of chances to look at interesting pieces of lumber he has around the shop. Look at this piece of walnut that actually has some walnut inclusions.