15 February 2010

the Ukibori trick

I was playing around with this little piece of box wood today.
Raised writing can be achieved in wood and other porous materials by means of an old carpenter's trick, which I learnt it from my Dad (who is a tricky old carpenter).
"If you accidently make a ding in wood with your hammer- just wet it, and the compressed fibres swell and will spring back up." (works for stiletto marks on floors too)
To the japanese carvers of netsuke its known as ukibori, and is used for decorative effects like bumps and lines and writing. Note the delicate bumps and striations on the frog netsuke above, which is almost actual size.( by Tomiharu, an ukibori legend. from V&A)
Ukibori is done thusly; make deliberate compressed areas ( in my case, text), then remove the surrounding surface material down to the bottom of the compressed zones. Now soak it, and the compressed zones pop up above the newly lowered surface.


  1. Genius. Is there anything better than to be described as a "tricky old carpenter"? I think not.

  2. Hi David,

    I discovered this trick many years ago and for a long time thought I was the only one with the secret.
    Just a few years ago I realized that it was called ukibori and known by japanese masters since eternity!

    Swedish woodworker/Hans Ahnlund