Japanese Woodwork Jigs

A Japanese planing board, mitre jig and two saw ponies. The mitre jig is a simple block for chiseling. The planing board has a mitre shooting board on its underside for creating full-blind dovetail joints.

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Due to the corona virus outbreak, government regulations forced me to do woodworking from home. I didn't have much of a workshop, with a lathe and drill press being its only machinery. With the lack of tooling and the lack of a workbench; my home workshop needed attention.

The budget was minimal so I could not buy more machinery. I thought buying power tools and machinery was the correct path as that is what I was taught in school. Whilst on Youtube, I stumbled across a video of an old Japanese TV program, detailing Japanese Sashimono (指物) woodworking;

The documentary that inspired me to try traditional Japanese woodworking

This method of woodworking seemed to solve most of the problems I had in my home workshop, by using traditional methods and being on the floor. From that video I discovered shooting boards and planing boards (similar to what is shown in the program). The task then, was to make jigs, tools and a unit that would provide the functionality of planing/shooting boards and allow me to work completely on the floor.


Very little research needed to be done as most of the designs could be derived from the above video. The only major deviation would be saw-ponies. A planing board is not entirely suitable and I did not like the method of placing a plank under the piece. I simply used existing Youtube videos as a basis for what the saw-pony would look like;

A woodworking saw pony
An example of a "Japanese" saw pony
A woodworking shooting board for creating mitres
A mitre shooting board similar to that in the video
A Japanese style planing board
A simple planing board

The shooting board would need to be reversed to suit pull-style planes. To reduce the space needed for these boards, the mitre board should be integrated with the planing board somehow. The construction should be straight-forward.


Design Criteria;

  • Must be easy to use on the floor
  • Should be strong enough to tolerate abuse
  • The shooting board should be able to guide a perfect mitre joint
  • Butts should hold the wood enough for it to be planed
  • Should be light enough to be portable
  • Should be heavy enough so they are stable
  • The planing board should support many different sizes of wood
  • The planing board should allow for square shooting of wood pieces

Based on the wood boards available at my hardware store, I chose 300mm to be the width of the planing board with a length of 900mm. The standard length was 1.2m, but the 300x300 off-cut would be used for the mitre shooting board. I had a 90x20mm plank to use for the legs of the planing board, and a 19mm square pine board for the rest of the required material.

The saw ponies used mostly square elements so a 42x42mm post was chosen for most of the components. With offcuts from the square board being used for the other pieces. This post would also be used for the mitre jig or chisel guide, as well as one of the butts on the planing board.

An engineering drawing
The design for the saw-pony

To support different thicknesses of timber; four different sized butts were to be used on the board. Starting at 4mm for planing sheet, then 10mm and 15mm for planing standard timber planks. Ending with the fourth butt at 42mm for planing shooting-board style, a ledge will be added to the board to support a hand plane.

The design for the mitre shooting board was based on the one in the above video. Two boards were to be vertically connected and then have one edge cut at 45°. A larger support plank with a 45° angle would be placed at the end of these boards.

An engineering drawing
The design for the mitre chisel guide

To integrate the shooting board with the planing board, the end plank would be one of the planing boards' legs. Then the board would be attached to the main planing boards' surface.

An engineering drawing
The design for the planing board


The tools, joints and material used;

Tools Used

hand plane icon

40mm Block Plane

chisel icon


try square icon


mallet icon


japanese saw icon

Japanese Saw

marking gauge icon

Marking Gauge

knife icon

(Marking) Knife

punch icon

Centre Punch

drill press icon

Drill Press

varnish icon

Grapeseed oil

varnish icon

Walnut coloured water-based interior stain


wood joint icon

Wood Nail / Peg

wood joint icon


Cut List

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2 - 42x42x300mm

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4 - 42x42x150mm

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4 - 20x70x100mm

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1 - 42x42x200mm

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1 - 42x42x120mm

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1 - 18x300x900mm

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2 - 20x90x300mm

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2 - 20x300x300mm

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1 - 20x150x300mm

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1 - 10x20x100mm

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1 - 4x20x100mm

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1 - 15x30x100mm

The material for the project came from an oak finger-jointed utility board, a 42mm post and pine planks/boards. As I would need the saw-ponies the most in the beginning, I started with them;

As I didn't have any sawing mounts, I used some stools to cut on
The square pieces cut to size
I used the sawn pieces as a temporary mount for cutting the central pieces
Chamfers were cut into the central pieces to allow clamps to fit around the saw pony
I planed some chamfers into the pieces, creating a jig for cutting the wood nails
All the components cut to size and chamfered ready for assembly
Four holes were drilled with the dowels hammered in
The corresponding holes on the centre piece were drilled roughly as the inaccuracy creates a tighter fit
Two nails for connecting the leg to the main beam
An assembled saw pony, the chamfers made it comfortable to hold and use
The completed saw ponies with grapeseed oil applied, I will keep them stacked like this for easy storage

Next, I moved onto the mitre chisel guide;

A mitre saw cutting wood
I used a hand mitre saw for the initial angled cut
A wood block with two cuts
I made deep incisions with a marking gauge and began sawing with those as a guide

When I began making the chisel guide block, I realised that my design did not allow mitres on both side of a board. Thus, I changed the design so there were mitres on both ends of the block.

A mitre saw cutting wood
Another angled cut for a last-minute design change
A chiseled block of wood
I began chiseling and cutting in to try and dislodge the off-cut
A block of wood with a cutout
The block was successfully removed, leaving some material in the corner
A battered wood strip
I was surprised at how good the internal finish of the cut was
A block of wood with a cutout
The corner material removed from the block
A wood block hanging on a peg
The 6mm peg hole was added, the underside was planed flat, then the whole guide was stained

Finally, the planing board;

A stained oak board
Before construction began, I stained the oak board with a walnut interior stain
Two wood planks the same size
The plank pieces were cut to 300mm, the saw-ponies came in handy
A plank cut at 45 degrees
The worst corner of the planks was chosen to be the sacrifice for the mitre cutout
3 cuts across a wood board
The standard joint for these boards is a sliding dovetail. I didn't have experience with that joint and did not want to spend much time practicing. I made three initial cuts for creating a dado joint
A dado recess cut into a timber board
The completed dado joint
A small plank seated into a recess in a wood board
The leg with the mitre cut had to be offset so the edge met the angle
A wood board with protruding planks
The dado was too wide on the square end so I added some small wedges and glued in the leg
A wood board with several cuts into its edge
The initial cuts into the mitre, I have learned to cut into the wood as much as possible before using a chisel
A wood board with a 45 degree edge
The edge after being chiseled away, this took about an hour and a half
A mitre shooting board loosely assembled
The edge was planed smooth and flat with a block plane, thankfully, the angles match
A small piece of wood clamped to a board
The planing butts were glued and clamped to the board
A wood board with a rectangular cut-out
A small cutout was made in the plane rest for the planing board leg to slot into
A board clamped to a larger one, with an intersecting vertical plank
The shooting board ledge was stabilised by the leg but was glued down for further strength
The mitre shooting board clamped and positioned
The mitre board finally seated and glued in place, completing the intial assembly of the planing board
Wood nails protruding from a board, some cut flush
Wood nails were added to all the components for further strength. Believe it or not, these are actually cut up kebab skewers
A completed, stained, mitre shooting board
The mitre board didn't quite reach the edge, so the edge of the board was chamfered to match, all of the components were stained walnut
A shooting board with two planing butts
The completed shooting board and a smaller planing butt for thinner boards
A board with a strip along it
The opposing strip was taken down until its short end was about 3mm, allowing for a wide range of small timber thicknesses to be planed


The Japanese philosophy of woodwork (from my point of view) is;

  • No mechanical fasteners
  • Glue has no place in a good joint
  • Plane, don't sand
  • A sharp blade is better than a powerful machine
  • Invest in what you have, not what you could have
  • Be respectful of the material, do not bully the wood
  • Wood has a spirit, memories and experiences, let it guide you in your work
  • Things built with true craftsmanship should easily outlast its maker

Although I have used glue through the process, I am becoming accustomed to the traditional ways, creating good joints first rather than relying on glue. There were times when I used glue for psychological reasons rather than a mechanical one. Perhaps only two or three joints really required glue.

Surprisingly, almost all design criteria were fulfilled. The only one was the shooting board creating a perfect mitre joint. It was off by about a degree and wasn't quite straight. Nevertheless, the jigs work very well. The planing board is the perfect weight, it doesn't slide around but it is also portable. The butts are easily strong enough to support planing operations.

Criteria Rating
Ease of Use Pass
Overall Strength Pass
Angular Precision Fail
Butt Strength Pass
Weight Pass
Versatility Pass
Shooting Board Capability Pass
Design Criteria Evaluation
Component Cost
Hardwood Utility Board 1200x300x18 $45
42mm Pine Post 2.4m $18
Total $63
Cost of project