Hillbilly Tansu Corner Joint

I touched on my affinity for the Japanese tansu in my last post.  I have wanted to build some version of a tansu for quite some time now.  You can explore several samples here.  There is surprisingly little information available on how these chests are put together.  Maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places.  The tansu that are simple panel construction seem fairly straight forward, although the few bits of construction I’ve seen tell me there are several nuances that are not so obvious.  The tansu versions that I’m really drawn to are the frame and panel type.  This type has thus far proved very difficult in discovering the construction details.  So, left to my own devices, I have decided to make up my own joinery details.  I have no idea if any of my construction will be correct to the originals and I’m not overly concerned about it.  I never set out to build period correct or authentic furniture reproductions. What I hope to come up with is solid construction that is adaptable to several layouts.  So I’m free to wing it and this begins the Hillbilly Tansu project.  My apologies to all Japanese  craftsman and those who practice the traditional construction techniques associated with tansu furniture.

The first joint that I have come up with is for the outside corners of the supporting frame.  Pictured here is my test run and its a keeper.  My execution was a little sloppy but this joint is pretty strong.  No glue and the wedges are not driven home and I cannot pull this joint apart.  The layout is surprisingly simple.  One setting of the mortise gauge lays out all three pieces.  Which means I only needed one chisel, a mallet and a saw to cut and chop all of the joinery.hb_tansu_corner_3


Note that the corner of the rail needs to be notched to allow groove to meet in the corner.



I’m sure this exists in the wild somewhere but I have yet to find a reference to it.  If any of you know of any, please point me in the right direction.  Same goes for any tansu construction details that you may know of.  I have several more joinery details to work out but this is a start.

Greg Merritt


This entry was posted in Hillbilly Tansu Joinery, Illustrating and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Hillbilly Tansu Corner Joint

  1. Tico Vogt says:

    Great looking joint and related drawing. Two people who really know about this area of furniture joinery are John Cameron
    and Chris Hall

  2. Evolutia says:

    Reblogged this on Evolutia: Reclaimed Wood, Brick, Stone & Custom Furniture in Birmingham, AL and commented:
    Enjoyed this blog! Reshared & hope you do too 🙂

  3. brianj says:

    Greg just a question, what is the orientation of the joint in terms of horizontal / vertical and does it matter? I really like the way that looks and would consider it for future builds where strength is key.

    • gman3555 says:

      Looking at the first photo of the joint…the piece with the double wedged tenon is the post, the piece running to the right is the top face rail and the piece running to the left is the front to rear rail. My intent is to be able to assemble front and rear frames and then add all the front to rear rails to join the two frame assemblies. Given the strength of this joint, I don’t think it would really matter as to the orientation. But you have to keep assembly in mind. It would be pretty easy to end up with a configuration that was impossible to assembly.


      • brianj says:

        Okay I figured the beveled top was the post, awesome progress and good luck with you pursuit of your tansu construction and all things hillbilly.. brian

  4. David says:

    Greg Sorry if I am being dumb ,but what is the benefit of this type of joint over a standard mortice and tenon joint . Is it stronger does it not need glue?

    • gman3555 says:

      Yes and yes. The biggest advantage is that the three pieces are mechanically interlocked. Once the wedges are set, it is impossible for this joint to come apart. Although glue failures are rare they do happen. So this type type of joint is just a level of insurance that the assembly stays together. I could assembly the entire case assembly without using glue and would not have any problems, but I will still probably add a touch of glue anyway. Plus I think this type of joinery is fun.


  5. Kraeshe says:

    Check out matsu kase woodworking and his blog ronin deshi,thou it looks like you got it figured out!

  6. Pingback: HB Tansu Progress-1 | GREG MERRITT – BY MY OWN HANDS

  7. Jeff Jarvis says:

    I’m very interested in starting to create some of the joints you describe. One question though is would you recommend a Japanese style saw or a Western dovetail style. I can purchase one so I’m looking for the best use of my dollars and “sense”.

  8. Tony says:

    Hi Greg, I am using this join now on my own version of a tansu.

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