The Art of Carving Netsuke
by Peter Benson

215 x 275mm

Published by Guild of Master Craftsman Publications Ltd, East Sussex UK


ISBN 978-1-86108-682-2

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As reviewed in The Australian Woodworker Issue 156

The traditional garments worn by the Japanese in the 17th century didn't have any pockets. Women tended to conceal their small valuables in their sleeves but men used little containers (pouches, baskets or boxes) which were hung on cords from the robe's obi (sashes).

The fastener that was used to stop the cords from slipping though the obi was called a netsuke (variously pronounced in English as netski or netskeh).

Originally, the netsuke was just a small toggle improvised from a twig or perhaps a pebble, but over the next three hundred years, its design developed into the artform which it is today.

There are now societies, not only in Japan, which are devoted to preserving the art of the netsuke and they are carved by people all over the world, often in wood, but also in other media.

Despite this, the number of carvers involved in the craft is relatively small and the avowed aim of the author of this book is to encourage greater participation.

The book offers instruction and guidance for the carving of 9 netsuke designs. But it is much more than a group of projects.

It begins with a series of preparatory chapters: Planning, Maquettes and Patterns, Materials, Tools and Equipment, Making and Modifying Tools, Maintaining your Tools, Safety and Avoiding and Rectifying Mistakes. It should be noted that since this is miniature carving some reliance must be made upon aids to vision and good lighting.

The second section is devoted to Techniques and covers topics such as Eyes, Scales, Feathers, Fur and Hair, as well as Adding Colour.

The projects have obviously been chosen with care, not only to provide a representative group of netsuke but also to give the reader the opportunity to gradually acquire the necessary skills.

The forms of the netsuke are a Dormouse, Turtle Dove, Rabbit, Fish, Toad, Monkey, Apple, Snake and Mask.

Most of the examples shown have been made from wood, but one is made from Buffalo horn, another from Tagua nut (an ivory look-alike) and one is carved from pre-1925 ivory snooker ball.

Many readers are sure to find Peter Benson's enthusiasm for his subject infectious and the book will hopefully achieve his aim of increasing the number of people participating in this unusual but interesting craft.

Photos: Colour

Units of Measurement: Imperial & Metric


The history of netsuke

- Planning
- Maquettes and pafferns
- Materials
- Tools and equipment
- Making and modifying tools
- Maintaining your tools
- Safety
- Avoiding and rectifying mistakes

- Eyes
- Scales
- Feathers
- Fur and hair
- Ukibori
- Adding colour
- Himotoshi

- Dormouse
- Turtle Dove
- Rabbit
- Fish
- Toad
- Monkey
- Apple
- Snake
- Mask

About the Author