MIKI, Japan - Sandpaper has to be the number one consumable in the modern-day furniture shop. But a subset of craftspeople, like Toshio Tokunaga and his four apprentices, don't use any of the stuff—yet are still able to achieve a glass-like finish on their furniture pieces, even absent varnish.
 
Anti-sandpaper furniture builders achieve this with handplanes and spokeshaves, or what are collectively called kanna in Japanese. While Western planes are made with cast-iron or bronze bodies, kanna are made with wooden bodies supporting the iron cutter. 
 
While sandpaper and kanna might seem to produce the same results to the untrained eye—or hand rubbing the surface—it's simply not true, particularly when seen at a microscopic level, or touched with sensitive fingertips. 
 
As you can see, blades cut. Sandpaper tears. Thus, as Tokunaga Furniture Studio explains:
“We use no sandpaper at all when crafting our furniture. Sandpaper rubs away the natural pattern of the wood, leaving behind a smoothness that is artificial and which obscures the tree's innate characteristics. In contrast to this, the kanna cuts away successive layers of wood in a way that preserves the wood's natural appearance.”
 
Tokunaga, by the way, makes his own kanna, from the ones that do the roughing work to the ones that take the final fine shavings.
As you can see, he's designed a staggering range of shapes. Collectively these tools can cope with every type of contour required in his work, whether flat, concave or convex.
The blades of course require regular maintenance. Here an apprentice sharpens an iron on a waterstone.
Speaking of the irons, take a closer look:
 
Those look store-bought to you? Nope, Tokunaga has them made locally. 
For more information, see TokunagaFurniture.com.
 

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