Wood Forever

I remember the first summer holiday I spent in Japan—my father came over and we travelled around together. Among other sites, we visited Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. We asked one of the guides how old it was. We were told it was over 600 years old. Of course it had been burned and rebuilt several times, the last time being in the 1950’s, but somehow it was still 600 years old. The Japanese had no trouble seeing this both as an old original and newly built.

This is not an unusual concept in Japan. Although it is considered nearly 2000 years old, the primary Shinto shrine of Japan at Ise is rebuilt every 20 years to the exact identical conditions:

The rebuilding programme, which takes 8 years, re-energises the power of the shrines which are built exactly to the existing designs. The pieces of the old shrines are then redistributed to shrines across Japan where they are incorporated into the walls there to instil new energy into them. 2013 was the 62nd and most recent rebuilding programme at the Ise shrine. In addition, the other structures at the complex are not entirely neglected, for 43 are rebuilt every 40 years.

All of this reconstruction, done using traditional tools and no nails, requires a massive 12,000 cypress logs, most of them from 200-year-old trees to achieve the necessary size required. The crucial ridgepoles for the two main shrines come from 400-year-old cypress trees as they must be 1.4 m (4.5 ft.) in diameter to bear the weight.

When I was in Japan last year, I visited a temple under reconstruction, the Enryakuji Temple at Mt. Hiei. I’ve posted a few pictures here. It is really a fascinating process, and I strongly encourage all woodworkers to go to The Japanese Association for Conservation of Architectural Monuments to read about the process (general, not specific to Enryakuji.)

I’ve also added here a few more pics of Japanese architecture and forests.

All of this is just a celebration of a love of wood architecture and the great history of using wood.

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

2 thoughts

  1. This is great that you have shared your experience here. I live in Utah, I am looking for suggestions about the flooring type. Is it suitable to install hardwood flooring in Utah? I like the wood floor most because of its elegant look and as you have also mentioned that wood floors can be renovated several times. So I need to chose thicker solid wood for flooring.

  2. hi, thanks for writing. Yes, real wood is a great choice. I personally prefer engineered over solid, but there’s a lot of different reasons to choose one over another depending on the location and installation method and desired width, etc. (Also note that if you buy a thick faced veneer on an engineered floor, you can refinish once or twice, just like solid.) But with the finishes put on most prefinished flooring, the finishes usually last so long that few people really need to address that issue, be it solid or engineered…

    Locate some local dealers that really know your region and its particular issues (mostly moisture related!) and get their advice on the right construction type, the correct installation system, and the best species that will last a long time for you.

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