The sumisashi, a marking revelation!

This is not another one of the recent articles that I have been writing of late, this is simply an observation I have made recently, with regard to the two sumitsubo/ink line articles.

For a long time, I have seen and avoided sumitsubo. I never really had much use for them, preferring to stick with methods I knew thanks to my non-Japanese heritage. I couldn’t quite understand why the silly things were so popular and why EVERYONE has one. Well, folks who need to make straight lines use them at least.

I did some reading, and still came away unimpressed.

Then along came a bunch of rough sawn timber I needed to make straight and true , starting with slicing in a straight line. Hmm, maybe that silly looking ink thingy doesn’t look quite so silly now…

So, according to my own unwritten creed, I made one!

What a disaster it was…

The main problem was that I used the wrong type of line (told you they all looked silly) and the line would not hold ink properly. The ink itself was great, and line I made was fine, just the darn line thwarted me.

Fast forward a whole year, and I find myself with an online store and a bunch of sumitsubo. I need to do something about this don’t I? Especially when to the uninitiated, they still look pretty silly.

(I must also warn you at this point I did not go in half cocked. I had been shown how to use a modern sumitsubo several times before, and I got good results. I had also been shown how to use a traditional version, and got the same good results. I just couldn’t see where they held any advantage for my own work, so I never bothered with them.)

So I grabbed a couple of them, got them up and running (as you have already seen) and that was that. I am now, maybe not quite hooked, but at least I will keep one handy. If you do any kind of ripping without using a fence, then you really should have a sumitsubo on hand, somewhere. Fast, simple, effective, fast, accurate, easy to use, fast, reliable and above all, fast. There is nothing in the Western world of woodworking that can touch a sumitsubo for accurate speed, except maybe an ink line.

But there is another tool that goes, literally, hand in hand with the sumitsubo.

The sumisashi.

sumisashi inkingauto inkline stretched

auto inkline brush mark 2auto inkline brush

Nothing more than a piece of bamboo, cut to a shape and a few slits in one end to form a ‘brush’ of sorts.

About the most simple tool you can imagine, but actually using one at the right time will change your ideas about using a mark rather than a cut or scribe.

Firstly, if you are busy using a sumitsubo, you have the ink right there ready to use.

The things are very inexpensive (an oversight in the store, I will correct that soon!) and I include at least one with every sumitsubo, just because I feel they go hand in hand so well.

What is not so apparent is how well they work.

The bottom left picture shows the mark, and that line is finer than the line used to mark with.

It uses more like a marking knife than a marker or pencil, which promotes accuracy.

And to back up the sumitsubo speed, they are really fast to use. A simple swipe takes care of small lines, a long drag for bigger lines and you rarely run out of ink if the thing is loaded up before marking a long line with one.

I bet that joinery could be marked out really nicely with one, and because the line is so easy to see, they really work well with Japanese saws that often foul the cutting line with sawdust.

(See how things work together here?)

I guess it’s kind of like the first time you get a plane to cut a nice, smooth shaving the very first time. Or the first time you use a genuinely sharp chisel or saw, they just make cutting wood a little more pleasurable.

For me, coming to grips with the sumisashi was like that. One of those “why didn’t I use this before!” moments. And amazing thing to let oneself get excited about a cheap chunk of bamboo, but when you try one, you won’t be able look at a sumisashi the same way ever again.

Odd little creatures they are….

Thanks for letting me bend your ear,


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