Construction of a bamboo fence (take gaki) in the Yotsume-gaki style

A bamboo fence or take gaki ( 竹垣 ) is an important object in many Japanese gardens. Like woods bamboo can last for years in the outdoors with proper maintenance. Bamboo fences also age like wood, it will eventually colour lighter and turn grey. There is a wide diversity of bamboo fences for different purposes. Fences for enclosing or partitioning a garden, to border walkways or the tall "wing fence", sodi-gaki, which normally extends from a building or a wall as a decorative screen, or to define space.
A type of bamboo fence is often named after a temple or garden in which it was first used or where its use is prominent, for example the lozenge fence called ryouanjigaki that is used at Ryouan-ji or the kenninjigaki first used at the temple Kenninji also in Kyoto.

Traditional designs often use multiple different sizes of bamboo. Only a few standard tools are required to build most types. The biggest challenge may be to gain some practice in knot-tying [15] (see: A Japanese Fence Knot - Oto Komusu ).

Although this chapter addresses a small bamboo fence, in Yotsume-gaki 四目垣 style, the preparations and approach for a project of a larger scale will involve more or less the same preparation and activities. The quantities will be higher and some technical aspects will be different. Where applicable we have described these differences. To that purpose you will need the full text before you start your own (ad)venture.
If you like to build your own bamboo fencing, but do not have the time, skill or patience, you can opt for using semi manufactured components like rolled fences, bamboo screens or panels etc. Even poles, wood, hardwood or bamboo, to combine with can be more or less readily acquired.

Under, the main entry path to the garden in front of the house. We would not normally want a wicket or kugurido (often abbreviated to kuguri), to close the traditional path that leads to the front-door (see: The front garden compartment).
From the street, there is no connection as such to this path. Hence it was never intended to be used anyhow, but rather for the aesthetic of it as it is part of the garden architecture.

Despite of the lack of a real connection with the street, people started to use this path anyhow.
Unfortunately, in particular the people that wanted to put something in our letterbox, do not realize that the step-stones are meant to step on and the gravel is not. We soon found out that the path would not last for long, when used by postmen and other messengers.
Therefore we decided to close this as an entrance. Most people use the driveway anyhow.

At the time (1999) we created a temporary obstacle to discourage people to use the path. By now (2009) this somewhat primitive barrier has some parts replaced over the last few years and time has come to replace it with a more permanent and traditional fence that better fits the garden.
The fence that we selected belongs to the so called yotsumi gaki ( 四目垣 ), which is a generic name for a bamboo lattice fence.
Although mostly used as oogaki, long continuous fences, we will be using it more like a fixed fence.
This drawing shows most of them. We used the drawing on the left to chose the one that we most liked for or small wicket. On the right the one that we constructed, including the dimensions.
Except for the the ground work, these are most of the tools we used including the two Bankirai posts.
We used a hacksaw to cut the bamboo. If you have one, use a cutting box for making a smooth straight saw cut.
What we do not show here is that using the post-hole digger (soil dril), we dug holes about 30 cm (1 foot) deep to help us determine how high we wanted the fence to become and how far they would be separated from one another. More later.
Due to differing diameters of cane it is important to select bamboo canes of the same thicknes for the culms. The holes in the poles then need to have a diameter that fits the horizontal cane with the largest diameter. In my case this was 20 mm (nr:215, 7/8) steel power bit.

For this small fence we needed seven canes of 270 cm (9 feet) long with a (label) diameter of Ø 20 - 22 mm (3/4 - 7/8"). This is the thick end, the top of such cane can easily be 10 mm (less than 1/2"). In order to select straight lengths of more or less equal diameter, you need more than the sum of the parts to build the fence.
Traditional Japanese prefer black twine or black palm rope, known as shuro nawa, to hold the smaller bamboo pieces together.
However other colours and rope are also used. Unfortunately we have not been able to find the black version in The Netherlands and decided to use a natural alternative that we could buy locally.

The locally acquired alternative is shown on the photo. This palm rope is double twined and hence to thick for our small simple wicket with thin canes. We have untangled it to get a single cord.

In the mean time we start looking for black rope to use when in the future we need to replace the bamboo or the rope.
Bamboo will rot after a couple of years if it is in contact with soil. Therefore, I used Bangkirai hardwood posts for ground-contact support. The poles we used are 45 x 70 mm (1 3/4" x 2 3/4") with a profile in the wide side. Why the profile ? Just because it looks slightly nicer than without. Note that the poles have rounded corners and are smooth. Still use of gloves, just to be sure, is advised.

Before drilling the large holes with a steel power bit, we need to pre-drill a smaler hole, the size of which depends from the power bit diameter. We used a 5 mm (0.2") steel drill. We wanted a "blind hole", that is not drilled trough the pole. To get sufficient support for the bamboo and to ensure that sufficient material remains we drilled 25 mm (1 inch) deep.
To prevent that we drill too deep we winded a piece of tape around the drill to indicate this measure.
Mark the inside of each post in the centre at the desired height. In our case 5 cm (0.16 inch) down from the top of the posts. Using two crosspieces at the top will bring the upper one close to the top of the post while sufficient wood will be left to prevent it from cracking as a result from weather influences.
In case of a larger fence you may want to lower the top hole and/or have a different separation than we used.

After pre-drilling the hole we used a 20 mm (nr:215, 7/8) steel power bit to drill the top holes to hold the horizontal bamboo, 20 mm (7/8") deep.

When deciding on the depth of the drill-hole be sure to account for the power bit center that is about 5 mm longer than the hole for the bamboo.

We soon found out that this did not work with the battery powered hand-drill. We had to use a more powerful version connected to the mains.
After the holes where drilled we used a round (or half round) file to perfect the edges.

The two bottom holes where drilled somewhat deeper, 25 mm (1 inch) to be sure that there will be space to allign the poles to be level.

As said above, using the post-hole digger, we dug holes about 30 cm (1 foot) deep in an early stage already so as to help us determine how high we wanted the fence to be and how far the poles would be separated from one another.
We decided the height of the poles to be 82 cm (32 inch) above the ground and the horizontal carier bamboo to be 60 cm (24 inch) apart.

The poles at an inner distance of 97,5 cm (38.4 inch)and the holes being 20 mm (7/8") deep brings us to a lenght of 101,5 cm (40 inch).

For this small fence we where in a position to ease the construction by laying it on the ground. Then, with the horizontal crosspieces as carriers of the precise length, we tied the whole, that is the two poles and two bamboo carriers, together.

Although we drilled only one hole the top carrier is composed of two bamboo canes, just because we like that better. The second top cane is place between the poles (not in) and tied together with the same rope that holds the vertical canes together.
Knots are used to hold together bamboo fences but also for decoration. The knot we used is variation on a simple traditional Japanese knot called "Oto Komusu". Several other knots are simply variations of this knot.

Use a fine hacksaw (metal saw) for cutting to avoid splinters. Turning the cane around while sawing will further reduce the change of splitting and rough edges.

Use a fine wood file or, as I did, a metal file, to remove sharp edges.
This is only a small fence. If you make a larger one, and perhaps higher then you need to consider use of screws (under the rope) to hold the construct together. Do not screw directly into bamboo. You need to drill holes slightly larger than the screw to avoid splitting or cracking the canes. Use rustfree screws only.

You can apply natural preservatives like hemp oil or tung oil to bamboo. High quality penetrating oil applied to hardwood will also do fine. Petroleum-based preservatives may also be used.
I used some left-over Olive-oil that proved to work fine in the past.
When you insert the crosspieces into each post, you should rotate each one if necessary so it looks as straight as possible. When the crosspieces are in place, simply tie on the vertical canes.

The knot I used looks like the simple Japanese knot called "Oto Komusu" but is slightly different. The reason for that is the fact that the rope I used is too irregular with regard to the thickness and strength.

An other knot is the so called Ibo knot. This knot is a variation on a standard looped square knot. This knot also gives a neat, finished appearance and is used in many Japanese bamboo constructions.
Prior to making the knots I put the rope into water. This will make the knot more tied and prevent the fence from falling apart after the first rain shower.
Take care. The rough sisal string can make your hands sore. Using gloves is an option but tying the knots with gloves will not be easy.

If you create a long continuous fence a single "panel" may look like this one but will probably be larger. In case you need to connect multiple panels you can use the same technique but rather then using "blind" holes, drill them through.
If you like you can still use "blind" holes and either have the carrier beams on the same height or have them on alternating on different heights.

Longer panels will require the horizontal carriers to be closes or to use more of them, three or four. This is also true if the fence needs to be higher than this one.

The post-hole digger (soil drill) has a diameter of Ø 75 mm (3 inch), slightly more than the hard wood pole width. In this way we do not have to bang them into the ground, you can just place them and use a rubber lump hammer only to get it exactly level.

The posts are 112 cm (3.7 feet) tall, 82 cm (2.7 feet) above the ground, and 97,5 cm (3.2 feet) apart.

For a larges size you can use a taut string to level between the tops of each post to ensure that they are of the same height.
We first opened up the surface covered with weed control fabric.
We dug holes about 30 cm (1 foot) deep. After having the poles levelled, using a spirit level, we put back part of the out coming soil and tamped it down well with a small wooden pole.
Warning: Be sure to use (leather) gloves when working with the hardwood poles to prevent getting splinters in your hands.

While stamping the earth around the poles be sure to level in all directions. Not only horizontally but also vertically on both sides of each pole. We used a spirit level to do that.
This is the end result viewed from the street. Note that the double longer canes are not at the exact same length but purposely look a bit sloppy. This is in support of wabi (in wabi sabi) experience.

You can tie vertical canes all on one side of the crosspieces. As often seen in Japan we decided to alternating the single and paired canes front and back of the crosspieces.

Although a general advice is to cut the canes facing upwards (vertically or diagonally) to the nearest joint end, for this small application we have not been very conscientious about this. The reason that you want to do this is that the joints are closed by an interior membrane that will prevent water from penetrating the hollow cane and let it last longer.
We decided the long rods to be the paired ones and to give them a substantially longer lenght.
The single short rots are 75 cm (29.5 inch) long and the paired long ones have a length of 90 cm (35.4 inch).
This photo shows the finished fence viewed from the front-door.

In our case it was easy to fixate the poles so they can not move. For a long fence composed of multiple and larger panels you will probably need to fix the crosspieces to the poles. Drill a hole at an angle of 60 degrees on the bottom side of each crosspiece about 1 cm (1/2 inch) from the hole. Use a drill bit slightly larger than the nail diameter but do not drill too deep, that is less than the length of the nail. Make sure the nail is long enough, that is longer than the hole is deep, to go into the post and not go the whole way through it. Now you can nail each side of the crosspiece to the post. Be sure to use rustproof (e.g. stainless steel) nails without or with a small head. If you do not use a driver, be careful not to strike the bamboo with the hammer because it may crack.

If you want a more simple approach, without the "blind" holes, you can nail or screw the carriers to the posts. To do so drill a pilot hole (again just a little larger than the nail or screw diameter) perpendicular to the post and at least 1 cm (1/2 inch) from the end of each cane. Preferably the crosswoods are connected to the inside of the fence.

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