Usu, what is an Usu you ask?
It is the bottom part of the tools used to make Mochi, what is Mochi? That is the pounded rice them love here in Japan.
This is a typical Mochitsuki
Here in my neighbourhood we do this the first Sunday in October, a couple of years ago I got involved, they found out that I've been doing this event a my friends house down in Zushi for many years and I know that I'm doing, so they wanted the help, also it turns out at just under fifty years of age (at the time) I was a good fifteen years younger than almost any of the other guys participating. Well it was not long after the first event when saw the hammers or Kine (Key-Neh) that they were using were in bad shape, they get busted up after constant use, so I put the heads on my lathe and fixed them right up, made them nice and clean again and they were pleased. One of the kine was in really bad shape and I ended up shortening it a lot and making it much smaller in diameter too, I shortened the handle and declared it a kids size kine. This did not go over so well, they were not really interested in having the kids participate. I thought about this a bit and I decided that this was really a bad idea. Most of the guys doing this event will be gone in another 10 to 15 years, and there are hardly any younger people participating, so last year I just grabbed some kids and let them have a go with the kids size kine, the kids LOVED it, so did the young parents. The big wigs got all sorts of excuses that is was not safe, we did not have time for the kids to do this etc. We have only one Usu, or base do do this in here is what it looks like....
Well they are not cheap, anywhere from $800 to $1200 depending on size.
I thought that if I make a smaller kids sized one and make some kid sized tools then they will have to let the kids do this event.
After all, if we are not doing this for the kids then why are we doing it? We lose money on it every year, and like I said, there are no younger people asked to participate. I asked some guys that I know who have kids if they would be interested and they were VERY interested, they told me that they used to do this at the school, but now they don't and that as kids they used to have a chance to do it other places too, but now it is becoming rare, so this event that the neighbourhood association puts on it kind of a last chance.
For the younger kids I will make different tools, they are like this....
I'll make some that size and a bit smaller too. I figure that if I just give them the tools and the Usu they will have to let the kids participate, if they don't I'll stop helping.
I feel really strongly about this, I think it is really short sighted of the town association to not involve the younger people in the neighbourhood.
OK I have one large chunk of Keyaki, the much hated Japanese Elm, in stock....
That is my Estwing hammer for scale
I dug out the new electric chainsaw and cut off the bottom chunk
And a slice from the bottom to make is as square as possible
I mounted it on my faceplate
With some more carving I got it on my lathe
Getting it to this point took some work, let me tell you.
I thought that I would try to core out a depression in the top, nope that is my carbide tipped coring tool with a chip in it, yep this stuff is HARD
1/2" bowl gouge, might be hard to see but the nose or tip of the tool is missing a chunk, this stuff is HARD.
OK break out the EWT carbide cutters...........
Sigh.... shattered like glass, and I was taking extremely light cuts.
OK I finally got it down a good six inches, mainly using a pull cut from the center to the outside.
Of course I found a void, so I chiseled it out and I will fill that with epoxy.
I'll have to fill it at least twice, as the void is so large I cannot place the Usu in such a way that the epoxy will fill the whole thing in one go.
I'll also be drilling out the pith in the Usu and filling that with another piece of Keyaki so it won't split over time.
I looked into how these are made and I found out that they used to be shaped when the wood was fairly green by hand with a specially shaped adze, but I did find this picture.....
This fellow is sanding the inside of a Usu, but notice the HUGE lathe in the background? That is no wood turning lathe that is a metal work lathe.
I always said this stuff was tough!
Wish me luck!