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Robot and apprentice: Preserving the art of Japanese joinery

Aging artisans push contractor Shimizu to digitize tradition for a new age

Joinery methods that use no nails or glue are a feature of traditional Japanese architecture, which use raw wood. (Photo courtesy of Shimizu)

UTSUNOMIYA, Japan -- Traditional Japanese joinery is a precise craft. Instead of using nails or glue, joints are cut into complex designs that fit together like a perfect Tetris puzzle.

The centuries-old technique -- called shiguchi -- delivers both beauty and function. The joints between a building's pillars and beams bear a lot of weight and can damage easily. Interlocking them to increase the area of contact helps alleviate the strain and strengthens the overall structure -- a particularly important consideration in an earthquake-prone country like Japan.

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