Monthly Archives: January 2013

Failed Web search: a book that can’t be found on the Internet

I’ve been looking for a book for twenty years. Despite the extent and depth of the Web, after years of searching, I still haven’t managed to find this book.

I saw this book sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s at a bookshop in the international airport of Penang, Malaysia. I wanted to buy it but didn’t have enough money. Since I was going back to Penang again, I told myself I’d buy it later. I didn’t think of writing down the title or author (stupid, stupid!).

When I went to Penang again a few months later, it was gone.

What I remember most about the book was the full-color illustrations of how timbers in native houses were joined together using a special joint called wedged mortise-and-tenon. There were pages and pages of different ways of using wedges on mortise-and-tenon joints in different parts of a native wooden dwelling, all beautifully illustrated with nice, clear drawings. Even if the book was in English, Filipino carpenters would love this book, I thought. The book might have been on Indonesian houses but I’m not sure now.

I’ve tried the following search terms, in various combinations:

Bali, Indonesian, Asian, Malay

Native, indigenous, traditional, vernacular, ancient

House, building, hut, structure, architecture, timber, wood

Method, practice, technique

Mortise and tenon, wedge, peg

Joinery, carpentry, woodworking, framing

No luck, so far. Some books were close, but they were not it. They were too theoretical, or too architecture-, design-, or style-oriented. They did refer to some techniques and methods, but not enough. Some had photos or black-and-white drawings of timber joints, but none like the lush colored illustrations in the book I’m looking for. This book was a practical book, which any carpenter would have understood by just looking at the pictures.

It’s the pictures that have stuck on my mind: the mortise (a hole on one timber), the loose-fitting tenon (a protrusion on the end of another timber that would fit the hole on the first one), and the wedge driven with a mallet between the mortise and the tenon to make everything fit tightly. It was a building technique that suited a low-tech society where parts could not be machined to very close tolerances, including societies which could not even make iron nails yet.

The book was about timber-framed, post-and-beam houses, not log homes. It was not about American or European, but native/traditional/indigenous Asian (possibly Indonesian) dwellings. It was not about architecture, or design, or style — at least, not the drawings, which are what I remember best. The illustrations (I remember them as colored illustrations, not photos) were about joining a member of a timber structure to another member. The book might have also touched on architecture, design or style, but these were not the dominant themes.

Aside from Google Books and, I’ve also searched Google Images, hoping I’d see some of those illustrations that have etched themselves in my mind. No luck.

I’m still searching, and I’d appreciate any hint or help.

In my search, I’ve struck gold too, even if it wasn’t the book I was looking for.

I found a book on roundwood (wood which has not been processed — usually to be squared — in a lumber mill) and how to use these in wooden dwellings.

I’ve also found a sequel to that classic book Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander, written by some of his co-authors. This one is focused on homes, not buildings, neighborhoods or communities.

I found a very interesting method of connecting lengths of wood for a roof, called reciprocal framing, which lent itself very well to many-sided (hexagonal, octagonal, or even circular) structures.

I also found an interesting piece of software by Google called Sketchup, for 3-D drawings. Unfortunately, however, it has no version for Linux.

Along the way, I’ve also learned much about timber and wood joinery — much more than I could use in a lifetime.

I still want that book, though…