Construct a Japanese Torii Gate for Your Garden

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Introduction: Construct a Japanese Torii Gate for Your Garden

For some time, I had been thinking about building a Japanese torii gate for my garden. A torii gate marks the approach and entrance to a Shinto shrine. It is the division between the physical and spiritual worlds. Shinto is a native religion of Japan and was once its state religion. Probably the most famous torii is the one at Itsukushima Shrine located at Miyajima, near Hiroshima. Mine is a little more modest.

Step 1: Torii Components

After a bit of poking around on Google, I found that all torii gates are made up of three horizontal components:

- Kasagi: The very top beam of a torii gate. These beams can be straight or curved.
- Shimagi: A second beam directly underneath the kasagi in more complex forms of torii gates. Their ends are either straight or cut with an inward slant and the overall shape of the beam is that of an upside down trapezoid.
- Nuki: The secondary beam of a torii gate. On more complex torii gates, it is held in place by kusabi (wedges). This beam is always straight.

The other components of a torii are the:
- Hashira: The supporting pillars of the torii gate
- Gakuzuka: A centre post that connects the Nuki & Shimagi (optional)
- Kusabi: A wedge used to hold the Nuki in place (optional)
The Shimagi is usually placed below the lintels at a distance about equal to the diameter of the pillars.

The dimensions that I ended up choosing for my torii are somewhat of a trade-off given the thickness of my Hashiras (poles).

Step 2: Hashiras - the Posts

I wanted to build a decent-sized torii so I hunted around for some large posts to use for the Hashiras. I was hoping to use hardwood but found that they are scarce and expensive. I settled for treated pine posts, or Coppers logs as they are known as in Australia, and used 150mm x 3.6m lengths. Although the logs are relatively cheap, about $AU40 each from memory, you have to be selective when choosing them as many are shaped like bananas and others are badly knotted and split. I cut the logs to 3 metre lengths and used a hammer and chisel to start the mortise slots in either side of the posts and then used a large drill to drill through the posts and remove the bulk of the timber from the slots. I spent a bit of time hand-finishing the mortises with hammer and chisel and made sure that the Nuki would slide freely through the slots.

Step 3: Painting the Hashiras

The logs, by nature, have numerous splits and, although I had chosen wisely, there were many both small and medium sized splits in them. I filled and sanded the logs three times over to get a reasonably smooth finish on the timber and this was the most tedious part of the construction. Note the jig I used to hold the poles while I painted them. This allowed me to spin the poles while painting them with a roller.

Step 4: The Other Torii Components

For the Kasagi, Shimagi and Nuki, I elected to use second-hand oregon as I wanted to use wood that was dimensionally stable and was not going to either twist or warp with age. I have used new oregon in the past but unfortunately plantation "oregon", or what ever passes for oregon, is generally of poor quality, in my experience. I was luck enough to source all this timber very cheaply and only paid about $AU20 for the lot, a real bargain. I cut the timber to length and had it professionally dressed all round for $AU33. I cut the shape of the upper-most piece of timber, the Kasagi, by using a table saw to cut the parallel portion and used a hand saw to finish off the ends. Shown are, from left to right, the Shimagi (upside down), Kasagi and Nuki (upside down) all primed and ready for three coats of vermillion finish coat.

Step 5: Bolting It Together

The whole structure is bolted together with galvanised coach screws and washers, four long screws through the Shimagi into the end of the logs (two at either end) and one 100mm screw through either log to lock the Nuki into place.

Step 6: Raising the Torii Gate

Once everything was painted and ready for assembly, I dug two holes about 700 mm deep and 350 mm in diameter in order to concrete the structure firmly into the ground. I then filled the holes with about 100mm of dry rapid set concrete to form a base for the poles. The torii was then assembled on the ground in front of the holes and the coach screws done up snuggly. With the kind assistance of my cousin, we lifted the torii vertical and then carefully lowered the posts into the holes. We attached the temporary supporting braces via the top coach screws to torii in order to stabilise it while the concrete cured enough.

Step 7: Concreting It Into the Ground

I added enough water to the holes to mix the rapid-set concrete and then quickly leveled up the posts. I then ensured that the posts were standing vertically and that all looked good. This took some time to get it all true. We then mixed up the concrete and filled in the rest of holes. Note that the level of the concrete falls away from the poles in an attempt to stop water pooling around the poles and causing them to rot prematurely.

Step 8: Attaching the Kasagi

The Kasagi is decorative and is held in place by a piece of 30mm quad screwed into place with galvanised screws, at about 150mm centres, from the rear. The Gakuzuka is secured with a 20mm mortise and tennon joint at either end and I skew nailed it to the Nuki prior to painting.

Step 9: The Gakuzuka Plate

While I was in Japan a number of years ago, I bought a nice little brass plate inscribed with two characters that translate to fresh & fragrant and have attached this to the Gakuzuka using some small brass screws.

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66 Discussions

I too love the Tori gate and am having one built. What I would like to know is what type of paint was used? I read where you say the color is Vermillion or fire engine red. It would need to have a type of paint or stain that holds up to weather, such as snow and rain. Love how yours came out. It will come to me treated with an oil-based semi transparent wood preservative. The color of the preservative is not permanent. I was told to finish with a deck stain but that will have a mat finish and yours looks like a gloss. ANY ADVISE WOULD BE VERY WELCOMED AND APPRECIATE.

Thank you for your assistance

Marcia

I am rebuilding my deck by replacing rotten wood. I designed and built it over 20 years ago, but it has needed a facelift. My hubby wanted a torii gate, so I decided to give him one between our upper and lower decks. I absolutely loved all the correct Japanese words for the parts of the gate. I will post again when I am done... I came to look up how much curve was on the Kasagi. I left knowing terms, and more, thank you.

Please, read the following information into the photos below: IT'S IMPORTANT KNOW BETTER the " REAL TORII " ...

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I'd like to show some photos of A REAL
. "TORII ", to compare & SEE the REAL
PROPORTIONS of it.

Please, read the text into the photos below.

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Muito bom

It's beautiful! I had always loved how they looked. They seemed to be popular in CA. I perform weddings in my back yard. I had jasmine that grew over a wrought iron arch that finally bit the dust. When my metal arch finally rusted out I had decided I really wanted a Torii to replace it. Now that I know what it represents, I want it even more. What a perfect place to be married moving from your separate lives to one physical and spiritual life together. I live in Louisiana where it's always wet - and our dirt is more clay. Would the gravel method work here or should we make feet screwed into the walkway we had used for the metal arch? Also- what wood would here in the land of tsunamis (floods and hurricanes)?

1 reply

Nice thoughts there Therev. Any method of attachment to the ground whereby the Torii is stable will be good. I used treated pine but maybe you have a native timber that is durable that would suitable.

Hi, I really love this and will be making one myself but from wooden posts 3" x 3" and wood stained, what colour did you paint yours? I know it's 'red' but apart from that what is the shade you used? Thanks

1 reply

I would like to make one for my desk. About two feet tall. Could you help with this project? My measurements seem to be off.

An excellent writeup; arigato for your research, Wayne_san. However, I believe you are mistaken in one detail, that being the angle of the vertical posts, the hashira.

You said that a plumb line should fall from the outside edge of the hashira (at the height of the lower horizontal bar, or nuki) to the inside edge of the hashira at ground level; that is, the hashira leans in by an amount equal to its diameter. However, in examining numerous photos of traditional Japanese torii, I find that the outer edge of the hashira (at nuki elevation) almost always lies exactly over the CENTER of its base; that is, it leans in by an amount equal to HALF its diameter. I think you will find that this angle is both more traditional and more visually pleasing, and may even be somewhat easier to construct.

Also, while I agree that when there is only one shimagi (upper horizontal bar) it should be one-third wider than the hashira, few larger torii HAVE only one shimagi; most also have the kasagi "roof" over the shimagi. In those cases, the shimagi's width is actually a bit less than that of the hashira. On the ones where I could tell, it appears to be the same width as the nuki, which would make it one-third SMALLER than the hashira diameter. The kasagi on top is wider than either, and I suspect is at least one-third larger than the hashira (as with the single-shimagi torii you mentioned.) However, on torii that have a kasagi which is actually a pitched roof (like the famous one at Itsukushima shrine near Hiroshima) it looks like the kasagi may be substantially wider than that, perhaps as much as 2-3 hashira diameters.

1 reply

Thanks for the feedback. When I have an opportunity, I'll factor those changes into a new Sketchup drawing to get a sense of how it changes.

I think there are subtle differences by region, period, and craftsman. I can't locate my original notes, but I recall the lean-in being calculated both ways in the gates and references I examined. The kasagi length seemed to be dependent on a line from the base of the hashira to the ends of the shimagi then extended to the ends of the kasagi.

There's software on the market that would enable me to make precise measurement from photos, but I don't own any of it. If I get back to Japan in this life, I'll keep a notebook, pencil, digital camera, shot line, plumb, and tape measure with me. A step ladder might pose a problem on the trains, but I'll need that, too.

Thanks again.

どうもありがとう, Dōmo arigatō Bluerock. May your garden be scented with the perfume of 1000 Japanese maidens

I'm interested in building a downsized Torii gate of timber bamboo. Any thoughts on the durability of the bamboo in the ground, using concrete "feet" or not, gravel?

1 reply

A bamboo Torri would sure look interesting. I'm not sure on the durability of bamboo though. I've a bamboo screen inset to gate and the bamboo has cracked lengthwise. However, this maybe a result of it coming from a humid environment and seasoning in a dry climate where I live. Based on Arkie's and ejsilver26's comments below, you maybe best advised to go straight in the ground.

Nice work. Well balanced design. You mentioned (Feb '07) that the concrete had cracked. Would it be possible, considering your climate, to use the material that you excavated for the hole as back-fill? Coupla' shovels at a time and tamp down with an iron bar or wooden post?

An old hillbilly watched me trying to erect posts for a barn. When I started mixing concrete, he asked if the wet slop was going to contact wood. I said yes. He asked if I thought the wood would absorb any moisture and swell. I said yes, I guess so. He asked if the wood and concrete would eventually dry. I said yes.

Then he asked, "When the wood dries, and shrinks, won't that leave a gap between the dry wood and the cured concrete? Won't any rain trickle into that gap and soak your post all the way to the bottom? Don't ya' think that wet wood will encourage mold and bugs and rot?"

He went away. I stopped using concrete.

3 replies

Awesome explanation. I've always been told to ensure that wood doesn't touch concrete, but that is best reason WHY that I have heard. I've been told that they will rot, but not why they will rot. It makes perfect sense.

I'm assuming that treated wood might not be as big of an issue, since it can be treated to resist absorbing wood and rotting. Any thoughts?

EJS

I don't want to 'highjack' the thread of BlueRock's excellent Japanese torii, so this will be (moderately) brief.

Totally submerged wood, treated or not, can stay in prime condition for centuries. New Zealand's kauri wood is workable after 45,000 years buried in the wet, boggy ground. Logs from the Louisiana swamps and the American Great Lakes are being recovered and used after centuries underwater. They stayed wet.

Log buildings in Europe have been gathered in outdoor museums and are open to the public. With 4-foot eaves to protect the wood from rain and snow, and stone sills to keep them from ground contact, the buildings are in good shape after 500-600 years. They stayed dry.

The interface between dry and wet is where the damage occurs. I removed a fence for a friend in the Arkansas Ozarks. The posts were made of aromatic Western red cedar... the same long-lasting wood used in cedar chests. The above ground portions of the posts were weathered but strong and intact. As I dug, and wiggled the posts, they snapped off at the rotted areas at ground level; however, digging for the buried portions revealed solid timbers. No evident aging or damage to the underground wood.

The treated lumber available at the limber yard or 'big-box' hardware store normally has a rating (in years) and a notice that it is intended for non-ground contact. Ground-contact rated wood is available, but the price goes up. There is a marine-grade treated lumber which is VERY expensive, but survives the wet-dry cycle for years.

I hope this helps... and my apologies to BlueRock for my wordy reply.

It may depend on your climate, but here in northern California, we need to put 6 inches of gravel in the bottom of a post hole, then add the concrete around the poles to anchor them.  That allows the moisture that gets into the wood to drain away and posts last much longer.  Redwood fence posts done that way last up to 50 years, fully encased in concrete you're lucky to get 10 years before the part in the ground rots away. 

BTW what is the species you call oregon?  Could it be douglas fir? Around here Oregon is  a piece of geography, that little bit of a state just north of us ;-).