Carving Community: Kezurou-Kai at Rowan Woodwork

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The Japanese word kezurou-kai roughly translates as “planing group.” It refers to a community of Japanese woodworkers who gather for tournaments using traditional hand planes to shave sheets of wood so thin that a piece of rice paper would be envious.

The model came stateside, with the formation of nonprofit Kezurou-kai USA in the early 2000s. After attending the group’s first event, Andrew Hunter, a furniture maker in Accord, fell in love with the concept. He sold his Western tools and pledged instead to work with the handcrafted steel blades and centuries-old techniques found in Japan.

Participants at a recent Kezurou-kai group planing gathering at Rowan Woodwork in Kingston.

For years, most of the Kezurou-kai, or “Kez,” activity has centered in California’s Bay Area, with classes, events, and a once-a-year contest. More recently, a couple of happenings sprouted up on the East Coast, primarily in Brooklyn.

Now, Hunter is bringing Kez to Kingston, partnering with the custom cabinetry studio, Rowan Woodwork. Owner Suzanne Walton has long focused on connecting craft and community. “For me, it’s always been, ‘Let’s open the doors. Let’s invite everyone in,’” she says.

After a brainstorming session, Walton and Hunter decided to offer a monthly Kez night, part social club, part woodworking, a bit of tool sharpening and a little competitive showcasing of craftsmanship. “We’ve had one a month for the past 15 months,” Walton says. “And it’s just growing and growing and growing.”

What started with a handful of people now averages around 50 participants. The studio is filled with all ages and all levels of experience. The goal is to build an accessible and inclusive creative space.

The Kez nights start at 5:30pm the first Friday of the month at Rowan Woodwork, 40 Clarendon Avenue in Kingston. Pizza and beer are provided, as well as tools and wood, though you are encouraged to bring your own hand plane. Small donations are appreciated for the snacks.

No prior woodworking knowledge is required to attend. All you need is an interest in wood and a desire to learn. “We’re building up from scratch,” Hunter said. “That includes starting with the very basics of sharpening.”

Betsy Gude, managing director of development at the Council on Foreign Relations, has attended two events, driving down from Tannersville. Having taken woodworking classes before, she was eager to check out the offering in Kingston. She most enjoyed the camaraderie around a common interest. “Everyone wanders around and talks to each other,” she says. “And there were interesting stories on all fronts.”

Woodworker Michael Puryear instructs a group of participants.

Kate Hawes, a woodworker in Bearsville and instructor at Kingston’s Wooden Boat School at the Hudson River Maritime Museum, has headed to the Kez night a few times. “At the first one, I was really amazed at the combination of socializing and people really into tools,” Hawes says. “It’s a very rare thing. It’s usually one or the other. This is kind of meet and mingle, and yet you can sit there and sharpen your blade at the same time.”

Walton and Hunter hope that hosting their Kez will spark more interest in the traditional Japanese woodworking skills that are fading away in the face of industrialization and mass production. “How do we keep this alive?” Walton asks. “We’re both super concerned about who’s going to do this next.”

It’s already catching on in Kingston. In fact, Kez attendance is currently capped at 50 people and fills up quickly each month. Reserve your spot online at And mark your calendars—Rowan Woodwork will host the Kezuroukai USA 2024 national event in Kingston in October.

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