This weekend I saw a documentary on the Smithsonian channel about the building of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The major architect and builder was a Vietnamese prisoner who built the City in less than three years. An amazing feat. However he spent the previous decade amassing all the materials and forming them into their correct shapes and sizes so that they could be assembled quickly.
The most interesting fact about the construction of the palace was that it used no pegs or nails to join the massive beams, struts, and wooden supports together. The entire structure was assembled using an interlocking joint system that, once assembled, was extremely strong. It reminded me of the wooden puzzles I had as a child that, when assembled correctly, formed a cube, sphere, or animal such as a lion or a hog.
This interlocking joinery seems to have been a traditional type of construction throughout Asia. That got me to thinking, are Asian joints somehow different than those we are using in the West? So I googled some images of Japanese and Chinese joints to see what they looked like and found them to be very complex and beautifully ornate.
Glueless joint used in temple building: