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Take these words for example:

木{もく}造{ぞう}: made of wood; wooden

and

金{きん}製{せい}: made of gold

I have been under the impression that -製 is used for where an item has been manufactured (i.e. Made in Japan; Made in America), or the manufacturing of a certain product (i.e. iron manufacturing, etc.). I also thought that -造 was for what material something is made out of. Flipping through my dictionary it seems -製 is more common than -造 for referring to the material used (e.g. 鋼製: made of steel).

Is there a rule about which materials use -造 and which use -製? Is it just something one has to learn?

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When describing materials, the difference between -造 and -製 does not come from the difference of materials.

-造 is usually used when describing the primary material of a building or a nonbuilding structure. Examples are 木造 (made of wood), 鉄骨造 (made of steel (or iron)), and 鉄筋コンクリート造 (made of reinforced concrete).

For everything else, I think that we use -製. For example, “wooden flute” is 木製のフルート and not 木造のフルート.

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    @jkerian: I do not know. I wrote what I think is the criterion to choose between -造 and -製: whether the thing is a building/structure or not. Is your suggestion different from this, or is it a different way to state the same criterion? Commented Jun 9, 2012 at 20:05
  • @jkerian: It is much clearer. Thank you for the edit! I edited to remove the word “permanent,” because a building/structure does not have to be permanent, like 木造の仮設住宅 (wooden temporary building for residence). Commented Jun 9, 2012 at 23:22
  • An example of a nonbuilding structure? Because the primary material of a wooden flute... is wood. Is it not?
    – dotnetN00b
    Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 16:53
  • @dotnetN00b: Bridge was the only example I had in mind when I wrote this answer, but there are many examples of nonbuilding structures in Wikipedia. Commented Jun 10, 2012 at 17:33

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