Make a Pair of Shoji (Japanese Sliding) Screens

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Introduction: Make a Pair of Shoji (Japanese Sliding) Screens

About: Happy in wood shavings YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/c/WOmadeOD Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/WOmadeOD

Let me talk you through how I made this pair of Shoji screens

There's a lot of woodworking involved, but nothing too complicated. If you can make halving, and mortise and tenon joints, then you should be able to tackle this

I've got a summary build video on YouTube, and I will be adding more in-depth tutorials in the future, so subscribe to my channel if that interests you

I used some average pine for mine, but clear, straight grained material would be better (with so many joints involved, avoiding knots is tricky)

Step 1: Make the Kumiko

Kumiko are the thin slats that make up the lattice work and geometric patterns

Slats are taken from a wide board, by either slitting and riving as shown, or by ripping with a saw

The rough slats are 'ganged' together and planed close to the required size

Step 2: Stiles and Rails, & Kumiko Thicknessing

The stiles and rails are roughed out with a saw, before planing to dimensions. I smooth plane all surfaces now, in case I forget before assembly.

The kumiko slats are going to be joined to each other with halving joints, and tenoned into the stiles and rails, so it makes sense to prepare them all exactly the same thickness. Pinning or screwing a couple of 'skates' to the sole of a kanna (or a western plane) makes a great thicknessing plane for the job

Step 3: Preparing the Stiles and Rails

Mark out the stiles in pairs, and the rails as the top, middle, and bottom together. This ensures the frame will be square, and the slats will be parallel.

Top and bottom rails get a rebate (deeper for the top rail), which will allow the shoji to be lifted into running tracks if required.

I wanted to chamfer the inside edge of the frame, so the rails all needed a 45° cut into the face at the tenon shoulder. A simple 45° block guided the saw for this cut. Then the rails and stiles received the matching chamfers.

Step 4: Mortise and Tenon Frame Joints

The frame is held together with twin mortise and tenons, although single stub mortise and tenons should do.

The mortises are marked out, bearing in mind the rebates that we've cut in the top and bottom rails.

Mortises should be chopped almost the whole way through the stiles, using a depth gauge to ensure they are flat and don't break through. It should be possible to see light through the thin bottom of the mortises. This allows the longest tenons, without their end grain showing through. The mortises should taper in very slightly, so that a well fit tenon will tighten as it is driven in

Tenons are marked out and cut to a tight fit. I didn't use any glue on my frame, and it shouldn't need it.

Step 5: Mortises and Tenons for Kumiko

The mortises for the kumiko lattice work are marked out and chopped in the stiles and rails. The positions are copied from one style and rail to the others to keep everything lined up.

Kumiko are cut to length, both for the verticals and horizontals.

The tenons are prepared on the ends of the kumiko, in a ganged up fashion, which greatly speeds up the process

Step 6: Halving Joints

I prepared two hardwood blocks with a cutout exactly half the width of the kumiko, and long enough to hold all the horizontal kumiko at the same time. This allowed me to easily saw exactly halfway through at each cross halving location, and to pare out the waste material.

The cross halvings are prepared to a snug fit, and once one set is prepared, a short length of kumiko can be inserted into the ganged up pieces to keep them aligned whilst the rest are prepared.

It's not essential, but certainly a good idea to weave the joints. This is restricted to alternate halves, to make assembly possible (see the photo). The idea is that this alternate weave helps to keep the kumiko from bowing and opening up the joints.

Step 7: The Geometric Patterns

This is the tricky bit!

The best idea is to create your plain shoji (just the horizontal and vertical kumiko) first. This fixes your pattern areas. Then draw your pattern out 1:1 to fit exactly. You can then take the exact measurements of lengths and angles for the pieces to be slotted in.

If you've made your latticework square, then the lengths and angles of similar pieces should be the same, and you can batch cut the different pieces you need. Angled blocks make paring the ends easy, and you can sneek-up on the fit so that the pieces hold each other tightly in place.

In the more complex pattern shown, one piece is cut almost right through in the centre, to create a 'hinge' which opens up to receive the end of a mating piece. I found a couple of layers of masking tape laid on a cutting board to be a good guide to stop sawing at the right depth. Wetting the hinge allows it to bend without breaking, if you are careful.

Step 8: Final Assembly

With the lattice panels completed, I attached the vertical kumiko to the top, middle, and finally the bottom rails.

Then I offerred up the stiles, one by one, tapping the mortises onto the ends of the tenons.

Finally I used a pair of sash cramps to pull all the joints up tight, making sure the whole assembly was square.

Step 9: Extra Security

Although the frame held together tight, I was concerned about it possibly becoming loose with constant use. The solution was to install two wooden 'cocktail stick' pins through each of the frame joints.

Step 10: Final Frame Work

The rear of each panel was designed to be flush (frame and kumiko lattice).

Inevitably, there were minor inaccuracies here and there, so a quick work over with a smoother sorted that out.

The rebates in the top and bottom rails were extended through the top and bottom of the stiles.

Step 11: Paper Treatment

Shoji paper is available for covering these screens, and it is to be recommended. However, I was on a budget, and so I used simple tissue paper.

The traditional adhesive for the paper is rice glue, which I could afford to make:

Prepare some boiled rice. Mash it into a paste with a glue stick. Add water to get a smooth creamy glue that spreads easily.

I applied the glue to the screen, placed the paper in position, and later scored and removed the excess.

Step 12: Stand Back and Enjoy Your Work!

Thanks for reading my instructable.

You'll notice I gave no dimensions. This was intentional, as the screen size must be made to fit the position where it is going, and the kumiko spacing should be chosen to fit the paper and/or the aesthetic. Geometric pattern pieces will need to be sized to fit the kumiko spacings.

Advice:

  • Try making a small test panel
  • Use a CAD package to work your design out fully
  • Set aside twice as long as you think it will take

Did I do any of those? Nah!

Video here:

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    10 Comments

    I loved the work that you have put into them, I had just finished watching a Japanese documentary on the making of the screens and you were so very close to how they built them specially the designed squares even if they are on a larger scale to how they made the design squares.

    It is beautifully built as you said the correct paper would have worked better but the tracing paper used was a very good second choice.

    1 reply

    Many thanks, and thanks for taking the time to comment

    been looking for a good write up to make some. I think I still have the glow and shoji paper (although it may be the plastic lined one) at the house

    1 reply

    Cool, hope you manage to get it done. Post photo's here if you do.

    I would rate it a 200% challenge indeed. Very involved an labor intensive. But a really beautiful design!

    1 reply

    Thanks, much appreciated

    That is beautiful! And decently written to boot!

    1 reply

    Thanks, much appreciated!

    One of your pictures show the tissue paper to wrinkled by the rice glue. Did the wrinkles disappear when the glue dried? Would the same have happened if you use Shoji paper? Congratulations on your Shoji screens. They are beautiful! I had never imagined that they are so complicated to make. Thank you for sharing.

    1 reply

    Yes, it did tighten up. Not by much though, so you do have to be fairly careful in applying it. Also, you could use some cellulose dope to really tighten and strengthen the paper (once the glue has cured). Proper shoji paper would have been much tougher, and therefore easier to handle and pull tight. Of course it's expensive! I will probably replace the paper once I have some spare cash for it.
    There are simpler ways to make them (single mortise and tenons, non-woven kumiko, etc.) but I wanted to experience the slightly better quality and traditional approach.
    Thanks for your comments