Because each installation is fairly unique (your closets aren't going to be exactly the same size as mine) I won't be giving a detailed set of plans. I'm assuming (dangerous, I know) that you have some modicum of woodworking skill before tackling a project like this. Although it IS a fairly simple project, it does require some precision.
You do not need to have a shop full of tools to build something like this, however, you will need to make up for whatever tools you lack (like a jointer and planer) with outstanding hand-tool skills, or, a trip to a cabinet shop where they can dimension the lumber for you.
For those who are familiar with traditional Shoji design, construction, and installation, you will see that I used a lot of ... uh... "alternate methods" which work - but aren't exactly "traditional" - I hope the Shoji Gods forgive me :) I recommend Jay Van Arsdale's book "Shoji: How to Design, Build, and Install Japanese Screens" to anyone interested in traditional construction and installation.
Finally, the project cost about $400 total - that's for the wood, shoji paper, finishing materials, and quality hardware - not exactly cheap, but also nowhere near what these would cost if you had them made.
Step 1: What I started with... yummy
These doors were pretty beat up and bowed, and they were definitely hard to live with. I salvaged the press-board to make router templates and the aluminum and steel in the frames to keep on hand for reinforcements on other projects. Yes, I'm a packrat.
Step 2: Dimension the Lumber
I also want to mention that I always make several extra pieces in any assembly like this - it's just a good habit to get into. I don't think I've ever built anything and regretted having extra pieces since I inevitably mess at least ONE of them up.
The ever-handy Board Trick : Let's say you have a board that's perfect in most every way, except it's bowed along it's length. This can be salvaged by splitting the board along it's length (as close to exactly in half as possible) then flip the pieces so they are face to face (bowing away from each other) and glue them back together - preferably clamping them against a straight edge while they cure. The "bowing" forces in the board will cancel each other out and give you a straight board. I use this technique a lot, and it lets me make use of stock I would otherwise have to reject.
It's also worth noting that for the vast majority of gluing, I use polyurethane glue - my preferred brand is Gorilla Glue. I also use carpenter's glue - usually Titebond - but yellow glues should never be used on laminations as yellow glue actually remains liquid (like glass and asphalt) and seams will "creep" over time - so for the board trick - you want to use polyurethane (or any glue that actually *cures*).
Step 3: Alternate Kumiko Method
As you can see in the illustration above, traditional Kumiko are half-lap mortised into the frames. This is awesome - and necessary in the case of traditional Shoji because traditional Shoji don't make use of any glue. In the version of Shoji that I'm making, I'm using a simplified kumiko which in my case is held in place with a drop of glue and a friction fit - and it works very well. I machined my Kumiko stock based on the width of the router bit that I was using to cut the slots and half-lap joints - making the kumiko just a *tiny* bit thicker so that the press-fit would require some effort, but they would be self-supporting.
Step 4: Machining the Stiles
I really believe in jigs and fixtures. The amount of time spent building them pays off dramatically in speed and accuracy - and they're around for use later if you need them again. Jigs can be as simple as a board screwed to another board, or, as complex as machined polycarbonate and UHMW plastic - just depends on what you need it to do, and how much you plan to use it. I built a handful of simple jigs for this project, and the time spent was well worth it.
I start this part by sorting and matching the stiles - finding which boards are the best matches for each other, and which sides on those boards should face in, face out, and make sure to mark them so they are easily identified.
Once paired up, I place them face down on my bench (an old door from a school that was being renovated) butting them up against a block screwed to the table (to keep them flush) and then clamp them together. I'm going to cut the slots for the kumiko using a router and a jig.
Step 5: Machine the Kumiko (lattice parts)
Kumiko are stabilized by a series of alternating lap-joints. You will cut at every other mark, then flip all the pieces, and cut the alternate slots. On complex Kumiko patterns, the joints can be a challenge to keep track of - it's pretty easy to cut the wrong side. Take your time, make *sure* you're cutting in the right place - triple check before you turn on the router - it's easy to get caught up in the moment and make a mistake - at least it is for me ;) Thankfully, the pattern I used was pretty basic and the parts were reversible - which was nice.
Once again, these Kumiko were dimensioned for a friction fit in the slots cut by the router bit I was using. The router bit was cutting a slot that was almost exactly 1/4" wide, so I machined the Kumiko to around 9/32" thick - but you should do some test joints to make sure that whatever thickness you settle on is going to be a nice tight fit without being excessively compressed. How's that for vague? lol.
Step 6: Assemble the Kumiko
Step 7: Machine the Rails
Step 8: Assemble the Frames
A small 1/16"chamfer is cut on all edges of all frame pieces - I use a small block plane to do this as it's much faster than any other method. This chamfer adds a nice detail, makes the corners tougher to damage, and also allows a little bit of leeway in assembly.
This is also departure #2 from tradition - traditional Shoji screens use wedged mortise and tenon construction on the frames. I'm not that patient - at least not with closet doors :) I decided to use biscuits because it made construction extremely easy, and when properly used, biscuit joints are very strong. This is one place I will use yellow glues BTW - the moisture in the glue helps the biscuits expand into the joint making for a very strong joint.
Step 9: Assemble and Finish the Door Panels
Traditional Shoji are usually finished with oil which brings out the beauty of the wood - but Poplar isn't all that pretty - but it takes stain and dyes very well - so I used a combination of NGR dye (Non Grain-Raising or Alcohol-Based dye) and tinted conversion varnish for the finish (Sherwin Williams "Kem-Var" Water-White Conversion Varnish). I sprayed the NGR dye using a HVLP conversion gun, let it dry, and then followed with the tinted conversion varnish (tinted with universal dyes). This gives an extremely dark color, but still has transparency allowing you to see the wood grain. In actuality, you could use just about anything for finish - it just depends on what look you want, and how tough you need it to be - tung oil, acrylic enamel, water-based polyurethane - it's up to you.
Once the finish dried to a point where it could be handled roughly - about 12 hours in this case - I was able to assemble the Kumiko into the frames.
The Kumiko were lightly tapped into their slots, and I made sure everything was straight - tapping here and there to align and straighten the longer sections - before using a block and hammer to drive them home into the frame. I glued some of them at the beginning, but it became apparent very quickly that it wasn't necessary. I live in a very dry climate - so moisture doesn't play as much a part as it might in places like the Midwestern US in regards to wood movement. In more humid climates, I'd probably have used a drop of glue in each joint, or, a small-gauge brad as a bit of extra insurance.
Step 10: Hardware and Shoji Paper
Once the frames were assembled, it was time to install hardware and "paper".
The Shoji paper I used is actually very tough - it's PVC coated paper that's .45mm thick. It's not so much like paper as it is thin plastic - I'm not worried about punching a hole in it - at least not easily. I sourced what I used through eShoji.com - great selection and service - but I'm sure there are other suppliers as well. (I used e-shoji p/n #C4502 - ~$55 each - I used two sheets)
Bi-fold door hardware is not all created equal. The usual stuff you find at the big-box hardware stores is NOT what you want to use. Pay a little more and get some commercial quality hardware that will be a joy to use and install. After a LOT of searching, I bought a set of Johnson Hardware model 1700 BiFold Door Systems for $36 for each set of four doors - so about $80 for the hardware (JohnsonHardware.com ). I bought the door pulls from Lowes.com for something like $4 each on sale - they're perfect for this application.
The paper comes in rolls that were just wide enough that I could get four "strips" out of each roll - so I only needed two rolls. I used a pretty heavy paper - you could easily get away with one of the .3mm papers as well - and they'd be less expensive.
The hinges and hardware are straightforward to install - just follow the instructions. The paper is also pretty simple - it installs with a very strong double-faced tape that you will need to get from the same source as your paper. The tape makes the installation go very quickly and smoothly and after several months of use I haven't seen any indications that anything is coming loose.
Step 11: Installation
My house doesn't have a straight wall in it - and my closets were no exception. I was forced to build a valence around the doors to ensure that the frames were visually the same width all the way around - this added another day and a half to the project. Hopefully, your house is square and plumb, and you won't have to do anything like what I had to do.
I wanted to point out that I would *highly* recommend getting all the hardware adjusted and set up before installing the paper. It's so nice to be able to reach through the doors when you're setting them up - not to mention not having to worry about damaging the paper. Once they're in and working smoothly, you can just snap them out, install the paper, and reinstall them.
I also installed lights into all of my closets (I hate dark closets) and the shoji make a pretty sweet nightlight if you're into that kind of thing :)
I hope you enjoyed this instructable!