Introduction: Japanese Style Lantern

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The film Sanjuro, directed by Akira Kurosawa of Seven Samurai fame, includes a scene where Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) takes tea in front of a Japanese lantern, and I couldn’t help but make one myself. Should you wish to make a similar lantern yourself, then there are my plans here, and easier ways to construct the corners if you wish.

I've included a short video to whet your appetite, but there are more detailed ones later.


Hardwood for the structure (I used ramin for the everything except the oak base)

Frosted acrylic or shoji paper for the shade

Fire for colouring the wood


Lacquer, shellac, etc. to finish

Step 1: First Steps

First prepare eight identical strips of hardwood (kumiko) for the vertical lattice pieces, and eight kumiko for the horizontals.

You could buy hardwood milled to the correct size, and just cut it to length, or rip pieces from a larger board and plane to size as I did.

Then prepare the blanks for the twelve pieces that make the lantern frame.

See the included plans for all the sizes I used.

Step 2: Frame Corner Joints

You'll see in the plans that I used a complex, three-way mitre joint for the frame corners. Follow the plans to do the same, or for each corner cut two pieces shorter and then use dowels to join them to the longer one.

If you follow my design, you'll find setting a number of marking gauges to the right dimensions will help avoid confusion. As will making a test corner before committing to the real thing!

The plans and diagrams show all you need to know, but the video puts it into practice.

Step 3: Rebates for Shade and Mortises for Lattice

Once the frame members are complete, mark for rebates that will hold the shade material (shoji paper or frosted acrylic) and cut them, either with a router or shoulder plane.

Then mark for the lattice mortises and chop them to depth.

Step 4: Complete the Lattice

Mark all the lattice pieces with tenons on the ends and halving joints where they intercept (see plans).

Cut the tenons and halvings, and test fit.

Step 5: Shou Sugi Ban and Glue Lattice

The whole of the woodwork was coloured using the Shou Sugi Ban process of scorching with a torch. Take care!

After excess soot is removed, the wood can be sealed with a lacquer, oil, or varnish, etc.

The lattice sections are glued together and installed in the frame as it is assembled.

Step 6: Stand - Base

With the lantern assembled, it's time to build the stand starting with the base.

I didn’t have a wide enough board for the base, so I cut one board across, and then ripped one half down its centre. These three pieces were jointed, then glued together, resulting in a good looking panel from which to prepare the base.

The base was sawn to size, and the edges planed and profiled to about 80°.

The inside dimension of the lantern gave the spacing of the two uprights of the stand, and with that now fixed I was able to bore and chop through mortises in the base to take them.

Because the lantern dimensions will remain virtually fixed, due to its frame construction, it is wise to space these mortises along the grain of the base, rather than across it.

The base was given the shou sugi ban treatment, leaving a space underneath for my logo.

Step 7: Stand - Uprights

The uprights were laminated to save stock. Blocking is glued towards the bottom of the two uprights, positioned to form the main shoulders of the tenons.

A simple cardboard template is then made and used to mark the shape of the feet, ensuring they are all symmetrical, before sawing them out.

Saw marks arecleaned up with a card scraper and files, and the edges beveled.

Step 8: Completing the Stand

The stand draws its design from Japanese torii gates, with a through cross rail, and a shaped top that serves as a handle.

The cross rail was made reasonably deep to help keep the stand square, but I reduce the size of the through tenon, mid-mortise, just for aesthetics. This through tenon protrudes enough to act as a support for the main lantern, which is simply registered on a pin.

The top of the stand sits on stub tenons at the ends of the uprights. Its characteristic shape is set out using a flexible steel rule, and a 5:1 dovetail marker. Curves are sawn with a bow saw, and smoothed with bench plane and spokeshave. The mortises were chopped before the top curve was cut, giving better support.

The final piece of the stand is the lamp rail, which should be positioned such that the light source is just below centre in the lantern. I chose to create a tea-light holder in this rail, which can utilise either paraffin or battery lights. This rail has a stub tenon at each end, which mate with mortises in the uprights.

With all the stand parts scorched and lacquered, assembly takes place in one go, with the cross rail and lamp rail glued first, before the uprights are glued into the base, and the top is attached. The assembly should be checked for square, and then left to cure.

Step 9: Shade Material - the End

I chose to install frosted acrylic for the shade. It looks and casts light like shoji paper, but is easier to install and virtually impossible to damage.

Four pieces are cut to fit the individual sides, between the rebates. They should all be the same size, but its best to prepare them separately.

Each piece was then beveled at 45° along the vertical sides, so that they could all be installed and hold each other in place.

Notice the wooden pegs which pass through the uprights to secure the top of the lantern in place.

Thanks for reading my Instructable. Please post photo's if you copy the lantern.

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