How to Build a Japanese Style Sliding Screen

Written by umiko sasaki
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How to Build a Japanese Style Sliding Screen
(Dynamic Graphics Group/Dynamic Graphics Group/Getty Images)

The shoji screen (or sliding screen) was a staple in Japanese decor long before it gained popularity in the United States. Construction of the basic shoji screen frame has been fairly uniform over the centuries. People use shoji screens in many ways, such as simple decoration or as a way of hiding furniture from view.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Wooden planks or beams (size depends on the height and width of your project)
  • Sliding door track
  • Rollers
  • Ball bearing hangars
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Small flathead screws
  • Chisel
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Wood glue
  • Rice paper
  • Rice glue
  • Water spray bottle
  • Hair dryer

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  1. 1

    Measure the width of the area when the screen will be fully extended. Cut or purchase a length of metal track that corresponds to those measurements. (If you're not familiar with metal cutting, purchasing a track is recommended.) Depending on your house, you may need to cut away a portion of the floor or doorjamb to lay the track.

  2. 2

    Install the track. Nail the bottom track to the floor and the top track to whatever fixture you will have above the screen: a doorjamb, ceiling, or other stationary beam that can act as an anchor for the screens. The nails, especially the ones in the floor, should be driven deep enough that they don't stick out. The track grooves should be far enough apart that the screens don't touch or rub against each other when you slide them. Put rollers inside both the top and bottom tracks, near the sides, to allow the screens to move easily.

  3. 3

    Measure four planks of wood as long as the screen will be high—two planks for each screen. They must match each other in height. Four shorter pieces, length equal to each other, will serve as the top and bottom of the doors. The width of all planks must be uniform, or the rice paper will have a sloping and uneven appearance when you glue it to the frame.

  4. 4

    Build the basic outline of the screen. Although this can be done with nails or staples, shoji screens work best when you utilise Japanese joinery—a method that connects wood frames seamlessly by chiselling notches into one piece and fitting the other piece into it without nails. Use the chisel to make notches in each of the larger wooden planks so the shorter connecting pieces will be able to slide in easily, akin to fitting together the pieces of a jigsaw. These notches have to be large enough to accommodate the connecting pieces of wood, without creating a gap.

  5. 5

    Chisel corresponding tabs or pegs for the shorter planks that will be inserted into the notches.

  6. 6

    Embed the shorter connecting pieces into the longer planks so the edges of the frame will be smooth, leaving no gaps. A small portion of wood glue will help keep the frame together, but make sure none of the glue is visible when dried. Avoid using nails as reinforcements, as the frame will be in danger of cracking.

  7. 7

    Attach smaller strips of wood evenly within the frame (usually a few inches apart) to create a pattern of several wooden squares. The width should be narrower than the width of the pieces framing the screen. Start with vertical pieces, then horizontal. You can use a dab of wood glue to attach them to the outside frame, and cut notches out of the horizontal strips so they will fit snugly over the vertical strips.

  8. 8

    Glue the rice paper to the back of the screen, so it can be viewed from behind the wooden lattice work. If you're going to install a sliding screen that separates two rooms and will view the door from both sides, make another identical wooden frame and place the rice paper between the two screens. Although standard commercial glue works, it's better to attach the rice paper by making a rice-based glue. This is a simple mixture containing 198gr of either rice flour or thoroughly boiled short-grain rice and 2 cups of water.

  9. 9

    Tighten the rice paper to form-fit the screen by spraying water across the material, and lightly blow-drying it. Don't turn the dryer on high, or you may burn the paper.

  10. 10

    Attach a ball bearing hanger to the top of each screen with small flathead screws so that the screws don't protrude. The hanger should match the size of the rollers inside the track to allow for easy sliding.

  11. 11

    Install the screens inside the track. A flathead screwdriver may help to make this process easier by sliding the door into the groove provided.

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