How to Make a Japanese Shoji Screen Wardrobe Cupboard

Updated March 23, 2017

Shoji sliding screens have become increasingly popular in America over the last several years since they can hide practically anything, including clothes, behind a stylish decor Buying a wardrobe cabinet with a shoji screen facade can be costly—even more so if you need either a wood stain or plywood cut with custom dimensions to fit an odd-shaped room. Building your own shoji screen wardrobe with a few pieces of plywood and rice paper is a cost-effective option, with the added benefit of being able to customise the size, look and feel of the finished product.

Measure the area where you plan to construct your wardrobe so you can determine the dimensions. This will tell you the size of the wood you'll need and how deep you'll be able to make it. For the purposes of this article, let's go with a simple box that's 6-by-4-by-2 feet.

Cut or purchase plywood that is long and wide enough to accommodate the project. You can either get individual plywood sheets that are 6 feet high and 4 feet long (6-by-2 feet for the sides), which is easier to put together, or buy 2-by-4 planks and nail them together. You can optionally choose medium-density fiberboard (MDF), a wood composite, for the back, which is sturdier and cheaper. It's not pretty, but it won't be seen by anyone.

Construct the shell of the wardrobe using hammer and nails, forming a box shape. Leave the front open, since that's where you'll be installing the doors. Drive the nails deep enough into the wood on the outside of the shell so they won't stick out.

Measure the width of the inside of the wardrobe, when the sliding doors will be fully extended. Based on these instructions, the width of the open space will be 6 feet high and 4 feet wide. The metal track you cut or purchase will match those dimensions. If you've never done any kind of metal cutting, buying the track hardware is a better option for you.

Install the track. Normally the tracks will come in a pair (complete with rollers) whether you purchase a sliding door hardware kit or purchase the hardware separately. Nail the bottom track to the floor on the inside of the box and the top track to the inside top of the box. Make sure the nails don't stick out, or the doors won't slide shut properly. Place the plastic rollers inside both of the tracks, so the doors will glide without getting caught on anything.

Cut four long planks of plywood that will eventually become the shoji screen. They need to match the height of the open space inside the wardrobe; again, for this article they should be 6 feet high. The width will vary if you want a thicker or narrower frame for the screen, but generally 1-by-8 planks will suit your purpose. Cut four shorter pieces, about 2 feet long, for the width of each screen. (When fully extended, you'll have two screens, 2 feet wide, that total the 4 feet you need.) These pieces will also be 1-by-8. When all the pieces are put together, the two frames should completely cover the space left by the front of the wardrobe.

Build the frame for each screen using the wood you've just cut. Unlike the wardrobe, which you nailed, try to construct the screens as they do in Japan---using a tongue-in-groove method that doesn't require nails. Start by chiselling notches into the longer plywood planks that are large enough to accommodate the smaller pieces when inserted, like a puzzle.

Carve out tabs in the smaller planks that correspond to those notches in the larger planks, and insert them to form the screen's frame. Make sure there are no gaps in the notches or the frame will be too loose. A dab of wood glue will keep the tabs in place, but the glue shouldn't be visible when dry.

Cut out smaller and narrower strips of wood, inserting them at even intervals every few inches across each screen to create a pattern. This can be accomplished by cutting 1-by-8 plywood planks in half lengthwise (from top to bottom), which you can either do yourself or have done professionally. Add vertical strips first, cutting them just shy of 6 feet to fit snugly inside the frame, followed by the same pattern horizontally (again cutting the wood to closely fit inside the 2-foot width). Using wood glue is appropriate here to attach the vertical strips, but carve notches into the horizontal strips to slide them over the vertical strips.

Glue the rice paper on the back of each screen. An organic, rice-based mixture (2 cups water and 3/4 cup rice flour) will make the best glue. Regular glue is not recommended.

Spray each completed screen with water, then gently blow dry with a hair dryer to tighten the rice paper.

Place the screens on the track inside the wardrobe, attaching each one to the top track with a ball-bearing hangar.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Plywood (size depends on the size of your wardrobe cupboard)
  • Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) (optional)
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Sliding door track with rollers
  • Chisel
  • Saw
  • Wood glue
  • Rice paper
  • Rice glue
  • Spray bottle
  • Hair dryer
  • Ball-bearing hangars
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About the Author

Umiko Sasaki has been writing for newspapers and trade magazines since 1999. Credits include, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, and several regional charities. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Drew University in playwriting and has owned a copywriting business in New Jersey since 2005.