Saturday, May 30, 2009


My wife and I remodeled our 1923 bungalow last year. As often is the case, the scope of the work mushroomed as we uncovered structural weaknesses, water damage, and the normal ravages of time on natural materials. The one gaping detail that remained unfinished (there are some others, less gaping) was our closet doors. I have been guilty in the past of allowing unfinished details to remain unfinished for, well, for as long as I could get way with avoiding them. I'm getting better about this and as Catharine's birthday approached I thought it would be fun to complete the shoji doors for her birthday, surprising her in more ways than one.

We found a great source for the shoji paper in Wisconsin..... They offer a broad selection of materials ranging from the traditional washi, usually, and incorrectly referred to as rice paper, to rigid translucent panels for outdoor use. We chose a laminate that is flexible and light, like paper, but far more durable and washable.

I'm not accustomed to working with such delicate structures as the thin lattice in shoji. The "kumiko" lattice is 1/4" x 3/8" and where the pieces overlap with a half lap joint they shrink to 1/4" x 3/16". It's very easy to snap the kumiko at the lap joint. I anticipated this, though, and made plenty of extra. The lattice strengthens with each operation and when the lattice pieces are mortised into the frame the whole thing starts to hold together. Even the paper adds rigidity. The engineering is such that the completed panel is just strong enough to do its job as long as you don't get too rambunctious around it.