How to Make a Japanese Paper Door

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A Japanese paper door or screen is known as shoji, named for the translucent neutral-toned paper that covers a wooden frame. Westerners have come to call it “rice paper,” though it's not actually made from rice. Constructing your own shoji door will bring a touch of Asian influence to your decor, offering a tranquil atmosphere with gentle, diffused light.

Things You'll Need

  • 1/2-inch wooden strips (size depends on your chosen door dimensions)
  • Sliding door track
  • Ball bearing hangers
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Chisel
  • Hammer
  • Small nails
  • Wood glue
  • Rice paper
  • Double-sided tape or "washi"-safe glue
  • Water spray bottle
  • Hair dryer
  • Measure the area where the shoji door is going to be when fully extended. Buy a length of metal track that matches the dimensions you took. If the floor in your house is hardwood or another inflexible surface, you might have to cut into a small part of it in order to lay the track.

  • Lay down the metal track. Tack it to the floor with nails or screws, and lay the top part of the track against the ceiling; make sure the two tracks are parallel to each other so the door won't hang at an angle.

  • Measure four strips of 1/2-inch wood at least 6 feet high, but ideally an inch shorter than your ceiling. Measure four other 1/2-inch strips, equal to each other in length but shorter than the 6-foot pieces. These will form the outline of two shoji doors—one that's stationary, and one that moves.

  • Construct the frame. The beauty of shoji screens comes from its liberal use of Japanese joinery: a traditional carpentry technique that forms furniture with a chisel and hammer in place of nails or staples. Chisel notches into the longer wooden strips in which you'll insert the shorter strips, not unlike a jigsaw puzzle. The notches should be large enough to accommodate the connecting strips, but should not leave a gap.

  • Insert the smaller strips into the larger ones, gluing the strips together to form two rectangles. Wood glue is the best choice, but it shouldn't be visible after it dries.

  • Construct the patterned grids for each door. Known as “kumiko” (which means “woven”), these squares are the signature of a shoji screen. Grids vary in size and width but the general dimensions are 1/4-inch wide, with the length depending on the dimensions of your frame. The thickness can match that of the frame, at 1/2 inch. Glue the strips to the frame, spacing them evenly, to form the grid.

  • Attach the shoji paper (also called rice paper) to the frame, either using double-sided tape or glue that's safe for “washi” (Japanese paper). Other kinds of glue might have an adverse reaction to the delicate paper. When you're done gluing or taping it, you can stretch it across the wooden frame to fit better by spraying it lightly with water and lightly using a blow-dryer on low heat to tighten it.

  • Install the door onto the track, screwing a ball bearing hanger to the tops of both doors. If you have trouble getting the doors to fit inside the track, use a flat-head screwdriver to gently guide it in.

References

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