Shoji: How to Design, Build, and Install Japanese Screens

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9780870118647: Shoji: How to Design, Build, and Install Japanese Screens

Japanese-style shoji screens are translucent, wooden-lattice panels that subtly transform light and space and add an elegant touch to any decor. This book contains all the information you need to design and make shoji for your own home or apartment.

* Notes on aesthetics and design fundamentals
* Complete how-to guide covering basic construction methods, screen materials, and wood selection
* Home projects, including window inserts, sliding and hanging screens, glass panel shoji, double- and single-sided shoji, skylight shoji, decorative wall boxes, and floor and table lanterns
* Introduction to Japanese hand tools and planing and joinery techniques
* Sample lattice patterns, photographs, and line drawings for design and remodeling ideas
* List of suppliers

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About the Author:

JAY VAN ARSDALE is a carpenter and shoji maker who teaches classes in Japanese tools and woodworking techniques. He lives in Oakland, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

[Here is a whole section from Chapter Two. In the book, it is accompanied by seven line drawings.]


In American homes, multiscreen shoji installations are usually located in areas otherwise occupied by curtains, drapes, and blinds (that is, in front of windows and patio doors), in pass-throughs connecting rooms within the home, or in front of closets and other storage areas. A screen less than 24" wide looks cramped and is too narrow to be practical as a doorway; in a multiscreen installation it would require you to move more than one screen each time you wanted to pass through. Beyond 40", a screen can become too heavy to support its own weight without some kind of structural reinforcement like enlarged rails at top and bottom. Three parallel tracks for sliding the shoji is plenty for most installations, although you can use more if the opening is deep enough. You need 1/8" to 1/4" clearance between screens in their tracks.

Types of Shoji Installations

There are many different ways to install shoji in your home. When designing your shoji, think carefully about traffic patterns and who will be opening and closing the screens. Remember that being able to move the shoji gives you control over light and view. Design your screens to maximize both.

1. Sliding. This is the traditional Japanese method. The rails of the shoji are rabeted to form ridges that fit into tracks (dados) at top and bottom. Rabeting enables the screens to have a minimum of passing clearance without reducing the amount of wood between the dados. The lower track groove is shallower (1/8" is enough) than the top and supports the entire weight of the screen as it moves. The upper track groove, at least twice the depth of the lower to allow easy removal, serves only to keep the screen vertical. Because the entire screen is supported from below, and not from the side as with a Western-style hinged door, the frame needs only a minimum of structural reinforcement.
A modern alternative to this sliding mode calls for a wheel in a housing to be mortised into the bottom rail of the shoji. The groove in the wheel runs on a metal track that is mounted on the floor or threshold. An omnidirectional caster can also be used in an inlaid hardwood track. The rolling action of the wheel or caster eliminates the friction of wood-to-wood contact in the bottom track. Such an installation is suited to very large panels and to panels that contain glass, thick plastic sheeting, or other heavy materials. It also works well in high-traffic areas where the screens have to operate quickly. The top is a simple tenon/rabet and dado.
2. Hanging. With most sliding screens, the tops of the bottom tracks are made level with the flooring so that people don't trip as they pass through the opening. If the screens are added later or are installed in a carpeted area, it may not be possible to inlay the tracks. Instead, the screens can be fitted with a roller device at the top and suspended from an upper track.

Most hardware stores stock a variety of tracking devices and guides that help prevent the screens from swinging as they move. Many systems use adjusting screws to make the screens plumb. Unfortunately, these devices are often unattractive. Hide them from sight by a valance or other device (see part 4). Rollers and other mechanical devices can also be quite noisy, and this might destroy the tranquil mood you have labored to create with the shoji in the first place.

3. Bifold (hinged). Although hinges are rarely used with shoji in Japan, they make sense in many American homes. Used with a swivel roller at the top of the screen, hinges allow several screens to operate in a single track, making installation possible in long but shallow openings. Because the screens are stored perpendicular to the track, edge-on to the viewer, the opening is obscured much less than with conventional sliding panels. Unlike sliding screens, hinged screens have a tendency to sag and may need to be stabilized along the diagonal with hipboards or thickened rails.
4. Freestanding. Single screens are often used as partial, stationary partitions without tracking systems. They can rest in a stand that can be moved about the room, or they can be attached to a wall, floor, or ceiling. Two or more screens can also be attached at their sides and arranged in a zigzag to make them stand on their own. Since the weight of each screen rests on the bottom, lateral shear here is not a structural concern as it is with hinged screens. Freestanding screens have a decorative, sculptural value and make versatile room dividers that give privacy without cutting off light or closing you in. See part 4 for examples.

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