Build a Folding Screen with Paper Panels

A Folding Screen made from paper panels adds function and visual interest to a room. The most commonly found one is made from rice paper, stretched and attached to a bamboo frame, creating a stylish divider that does not block out light and still allows privacy. Many are decorated with painted designs on the rice paper, and higher end folding screens are works of art. Making your own folding screen with paper panels is an economical alternative to buying a more expensive rice paper room divider.

What You Will Need for each 60 by 18 inch Panel:

  • 4 60 inch 2x2's
  • 4 20 inch 2x2's
  • 6 16 inch 1x1's
  • 2 58 inch 1x1's
  • 18x60 inch sheet of rice paper
  • Carpenter's square
  • Saw
  • Wood glue
  • Wood screws 
  • Hinges

Step 1 -- Cut Out Frame Joints

For each frame, you will join them together with a technique called mortise and tenon joints. A mortise is a square hole cut on one end, where a matching square end will fit. Cut out mortises that are 1 inch square on the upright, 60 inch sides of the framing pieces. Carve out 1 inch square tenons on the 16 inch sides of the framing pieces. Use your carpenter's square to help you cut these joints, so they will fit snugly together.

Step 2 -- Cut Inside Wood Joints 

Your smaller, 58 inch 1x1's will serve as upright supports on the inside of the frame, and your 16 inch 1x1's will be attached horizontally to these vertical supports. Lay each of these horizontal pieces out and mark with a pencil where they will cross. Carve out square joints at each of these marks on the upright supports. These are known as lap joints, measuring 1 inch wide and 1/2 inch deep. Repeat these same cuts on the corresponding ends of the horizontal pieces, so these wood pieces will fit together, similar to jigsaw puzzle pieces.

Step 3 -- Prep and Glue Joints 

Carefully sand each of the lap joints for the inner supports and the mortise and tenon joints for the outer parts of the frame. Assemble all pieces of your frame before gluing to make sure they fit together securely. The key to this is accurate measurements. Glue the inner support lap joints together first, with a small dab of wood glue, and then do the same with the mortise and tenon joints on the outer frame. Secure each glued joint with wood clamps, and allow to completely dry for 24 hours.

Step 4 -- Attach Rice Paper

Trim your rice paper to fit precisely over the front of each panel. It should be exactly 60 by 18 inches for this project. Apply small beads of wood glue near the inside edges of each side of the rice paper. Make sure not to get any glue too close to the edges, and not to use so much that it will drip. Smooth out the glue bead with your fingers and remove any extra. Lay this down evenly along the edge of the frame, allow this edge to dry for a few hours, and then repeat with the remaining 3 sides.

Step 5 -- Attach Panels with Hinges 

Once all rice paper is dry on every panel, stand them upright and use 2 hinges on each panel, with wood screws, to attach them together in a folding pattern.