Creating a Shoji Screen

A Shoji screen with five panels dividing a room.
What You'll Need
Lumber in two thicknesses
Thin bamboo strips
Circular saw
Paint or stain
Paint brushes
Rice paper or plastic
Spray bottle
Hair dryer
Screws and screwdriver

The Shoji screen remains one of the most popular items in Japanese style décor. Originating during the third century, the screens have folding panels made of wood with translucent rice paper insets. Its original function was to act as a room divider while providing illumination. They gained great popularity when American architect Frank Lloyd Wright discovered them on a trip to Japan, brought them back, and started using them in his house plans. They became more popular when architect Walter Gropius began using the Shoji screen as an integral part of his living space design. At first, he employed native Japanese artists but soon these beautiful works of art were imitated by American crafts professionals.

Now, with a little patience and a little guidance, home décor enthusiasts can create their own Shoji screens.

Build the Frame

For the outer frame, you will need four rectangular-shaped pieces of wood, cut to lengths of seven feet for the height and five feet for the width. These pieces do not need to be very thick as this initial frame will be only half the total thickness of your screen. Nail these together at the corners to create your frame.

Attach Vertical Pieces

Select smaller, thinner pieces of wood for your vertical lengths. Even though your frame is seven feet high, these pieces will actually need to be cut under this length. To calculate the proper length for these, take your total screen height and subtract the width of your framing pieces, which will likely be about two to three inches at most, multiplied by two. This will give you the length of the inside of your frame. So, for example, if you have used 2x2s or 1x2s for the frame, you will need to subtract four inches from your seven-foot length to get the appropriate measurement for your vertical pieces.

When you have these pieces cut to the right length, place them inside the frame and nail them every four inches along the top. Once they're secured to the top, nail them at the bottom as well.

Attach Horizontal Strips

Nail thin strips of bamboo or some other lightweight wood to the backs of the vertical pieces at about every five inches creating a grid-shaped, lattice-like pattern once completed. Again, these pieces need to be trimmed to fit inside the frame, so use a calculation just like the one above to get the correct measurement for these pieces as well.

Repeat Five Times

Now that you have one screen finished, create five more following steps one through three. Make all screens the same size and then paint each with a stain or finish of your choice.

Add Rice Paper

Sandwich the rice paper between two halves of your screen and then attach these by gluing them and then securing with finishing nails if needed. Repeat this three times to create three screens in total.

Tighten the Rice Paper

After the glue has thoroughly dried, take the bottle filled with water and lightly spray each screen. While the paper is wet, use the hairdryer blowing warm air on the paper until it tightens.

Hinge the Screens

Attach each completed screen together using hinges. Place one hinge at the top, one in the middle, and a final one near the bottom.

Your completed Shoji screen can be painted and decorated in whatever fashion you like. These beautiful Japanese folding screens can change the ambiance of any room creating a peasant and even calming mood. The screens can be placed at open, window areas to dim the lighting or can be used to divide room areas, separating one portion from the other or “screening” an area from viewing eyes.

Some Shoji screen makers substitute rice paper with a thin plastic imported from Japan that resembles the paper. These substitutes are about two millimeters thick and will last much longer than paper. Also, it is a great idea to use plastic if the screen that's being made will be used outdoors.