How to Design, Build & Install a Japanese Shoji Screen

Tanya Khan

A shoji screen is a translucent screen typically used to divide walls in Japanese houses. Traditionally constructed by attaching rice paper to a wooden or bamboo framework, the screen enables light to filter through while maintaining privacy.

Design and build a freestanding shoji screen to divide a large room.

Today, shoji screens are commonly used as sliding doors or freestanding screens in Western homes to partition or divide large rooms and enhance the interior design. If you build a shoji screen for your home, design it to fit the appropriate spot.

  1. Measure the area where you want to install the shoji screen to determine its height and width. Depending on personal preference and available space, build the screen for a cabinet door or sliding door, or make it freestanding. Note the length and width of the spot in inches.

  2. Design the shoji screen on paper before building it. Include its height and width, the color and type of wood, and the size of the rice papers you plan to use. Also draw any designs you want the screen to have, such as a grid pattern made from wooden strips, or wooden strips glued along its top and bottom. Work on the design until satisfied with the result. While a sliding door is composed of a single panel, a freestanding shoji screen consists of three.

  3. Cut 1-to-2-inch-wide wood boards for the screen with a miter saw. Refer to the sketch for cutting wood according to the length and width needed. Join the mitered ends of the wood with glue or nails to form rectangular frames. Also cut smaller wooden strips for the inner design if you wish.

  4. Prime or paint the frames according to the design and let them dry. Use a small paint brush with the selected paint to reach inner corners and edges of the wood frame for uniform color.

  5. Lay the wooden frame on the floor and apply an even layer of wood glue over its edges. Unroll a sheet of rice paper over the panel carefully, pressing its edges over the glue until completely covered. For a three-panel freestanding screen, lay two more frames over the previous frame, in turn, and glue rice paper over their edges. Attaching the screens back to back with rice paper sandwiched between them helps ensure that their edges will be level and straight.

  6. Attach the necessary elements to the screen to install it. If making a freestanding screen, attach the three panels to one another with hinges, using two per connection. If creating a sliding door, screw one aluminum U-railing to the floor and another into the wall above the door’s molding. Slide the top and lower edges of the screen into the parallel railings so it slides easily.