How to Repair Shoji Screens

Kurt Schanaman

The Chinese and the Japanese have traditionally used a special type of rice glue for their shoji screens to facilitate the easy changing of the shoji screen for different seasons. Rice glue dries to a clear consistency and offers exceptional adhesive strength, which also protects the wood finish of your shoji frame. When repairing the screen of your shoji, this glue will make your job simple as it doesn't dry on contact. This will permit you ample time to slide the paper square into place perfectly before the glue begins to set.

Make Rice Paste

  1. According to japangarden.co.uk, producing your own rice paste is a simple, though time consuming, project. Begin by washing 2 to 5 lbs. of rice by pouring the rice into a large kettle. Submerge the rice completely, soak for about two or three minutes and then drain well. Continue rinsing each batch until the water becomes clear.

  2. Lay a large bath towel on a flat surface and cover half of the towel's surface with your washed rice. Gently fold the other half of the towel over the top of the rice and allow to drain for about 12 hours. The towel should be thin enough to absorb enough of the water while also preventing the rice from drying out. The rice itself must be kept moist but not waterlogged.

  3. Pour the rice into a boiling pot of water and bring to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer for 20 minutes. Stir every few minutes for an even extraction of what will become your adhesive "porridge."

  4. Pour your rice mush over a damp towel and allow water to filter from the material. The optimal consistency of your rice glue should be of a medium-thick paper glue similar to commercial brands such as Elmer's.

Replace the Damaged Section

  1. Lightly dampen the surface of the damaged square (or series of squares) by running a damp towel along the framing edges. The moisture from the damp towel will loosen the rice glue that is holding that section.

  2. Cut around the area you just moistened, applying very light pressure, using a razor knife before the moistened edges dry. Only use enough pressure to cut a line in the shoji screen material without cutting into the wooden frame.

  3. Start in one corner of the area you cut and lift the edge away from the wood. Rehydrate the edges again if it doesn't peel up easily. Slowly remove the damaged material from the frame and discard. While removing, be careful not to disturb the surrounding material.

  4. Cut out a square of new material that is large enough to overlap the material surrounding the frame where you just removed the damaged portion. The new material should overlap no more than a quarter of an inch.

  5. Apply your rice glue onto all wooden surface areas where you will be placing your new shoji material and then quickly lay the material onto the frame, sliding it on the fresh glued surface until neatly in place. Allow the glue to dry and trim the excess material.