A question about making shoji screens or room dividers


My wife wants me to make a shoji screen but I would really call it a room divider as it will be about 8-9 feet in width. It will be made up of individual panels about 24" side. She wants it to have the area inside the frame of each panel covered in a fabric that won't let much light through. I'm trying to decide if the better way to stretch the fabric which must look nice on each side of the room divider would be over a solid piece of maybe 1/4" plywood or if it would be better to do it over a rectangular frame that is empty in the middle (imagine the frame being made up of 4 1" wide pieces. The best way I think would be a solid piece of plywood but we both worry about weight. This room divider will not be up all the time but will only be put up when the space it is dividing needs to be closed off for some temporary sleeping arrangements. I know the rectangular frame over which the fabric is stretched would be lighter but I wonder if it would be strong enough.
I can't find anything that gives me a clue by using google. I'm guessing that one or more of you have made something similar. What would you advise?
TIA.
Dick Snyder
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Dick Snyder wrote:

room
inside the

through.
must look

maybe
frame that

pieces.
worry
only be

which the

strong
guessing
advise?
I made a set of 7 panels 24" wide by just short of 8' tall, sliding on closet door runners. The frames are 3/4 x 1 1/2 clear pine, which I milled a 1/4" groove in for the panels, which are in my case 1/4 masonite, painted white and sponge textured with white pearlescent (faking rice paper, sort of). I worked nights and needed to cover a sliding glass door to block light. Each panel weighs about 25 lbs, if you used something like this, I think your screen would be too heavy to move. How are you going to attach the panels to each other? If you could find some hinge hardware, something like the hinges on an old typewriter case, where there is a release and a pin that half the hinge slides off of, you could break down your screen to individual panels when storing it. Seems to me you need something solid for a panel, 1/4 baltic birch would weigh a lot less than the masonite I used, I just happened to have it lying around. Spray 3-m glue would work to glue the fabric to the ply. Don't forget to allow for the fabric when routing/dadoing the groove in the frame parts. I used 3/4 x 1/4 slats for "rails" to form the shoji look, applied with glue AFTER I painted the panels. Matter of fact, I painted first masking off the glue area, then assembled the whole frame, so the masonite really is holding the frame together. Hope this helps Gary

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Thanks Gary. That is very helpful. There are special double action hinges that you can buy for these things:
http://www.rockler.com/ecom7/product_details.cfm?offerings_id &6&filter=hinges
However, those hinges don't separate. Maybe I can figure a way to use different hinges every third panel or something to allow me to separate the divider and thereby make it light enough to move.

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Hi Dick, A few years ago I made several of these screens. At the time I did a fair amount of reading and goggling rec. woodworking. One point which surprised me was that it is normal to change the paper or fabric every year or so. Something to consider in your design. Cheers, JG
Dick Snyder wrote:

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Dick Snyder wrote:

room
inside the

through.
must look

maybe
frame that

pieces.
worry
only be

which the

strong
guessing
advise?
Hi Dick,
When we lived in San Francisco, I had a Japenese carpenter build us some authentic shoji screens to cover a sliding glass door and as a face frame for an entertainment center.
He used well dried Bass wood. The screen part was a very thin but strong fiberglass sheet, it looked exactally like real rice paper, but you could windex it and wipe the dust off.
He designed it so the back side of each panel was a small frame itself held in place by screws (into the larger outside frame) so we could replace the fiberglass if it ever got damaged.
I top mounted it on a sliding track which worked really well.
This was in 1998, so I don't have any receipts anymore, but I'll dig around.
The carpenter had his shop in South San Francisco.
rob
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Here is the best I can do (searching with google and my lame memory)
Japan Woodworking & Design 233 S Maple Av #5 South San Francisco, CA 94080 650 873 6175
Maybe he can tell you where to get the fiberglass mat, or maybe he will sell it to you. It was just a two person shop (father and son).
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rob wrote:

If you google "fiberglass shoji" you'll get a huge number of hits, some of which have the material available for order.
--
--John
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Dick Snyder wrote:

room
inside the

through.
must look

maybe
frame that

pieces.
worry
only be

which the

strong
guessing
advise?
Hi Dick,
When we lived in San Francisco, I had a Japenese carpenter build us some authentic shoji screens to cover a sliding glass door and as a face frame for an entertainment center.
He used well dried Bass wood. The screen part was a very thin but strong fiberglass sheet, it looked exactally like real rice paper, but you could windex it and wipe the dust off.
He designed it so the back side of each panel was a small frame itself held in place by screws (into the larger outside frame) so we could replace the fiberglass if it ever got damaged.
I top mounted it on a sliding track which worked really well.
This was in 1998, so I don't have any receipts anymore, but I'll dig around.
The carpenter had his shop in South San Francisco.
rob
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Dunno if it helps, but perhaps you could use an exterior window-screen design. You know, for keeping bugs and such out. I redid the screens in (on?) my old house, and they were a face-frame with a little piece of molding nailed on to it, which held the screen down.
Nahm did a similar trick with a gazebo, I think it was. His method for stretching the screens was pretty nifty.
Good luck either way.
-Phil Crow
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On 21 Mar 2005 06:07:48 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Can you point to that please?
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Let's see, how to tell it...
He laid 2 screens end to end, and tacked the screens onto the frames at the far ends. Stand by for bad ASCII art:
|~~~~~~~~~~~~~| |~~~~~~~~~~~~| | | | | |~~~~~~~~~~~~~| |~~~~~~~~~~~~| Here and Here
Then, put a 2x or something between the 2 frames, effectively making the total length of the actual screen material longer and stretching it tight. Proceed with nailing it down.
I hope that clears it up.
-Phil Crow
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Dick Snyder wrote:

You said it was to be a room divider but also said the individual panels would be about "24" side". Since it is to be a room divider, I assume each panel will be *more* than 24" tall? Or do you plan to stack 24"x24" panel on top of others?
If the latter, you should be able to stretch fabric over a 24"x24" panel without deflecting the frame members. If each panel is 24" by height of panel, panel being 5-6 feet high, then no, the scantling of your frame members won't allow it IMO. ________________

Years ago, I built a bunch of screens like that to use as backgrounds (I was a photographer) Don't recall exactly the sizes but they were approximately 8' wide x 7' tall. I used 3/4 x 1 1/4 stock for the frames. Inserts were 1/4 ply covered with wallpaper (1/8 door skin ply would probably work too). The screens weren't all that heavy, I was easily able to schlepp them around myself.
-- dadiOH ____________________________
dadiOH's dandies v3.06... ...a help file of info about MP3s, recording from LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that. Get it at http://mysite.verizon.net/xico
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The room divider will be like a shoji screen but instead of being 3 or 4 panels, it will probably be 6 or 7 panels. The panels will be about 6' 6" high.
Regarding the comment about scantling, my preliminary thinking has been to cut dados in the frame pieces. I would insert fabric covered panels. That would not put any stress on the frame members I don't think. The other alternative is rabbets like the Nahm comment earlier in this thread. Either way, there will be no pull on the frame members by the fabric.

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Dick Snyder wrote:

Google "shoji howto" and "shoji paper" and you may have more luck. There's a 92 page book on shoji that goes for around 20 bucks that you might want to take a look at.
Before you get started, learn how the Japanese make them--you may decide that you don't want to do it in the traditional way, but the traditional way has worked for a very long time. Among other things, they use paper or in recent times acrylic, not fabric. This eliminates the whole "stretching the fabric" issue.

--
--John
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Thanks for the google tip!! Sometimes you have to learn to ask the right question. My previous searches only ended up with products for sale.

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There are a couple of books on making shoji screens- one by Jay Van Arsdale and one by Toshio Odate. I have the Van Arsdale book which is very thorough and I've checked out the Odate book from the library. I've made several shoji screens, mainly three or four panel moveable screens with dual action hinges that I purchased from Lee Valley. I also made a set of swinging (think Old West saloon) shoji doors with cafe hinges. For the frames I've used vertical grain Douglas Fir and white and red oak. For the panels I've used both rice paper and a spun fiberglass material named Synskin sold by TAP Plastics. The rice paper I glued to the frames with wallpaper paste. The Synskin I stapled into a rabbet and then put trim over the staples. The Synskin is thicker and would definitely stand up to more abuse. I've also made solid panel screens with 1/8" masonite panels inside a frame. This screen I primed with pigmented shellac and painted. I would look at the Van Arsdale book for some ideas and construction methods.
Dale
Dick Snyder wrote:

room
inside the

through.
must look

maybe
frame that

pieces.
worry
only be

which the

strong
guessing
advise?
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It was somewhere outside Barstow when "Dick Snyder"

Shoji uses sliding panels, supported in a frame. If you make it free standing, you have to adapt the designs somewhat. They're also very lightweight and you may find a heavier and more stable design is easier to live with. Paper infills are quite easily torn and the panels are light enought (unchanged) that they may even blow over in a draught.
Personally I'd take a look at Frank Llloyd Wright's furniture work. He was a great afficionado of Japanese design and also of living in large continuous spaces broken up with the use of portable screens. Some of his "not-quite-shoji" designs may be of interest to you.
Toshio Odate's shoji book is good - there are a couple of others too. Genuine shoji making techniques are hard work - very precise fitting of the joinery.
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On Sun, 20 Mar 2005 21:15:59 -0500, "Dick Snyder"

Woodsmith published an article in their magazine years ago about a 3 panel shoji. They use a somewhat non traditional method of construction. I modified that design to use as individual panels to slide in front of two different windows in my house. Both are quite light because of my choice of wood. In my case, I used sitka spuce. Perhaps that issue or article is still available from them. You build multiple sets of that 3 panel assembly instead of one giant assembly.
And that could be one of the keys to your problem. Use a light wood for the frame construction. Others in this thread have pointed you to other good sources of information.
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On Sun, 20 Mar 2005 21:15:59 -0500, "Dick Snyder"

I haven't made one *yet*, but I've been putting some thought into them for my bedroom. Best way I can think of to do it is to make a rectangular frame that is empty in the middle with a dado cut into the inside of the frame sections. Tack the fabric to some small pieces of matching wood that fill the dado (leaving just enough room for the fabric, of course) and then glue the strips into place. If you're stretching the sucker really tight, you could use some "decorative" pins or dowels to make sure the strips you've got the fabric tacked to don't pop out later on.
Hope this gives you a starting point.
Aut inveniam viam aut faciam
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