It’s traditional in Japan to have the Shoji be raw wood, usually Hinoki, a Cedar from Northern Japan. Like rice paper, this is somewhat impractical here in the US. Over time, the oil in your skin will absorb into the wood and in my opinion, looks bad. Another good reason to use a high-quality finish is to seal the wood.
To Remain Stable, Wood Must Be Sealed
Wood will absorb moisture from the air and is constantly expanding and contracting. This can cause the Shoji to warp or swell causing all kinds of issues. My intention is that when the Shoji leave my shop, they will be settled and have minimal movement. Remember, if the Shoji are bi-passing and warp or cup more than 1/8″, they may hit each other when you slide the doors.
To get that beautiful fine furniture-like finish, I use a high-quality lacquer in a Satin sheen. I can do a two-part system where the catalyst is mixed prior to spraying. This type lacquer is tough and when spray properly has a thin film on the wood. While sealed, it has a more natural look – almost like there is no finish.
Is There A “Green” Finish?
I have searched the internet and ask many people in the industry if there is any kind of “green” finish. Sadly there isn’t really anything except perhaps linseed oil or tung oil. I have found an outfit called BioShield Paint. They have a wonderful hard oil product that I recommend for the Do-It-Yourself-er. I can send you your Shoji in raw wood and you can finish them yourself! I don’t do this finish myself as it is very time consuming. It appears to be as close to natural as I can find.
Matching Your Existing Finish
You may require the screens to be finished by your painting contractor to match existing wood. I can send your Shoji raw, fully sanded and ready for finish. The insert panel is left loose and the back-side Kumiko (grid) is drilled for screws, making it easy to install. Water-based polyurethane and lacquer is available in satin and semi-gloss.