Shoji Blog

Stair-step style Tansu in Cherry

Stair-step style Tansu in Cherry

My long-time client and patron Steve G ask me to make him a Tansu. This came about during a discussion in his kitchen. I told him I always wanted to build a Tansu style kitchen for someone.
A few weeks later, I heard from him. He is a really good artist. Super creative guy. The paintings in my previous blog posts are his ( I made the frames).
He sent me some drawings and I agreed I would build it down the road as I had several Shoji jobs already lined up.
I contacted him in October and by November, I had collected the deposit and ordered up all the Cherry I needed. The body of the Tansu is 5/4 Qtr Superior Grade Eastern Cherry.


It was ripped to random (3-5″ wide strips) mixed up and then glued back together again into 15″ x 8′ planks. These were then planed down to 1″ and sanded flat on the dimensional sander to 120 grit. This alone was over $2000.
No sooner than I started cutting up the planks; I was given 30 days notice from my long-time (8.5 yrs) landlord. They were going to make my shop space into offices and I was to get out. They would not budge on my moving out date.

Anyway I had 2 months of work to do in 30 days and I somehow managed to get it done and delivered to my finisher on my move out day.

13-shop pix and tansu raw 7-7-2015 5-22-13 AM 3648x2736 11-7-2016 5-58-38 PM 2560x192006-shop pix and tansu raw 7-7-2015 5-22-13 AM 3648x2736 10-28-2016 5-33-42 PM 2560x192005-shop pix and tansu raw 7-7-2015 5-22-13 AM 3648x2736 10-24-2016 2-39-03 PM 2560x192007-shop pix and tansu raw 7-7-2015 5-22-13 AM 3648x2736 11-1-2016 5-39-19 PM 2560x192010-shop pix and tansu raw 7-7-2015 5-22-13 AM 3648x2736 11-7-2016 12-14-05 PM 2560x1920P1070360P1070365P1070364P1070361

My client; Steve loves it, it’s just what he ask for (remember, he designed it).

To recap, this is Eastern Cherry framework and Local Alder for the drawer faces and drawers. These woods are very similar but different collors. The Cherry will get very dark, while the Alder stays a mellow tan. Makes for a beautiful contrast…

It’s 11″ deep, and is about 8′ x 8′. 100lb full extension dwr slides and Japanese tansu hardware from a Berkley CA company called Eastern Classics..

The paper-like insert in the shoji is the standard Warlon acrylic I always use in an off-white shade.

It took me another week to actually move out.


I moved to the only place I could find in a short timespan… the back half of a motorcycle repair shop in St Johns neighborhood. I like the folks I share it with. It needs a lot of work to get it right. When some jobs started coming around, I hustled to rearrange the space to work in. Instead of a “workshop”, I now call it “my studio” to try and give a cold windowless concrete tilt-up some class. More on that later.


I had some folks from Southern Oregon contact me. They had a 4 panel, folding Shoji they brought back from Japan. This was interesting in it’s self as they don’t make a lot of folding screen in Japan. We had to coordinate the shoji delivery as they were passing through Portland from Ashland (Southern Oregon) and had a small window to stop by the shop with the shoji.

I assume this was a “made for export” item. it was well made and appeared to be of Hinoki or Sugi Japanese wood.

I removed the old paper and replaced with a Kozo (Japanese Mulberry) type paper. Tough and a little thicker than the thin paper usually used. Real Shoji-paper is usually about like a rolling-paper thickness. It is NOT made of rice as most people think.

You need to use the correct glue on Shoji as it needs to be easily removed.

You don’t want to sand the kumiko, just use warm water, a plant sprayer and don’t soak the wood,as it may stain the wood. Cedar will release tannins into water (or even the glue) and it makes a light brown stain. If the paper doesn’t want to come off easily, soak some rags. I would tear off strips approx. 1-1/2″ to 2″ wide, wet them, and leave them as long (length-wise) as you can. Damp but not real wet, and folded, you can lay them onto the glue side of the Kumiko and allow to absorb some of the moisture. This should make it come right off. Use a small scraper and carefully remove all the glue you can. Wipe down the wood before it absorbs on the sides and face of the Kumiko.

You can make your own riceglue by boiling up some sticky rice. keep adding water as it cooks out, then run through a blender or even a Nutri-Bullit. I buy a glue strainer from an Art store but you can find them at paint stores too, they’re much bigger though. Anyway, strain it through the netting and put it into a glue type bottle. I buy bottles from the dollar store. They are made for hair products, ketchup, paint etc.

Needs about a 1/16″ hole, maybe slightly bigger. 1/8″ hole is as big as I would go. Glue needs to be runny enough to flow and gooey enough to stay in a line when you squeeze it out.

Before you do your shoji, better practice on some wood and practice laying the paper on. The glue will spread once the paper hit’s it. We use rice-glue as it shouldn’t leave a stain once it’s dry.

So, lay the shoji on a bench or some sawhorses at waist height for ease. cut your paper to fit the door. If you’re having to use regular shoji paper in the 11″ rolls then figure out where the roll will cross a kumiko strip and trim it so the paper stops in the middle of the kumiko. I use a sharp saw blade in my table saw and cut the whole roll. In the case of these shoji in the pix, I cut off a 37″ roll to 18-1/4″.

Lay the paper in the shoji to make sure it fits. allow cutting off an extra 1/8″. In my case, the shoji kumiko was 18-3/8″ wide.

Having extra space makes it lay down nicely. If it is tight or pinches, it will hang up and cause the paper to bunch up.

Lay a bead of glue on ALL kumiko and carefully lay the paper into the shoji and roll it out. If it messes up bad, just cut it off and wipe down all the kumiko and start over. If you have 3 shoji to do, I’ll bet the first one is funky and by the 3rd one you will be an expert.

I cut off the paper with a razor knife and then trim it off so it lays in there nicely.

Allow to dry completely. Trim any excess paper and lay on the bench again face down. When completely dry, lightly spray the paper with a plant type sprayer. I use one from Home depot and it has an adjustable nozzle. You want a fine spray over most of the paper but don’t soak it. if it starts getting real wet…STOP! Allow to dry and start over. Too much water will cause the glue to loosen (like when you removed the paper). You can set the shoji in the sun to dry (watch out the wind doesn’t blow them over) or use a hairdryer or heat gun. You could put the shoji in a unused room and turn the heat up all the way, also.

That’s about it. If there are wrinkles. them spray that area again and use a hairdryer. You may have to do this several times to get ALL the wrinkles out. A few small wrinkles won’t be a be deal.

Shoji Cabinet For The Dalles

Shoji Cabinet For The Dalles

P1060295    Some of my clients become patrons. In this case, Lauretta and her sister Diana hired me a couple years ago to build shoji for their newly remodeled basement and create a bedroom. I blocked off the end of one room with 2 large shoji made of my favorite wood: Superior Grade Alder.
About a year ago, there was some talk between us about adding a cabinet. They had already discussed this with a cabinet maker in The Dalles OR, where they live. he was to make something that would require 2 or maybe 3 Shoji to cover part of it. It was to have some drawers.
As the months went by, we kept in touch about it and it became obvious that their cabinet maker was too busy to even do it let alone collaborate about it.
I was headed off to Peru at the time, and agreed to get together with them upon my return.
By August, I had a design for a cabinet that I would build and incorporate some sliding Shoji for the face.
They gave me the dimensions and wanted it to look similar to the existing Shoji.
I wanted it be like a Tansu but had to really back off of all the detail a Tansu would have. It would greatly increase the cost and amount of time involved.


In the end, I had to keep refining the design to make it come apart so it could be moved and I had to lighten it up or we would not be able to carry it in the house.
Originally, I wanted this heavy top and bottom. I replaced that idea with a 3/4″ plywood bottom and added a 1-1/2″ piece all around the bottom plywood to make it look thick.
The sides are made similar to the Shoji Koshi-ita panels I had used in their Shoji. The size of the kumiko grid is very similar to the existing Shoji…3″ tall by 10″ wide with 3 rows across. A formula with a very traditional look that I use often.
Lucky I designed this so it would come apart easily as there was a corner in the hallway of the house that made carrying this difficult.
Turned out the room where it was installed was such that the ends are never seen. So including the kumiko grid on the ends was a moot point.

The clients love their cabinet and were so very nice to me. Lauretta even gave me a nice tip! my kind of client!




A picture from my past … A kiosk I made for the Forest Service


This structure, that I call a kiosk was built in 1999. I built parts of it at my shop, then transported the parts to the contractor’s shop in Vancouver, WA where it was assembled and trucked to the site where it resides now.

This was part of a job done by Lloyd Kessler Construction. A company that has done lot’s of State and City of Vancouver jobs. This job in particular; The Crown Point Job was one that lasted for a couple years and this kiosk was part of the work although was quite a ways away.

This kiosk is located on a side road parallel to I-84, East of Multnomah Falls.

John B. Yeon State Park Trailhead. Douglas Kessler was the head honcho and longtime friend.

Installing a Closet Door Package with Jambs

Installing a Closet Door Package with Jambs

My client has hired me a few times in the last few yrs. Lately, I cut down his closet doors in a basement room and added my typical hardware setup to good results. In todays bit, I installed shoji in a hall/entry closet.


The client wanted a “mill-core” type trim detail. This means NO trim and the dry-waller (or sheet-rocker) tapes the jamb directly to the drywall. This was popular with architects wanting a super clean line…NO CASING. Why I’m doing my blog on this job is to point out the custom made jambs on either side of the doors. A “Jamb” is the finish wood that covers the wall stud and drywall edges. 5-P1030952

A typical interior wall is 4-9/16″ thick. This incorporates a 3-1/2″ stud and a layer of drywall on either side of this stud. Using 4-9/16 or even 4-5/8″ wide material will cover the stud and drywall nicely. Any smaller and you have problems with gaps. In this case, we have NO casing. Here is how I made these…I ripped 3/4″ Birch plywood or Alder plywood to 4-9/16″ wide. I used my nice finish blade with 80 teeth for a smooth cut. I milled up 3/4″ x 1-1/2″ solid wood (to match) and glued and nailed these pieces to the edge I will use as the front or leading edge. On the back edge I used 1/4″ x 3/4″ and glued and nailed all pieces to be flush with the edge that goes against the drywall and stud. All sanded flush with 220 grt. The top part of this piece is notched to fit to the header and the valance box pieces  (these are usually 3/4″ x 3-1/8″).


The 1-1/2″ pieces have the edges rounded over with a 1/8″ round-over bit in the router. If the closet has a light in it, use a valance piece on the front and the back  of the track-box as the light will escape over the doors top and look bad. The bottom track will be trimmed to fit between the jambs.   This can be used with casing. The main reason we did this was if the jamb is NOT installed plumb and very straight against the wall stud. The shoji will not fit nicely and have gaps. The light inside the closet will show in the gaps…looking like it was installed by an amateur.


The piece on the edge blocks that light some and looks much more elegant and finished.