How to Build a Japanese Shoji Sliding Door

Shoji is a style of Japanese sliding door. Interior walls of houses constructed with shoji doors can be removed from their tracks to expand the rooms for parties. Traditional shoji are handmade by craftsmen called tategu-ya. Shoji panels are made of wooden frames with translucent white paper glued to a lattice structure. The lattice pieces, called kumiko, are woven like a basket, and the frame is held together by mortise and tenon joints without nails or screws. The paper, or washi, is made from the fibers of the mulberry tree and is sometimes referred to erroneously as rice paper.

Senior woman in kimono standing in open doorway, looking away
credit: Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images
Shoji doors provide privacy while letting in light.

Step 1

Measure the opening for the shoji sliding door, including the thickness of the door frame. Allow enough space for the door hanging hardware, such as within a pocket door track. If the door track is on the outside of a wall, such as a barn-door-type hanger, design the shoji to cover as much of the wall as you like.

Step 2

Cut two vertical pieces of wood to the height measurement from Step 1. They will become the left and right sides of the shoji frame. These are called stiles. The thickness of the wood depends on the size of your shoji door. However, typical stiles and rails are 2 inches by 1 3/8 inches. You can use any type of wood as long as it is not warped and has no blemishes such as large knots. Traditional shoji wood is soft and close-grained, such as cedar; but almost any kind of wood will do.

Step 3

Subtract the width of the two stiles from the width measurement in Step 1. Cut two pieces of wood to this measurement. These are the horizontal rails.

Step 4

Lay the stiles side by side on a flat surface. Line up a rail at the top between the stiles with the top end of the stiles flush with the upper edge of the rail. Line up a rail at the bottom between the stiles with the bottom ends flush with the lower rail edge. Nail the stiles to the rails from the outer edges of the stiles through the stiles into the rail ends.

Step 5

Fill the nail holes with a sandable wood putty and let it dry. Sand the entire frame smooth.

Step 6

Measure the inside of the frame dimensions. Cut several strips of 3/8-inch-by-3/8-inch wood to the height and width measurements plus ¼ inch. These are the slats, or kumiko, of the shoji screen; they hold the paper inside the frame. You can use as many or as few as you like to create a grid design. It can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Lay the kumiko out on a flat surface in the pattern you want. When you are satisfied with the pattern, start with the kumiko that will be in the middle of the shoji sliding door and weave them together using a basket-weave technique. You will bend the kumiko slightly, and you may have to use a rubber mallet to tap them into position.

Step 7

Lay the grid on top of the frame. Mark the inner edge of the frame where the kumiko slats meet it. Chisel out rectangular holes that are 3/8 inch square and ¼ inch deep in the frame at the marks. Fit the kumiko into the holes.

Step 8

Cut shoji paper to fit perfectly inside the frame, and roll it up. Paint rice glue on one side of the kumiko structure. Place the end of the paper roll at the top of the kumiko and roll it down inside the frame. Press the paper onto the glued kumiko. Let the glue dry.

Step 9

Attach the hanging hardware to the top of your shoji door, and insert the door into the doorway space, placing the door hardware in the slide rail.