Marking und Measuring

Once the rails, stiles, and kumiko were sized and planed to working length, I moved on to choosing which sides, specifically on the rails and stiles, I wanted for the front and back of the screen.

IMG_1929The marks shown here are located on the interior of the frame and indicate the top (for the stiles) and the RH side (the rails) which then also indicates which side is the front of the shoji.

IMG_1964For the kumiko, I laid them out in the actual alternating weave pattern in which they will appear in the final product. Here too, I marked each kumiko to indicate relative location. I also marked with an “X” the approximate spot where each half-lap joint will be cut.

Next up was measuring and marking the mortises and tenons and then actually cutting them.IMG_1934 IMG_1936 IMG_1937

With the tenons, I started with the three rip cuts and then moved onto the cross cuts, careful not to cut into the tenon and undermine its strength. I used a 240mm dozuki to begin each cut, establishing a cut on each corner and then a kerf to establish a straight line. Nonetheless it takes some effort to make flawless, parallel cuts and mine were by no means perfect, but I absolutely tried to do the best that I could. The rest will come with time and practice.

It took me, a novice with hand tools, about 1 hour to properly cut each tenon and then clean it up with a chisel as best I could. Onto the mortises.

If you buy Jay Van Arsdale’s book, Shoji, for no other reason than to learn how to properly cut mortises, then you have got your money’s worth. In a deceptively short 96 pages, Mr. Van Arsdale condenses a week-long workshop worth of advice into how to mark and cut mortise and tenon joints. It’s dense reading no doubt for the beginner. But well worth the time and effort. The right mindset helps. I dove into this project in the spirit of experiment, knowing it wouldn’t be perfect the first time, but that each subsequent screen would build on the experiences of the last one.

And it’s of no embarrassment to admit that I have basically been cutting mortises backwards for the last 3 or so years that I’ve been woodworking. Ah, the foibles of auto-didacticism. Rather than reinvent the wheel here, I’ll give you the photos and leave it at that. Suffice to say, it was an epiphany to realize that using the chisel bevel-down worked so much better.

IMG_1947 IMG_1948Now for the first dry fit of the rails and stiles. I left the tenons and mortises somewhat rough-to aid in keeping the joints tight. One note here; I don’t have the proper chisels, nor the right sizes so some improvisation was in order. I’ll need to find some smaller than 1/4″ mortising and paring chisels.

IMG_1949 IMG_1950 IMG_1952 IMG_1953 IMG_1954 IMG_1957Overall, a good result with the joints. I’ll need to plane the rails and stiles so that everything is even and planar. The biggest issue I had was the mortises being slightly over wide and that was due to not have the correct size chisel, along with making the tenons a hair narrower than they should have been. Still a snug fit but a tiny gap on either side all the same.

Since this entire screen is compression fit only-no glue or fasteners, the tenons need to in effect grab on to the mortises and hold tight. To enable, two thin, angled cuts about half the depth of the mortise are sawn into the tenons.


These kerfs will be widened by two wedges of hardwood. In my case I will use walnut. To give them room to expand, I had to flare out the top and bottom of the exterior mortise by 1/8″. The two images below are the before and after. It’s not easy to see but you can notice the flare on the second photo if you look closely.

IMG_1961 IMG_1962

And you can definitely see the gaps now, when the tenon is inserted into the mortise. Those will then close up once the wedges are inserted on final assembly. This essentially creates a dovetail joint.IMG_1966

And lastly for today’s work, I began measuring out all the mortises, tenons, and half-laps that will go with the kumiko. IMG_1967

I’ve only begun this stage and will go into further detail down the road. Until next time.


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