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Japanese Tools For Kumiko Description

use power tools and a few jigs to speed up the process. When a client asked for a folding screen in the shoji style, I built the screen shown here using the techniques I had learned.

My folding screen can be used anywhere you want to create privacy or divide a room. Each section of the thrcc-piece screen consists of a frame, a kick panel to withstand possible damage by pets, children or an errant foot, and two identical inset frames of latticework. (Sec Fig. 1.) The Japanese call this latticework kumiko. Between the two kumiko is a sheet of Synskin™, a translucent material made from fiberglass. (See Sources.) Rice paper would be used in an authentic shoji screen, but Synskin™ is more durable and easier to work with, liach frame is connected to an adjoining frame via pivoting wooden hinges that allow the frames to rotate 360°. (See sidebar, page 63.)

When designing the screen, I took a minimalist approach: I wanted the elements of the screen as thin as possible for weight considerations, without sacrificing strength and visual interest. I chose cherry for the screen because of its durability, relatively light weight and warm color. To determine the size of the rectangles for the latticework, 1 referred to books on Japanese style. (See Sources.) I discovered that size was determined by the designer's sense of proportion, the finished size of the screen, and by the compatibility with the room it was intended for.

Making the Kumiko

The first order of construction is making the kumiko. The individual pieces fit together with half-lap joints.

To ensure that all joints line up accurately when the kumiko is assembled, I dado wide boards that are thicknessed to finished dimension, then rip individual members from the board. I resaw 6-in.-wide stock for this, thickness-planing it to 3/8 in. thick. I also make sure the hoards are about 2 in. longer than the finished dimensions of the kumiko.

To cut the dado joints for the half-laps shown in Fig. 2, I equip my radial-arm saw with a '/4-in.-wide dado blade. I make an auxiliary fence for my radial-arm saw with four dadoes corresponding to the various kumiko spacings. To index the dado cuts so that the spacings arc exact, I place a '/4-in.-thick indexing stick in the appropriate fence dado and make the cut. (See top photo, above.)

On the longer vertical kumiko pieces, I make a l/2-in.-wide dado on the end of each board. This extra dado width makes it easier to fit all the pieces together during assembly. Then 1 place the indexing stick in the appropriate slot in the fence, position it against the previous dado, and cut the next dado. I repeat this process for the remaining dadoes, remembering to move the indexing stick into the appropriate slot in the fence when necessary. When I reach the last dado on the board, 1 make a second pass to widen it to Vl in.

I use the same indexing method on the long horizontal kumiko parts, again with '/2-in.-widc dadoes on the ends of the boards. When dadoing the horizontal parts, don't forget to flip the board

Indexing jig for dadoes.

Cut dadoes in a wide board, using an indexing jig on the radial-arm saw to accurately space the joints. Then rip individual kumiko pieces from the board.

Quick clamping.

Assemble the kumiko, then clamp the joints at the sides and corners.

over after the first dado, then flip it again for the final dado. (See Fig. 2.)

Dadoing the short horizontal kumiko parts is similar to dadoing the longer pieces: Use the same indexing method, but cut a VZ-in.-widc dado only on one end; leave the opposite end square. On the short vertical kumiko parts, 1 lay out the dadoes and cut them freehand on the saw.

Once you've cut the joints, rip the kumiko parts into individual strips. I use a handsaw to rip the strips slightly oversize, then I thickness-plane the kumiko parts to final width, taking light cuts and orienting the grain of each strip to minimize tearout. Check that the strips arc the correct width by fitting two kumiko parts together with hand pressure.


Each kumiko assembly consists of a repeating pattern, or module, of 1/4-in. by 3/8-in. vertical and horizontal members connected at glued half-lap joints. Cutting lengths shown below include extra material at the ends for trimming after assembly.

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