Monthly Archives: June 2014

An Enlightening Experience

ImageWhen I began to get back into hand tool work, I became somewhat fascinated with Japanese tools and work.  I think it had to do with my search for a Zen experience, if you will.  Or, a more peaceful way of doing things.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the noise and dust of machines is kind of a turnoff for me, which is why I am really enjoying hand work.

Along with my research on Japanese tools and techniques, I also looked at traditional styles.  One of the early things I came across was a book by Edward R. Turner entitled Making Japanese Style Lamps and Lanterns.  It seemed like a good start, so I picked up the book, and found a pattern I liked. The result is to the right.  In wanting to keep somewhat traditional, I even found battery operated “candles” to light it, so as to give it a more authentic look.   I have built a few more since, for other folks, who wanted more light. So, I’ve begun putting sockets for electric light bulbs in them.  They offer more light that way, but kind of lose something that way.  Ah well, the customer gets what the customer wants.

Below are the steps I took during construction.  As usual, I split the work between power and hand tools, using my table saw to rip and planer to thickness the wood.  The joints were cut by hand, with a bit of trial and error, but came out quite well.

Step 1, a frame within a frame.


The inner frame is made up of 1/2 inch square pieces that are joined at the corners with half lap joints.  A second set of opposing half laps allow the frames to be joined into a box shape, kind of like a box kite.  I cut the 1/2 inch wide by 1/4 inch deep dados for the lap joint across a full 6 inch piece of poplar, 1/2 inch thick.  I then ripped the board into 1/2 inch strips, giving me 1/2 inch squares with the lap joints accurately cut in each piece.  All I had to do then was cut the opposing lap joints that allowed the box to be assembled. Using this method sped up production time quite a bit, as I found out in another lamp where I cut the dados one at a time.  Very time consuming!


The outer frame consists of four legs, 1 inch by 3/4 inch, with dados cut on two sides to accept the overhanging ends of the inner box. The legs are held together at the top by a “lid”, which is doweled and glued in place.  I originally used 3/8 inch dowels, which I found to be totally excessive.  Later models just had 1/8 inch dowels which work fine.

Step 2, finish first


Before gluing in the screens of paper, I had to apply the finish on the parts first.  Once the shoji paper is glued in place, you can’t do any finishing work.  The inner poplar frame just got a light coat of polyurethane to seal it.  I wanted that piece to stay light.  The legs and top got a treatment with Behlen’s Solar-Lux red mahogany, then three coats of hand brushed gloss lacquer.  This made the outer frame really pop.  In the lower left of the second photo you can see the “candles” that will illuminate the lamp.

Step 3, a bit of paper hanging


Traditional shoji paper is readily available from several sites here in the U.S..  Shoji is a heavy weight paper, traditionally made from rice or mulberry fibers.  It is usually used in Japan to cover the latticed doors and windows in their homes, the paper allowing in a pleasing, diffused light.  Modern shoji paper can also be made from synthetic fibers, even from laminates for outdoor use.  I chose a more traditional mulberry paper.  To apply it, I simply cut the pieces to the proper dimensions.  The proper glue to apply the paper is a rice paste, which can be easily removed if pieces need to be replaced.  I used a modern pvc white glue, with high tack called Tacky Glue.  One other deviation I did was to forgo wetting the paper after it is glued in place.  This step, spraying a light film of water on the paper and allowing it to dry, causes the paper to shrink and eliminates any wrinkles or sags.  Since the pieces I was working with were so small, I was able to stretch them tightly, eliminating the need for water.

A bit of improvisation


I came up with the idea of adding a design onto one of the panels, something inked in that would stand out when the lamp is lit.  I decided to use the kanji symbol for love.  Now, Japanese is a very diverse language, with many symbols that mean the same thing.  I perused several translation sites, and think I have the right symbol.  I would hate to have a lamp that says soup.  To put the symbol on, with as little waste as possible, I elected to print it on with an ink jet printer.  This would forgo the need to learn brush lettering, and allow me to put just about anything on future lamps that you could imagine.  I taped a piece of shoji paper onto a heavy card stock backer, then ran it through the printer.  It worked perfectly!  The photo showing the mounting technique is from another set of lamps I did for a friend.  The symbols are supposed to mean Light and Godzilla.  What they really mean, who knows?

ImageThis was a quick and interesting project, which took my researches into forms of the far east.  Although I plan on doing more of this style of furnishing, I will always love the work of the Shakers.  Perhaps I can come up with something that combines both.  Hmmm.  But, the one thing I did get out of this project is that I am pretty much a western tool user.  I tried my Japanese saws, and found them somewhat lacking in what I wanted.  I actually blew out several teeth in the Dozuki trying to cut some oak.  Definitely not made for American woods.  So, my tool chest has since been stocked with Western tools.  But, even these can be used to make items with an Eastern flair.



I’m adding photos of two new lamps I made for a friend’s boyfriend.  They use the two printed screens I posted above (Light and Godzilla), and are finished to his specifications.  I’m making two more for him, one more table lamp like these two, and a floor model that has three frame trays in the legs for paper storage.  He plans to use it as an in/out box at work.


These new ones have standard light sockets in them, rather than the candles.


Here is one of the last ones,  the grand daddy floor model.


The big challenge on this one was the legs.  Not that there is anything really difficult about them.  But for some reason (probably tripping from eating an over-ripe apple) I decided to make my own thick stock instead of just buying some 5/4 from a local supplier.


I had purchased two of these 8/4 x 8 cypress boards from a local mill.  I love cypress, and the grain in these two just called out to me.  So, not knowing what I would use them for, I bought them.  Green.  Yep, no kiln dried stuff for me.  Now, I’ve dealt with green cypress before…4/4 boards that dried quite nicely in my air conditioned shop.  But these monsters were different, as I was to discover.


Step one, rip to size.  They were too heavy for my munchkin table saw, so I whipped out my 26 inch rip and, well, let ‘er rip.  It was my first time with stock this thick, and it left me breathless…really.  I almost needed oxygen.  Gotta do this more often.


Step two, plane them square and flat.  Because of their length, I used a chalk line to get a rough edge, then planed to it.  Four sides square and flat times four boards.  I was really getting a work out.  I then sticked them out and let them dry a couple more weeks.

Step three, re-plane the boards which have begun to resemble snakes during the drying process.  Re-stick them again.

Step four, re-plane again the still moving boards.  At this point the floor was covered in shavings, and the boards were in danger of getting too small to use.


This time the legs had dried enough to keep their shape, and I was left with about one third the amount of wood I started with.  This would definitely be my last experience with this type of lumberjack work.


Once the legs were shaped and notched, the lamp box and shelves were a piece of cake (comparatively).  Lots of dados, ripping, and assembly.  I got pretty good at hand tool assembly line work.


It was about two and a half months in the making.  But the reward was the customer liked it. Done!