Joinery Techniques | How to Make a Japanese Lantern
What you'll need
Master delicate joinery techniques and get to grips with a range of Japanese tools, with this beautiful Japanese style lantern project.
Featuring a series of intricate halving joints, bringing together numerous woodworking and joinery skills, learn how to make this ornate lamp.
While it may look daunting, it features many repeatable cuts, allowing you to practise your joints with precision. As well as developing skills and joinery techniques, this project provides the perfect opportunity to get a grip on some basic Japanese hand tools.
Why Japanese tools?
A Japanese saw is perfect for making these fine, hand cut joints. They have a thinner blade and the pull action is less aggressive than others. The smaller Ikedame Japanese saw is lighter in weight than other tenon saws and will provide a more controlled cut.
Go one step further and make your own jigs to help repeat your cuts and keep them accurate.
The end result is well worth the effort!
For more information about the joinery techniques, the Japanese tools and to see the cuts made, watch our Woodworking Wisdom video on the 5th January to learn more. Or follow our step by step guide below to make your own lantern.
Top and bottom frames
These are made from 12mm square sections. To plane these up accurately to the same size, a simple planing jig can be made. Using a block plane makes this an easy task.
Use a shooting board to accurately square up one end of each of the 12mm squares. Place the cut end against a parallel stop. measure and mark the overall length (185mm) and scribe a line using a try square and marking knife.
Tip: To make it easier to cut these the same length, use masking tape wrapped around four pieces to hold these in place. Cut just over length using a Tatebiki pull saw. Use the shooting board and plane to accurately trim these to length, leave the two packs of four lengths taped together.
Use a pencil and rule to mark out the positions of the halving joints set in from each end. Then, use the try square to accurately mark the positions across all eight sections. Plot the line on either side to produce a guide point so that a cutting gauge can be used to scribe the halfway line of the halving joint.
Use an Ikedame saw to cut the halving joints, cutting one pack of four pieces at a time. To help guide the saw, a simple plywood block can be used to help keep the saw square. A support board with a lip on the front works as a bench hook. Cut on the waste side of the line carefully down to the halfway point creating the two shoulders of the joint. Then do a cut in the centre of the two shoulder cuts. This will make it easier to chisel out.
To help chisel out the waste, a simple paring board can be made. This is a level board that sets the maximum depth that the chisel can cut. It also has a backstop to reduce break out. Do not try to remove all the waste in one go, remove the waste working down to the paring board. These are easier to do individually.
Check how your joints fit together. If these are too tight to push together, then adjustments can be made to the shoulder. We used a Japanese carvers' rasp. Assemble the joints together to make the frames.
Marking and cutting the legs
Prepare the legs in the same way. Shoot one end, cut to length and then shoot the saw cut end to make these the same lengths. With the position against an end stop, set out the joint positions using a try square and pencil. Transfer the line around the four sides of each leg. To set the depth of the halving joint, set up the cutting gauge to the thickness of the frame material and scribe a depth line between the shoulder line, working off what will be the internal corner of the leg.
Cut the legs in pairs using the Ikedame saw and the plywood support block. Cut down to the scribe line, cut the joints at each end of the legs, then individually, rotate the leg through 90 degrees. Place the tip of the saw into the saw cut and cut the shoulder lines across the upper face, cutting down to the scribe line.
Take each leg individually and using a 6mm chisel and a paring board, with the correct height, remove the waste working down to the paring board. Rotate the workpiece and chisel out the waste. The end result is an accurate cut halving joint coming in from two faces. This leaves an 8mm corner as support.
Main frame assembly
With all the joints cut, test fit and carefully dry assemble the mainframe. The 8mm section within the legs fits over the outside face of the top and bottom frames.
With the test fitting done, carefully take apart. Each of the corners on the ends of the legs and the frames can have a chamfer added. This can be done using a shooting board set up and a 45 degree support. Count the number of passes with the plane to achieve the desired chamfer, twist through 90 degrees and repeat the number of passes on the ends of the 4 faces of each component. Next, carefully sand the components. Doing these in batches speeds this up, but also make this more accurate,
Apply PVA glue sparingly, using a silicon glue brush, to glue the top and bottom frames first. Use a vice to push these together. Let these tack off then glue into the legs to create the assembled frame.
Make the insert frames
Measure the sizes of where the panels need to fit. Aim to make the panels about 1mm oversize. Cut the sections to make them 20 mm longer than required, as this will make cutting the halving joints easier. The excess is cut off later. With these cut on one end assemble, these into the different components to make the frames.
Starting with the longest ones first, tape these together to hold them in place (maximum eight pieces). Lay these out as if forming a flat board, then cut them to the lengths as one piece using the saw guide and Tatebiki saw. Mark on the tape which components they are. The short up rights are double length and will be cut to length when the halving joints have been cut. Remember to make the top insert as well.
Mark out the halving joints using a sharp pencil and try square. With the joints marked out, carefully cut the shoulder lines, these cuts are only 2.5mm deep. The Ikedame saw is nice and light for this, making it controllable.The pull style bench hook holds the work in place. The workpiece is higher by 2.5mm, this helps limit the depth.
With the saw cuts done, chisel out the waste using a 3mm chisel. Work across the pack of 5mm sections with a breakout board clamp in behind. Test fit a section of 5mm. Repeat this for each of the packs. If these need to be adjusted to make the slot wider, the carvers' file solves the issue.
With all the cuts done, and tested, lay the components out to form the frame. Check how these fit together and when happy with how they fit, glue them together. As before, use very little glue as it is difficult to clean up the excess. Carefully use a pin hammer to tap these into place. Assemble the four outer pieces first to form a rectangle, then insert the rest of the uprights and cross sections.
When the glue is dry, use a flushcut saw to trim off the excess material from around the edge of the frames. Use a flat board with some abrasive stuck down as a sanding board to level the faces.
Use the shooting board and a sharp plane to clean up the outer edge. The screen frames need to fit into the leg frame firmly as they are not glued, so light cuts and testing the fit will help make this accurate. Lightly number these so that you can remember where they fit.
Add a finish before the paper backing is applied. We used a coat of finishing oil on the main frame. On the screen frames, we applied a fine coat of satin spray lacquer onto the outer face only. Allow to fully dry.
Cut the tracing paper so that it is bigger than the insert frames. Use some PVA glue put on to a melamine type board, and using a nylon roller, spread the glue out to form an even thin layer. Then, carefully lower the inside of the frames onto the glue. Push this down firmly, but try not to wiggle this about. Lift this up and lower this onto the tracing paper and push down gently on the frame. Then set aside with some form of weight on the top until it is dry.
With the glue set, use a sharp Japanese marking knife to trim the excess paper around the outer edges of the frames. Then, insert the paper backed screens into the main leg frames. These should fit level with the top and bottom frames.
And there you have it, a beautiful Japanese style lantern made using a series of repeatable halving joints. Illuminate your lantern with battery powered candles or fairy lights for a warm glow.
Made it, share it!
If you have mastered these joinery techniques and made our Japanese lantern project, share your pictures with us! Tag us in your photos on social media with @axminstertools and show us what you’ve made. Find us on Facebook and Instagram.
Nice job on this lamp; I've made a couple and they require a delicate touch. However to be really authentic you ideally need Japanese 'shoji' paper which is applied with a thin smear of traditional rice glue. Once dried, it's sprayed with water that causes the paper to shrink and it then pulls 'drum tight' on the frame. The glue and the shoji paper are easily purchased in the UK. Also the wood used should be straight grained with no knots.