Build a Table Lantern
Lighting Project: Add some Asian flare to your décor with this stylish table lantern.
The fusion of paper and intricate joinery is one of the hallmarks of traditional Japanese design. Shōji panels highlight the most intricate and refined usage of this technique, but their scale may not suit everyone. This lantern, known as an ariake andon, is a great project for anyone wishing to add a little Japanese refinement to their home or office. The joinery looks complicated but it’s really quite straightforward. Anyone with intermediate skills should be able to build this lantern with relative ease.
Dobson carefully and accurately marks each joint before proceeding to cut them.
Complete Leg Joint
Here's what the completed joint in the leg looks like.
When marking the next leg joint out Dobson places the legs side-by-side, and aligns their tops, before using a marking knife to transfer the exact location.
Drill the Chisel
Use a slightly undersized bit to bore a hole in the square mortise before chiselling out the waste to form a square cavity.
Cross Piece Joinery
The first step in creating the mating joint in the cross pieces leaves a square section of material that's half the width and half the depth of the workpiece.
Rounding the Joint
A chisel, used bevel down, is perfect for rounding the material left at the joint.
The short tenons that fix some of the cross rails to the legs need to be mitred in order to fit into the leg at the same time.
One side assembly is now ready to have the mating cross rails joined to it. Some of the cross rails will need to be rotated when the other cross rails come together with this assembly.
With the lantern almost assembled you can see how the different parts relate to one another.
Locked in Place
Once all the cross rails are in place the seem to all travel directly through the mating workpieces
Light Fixture Support
A piece is dovetailed to two of the lower cross rails, then bored to house the light fixture.
Add a Finish
Staining a piece like this lantern is intricate work. You could just opt for a clear coat to enhance and protect the wood.
The grid work that decorates the open areas of the framework can be designed any way you would like. Cutting the tiny half-lap joints can be a challenge.
Glue the Half-Laps
Once the grid members are cut to size and joined you can apply glue to the joints and bring the pieces together. A heavy book placed on top of the assembly will hold it together until it dries.
Trim Them to Fit
The grid assemblies can now be trimmed to fit into the openings of the lantern. A block plane, clamped upside down in a vise, makes quick work of this.
Apply the Paper
Now that the grid sections fit in place, you can apply adhesive to their backs and place them on the paper.
Trim and Install
Once the paper is adhered to the grid sections, trim the waste paper and install them with a friction fit.
Begin with stock selection. You do not need a lot of wood for this project, so you can afford to be picky. I look for straight-grained wood with nice colour. I feel figured grain will distract from the pattern of the shade. The actual species does not matter that much; here I’m using oak.
We begin with the outer frame. Surface your stock to an exact thickness of 5/8″ and cut it to a width of 5/8″ before cutting to length. It is important that your stock is perfectly square and exactly the right size. The joinery in this project relies upon interlocking shapes, and these pieces need to fit into each other without gaps. Take your time now for best results later.
Leg joinery layout
Begin by laying out the joinery on the legs. There are five individual joints on each leg. Three of these are puzzle joints, and there are two mortises. It does not matter where you start, but I find it best to focus on one joint before moving to the next. To lay out the puzzle joint, measure up from the bottom of the leg 5/8″ and mark a line with your square. Make another line 5/16″ above. Continue that line around the face of the leg, and then mark another line 5/16″ above that line. Set your marking gauge to 5/16″, and establish the bottoms of the grooves, then use your square to connect all the marks you’ve made.
Using a fine saw, cut the joinery. You should be left with a dado on one face that intersects with a dado on the face beside it. You could also do this with your table saw, but I try to do most of my joinery with hand tools and leave the power tools to the rough work.
Chisel out the waste, being careful not to go past your baseline. This needs to be repeated for the two other joints on each leg. Be careful to keep the joinery on the same two faces. It will not assemble properly if the joints are not all aligned perfectly. On the subsequent legs, mark directly from your first cut leg rather than using your ruler. This will help prevent measuring errors.
Once you have cut all 12 puzzle joints for the legs, move on to the mortises. These are laid out so the cross piece sits 1-7/8″ from the top of the leg. The size of this mortise is not that important, as it is not load bearing and has no structural importance. I made the mortise 1/4″ x 1/4″ and 5/16″ deep. When cutting the first mortise, only go 3/16″ deep and then turn the leg and cut the other mortise to full depth. This will keep you from blowing out the bottom when cutting into air. There are several ways to cut the mortise, but I would recommend drilling it out and then using a chisel to square up the hole.
Cross piece joinery
Now that the legs are finished set them aside and begin work on the cross pieces. The pieces on the x-axis need to be shaped differently than those on the y-axis. Divide the stock pieces into two piles so you do not confuse them. It’s a really good idea to mark each piece to its corresponding joint on the legs. On these pieces, you’re going to cut away three-quarters of the wood from the joint.
Measure in 5/8″, and mark a line all the way around the stock. Use your leg stock to define the other side of the joint by laying it tight to your line and marking the other side with a marking knife. Using your gauge, mark a line 5/16″ between the two lines on two faces. Cut everything away except for a remaining 5/16″ x 5/16″ section of wood. This remaining section of wood then needs to be rounded over, as this piece needs to rotate inside the groove cut in the leg. To do this, use a fine saw and make cuts into each of the corners. Then use a chisel, bevel down, to pare away the corners. Work slowly to your marked line, as you do not want to push past your shoulder and mar the visible wood beyond the joint. Remove just enough to create a cylinder. If you remove too much the cross piece will wiggle in the joint. If you remove too little it will not spin.
Now cut the remaining cross pieces. They are cut the exact same way as the other pieces, other than the fact that the center sections are not rounded. You are aiming for a precise fit that is aligned with the surface of the upright.
Cut the tenons on the shorter cross pieces by cutting away 3/16″ from each side, 1/4″ back from the end. The two tenons will run into each other in the mortises, so the tenons will need to be cut at 45 degrees to fit inside the mortise.
Assemble the mortised and tenoned pieces as two sub-assemblies. Start with the mortise and tenoned piece, and then insert the rounded cross pieces into the puzzle joints and rotate them downwards to expose the grooves for the two remaining sides. If the joints do not fit right off the saw, carefully pare the edges of the cross pieces so they fit without gaps but can still rotate in the joint. Complete the assembly by inserting the next two tenoned cross pieces and the squared cross members. Rotate the rounded pieces downwards to lock them in place. This is a finicky assembly that requires test fitting and precision paring to get the perfect fit. Take your time. If you happen to break a cross member do not despair. Gluing it back together can often repair it. If you need to, you can always cut a new piece.
Now is the time to add the support for the electrical components. The first lamp I built used scavenged parts from a lamp. The pieces used here were purchased at a lighting store. To make the support you will need a 1/4″-thick piece of wood about 1/2″ wider than your socket and long enough to reach the two static sides of your frame. I would recommend using solid wood here, as I used a piece of plywood and, to be honest, it came out looking pretty awful. Fortunately it is covered by the lamp’s socket and is behind the shade.
Begin by laying out two 1/4″-long dovetails on either side of the lantern. Use the socket to trace a circle in the center and bore it out. Lay the support on top of the second layer of the static sides, and mark the location for the dovetail. You will now need to disassemble this layer of the lamp to cut the dovetails. This will be covered by the shade, so they can be cut quickly. Drill and chisel out the waste. Once the socket support is in place, you will no longer be able to disassemble the frame, so if you wish to pre-finish, it should be done now.
How you’d like to finish this piece is up to your individual tastes. I’ve built other lamps that were finished with a simple coat of shellac, while this particular one is getting a more intensive treatment. I’m following a modified version of Bob Flexner’s Arts and Crafts finish. Start by sanding to 150.
There’s a lot of exposed end grain on this project. If you want it to match in colour, you will need to sand the end grain to a higher grit. For the end grain I continue with 220, 320, and finish with 600. This leaves the end grain burnished enough to take the stain at the same tone as the long grain. I applied one coat of Minwax Special Walnut stain, waited 10 minutes, and wiped down the lamp with a clean cloth. Twenty-four hours later I applied one coat of Watco Dark Walnut Danish oil. Again, I waited 10 minutes and wiped down the lamp with a clean cloth. After 24 hours I applied a coat of shellac, followed by wax an additional 24 hours later. I like to mix a little of the stain in with the wax before applying. This helps to keep the light-coloured wax from being noticeable in the pores and corners.
This is where you can let your imagination run wild. I’ve provided a simple pattern, but you can make it as simple or as complicated as you wish. Look at oriental design books, watch Kung-Fu Panda, or Google “shōji panels” for inspiration and make a few sketches. Once you have decided on the right pattern, start construction by ripping 1/8″ strips. Mark a 1/8″ line all around the board, and use an X-ACTO knife to slice the board into 1/8″ strips. I’ve seen 1/8″ x 1/8″ strips of wood at hobby shops. The pieces are meant for building model airplanes and railways, but they also work great on lanterns.
For the outside frame, mark the lengths directly from the lamp framework so they fit precisely. These panels do not get glued into place, instead they rely on a friction fit. This allows for easy repair in case of an accident.
Mark the half-laps for the intersecting pieces, and cut the sides with a fine saw. I use a flush cut saw for this, and it works great. Because this cuts on the pull stroke, I was unable to use my bench hook to make the cuts. Instead I held the wood behind a small engineer’s square and made the cut with the saw perpendicular to the square. You could very easily make a dedicated bench hook for your Japanese saw.
With the two edges of the half-lap defined by saw cuts, use a 1/8″ chisel to remove the waste. Mark and cut the intersecting piece and label. Once the entire screen is cut, glue it together and press it under a stack of heavy books to clamp. Make sure to put a layer of paper between the book and the screen, and make sure the surface you’re working on is flat. This will ensure your screen dries without warping. Fit the screens to their openings before gluing the paper. Running the assembly over an upside-down block plane works well. Trim off an even amount from either side until you have a nice fit.
For the paper, I used a Japanese printmaking paper called Ginwashi. Many people will refer to this as a rice paper, but it’s actually made from hemp and mulberry fibres. The fibres are very visible in the paper. To attach the paper I cut it oversized and use a small paintbrush to spread an even layer of Mod Podge glue to the back side of the screen. Place the paper face up on a smooth, clean surface and set the screen on top, glue-face down. The paper is quite stiff, so there is no need to stretch it. Repeat the clamping operation with the heavy book to hold it in place. Once the glue has dried, trim the paper with a sharp knife and press fit the screen into the frame.
Let there be light
You’ve now completed the woodworking portion of this lamp and are left with the electrical. Please remember that electricity is dangerous. If you have any doubt about your ability to do this safely, please consult an electrician. A threaded socket can be attached to a cord with an inline switch and then fit into place on the support with the included nuts. Add an LED bulb – they give off less heat than an incandescent – and plug it in. The shade should provide a warm light perfect for a bedroom or other intimate space.