Canadian Woodworking

Japanese paper lantern

Author: Rob Brown
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2006

This semi-circular lantern is an electrical version of a lantern style that was popularized in the orient around AD1600. Today, with its soft, warm glow that radiates light 180º, it is ideally suited to providing subtle accent lighting for a buffet, end table or night table.


The lantern consists of three parts – the wooden frame (curly cherry), the handmade paper, and the electrical fixture. The paper acts to diffuse and soften the light, and is the real focal point of the lantern. The most common types of hand-made papers are from Japan, and fortunately are available in Canada. Of course, if you are really interested in the paper aspect of this project you could make your own paper.

Notches cut in legs to accept rails

Rails attached to back legs

Frame Construction

• Start with the upper and lower curved rails (A). You will need a form on which to bend and clamp the layers of veneer.

• The final thickness of the rails should be 3⁄8″. Use strips of veneer that are extra wide, so they can be trimmed down to a final width of 5⁄8″. For an interesting effect I used contrasting species – curly black cherry for the two inside and two outside layers, and maple for the center layers.

• When completely dry, trim the first square edge of the curved rails on the jointer. Then, rip the rails to final width on the table saw.

• Cut the curved rails to length, using a jig (see Canadian Woodworking Issue #38, page 10). The jig will have to be modified slightly to accommodate the different locations and radii for this rail.

• Machine the four identical black cherry legs (B) to their final size.

• Cut the tops at a slight angle, about 20º, for aesthetics.

• Cut two 5⁄8″ x 3⁄8″ notches into the backside of each of the four legs. These notches will accept the top and bottom curved rails. When the two curved rails and four legs are assembled, the inside surface must be flush to allow the paper to be glued to this surface.

• Finish sand and glue together the legs and two curved rails.

• Once dry, machine a 5⁄16″ wide groove where the curved rails meet the back legs. This groove will accept the back rails.

• Machine the back rails (C) to finished size and cut a tenon on each end that will fit snugly into the 5⁄16″ groove at the junction of the curved rails and the back legs.

• Sand back rails and glue them in place.

• A flat mounting surface (D) for the light fixture is required. Cut a piece of 1⁄4″ plywood to fit between the lower curved rail and the lower back rail. Drill an appropriate hole in the mounting surface to accept the electrical fixture, and then secure the mounting surface to the frame with epoxy.

• At this stage the frame is assembled and you can apply a finish to the lantern before you install the paper shade. I sprayed a number of coats of semi-gloss polyurethane sanding between coats. You could just as easily use shellac, a rubbing oil, or any of your favourite finishes.

Applying the Paper

• Applying paper (E, F) to a curved frame can be a tricky procedure, so it’s best to go slowly. You will have to do lots of dry fitting to cut the paper to the correct size. Practice with a piece of newsprint to obtain the right size and shape, then transfer that pattern to the hand made paper you’re going to use.

• Apply rice paste to the inside of the frame with a small, flat, artist’s brush. Alternately, use a clear drying white glue.

• Carefully insert the paper without getting any glue on the section of the paper that will be visible. The rice paste allows the paper to be repositioned properly before you set it aside to dry.

• Cut the back paper to size and use rice paste to secure it between the upper and lower back rails.

• When the rice paper has dried, spray a light mist of water over the paper. The paper will eventually dry tight on the frame. I used this technique for the back piece of paper, but opted not to try it on the curved piece. Because of the nature of a curve I thought the paper might buckle in the center. When applying the curved piece of paper, I made sure it was as tight as possible before it dried.


Not knowing a lot about electricity I got some help from a qualified electrician to help with the light fixture. I didn’t want to have anything go wrong in my home and, unless you have experience in wiring, I suggest you do the same. I use a low wattage light bulb in order to keep the heat to a minimum. There is no need for a bright light because this lantern is used more for mood lighting than illuminating an entire room. Whatever you do, make sure you know what size hole to drill in the mounting surface to accept the light fixture.


You can experiment with different shaped wooden frames. Square, circular, even triangular frames would provide interesting options to which you can adhere paper. A much taller version, made with a number of lights, is also possible.

The use of exotic woods would be nice for a small project like this. Feel free to experiment with different types of paper and solid woods. In order to turn this lantern into a small wall sconce you could drill a hole through the top back rail and mount it on a wall.

The Bending Form

You can make this form out of particle board, MDF, or plywood. It should be at least 1″ thick. Although you could use thin strips of solid wood, pre-sliced veneer is easy to use for tight curves like this. Use a router on a circle cutting jig to cut the half radius onto the form. I used a 5″ radius for the curve. Trim the rest of the jig to appropriate size and round the back two corners. Apply glue to the veneers and place them against the curved form. You can use masking tape to temporarily hold them in place. Loosely wrap a band clamp around the jig and veneers. Insert a piece of flex-ply (or 1⁄8″ ply) between the veneers and the band clamp to help evenly distribute clamping pressure. Tighten the band clamp and let the lamination dry.

Shade paper available at The Japanese Paper Place

Veneer available at A&M Wood Specialty

Exotic Woods Inc.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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