This screen is an ideal solution for dividing a large room into smaller units, isolating a computer or play area from a main room, or blocking excessive light. It’s also a great way to hide a messy area in your living or family room.
My divider is made from walnut, vertical grain western hemlock, and cherry. You could make it using a single species, or combination of woods, to suit your décor.
Think It Through
Before you begin construction, give careful consideration to the selection of wood and joinery, as they will contribute greatly to the success of your project. On the most basic level, this is an exercise in frame and panel construction much like any cabinet door. The major difference is that each of the three panels is almost six feet tall, with nine individual panels. As you can imagine, it creates some unique construction issues.
The panels are decorative and provide little structural integrity, unlike the walnut frame. Each panel has two stiles that are 68 3⁄16″ long. These long stiles require that you select rough 4/4 (1″) stock that is both straight and reasonably flat and defect free, or stock that is quite a bit oversize (say, 1-1/2″) to allow you to mill it flat.
Another critical factor to consider is the method of joining all of the pieces together. Ideally, you want to make assembly as easy as possible. Gluing up these panels can be daunting as it involves 21 separate pieces. Once the glue hits the wood, the clock is ticking and the pressure is on. Everything you can do during the joinery stage to make the glue-up go smoothly is time well spent. There are a number of different joinery options you could use; each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Whatever method you choose must accomplish two things: it has to provide the strength to hold the panel together over the long term, and it must be easy and quick to assemble due to the number of pieces involved. The method you choose will depend somewhat on the tools you have. Most of the common methods will provide the structural integrity, but some may be far more complicated to assemble.
Various Joinery Options
Using a rail and stile bit set would help to align the pieces front to back, and provide enough glue surface for a strong joint. However, once the glue hits the wood, you will have to align and square the rails manually. This will add to the assembly time and it is almost certain that the rails won’t be perfectly aligned. Biscuits are another option that provide the front to back alignment, and to a limited extent will help align the rails, but now you have twenty additional biscuits to contend with, as well as the need to get the right amount of glue into 40 slots per panel, adding to your assembly time. Dowels would provide more positive alignment of the rails, but you would need to use 2 dowels per joint, so with 40 dowels, you now have 80 holes to glue and 61 pieces to juggle during assembly. Perhaps the most practical method would be to use pocket holes. This would eliminate any complex joinery, but would require the routing of a lot of stopped grooves in the stiles (to accommodate the individual panels). It would also leave the rear of the screen with exposed pocket holes, which would have to be filled with special plugs, if the screen were to be seen from both sides when in use.
Mortise and Tenon: The Better Choice
After looking at all of these options and the limitations of each one, I chose to use mortise and tenon joinery. M&T offers some distinct advantages over the other methods. The parts are automatically aligned from front to back as well as top to bottom. That means there is one less thing to pay attention to during the glue-up. Additionally, the tenons are 3/4″ long, which is twice what a rail and stile set will produce, resulting in a stronger panel. Using mortise and tenon joinery results in the minimum number of parts and the minimum number of holes you will need to glue. Finally, since there are no exposed screws, the panel is equally attractive from the front and the back, making it more versatile in use. By handing off the alignment duties to the joinery I was able to use PVA glue during assembly, which has an open time of around five minutes. If you were using one of the other methods I would strongly recommend using glue like Titebond 3, which has a longer open time.
The Stiles and Rails - Mortises
The Rails - Tenons
The panels (E) are free floating to allow seasonal movement. The panels I used came from vertical grain western hemlock, with growth rings at 90º to the front and back of the panel, resulting in a very stable panel. If your panels are from flat sawn stock, you may want to allow a little additional space, depending on the pieces.
Assemble the Panels
Assembling the panels is the most challenging part of the project as there are so many pieces. Before you break out the glue, assemble the panel once to be sure that all of the pieces fit without gaps or unexpected problems.
Assemble the Screen
Top it Off
The cherry that tops off the center section continues the slope established by the two outer panels and forms a peak at the center of the panel.