All posts by gabe

Making Shoji Screen Room Dividers


Shoji are, to put it simply, awesome.

I discovered them through Toshio Odate’s book “Making Shoji” one day wondering through the book section of a local Woodcraft store.  I have Odate’s book on Japanese tools and their use and it has been one of the most important sources of knowledge for me as I have developed skill with hand tools.  The fine grain of the wood, the clean lines, the subtle light through the paper; all combine to create a simple elegance that few outside of japan have the pleasure of enjoying in their homes. I looked around the web and found several companies that make shoji in the US for prices of $300-$1000 a panel plus installation. That may seem like a lot of money, but for the joinery involved, it makes sense.

Odate describes how a professional shoji maker in Japan, back when he apprenticed after WWII, would be expected to produce two panels in two days. And that with hand tools. So, I suppose, I should be able to do better with all the power tools in my shop. If only that were the case, it took me about a week to make these two panels. I use a table saw and bandsaw to cut material to rough dimension, and then bring things in to square with hand planes. The joinery was also cut with hand tools.

The distinguishing feature of the mortices for shoji are their depth. So much so that the Japanese tategu shokunin employs a special bottom cleaning chisel to scrape the bottom of a mortice beautifully clean and close to the opposing side. Odate employs a single mortice of 3/8″ width, which with a slightly tapered fit to the end grain of the mortice, gives excellent strength to the main frame elements without requiring clamps for assembly.


The hipboard was edge glued together from pieces about five inches wide. It would have been nice to use wider boards, but it is very difficult in my part of the country to find wide boards of quality lumber that can be resawn to 3/8″ without warping badly from drying stresses. The lumber that I used for this project was very good quality vertical grain Douglas Fir.  The finished thickness of the hipboard is 1/4″, so it is very important that the glue up go smoothly, and the edges join such that the panel is not warpy. To achieve this I jointed the edges such that they were ever so slightly concave such that no gaps opened up on the outside edges of the joints.


Here you can see the hip board together with the rails and kumiko. The kumiko were assembled first, and then the hip board fitted to the bottom and middle rail. You can see that even without the stiles for side support the kumiko tenons provide enough strength for the partial assembly to stand on its own.


Both stiles get fitted to the rail tenons at the the same time. Its a real moment of truth, because with the compression joinery of the mortices you are not supposed to pre-fit your joints. I had to wack the stiles pretty hard to get them seated, but had no joints crack or split.


Here you can see the pair of assembled shoji. I made these to standard demensions without a particular track opening to install them into, so I ended up leaving the horns on the stiles and adding some small feet on the bottom so that they could be used as free standing screens.

The layout of the kumiko was spaced to accept traditional 11″ wide strips of shoji paper, which I glued on with some home made sticky rice glue.


I learned a great deal about accurate layout during this project. The half laps for the kumiko joinery was a real moment of truth for doing accurate work with a saw. If you’re interested in shoji don’t hesitate to give it a shot. Shoji represent a real elegance with an economy of material. Like poetry, the best words in the best order. Here, the best quality wood in the best orientation.

How to make a Spinning Wheel


Its hard to figure out where to start when it comes to making a spinning wheel. You get interested in making some yarn, maybe get a few different hand spindles. And then you get to the point where you want better quality yarn faster. For me that meant figuring out how to make a spinning wheel. Look around for plans a bit online and you come to the conclusion that the most difficult bit of the whole affair comes down to the wheel itself, making a large accurate circle. And if, like me, you don’t own a lathe that can throw a 30″ circle, you need a work around. Thankfully in woodworking there is always more than one way to get something done.

I’d like to say thanks to Carson Cooper for his excellent work publishing his guide to making spinning wheels and flyers, and the various plans of wheels that he puts out with excellent dimensioned drawings and fabrication instructions. Without having a collection of spinning wheels to work from for basic dimensioning and design Cooper’s books were an invaluable aid. That said, you have to know your way around a woodshop to make use of his work.

A spinning wheel starts, from a design perspective, with the wheel. Build the wheel first, and all else follows.


I figured if I could build a large wheel, then a small one would be a piece of cake, so I started with a 30″ wheel. The most useful thing to note about how I made an accurate wheel is the piece of Baltic birch plywood my wheel blank is resting on. It serves as both circle routing jig and assembly jig, using a central pin drilled in the middle and being the same diameter as the wheel axle shafting.

Cutting the mortices for the splines that hold the segments together was done with saw and mortice chisel. Frankly, it would have been much, much easier if I had used a straight cutting bit on a router, but I like to try things the old fashioned way first, even if I know it will be time consuming. I cut the corners off of each side of the six wheel segments to decrease the length of the mortice, making it much easier to keep things accurate, but making it much more difficult to hold the work securely while cutting with the chisel. Once the pieces were glued together I screwed the wheel down in three places to the jig, being able to use those same screw holes to locate the cut rim back exactly to its concentric position around the axle for assembly.

IMAG0250 IMAG0251

Drilling the holes for the spokes required the fabrication of two different V blocks and a center finder for my drill press. Even with the routing jig to align the parts, accurate hole drilling is a must if you want parts to actually fit together.


Here is the assembled wheel, on the routing jig. I had to make the wheel hub in three pieces so that the rim would lie in plane with the hub on the jig. I would definitely recommend some holes cut in the jig so that clamps can reach through and press the two main halves of the split hub together against the spokes.


With the wheel together you can decide upon the angles for the splay of the legs, and the distance between the wheel and the flyer. You want the wheel as far away from the flyer whorl as possible to give the drive band as much wrapped angle as possible on the smaller drive whorl. The wheel can’t lean back too far though, or it will want to tip over. A happy balance occurs if you put the center line of the wheel over where the two front legs meet the ground.


The main challenge of making the flyer was getting my Rigid lathe to accurately center drill small metal parts. Cooper recommends brass for the flyer orifice, as it is soft enough to turn on a wood lathe. As difficult as CR steel is to work, at least it is cheap. I even made the bobbin bearings out of 1/2″ CR rod. And don’t get me started about threading the flyer shaft for the drive whorl nut. Save yourself a great deal of trouble threading free hand with a die and use a collet to hold the shaft on your lathe and a tailstock die holder. I thought that my dies were just cheap because of the gnarled look to the threads. Turns out holding the die in a stable alignment while threading is everything when it comes to getting clean threads.

Well, I know I left a great deal out if you’re reading this and trying to figure out how to do it yourself. It took me a couple years from when I first conceived of making a spinning wheel to gain both the knowledge and tooling to make something that doesn’t look too bad. So don’t give up, keep studying anything you can get your hands on. Find a store that sells wheels and study them in person. From never having used a wheel to building a quality heirloom is totally possible. If you have any specific questions about how something was done, please leave a comment and I’ll be happy to put up another blog post.


Making a 20″ table loom

    I just finished a new loom!


Its a 20″ four-harness table loom with lever operated harnesses.

I had just finished my first spinning wheel, which I’ll get to posting about soon enough… and felt a bit let down at the completion of so much work and study. So I thought I’d hop right on to a new challenge to let my mind percolate on design improvements for my next wheel. I’ve had  Hjert/Von Rosenstiel’s “Loom Construction” on my shelf for a good number of year, but was always disappointed with the quality of the plans in the book. They’re certainly fully functional looms, just…ugly. I’ve had a chance over the past couple weeks to get into Lambspun of Fort Collins, Co to study the looms they carry, all by Schacht. This led to a desire for me to combine elements of fine furniture joinery with some design variations of Schacht and Von Rosenstiel into a loom all my own.

IMAG0276 IMAG0271

Here you can see the dovetail securing the breast beam to the corner stile, and the through moritice and tenon for the side rail to the corner stile. The main frame elements use old growth Douglas Fir reclaimed from some decking that was older than I am. I’m happy to give this wood new life, you’d have a hard time finding lumber of this quality in Colorado.

The other photo is the beater bar joinery in cherry with iron wood wedges. I used a pegged slip joint for the bottom rail which is permanent, and a dovetail for the top with a through wedge securing the top bar to the sides, which has to be removable. I morticed the slot for the wedge before cutting the cheeks of the pin on the sides.


Cutting the ratchets for the warp and cloth beams was very time consuming. I considered making them out of wood, but questioned the durability (I’m wanting the loom to last longer than me). I would have made these out of brass, but its expensive and I didn’t have any on hand. I do however have plenty of 1/4″ and 5/16″ steel plate. Layout was done with some layout dye and a carbide scratch awl with ruler and compass. I made waste cuts around the outside diameter with a cut-off disc on a die grinder. From there a hacksaw was used, cutting as close to the line as I dared. I took particular care to make sure my cuts were perpendicular to the work piece and level at the bottom. I cleaned up to the line with a flat bastard file and triangular mill file.


It took about eight hours to make these parts, including the latches for the ratchets, which were secured to the loom with 3/16″ brass rod that I peened a head onto.


By far the hardest element for me was figuring out how the harness and heddle dimensions relate to the frame elements. On Schacht table looms it looks like the weight of the rigid harness frames is enough to return them to their lowered positions. Because I decided to go with harness bars as opposed to frames, I needed a tensioning device to keep the heddles rigid and in line with each other. Small bamboo bows riding on a dowel hold the harness bars taught, an excellent idea I can’t claim credit for.


At the end of all this work there is a fair amount still needing adjustment. I made a few temporary heddles from 30lb test monofilament fishing line, and the holes that the warp pass through are far too large at one inch. It makes my shed very narrow as I lose about an inch from the take-up of the heddles.  From what I’ve learned, its also preferable for the warp to ride the bottom of the reed in a jack loom and not be in the middle. The levers for the harness should give me a throw of about 2 -1/4″, but I’m considering increasing that as well if new heddles don’t improve the shed. The beater bar also has a flaw, in that there is nothing to stop it from hitting the harness bars when its let back at rest.

Now I’m just excited to have a working loom. Have you seen how much these things sell for? And for screwed and bolted construction? Lets make things worth passing on to our grandkids again.  I know that there is precious little information of quality on putting one of these together, so feel free to comment if you have any questions about the construction of a loom like this.

Welcome to Granite Mountain Woodcraft

I want to share a bit of the work that I do day to day in the hope of propagating good knowledge about woodcrafting subjects that are little known and understood, and starting a woodworking business. Stay tuned for my next post covering my experience building a Saxony style spinning wheel for the first time. Enjoy!