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Warning, Kumiko is addictive!

This is the lamp I made while I was still working with the square grid lattice

While writing the last post on Kumiko, I didn’t think I would be at it again – at least not so soon! But before I go any further, perhaps I need to define some terms, given that there’s so much talk about the subject, tutorials galore, people selling special jigs for cutting the angles, etc., etc.

Shoji are room dividers: panels consisting of a frame with a lattice grid inside (the Kumiko) covered with paper and sliding in a track. Most shoji have a simple lattice of horizontal and vertical Kumiko, and while I’m not a scholar on the subject, I believe incorporating more intricate, decorative motifs inside the lattice is a more recent development.

Taking that a step further, or rather many steps further, the Japanese departed from traditional designs and started using Kumiko for making decorative panels that often have the same function as a painting would in Western culture. These push the boundaries of craftsmanship beyond “next level”. Using highly specialized planes and other tools, they create incredibly complex works of art. Some examples can be seen here, .

When it comes to woodworking, I tend to lean toward a looser approach, favoring the more organic, un-refined, unmeasured natural shapes with a minimum of intervention, allowing the wood to “speak”. Honestly, I don’t like the tedious, exacting work that Kumiko requires, in fact I almost hate it!

And yet, like a wood borer that chews its way through the beams, keeping you awake at night, so it was with this gnawing thought, that I have to do a hexagonal grid pattern Kumiko. It turned out to be considerably more complex than the previous square grid… a new sled, different angles, lower the blade raise the blade, more scraps, frustration…

I used kiln-dried basswood and cut the strips on my table saw using a Forrest 40 tooth blade that cuts a 1/8 inch (3mm) kerf. If the blade is sharp, there is hardly any need for sanding. The Kumiko strips are 5/8 inch by 1/8 inch.

The new sled, a jig, the tools used and some test pieces

For the sled, I again used a piece of melamine covered MDF, a material that is highly stable and very rigid, with a strip of maple on the bottom that engages the 3/4-inch track of my table saw. A little paraffin rubbed on the top of the saw keeps the sled sliding easily. The 30/60/90 degree Plexiglas triangle I have from my college days helped in laying out the stops.

The small jig for cutting the angles on the ends of the in-fill pieces is made from a piece of beech and has an adjustable stop. From here on, I just had to arm myself with patience and endurance for the tedious, repetitive cuts.

The first panel with the Sakura motif, in cherry frame and dyed mulberry paper

The small spline-joined box of pear wood (the Kumiko is basswood)

And a smaller panel in a pearwood frame

In the end, I managed to get some results and made two panels and a small box with the Sakura, or cherry blossom Kumiko. While I am pleased with the results, if I’m completely honest I have to say that finishing the projects was more a relief than a joy. And while I will refrain from saying whether or not I’ll make any more Kumiko, I will say this: the hexagonal grid has a lot more possibilities than the square one.

In the meantime, I think I’ll grab my sloyd knife and start carving something!

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Oct 08, 2022

I have seen Kumiko before (but didn't know what it was called). The design possibilities seem endless. Can you use any kind of paper backing?

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traditionally they use plain rice paper but I favor colored mulberry, or, like in the lamp, hand made paper with some kind of plant inclusions, bamboo leaves in this case.

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