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Picture of Shōji Lantern for Low Voltage Landscape Lighting

The big box do-it-yourself stores offer low voltage landscape lighting in kits with plastic and metal lighting fixtures. When Malibu first introduced such lighting twenty-five years ago, the fixtures were affordable. Now they are way over-priced and ho-hum in looks, but you can make your own in the style of Japanese shōji lanterns to wow your friends and neighbors.

This Instructable will teach you to build the lantern, and you can occasionally find some affordable old Malibu plastic lights on E-Bay that you can repurpose to hold the bulb—or you can find bulb holders on the Internet. You can buy the low voltage transformer and wiring at the big box.

In Japan, carpenters use a mortise-and-tenon technique to build their shōji screens and lanterns, and they use rice paper for the panes. The instructions below are conceived for everyday carpenters, so you will be using screws and glue for the frame instead of mortise-and-tenon. And you will use acrylic for the panes. (My first lantern had rice paper panes, but a wren discovered she could poke through the paper and build a comfy nest complete with light bulb heating; when her chicks fledged, I converted the panes to acrylic.)

I have been crafting these lanterns for twenty years, and at the end of these instructions I include a link to a website where you can see my various lanterns. You can copy one of my designs or invent your own to fit your requirements or needs. This Instructable gives you the basic principles and tips, drawing on several lanterns to illustrate steps.

Materials

Skim this section initially, then re-read it after you have read the steps. You will have a better idea of the materials then.

  • A board wide enough to cut two identical squares that will form the top and bottom of your main structure. You will want a board that is at least 6” wide.
    • Optional: You may also want two more squares of pressure-treated wood that will cap your top and bottom squares, for extra protection from the elements and an added horizontal layer. If so, choose a board that is 2” wider than your main structure boards, to give you a nice 1” setback.
  • A board long enough and thick enough to rip into four posts for the main structure. You can work with standard “one-by” boards (which give you 3/4” effective thickness) for many lanterns. But also look around your shop for any leftover boards you can rip for the purpose.
  • A board long enough and thick enough to rip for your panel frames. You want the panel frames to be a bit thinner than the posts, and as you choose your lumber, calculate final lengths for bottoms, sides, and any horizontals or verticals you add for effect.
  • Sheet(s) of acrylic/plexiglass, available at the big boxes
  • Exterior Polyurethane
    • Optional: Stain (if, for example, you are working with pine and want to stain it for effect. I have used Gunstock on several occasions to contrast nicely with pressure treated wood.)
  • Wood Glue
  • Exterior Wood Screws (If you don’t have any on hand, note which lengths you need as you plan your size and read through the steps.)
  • 5” lag screw and washer to anchor the shōji lantern into its post—a 4”x4”, 6”x6”, or a tree stump
  • Shims
  • Stone Hat (Wait until your lantern is complete to choose it!)

Tools

  • Chop Saw
  • Table Saw
  • Drill Press—ideally, but you can make do with a drill, a good eye, and a steady hand
  • Drill
  • Clamps
  • Nail Punch
  • Sander
  • Ratchet Wrench
  • Torpedo Level

Overview

This Instructable falls into four Sections: Making the Main Structure (Steps 1-9); Making the Panel Frames (Steps 10-17); Assembling the Shōji Lantern (Steps 18-21), and Mounting the Shōji Lantern (Steps 22-26). At the step that begins a new Section, a short intro is included.

Step 1: Sketch Your General Design

Picture of Sketch Your General Design
1-sketch.JPG

Before you begin, sketch out the design you want for the lantern. Here are two samples: a drawing of one panel with sizes and wood types noted, and a rough sketch for another. You can always adjust as you go, but a sketch gets you started.

Intro this Section: It is critical to be precise in building your main structure, so that your panel frames will fit neatly inside of it. Take your time at each step.


boycel5p5 months ago
This seems like a good idea for my memorial place in my parents garden, but without electricity for working lantern. I have an idea for my dad's ashes to be kept. Memorial.
But I don't know where to start? Obviously I need it to be weather protected. We have his ashes in an ordinary basic jar, I'd like to make a box to store the jar within. This seems about perfect.
What do you think? I'd like Any and all ideas on how.
please much appreciated. I would have asked my dad if I could.
jim_henry (author)  boycel5p4 months ago
Hello Boycel5p, Sorry to have taken so long to respond, but for some reason, my Discussions would not load so that I could write back to people. I guess this structure would work for your fatherʻs ashes. Since you will not be putting a light in it, could you possibly try substituting some nice 1/4" wooden boards for the acrylic panels. You could possibly find cedar in one of the big boxes--or maybe see if there are nice wood boards in this thickness at a Michaelʻs? Whatever you decide, I hope it turns out well, and I am honored that you would want to use my design for your dadʻs resting place.
These lanterns are lovely :D
jim_henry (author)  Penolopy Bulnick5 months ago
Thanks so much!
Enchanted Excalibur made it!5 months ago
This is my shoji lantern took me 1 month
3A26974E-6B9D-4A98-B061-18CE30DD2067.png
seamster5 months ago
Beautiful work, I love these! : )
jim_henry (author)  seamster5 months ago
Thank you! Why donʻt you make one and post a pic? :)
Perhaps I will, saved this project as a favorite!