Experiments in Kumiko Woodwork—Part I
First off, my apologies. I don’t usually subscribe to the “watch me stumble through something for the first time” style of blog. But Ed Pirnik, our web producer extraordinaire, was hunting for blogs just as I was noodling with the idea of trying my hand at kumiko, or Japanese latticework, in order to dress up a door panel for a cabinet I’ve been working on. So, since I was already knee-deep in research and excited as all get out, I figured I’d invite you along for the ride as well.
Kumiko is the name given to traditional Japanese lattice work typically found on shoji screens. The designs can get quite intricate and the variations are almost endless. Some furniture makers incorporate kumiko into their work, and one of my favorite makers to do so is John Reed Fox. I’ve always been a fan of his work, and ever since his cabinet featuring kumiko panels appeared on the back cover of FW226, I’ve wanted to try my hand at it. By the way Raney Nelson, who does some really nice kumiko work as well as making fantastic tools, has a cool article on making a kumiko lamp in the April issue of Pop Wood (yes, we’re allowed to read other magazines as well).
I started by working up a design on the computer and used it to come up with a number of panel treatments. When I found one I liked, I created a photoshop mock up just to make sure I was headed in the right direction. Up to this point, I’ve worked out a design, retrofitted the door and installed the basic grid work. In the next installment (hopefully), I’ll complete the panel by installing all those little pieces between the grids to create the leaf pattern.
To get an idea of how kumiko latticework would look incorporated into a cabinet door, I created a quick mock-up in photoshop. It gave me enough confidence to jump in and try my hand at the technique.
I decided to start with a traditional hemp leaf pattern, which seemed to be a straight-forward design that offered a decent chance of success. Once I had drawn the design in Illustrator, I tried it out in various configurations on the door panel. In the end, I went with a single full-width grid at the top of the door.
A cabinet by John Reed Fox on the back cover of FW226 inspired me to give the technique a try.
The square grid is joined with half-laps at the intersections. It's easier to cut the lap joints before ripping the stock into individual strips. A piece of stock inserted into a slot in the fence registers the work piece for consistent notches.
The challenge is to space the notches so they align with the ends of the opening.
The trimmed block just slips into the door frame.
The block is ripped into individual strips. I planed a smooth face on the edge of the block and ripped the strip just over thickness. Planing the second face brought the strip down to exact thickness.
A little wiggle room in the upper rail allowed me to dial in the height of the opening. I tapped the rail until a grid piece just slipped in at each end.
With the door glued up and the grid pressed in place, it time to turn my attention to filling out the grid. I'm not sure if the hard part is over, or yet to start.
I planed the strips two at a time to keep them as flat as possible.
I practiced on some test stock until I ended up with a nice snug fit at each intersection.