Including Free Plans!
Lighting projects are one of my favorite ways to spend time in the shop. I think lamps and lanterns encompass all the best things about woodworking. From beginning to lighting it up for the first time, you’ll find problem-solving, skill-building, and personal satisfaction. So in this article, I’m going to show you how to make a mini lantern with kumiko panels.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I specialize in kumiko. Many of my favorite pieces incorporate kumiko panels into them. This mini lantern is a really good skill-building project, and is easily completed in a weekend. You can also download free plans that have all the measurements to make it even easier.
One great thing about these mini lanterns is that the frame can be easily made with any 2-foot cutoff. In the video below, you’ll see I joint and plane thicker material than I need. As always in woodworking, there’s more than one way to accomplish this. You could start with S3S lumber from your hardwood dealer, or even already-dimensioned lumber from the big box store.
- 24″ x 6″ x 3/4″ hardwood for the Legs (I used birdseye maple and cherry)
- 24″ x 4″ x 1/2″ hardwood for the Stretchers (same species as the thicker board)
- Wood glue
- Finish of choice (I used General Finishes Arm-R-Seal)
Cutting the Mini Lantern’s Legs & Stretchers
The first step is to cut strips for the legs of the lantern. I set my table saw fence to the thickness of the material and rip enough for 4 square legs. Refer to the plans for specific lengths and widths.
Now moving to the 1/2″ stock, once again set your table saw fence to the thickness of the board, and rip strips for the stretchers. If you have access to a planer, you can plane down more 3/4″ stock to achieve the 1/2″ thickness for these pieces.
After the strips for both the legs and stretchers are cut, cross-cut them all to length. I use a miter saw with a stop block, but you can do this with a hand saw just as easily. The most important part is that all legs are exactly the same size; all the stretchers should match as well.
The joinery for our mini lantern is a triple-lap. I’m not actually sure that’s the technically correct term, but it joins two stretchers and a leg at each corner of the frame.
You can see in the diagram that the leg has laps on adjacent faces, and the stretchers have a traditional cross-lap that allows them to join at a 90 degree angle. These joints must be cut precisely, and for that I use a table saw sled.
Cut the Joinery
Starting with the leg laps, I set up stop blocks to determine the width of the lap. I set the final width to a hair less than the thickness of the stretcher, because I want to be able to sand the stretchers to ensure a tight joint.
Once the stop blocks are set, it’s you’re ready to cut. Starting against one stop block, establish one edge of the lap on the leg, then shift the leg against the other stop block and run it through again to establish the width. Finally, hog out the rest in the middle moving the leg slightly for each cut. Flip the piece end for end and repeat the process.
Rotate the leg to an adjacent face and repeat the whole process to create the leg joint. You can refer to the YouTube video above for a closer look at making these cuts.
Next, reset the stop blocks for the stretcher cross-laps. Crosscut the stretcher joints just like the leg joints, setting the width of the final lap to a hair less than the thickness of the stretcher so you can sand it.
Fit the Joints Together
Since the joints are sized just a hair smaller than the stretchers, it’s going to take some sanding for final fitment. Simply rub the sides of the stretchers against a sheet of 220-grit sandpaper, checking for fit along the way, until you get a perfect fit.
Also, be sure to mark your joints, so you know exactly which pieces fit precisely together.
(Optional) Profile the Edges
If you want to have a profiled edge, now’s the time to do it. I went for a slight chamfer using my shop-built router table. If you just want to ease the edges with sandpaper, you can wait until the piece is put back together entirely.
Once you have a tight (but not too tight) fit on the joints, you can start with the glue-up.
Glue the horizontal frames together with wood glue and clamps. Once the glue is dry, you will need to sand the tops and bottoms for final fitment into the leg joinery. Repeat the sanding process in the previous step, checking the fit along the way, until you have a barely loose fit in the leg joinery.
Once all the horizontal frames are fit, you can glue the horizontal frames into the leg joinery. The joinery should make the lantern frames come together easily, and wind up square.
Finishing The Mini Lantern
After a final sanding on all parts up to 220-grit, apply your preferred finish to the lanterns. I like to wipe on General Finishes Arm-R-Seal in semi-gloss, which builds up a protective film finish.
Making the Kumiko
Kumiko is totally optional; don’t get intimidated by this step. The free plans have a very basic 90 degree design for the panels, but if you’re interested in making something more complex, you can add kumiko to it. You can refer to my Instructables article about making kumiko if you’d like to go this route.
Attaching Paper to the Panels
Adding diffusion to the panels is also optional, but it does help create a more finished look.
I like to use handmade mulberry paper, which is available at most art supply stores, but you can use just about anything that is semi-translucent. To attach the paper, you can use super glue, but I used acid-free double-sided tape that I got at the art supply store. I’m not sure if you actually need acid-free tape, but I just asked them what they recommended using with the handmade paper I also got from them for the lanterns.
Note: It’s important to put as much adhesive on the back of the wooden part of the panels so the paper doesn’t wrinkle or crease.
The last step is to put the panels into the main lantern body. You can glue them in, but I don’t recommend it because if you need to replace or fix the paper later on, it’s easier if the panels can slide out.
Just make sure the panels are pretty snug so they don’t fall out.
By the way, I recommend a small LED votive for your mini lantern — I typically use one that flickers. They stay cool, are a perfect mood light, and fit the theme pretty well.