making an andon

with 1 watt flickering LEDs inside

I had been thinking about making Andon (Japanese timber framed lanterns) for a while and now that I had a proven LED circuit that would simulate a lantern flame inside a lantern (see my LED jack o' lantern) it was a matter of design and construction. I had been capturing stills of andon from movies but these images only gave me a general idea of what these traditional paper on wood lanterns looked like and were short on detail. However, There were antique dealers on the net that provided close up photos which indicated that construction methods were not restricted to blind mortice and tenon joinery as is the case with traditional shoji so I decided to use lap joints which are strong, simple and require no nails..

You can find several examples of antique andon lanterns at including one with lap joint construction.

After a trial box made from scrap meranti and lined with tissue paper I was ready to make an andon. The andon above on the left was my first attempt. The frame is pine and I used rice paper with the same 15 X 5mm LED circuit that was used in my jack o' lantern for illumination. The second andon on the above right was also made of pine but I used unryushi (cloud dragon)) paper and a combination of 1watt white and 8mm yellow LEDs to provide a much brighter effect.

The construction method is the same for both lanterns although the design and size differ. I'll explain how I made the andon on the right.

I used 12mm liner board off the rack for all parts. I cut out the clear sections then ripped off the tongue, grove and center "V" groove. After determining the location of my lap joints I cut the notches with a stacked dado set on a radial arm saw then ripped to 12 X 12mm strips using an Triton table with an inverted circular saw set up to rip with a jig.

Once everything was cut to size the andon could be snapped together for fine tuning. For example, I was not sure of how high I wanted to put the handle until after I had done a trial assembly. I could then position the handle where I wanted it and then mark for the notches on the two uprights to which the handle would be fixed. All joints were glued with PVA wood glue.

Completed circuit without LEDs connected
Completed circuit without LEDs connected

A flush cutting saw was used to remove the unwanted 12mm stubs extending outside the final profile of the lantern.

I used the flush cutting saw and a carving knife to cut the notches in the kumiko and the andon frame where the kumiko would be fixed in place. The kumiko were 8 X 8mm with the ends cut 8mm longer and at 45° to fit into corresponding 45° notches in the andon frame.

Needing both weight in the bottom of the lantern for ballast as well as a heat sink for the 1 watt LEDs, I mounted the LEDs on 2.5mm sheet of aluminium. The 8mm LEDs could be press fitted into 8mm holes and the 1 watt LEDs were mounted with 3mm screws with nuts. The diffusser was made from salvage flourescent light diffuser material. The 4 sides and top of the diffuser were glued togther with CA glue and two 3mm screws were secured with hot melt glued to two corners for fixing to the aluminium sheet. The circuit board was fixed to a 3mm piece of plywood which in turn was fixed to the bottom of the lantern with wood screws once the wiring was connected.

I use the micro controller to switch 5 NPN transistors which in turn switched the LEDs since current required to run the 1 watt LEDs could not be supplied via the microcontroller. The lantern was powered with a 5.5VDC 1.5A regulated power supply.


There seems to have been quite a bit of variety in material used and style of andon. Construction would have been within the scope of the craftsman's ability tool kit, materials on hand and, since they were often made to order, the customers wishes.

Japanese films such as Twilight Samurai, Hidden Blade, Sakuran and Zatoichi, as well as the Hollywood blockbusters Memiors of a Geisha and The Last Samurai all contained night time scenes where rooms were illuminated with andon. However, I doubt if any of those scenes employed andons lit traditionally with oil or candle as the sole source of light.

I could obtain more illumination from an andon lit with a standard incandesent bulb but I was looking for ambience and not just a bright light. The question in the back of my mind is how much light would an andon lit with oil or candle have provided?

The antique andon in the link at the top of the page is of a very common design used to light a room at night and be put away during the day. Edward S. Morse in his book Japanese Homes and their Surroundings, (pub 1885) described a similar lamp and wrote "The light from this lamp is feeble and uncertain and by it one can barely see his way about the room".

Morse found much to praise about Japanese homes and furnishings in his book so I have no reason to believe he was writing with a western bias and that his description is anything more than his actual observation.

You can learn a bit more about andon here.

Below is a list of books I have found very helpful, The first two for the insight into Japanese joinery, the third for a more western approach to constructing Japanese style lanterns and the fourth is the one which I have already cited and which may still be available. My copy was part of an architectural series by Dover Books copyrighted and first published in 1961 and is an unaltered unabridged edition of the original 1885 publication. I might add its a real gem if your interested in this sort of thing. I lend it very reluctantly.

  • Making Shoji, Toshio Odate, Stobart Davies Ltd
  • Shoji; How to design, build and install Japanese Screens, Jay van Arsdale, Kodansha International
  • Making Japanese Style Lamps and Lanterns, Edward R. Turner, Hartley and Marks Publishers Inc.
  • Japanese Homes and Their Surrondings, Edward S. Morse, Dover Publications Inc.

What's up?