making a kotatsu
January 23, 2006 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I want a kotatsu, but can't afford to ship one from Japan. I'd like to make my own if possible, but don't know where to start.
posted by Electric Elf to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You've used one? If so, you can easily understand the construction. A simple square or rectangular low table with the tabletop unattached, able to rest atop a comforter spread over the frame. The frame should have crossmembers that position the lightly heat-shielded hot box in the middle (underneath, of course). I can't imagine there's a hardware store in Minneapolis without heat lamps.

posted by planetkyoto at 10:43 PM on January 23, 2006

I put a [br clear="all"] in there, sorry if the alignment goes wack.
posted by planetkyoto at 10:46 PM on January 23, 2006

Kotatsu combined with floor chairs are one of the best things in the world. I'm probably no more intuitive than you in terms of making this thing, & I'm a complete amateur as far as woodworking skill/intuitiveness goes, but here's what I'd do:

1. The bottom part of the table won't be visible ever, so it just needs to be sturdy--so use plywood or whatever scrap you can come up with. Make nice legs (they'll be visible when the kotatsu's not in use) that come up to about diaphragm/lower chest level, either by conning someone with a lathe into making pretty legs for you, or by finding dowels/pre-made legs and cutting them to height. Obviously, ask a carpenter or just look under a few different tables to see how the legs are reinforced so they're not wobbly.

2. Make a table top. The kotatsu I've seen typically had some kind of hard plastic laminate on top--like an Ikea compressed plywood desk, except with a pretty pattern. You could go the same route, & get another piece of plywood & cover it with veneers (you might want to consult a real carpenter on this!), or you could get a nice piece of wood, finish/paint/etc it however you'd like & sand the edges.

3. Find a heat lamp & a cage to put around it. Since this won't be visible, you could just as well use a piece of heavy screen, or even use brackets & dowells to build a small frame that you then covered with window screening.

4. Electrical wiring's something I know even less about, but the type of wiring you'd be doing is very simple & a book on basic lamp repair would explain the specifics of everything you'd need to do. One can't wire a single-socket lamp backwards, so you'd [probably] have very little chance of making something that would eventually set you on fire!

On preview: make sure you put a board in between the heatlamp & the blanket in planetkyoto's design, otherwise you'll definitely set yourself on fire!
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:52 PM on January 23, 2006

Ooops: heatshielded. The key word my brain missed.
posted by soviet sleepover at 10:53 PM on January 23, 2006

I've kind of wanted one ever since watching some anime or other which featured one. Looked very cozy.

I wonder if a small space heater (the kind with some heater coils and a fan to blow air across them) might not work better than a heat lamp?
posted by hattifattener at 11:13 PM on January 23, 2006

There's a store in Southern CA called Marukai which has a Japanese furniture section. They sell small kotatsu's and also the electric carpets that are also effective in a cold climate.
posted by Fishing Nut at 12:05 AM on January 24, 2006

Totally non-traditional, but you could use a conventional coffee table with a glass top which just rests on a frame. Add a quilt between the frame and the glass with a small space heater underneath. If you were careful to avoid putting pressure on the inner wiring & elements, you may be able to use an electric blanket? It might be fun to try even if you wanted something more traditional, just to prove the concept.
posted by roboto at 2:41 AM on January 24, 2006

This thing looks like it would be trivial to construct from a few pieces of 1"-square timber and some wood screws. Don't forget to drill clearance holes and coutersink. Varnish it if you feel like it.

For a heat source, just get a 200W bathroom heat lamp and matching socket with integrated cord - I'd be surprised if you couldn't find one. Please don't use a space/fan heater, they're a fire hazard; in a contained space like this it would be suicide since they dissipate waaaay too much heat (2000W+).
posted by polyglot at 4:30 AM on January 24, 2006

If you search for kotatsu on Ebay, you'll find a person selling the heating units for $65. That, an old coffee table, and a bedspread and you will be in business.

Another possibility if if you have a nearby university with a Japanese student population, you might be able to pick up a used one from a student returning home. We rented a room years ago to a Japanese student and she had one.

And I think Polyglot is right about the heating unit--most American heaters are not designed to be used in a confined space. Be careful.
posted by LarryC at 7:04 AM on January 24, 2006

soviet sleepover writes "One can't wire a single-socket lamp backwards, so you'd [probably] have very little chance of making something that would eventually set you on fire! "

Sorry but you can wire a light socket incorrectly (a 50% chance of getting it wrong if you don't pay attention). The neutral half of the plug (the side with the wide prong) should be wired to the part of the socket with the threads. The hot half of the plug should be wired to the bottom contact. Get it backwards and you risk electrocution every time you change the bulb.

polyglot writes "For a heat source, just get a 200W bathroom heat lamp and matching socket with integrated cord - I'd be surprised if you couldn't find one."

Better would be a zero clearance style fixture designed to mounted in insulated ceilings.
posted by Mitheral at 10:40 AM on January 24, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you for all the tips. I'll save this page and work on assembling it this fall--it's too cold to work in our workshop right now.
posted by Electric Elf at 1:30 PM on January 25, 2006

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