Introduction: Christmas Vacation Papercraft Station Wagon

About: I enjoy 3D printing, Arduino electronics, and DIY.

Rusty Griswold: “Dad, this tree won't fit in our back yard.”
Clark Griswold: “It's not going in the yard, Russ. It's going in the living room.”

This Instructable will show you how to make a papercraft Christmas ornament of the station wagon and tree in the opening scene of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

I originally created this model as a gift a few years ago. This was before I got a 3D printer, so I had to be a bit more creative and design a papercraft template for it using Autocad.

Step 1: Watch the Movie

If you haven’t already done so, watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s a hilarious movie about a father’s (Chevy Chase) attempts at having a “fun old fashioned family Christmas” and everything that goes wrong in the process.

Bonus points if you watch it on VHS. :)

[2nd image source:]

Step 2: Materials

You will need:

  • White card stock paper (not glossy)
  • Colored pencils (I have a Crayola 50-pack, but most of the colors you need can be found in a 24-pack)
  • Scissors
  • Glue stick
  • Hot glue
  • Elmer’s glue
  • Green paper
  • Brown paper
  • White (or off-white) string

Step 3: Design the Template

I designed the papercraft station wagon template using Autocad. I didn’t use any special techniques to generate the template from a 3D model; it was just me visualizing the 3D shape I wanted and translating that into 2D.

If you are creating your own papercraft models, the most important thing to keep in mind is making sure that the length of the edge where two faces meet is the same for both faces. One strategy for doing this drawing a circle centered at the vertex of that edge, where the radius equals the desired edge length.

Remember that Autocad is free for all students on the Autodesk website!

Step 4: Print the Template

Print out the attached PDF (in black and white) on card stock. I also included the .dwg Autocad file in case you want to make edits.

Depending on your printer, you may need to feed the card stock in differently than you would normal copy paper. My printer has both a paper tray and a single sheet feed slot on the front of the machine. The card stock will jam the paper tray, but will work fine in the feed slot.

Step 5: Color the Template

Color the template using the colored pencils. I recommend coloring a little outside the lines onto the tabs that you will later fold and glue. This ensures that there won’t be any white showing along the seams. On the windows, I drew several darker diagonal lines on top of the lighter coloring to create the illusion of shiny glass.

These are the colors I used:

  • gray (bottom of car)
  • light brown (side paneling)
  • mahogany (main car color)
  • slate (windshield and windows)
  • black (tires)
  • orange (blinker lights)
  • red (brake lights)

Step 6: Cut the Template

Cut out the template along the outer lines. Be careful not to tear the larger portions apart when cutting.

To make cutting out the tight angles easier, you can cut away a rough outline of the template and then trim away the rest.

Step 7: Fold the Cutout

Fold the cutout as shown in the pictures. It may be difficult to differentiate between fold lines and cut lines on the template, so be sure to examine the design to understand how it fits together.

Step 8: Glue the Cutout

Glue the cutout into a 3D model using a glue stick. Be sure to apply plenty of glue and press firmly on each tab.

I recommend gluing a couple tabs at a time and letting them dry before moving on to the next set. Save the bottom of the station wagon for last.

Step 9: Cut Paper for Tree

Cut out two 4 inch by 3 inch pieces of paper, one brown and one green.

Step 10: Roll and Glue Tree Trunk

Roll and glue the brown piece of paper into a 4 inch long, 1/2 inch diameter cylinder.

Step 11: Roll and Glue Tree Form

Roll and glue the green piece of paper into a steeply angled cone that is about 4 inches long and has a base diameter of 1 inch. The bottom of the cone will be uneven, so trim it flat. Cut out a zigzag pattern on the bottom, as shown in the image.

Step 12: Attach Trunk to Tree Form

Hot glue the tree trunk to the inside of the tree form. Apply the hot glue to the top of the trunk (not the sides).

Step 13: Cut Out Branches

Cut out eight 2.5 inch by 1 inch green pieces of paper.

Then, partially cut the pieces into 3/8 inch strips (so that the paper is still connected at the top).

Finally, cut a wavy zigzag patter along the bottom of each piece.

Step 14: Glue Branches to Tree

Wrap and glue the “branches” strips around the tree form, starting at the bottom. You may not need to use all of the branches you cut out in the previous step.

When attaching the final branch strip at the top of the tree, apply plenty of glue to the underside, wrap it tightly around the peak, and crimp the end with your fingers.

Step 15: Wrap String Around Tree

Starting at the top, wrap the string around the tree, angled towards the bottom. When you reach the bottom of the tree, wrap the string back up to the top so there is a nice crisscross pattern. Tie the two ends of the string at the top and trim the excess.

Using a toothpick, dab Elmer’s glue at key points along the string (especially at the knot) so it stays in place. Try to align the points in one straight line along the tree; this will be the side of the tree that is glue to the car.

Step 16: Glue Tree to Station Wagon

First, bend the tree slightly so the tree makes contact on both the roof and hood of the station wagon.

Apply a dab of hot glue on the roof and hood. Quickly stick the tree on top, making sure it is centered and bent properly.

Step 17: Cut and Glue Tree Root Clump

In the movie, after Clark Griswold found the perfect Christmas tree, he and his family realize that they forgot to bring a saw to cut it down! Next we see the tree strapped to the car with an enormous clump of roots and dirt hanging off the end.

To make the root clump, cut a 2 inch diameter circle out of brown paper. Cut a line straight to the center of the circle, roll into a short cone, and glue the overlapping paper.

Step 18: Decorate Root Clump

Using a black or dark brown colored pencil, draw wavy lines on both the inside and outside of the root clump.

For additional detail, darkly color a small rectangle of brown paper and cut small strips out of it. Glue these to the inside and outside of the cone.

Step 19: Glue Root Clump to Tree

First, cut off the end of the tree trunk so it does not stick out too far off the back of the car. Then, hot glue the top of the root cone to the end of the tree trunk.

You may want to also hot glue the tree trunk to the inner lower end of the green tree form, as shown in image 3.

Step 20: Tie Tree to Station Wagon

In this step, you will create the illusion that the tree is strapped down to the car. Tie two strings around the tree and the car (somewhat tightly). One string will go just behind the front tire and the other will go just in front of the back tire.

Orient the knots to the underside of the car and dab some Elmer’s glue on them. This will keep the string in place and prevent it from unraveling. After the glue dries, trim off the excess string.

Step 21: Tie Ornament String

The last step is to tie the ornament string. There are many ways this could be done, but the simplest is to cut an 11 inch length of string, thread it under the two straps created in the previous step, and tie a knot at the top. Dab some Elmer’s glue on the points where the string crosses under the straps.

Step 22: Final Product

After the glue dries, your papercraft station wagon is complete.

In the image with two of the ornaments, the one on the left is the original and the one on the right is the one I created while making this Instructable.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas, or at least I hope it went better than the Griswolds'.

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