Introduction: How to [fold] a Wooden Origami Crane

Greetings! This is my first Instructable, so please be kind. I'm going to walk you through how to 'fold' an origami wooden crane. I made this 1'x1' prototype to understand the differences between paper origami and wooden origami, with the goal of making a 3'x3' laser-cut version out of 1/4" thick wood, and use this as an art application for a Burning Man Regional Effigy. The full version, if accepted, will be 16'x'16' out of 3/4" ply. But gotta start small.

This process took roughly 60 hours, start to finish. It was not difficult, thought it was very labor intensive. The equipment you need will be:

1'x1' sheet of paper (or any size really)

1'x1' sheet of thin wood (I used birch veneer cardstock from Amazon)

Cutting utensil/Xacto knife (standard blade)


Cutting mat

Ruler (cork-backed is nice)

Needle and thread (I used really cheap cotton stuff but I would really recommend getting nylon or some other plastic)

Hot glue gun and glue

Chopstick or thin glass rod



Cardboard sheet


Flat-bed scanner (to scan templates for future use)

Step 1: Fold a Paper Crane Template

To begin, you're going to need to make a template of the crane you're going to make. If you don't already know how to make an origami crane, there are more than enough tutorials out there, either here and here or on youtube. But the important part is to fold one cleanly and carefully, the way you'd like it to be in the final: neck and tail at the angles you'd like, as well as the head. There are crease-only diagrams out there to follow, but I think it's better to make your own.

Once you choose your size (I chose 1-foot square), fold your crane. Then open it up and carefully trace with a fine-tip marker all of the folds you made. You'll end up with your own crease diagram, which will be your template for the next step.

Step 2: Transfer That Template to the Substrate

Securely tape your cardstock (I taped two layers, just in case) to a sheet of cardboard. Carefully align your paper above this. Using a thumbtack/pushpin, make a hole at every line intersection. As careful as I tried to be, I ended up missing some, but you can easily realign your template to substrate with two other pins. Using your substrate as a guide, carefully trace the crease diagram on the cardstock. If you notice from the other crease diagram, I've added a couple things, such as a full diagonal through the wings, as well as a full square in the middle. Since wood doesn't have the same flexibility as paper (and once I move away from cardstock, it will have very little flexibility) I wanted to ensure that it could still make the three-dimensional shape in the center.

The numbering scheme did not end up being useful because of how I assembled it; however, if you plan on fully cutting apart and reassembling the structure, then you'll probably want to do this.

Step 3: Punching Holes. All of Them.

So how do you 'fold' wood? Particularly, how do you fold wood in a way that it will be able to burn away completely in an Effigy? Instead of creasing it, you cut apart each fold, and sew it back together. In order to do this, I punched holes roughly 5mm apart over every crease-line on the wood. I did it in a zig-zag pattern, but for the 3-foot and 16-foot versions, I will place the holes side-by-side across the crease, in a way that allows me to lace up the fold like a shoe.

Step 4: Begin Cutting and Sewing

When I first began, I tried to anchor the end of each thread with a bead from a broken old necklace that an ex once gave me. This proved to be extremely tedious and not very robust, much like the ex, so after a few of these I resorted to a hot glue gun and that made everything much easier.

This process would be repeated over and over:

Use a ruler and Xacto to cut only a single line segment at a time (i.e. not the full diagonal, but only the part sewn in pics 2 & 3). This way nothing is ever detached. Thread the line through the first hole until only a little bit remained on one side, and hot glue it. In order to make sure a 'crease' had flexibility, I sewed around a small glass rod, though later I switched to a chopstick, which I liked better. Wind the thread through, being careful not to snag or tangle it, a feat that becomes exponentially more difficult as the project goes on. At the end of the line segment, tighten everything with a pair of tweezers, then add a dab of hot glue on the other side.

Rinse, repeat.

Step 5: Continue the Process

Rinsing, and repeating. Beware of snags, tangles, and broken thread.

Step 6: Test Fold

As progress was made, I began to fold the crane. When I hit the end, I realized one of the limitations of wood: the body could not expand into a volume-filling space and instead was stuck in a crumpled conformation.

Ah ha! This is why we make prototypes!

Step 7: Finishing the Body and Head

I cut an additional, final center square in the cardstock, along with the segments for the head. It all folded together nicely, for a first draft. In the future, we'll be able to tighten the lacing so that the structure looks nice and pretty.

So, that's it! Not a lot to it, except a lot more than just folding. I've translated the pattern to Illustrator and hope to get started on making the 3' version soon.

Thanks for reading!

Step 8: Transferring the Pattern to Digital Media

So now that that is done, it's time to transfer the physical pattern to the a digital format so that it can be laser cut. Most of the crane can be made with geometric perfection, so I was able to recapitulate that in Illustrator (figure 1, top left). However, the angles of the head, neck, and tail are organic, and were chosen by me and I wanted to retain them. So I took the second piece of cardstock that I had punched holes in and scanned them on a 8.5"x11" flatbed scanner, then aligned them as best I could in Illustrator (figure 1, top right). From there I added in the additional lines that aren't supported geometrically (figure 1, bottom left) and combined them all together (figure 1, bottom right).

Finally, I added the extra center square that allows the crane to unfold, I added the holes. These ones I added parallel (not staggered) so that it can be laced up like a shoe. This will make the larger versions more sturdy And since the hole placement isn't perfect, I numbered each panel so that they can be realigned after laser cutting. 104 panels, unknown how many holes. Lots and lots. You can add embellishment as well. This is the pattern that, in the next couple weeks, I'll bring down to the local maker space to cut.

Step 9:

Patterns Contest

Participated in the
Patterns Contest