Introduction: Laser Cut Crankie (moving Panorama)

About: Hi there! I’m Federico Tobon, a maker, and artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. I have a passion for learning and for doing things with my hands. I’m a curious generalist: drawing, painting,…

Crankies are small versions of moving panoramas. They usually have a long illustrated scroll wound into two spools with cranks (hence the name crankie) that you can turn to display the image through a frame. They often go together with music or narrative and they were used in theater productions as the background. Perhaps an early version of cinema.

The crankie factory website is an amazing source of inspiration that includes video and even more tutorials on how to make your own. They've been made in all sorts of sizes, including match boxes and mint tins and there are even crankie festivals.

I developed this small laser cut crankie because I wanted to make several of them and perhaps use them as a kit to teach a class. I hope you enjoy becoming a crankster by building this project. Scroll all the way to the last step to see a couple in action or check out this youtube video.

Update: I made a longer video explaining the assembly and how to use the new parametric template, you can now change the material thickness, the overall size and other useful dimensions. You can also upload an image and print a PDF of your scroll!


Besides 3mm (1/8") plywood and a laser cutter you will need the following supplies:

  • Glue: all purpose, wood glue or even cyanoacrylate glue (aka superglue) will work.
  • Pencil: we will use the graphite as lubrication for the moving parts.
  • Sand paper: to knock the sharp corners off the wood.
  • Knife: to cut strips of paper.

Step 1: Cut and Clean All the Parts.

Once you've cut the parts with the file provided below you can separate them and arrange them. Only the parts pictured are necessary to assemble the crankie.

Update: you can download a customized file from this link 👈

The files below are the original versions for archival purposes.

Step 2: Glue the Crank Bearings

There are four pieces that fit on the corners of the frame. Add a little bit of glue on all the mating surfaces and fit one at a time. The laser cutter doesn't provide perfectly perpendicular edges so if you push the parts all the way they will be a little crooked, look at the pieces from the back to make sure they are perpendicular as the glue dries.

When you are done with the four bearings set it aside to let the glue dry.

Step 3: Prepare the Cranks

Start by adding one of the retainers (the circles with the square cut in the center) and push it all the way up the crank. We don't need to glue this particular one. Push the cranks into the bearings and using your pencil mark the spot where the cranks rest. Then take them out and lightly sand the edges. There is no need to make them perfectly round, we just want a smooth rotation.

If you want you can also sand the short end of the crank to make it more pleasant for your fingers. Again, no need to make it perfectly round.

Step 4: Install the Cranks

Use your pencil to rub some graphite on the wooden parts that will be in contact, that is the holes on the crank bearings and the flat surface on the retainers. Graphite is nice because unlike oil or wax it doesn’t make the wood swell, it doesn't get gunky and still creates a slippery surface.

Attach the bottom retainer to the crank with a little bit of glue. As soon as you put it on the crank make sure to spin it for a little bit to make sure the motion is smooth and it's not glued in place. We want this part to move freely.

Step 5: Glue the Base

The last part of the wood assembly is to glue the base. Put some glue on the mating surfaces and assemble them. Depending on the fit you might have to use some clamps while it dries.

Step 6: Make the Scroll

Most of my scrolls are 1.5" (38 mm) wide by 22" (558 mm) long.

The length depends on the paper thickness, with regular copy paper a 17 inch to 22 inch length (43cm to 56cm) works well. Most of us have letter size paper (8.5in x 11in) lying around so you can cut 2 strips and join them together in the middle to make a long strip.

It's easier to draw the artwork before you install the scroll. In the pictures I've installed a blank scroll just for clarity.

When you are ready slide the scroll through both crank slits. Then fold a small section and glue it, or tape it in place. Then gently roll it all the way to one side, glue it on the other roll and then roll it back and forth a couple of times to let the paper adapt to it's rolled state.

It's also possible to attach the scroll without glue or tape before drawing on it. Dry fitting it this way will allow you to place marks where it starts and ends on the frame in order to know where you want the art to go.

Step 7: Done!

You are a crankster now. Go forth and decorate your crankie, put some light behind it or play with some tiny shadows. I'd love to see your creations or your student's so please share here or tag me on social media.



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