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DIY Technique

Paper Stars

Right. It’s Christmas. Time for some decorations…

I’m going to step away from wood and play with paper this time.

You know how people like to make paper snowflakes? They fold up a piece of paper a few times, attack it with scissors, and come up with an 8-pointed thing that looks wrong? #Snowfake!

Sometimes people are a bit smarter with the folding, and produce a 6-pointed star. That’s better, if a snowflake is what you’re after.

Hold my pint though, this’ll make you do a double-take…

  1. Start with a square of paper, folded in half, and with a little fold to mark the middle.
  1. Fold one corner down from this mark, then fold it back on itself to make a six-layer stack of paper wedges going to that point. You want this stack of wedges to take up a little less than half the folded paper.
  1. Turn it over and repeat; folding and folding again. To make another stack of wedges going to that middle point. These should be the same size as the first set of wedges, being a little less than half the folded paper. Ideally, the bits of paper in between the folded wedges will be the same size as the two folded stacks.
  1. Fold one of the stacks back on itself. If things are going well, this fold should cause the stack of, now eight layers to line up with the other stack of six layers. (Can you see where this is going yet?)
  1. Turn it over and fold the two stacks back on themselves. With a bit of luck, you’ll now have one big stack of fourteen layers of paper in a big, thick triangle.
  1. Get out the scissors and cut the corner off.
  1. Unfold … and … well, if you practice a bit, you might get this:

Ok, I probably should explain some of that…

When you make a paper star, you’re basically folding paper up around a middle point, stacking up wedges of paper that will form the points of the star. If you want a six-pointed star, you fold so that there are twelve equal sized layers of paper in the stack – one layer for each side of each point.

Some numbers are easy to fold. You can get an eight-pointed star by folding in half, then in half again, then in half again, then in half once more. This is the easiest to do. For most other shapes you need to figure out how to fold paper into thirds. For example, for a six-pointed star you need to fold-in-half, then fold-in-half again, then fold all that in thirds. This will give you 2 x 2 x 3 = 12 layers.

For the seven-pointed star you fold everything in half, then fold two sections of it in thirds, then fold these three sections together to give yourself 2 x (3 + 1 + 3) = 14 layers.

So how do you fold in thirds? You need to think visually. You’re basically making a Z shape out of the paper, so there’s one fold towards you and another fold away from you, and you want those folds to be at equal intervals across the width of the paper so all the sections of the Z are the same length. I have two ways of doing this:

First is to bend the paper into an S-shape. Then you can gradually squash the paper down, tightening up the curves and jiggling their positions in the paper until they look like they’re in the right places. Then, when you’re happy, squash the paper to make the creases. Here’s an example:

Second is to visualise the effect of one of the folds on what the remaining paper looks like. You’re trying to make two folds that divide the paper into three equal parts. So, when you make the first fold you are stacking two of those parts together, and you should end up with two equal parts visible, one having two layers of paper, the other having just one. In other words, you want to make the fold so that the outer edge of the folded bit draws a line down the centre of the resulting area. Then, you can make the second fold along the that centre line.

Back to the stars. If the folds for a seven-pointed star are a little tricky, try starting with a five-pointed star. For this star, you’re aiming to make three equal parts again, only with four paper layers on each side rather than six (2 x (2 + 1 + 2) = 10 layers). You get four layers on a side by making a single fold instead of folding-in-thirds.

The hard part in both stars is to work out at what angle to make the first folds. I got this through trial and error. Basically, you have to imagine beforehand how big the final three parts will be. You’re doing one or two folds on each side and ending up with three sections that create equal angles at the point. The figures below are marked up to show how you might aim for this (five-point star on the left, seven-point on the right.)

(I’ve tried to help by making all the folds on the same side in these example. N.B. if you fold like this to create a star, you will find it harder to do the subsequent fold-in-three that stacks all the layers up together. After practice, it’s better to have one of these sections on one side, and the other on the other side.)

Anyway, I’m sure you get the drift of it all.

Now, see if you can extend this idea to make a nine-sided star…

Merry Christmas!

By nickcnickcnickc

I spend my working life staring at computer screens, so in my spare time I look for things to do with my hands, preferably involving wood. It's a little ironic then that I've now starting writing a blog about my woodworking, and thus introducing computer screens to my main hobby..!

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