Home » $1 and Free, Decor, Headline, Tutorials

$1 Japanese Lantern Tutorial

23 March 2011 80,948 views 21 Comments

by heather

DIY Japanese Lanter

Can you guess what this stylish light fixture is made of? Give up? Manila folders and bamboo skewers! And it's oh-so-cheap to make. Even if you don't have any manila folders or skewers on hand (come on, doesn't everyone have a few of those laying around?), you will be able to make this project for less than $3.

My friend Jeanette is a crafty superstar, and made this lantern; when she posted photos on Facebook, I asked her if I could post about here. She did me one better and wrote a fabulous tutorial! Thanks for the great tutorial, Jeanette! You can visit her cooking blog: Off The Cuff Cooking.

Japanese-Style Lantern Tutorial

by Jeanette Strole Parks, Off The Cuff Cooking

3-4 hours (including dry time for glue)


  • Seven standard size Manila folders, $1 or on hand
  • 12 bamboo chopsticks or wooden skewers, $1 or on hand
  • Colored tissue paper, or rice paper, or other type of decorative textured paper, $1 or on hand
  • Craft glue (like Alene's Tacky Glue), on hand
  • Decoupage medium (like Mod Podge), on hand
  • Hot glue gun and hot glue sticks, on hand
  • Pencil, on hand
  • Ruler, on hand
  • Scissors, craft knife and/or Paper cutter, on hand

Total: FREE to $3

DIY japanese lantern

1. First, trim the curved corners and tabs off the side of all seven of the folders with a paper cutter, or craft knife, and straight edge.  The width of each folder from spine to edge should be 8" after the curved corners are trimmed off.

2. Reserve three of these folders, and cut one at a time perpendicular to the spine of the folder, so that you're cutting four equal-sized strips which are folded in half at the spine.  The strips will be approximately 3 inches in width, but measure the width and divide by 4 to get exact measurement.  You will have a total of twelve strips, which will form the accent sections above and below the main body of the lamp shade.

DIY japanese lantern

3. Now, take one of your full-sized folders, and open it up flat on your work area.  Spread some light beads of glue across one side of the open folder, and then take another folder, and open it up, and lay one side on top of the side that you just put glue on.

Keep repeating this process until you've used all the four whole folders.  The last panel should be glued to the very first panel on the first folder you started with, making a complete square that you can carefully stand up and let dry for a while until it's sturdy.

Repeat this process with the twelve strips you cut earlier, making three squares.

DIY japanese lantern

4. One of the smaller squares will be the anchoring piece for the pendant-light kit, so before proceeding to any other step, take time to measure the top of your  light bulb-housing to get an idea of it's diameter.  You will make a "grid" of criss-crossed skewers, which will create an inner square opening small enough to keep the light bulb housing from slipping higher up but big enough to allow the electrical plug to fit through.  So estimate this measurement,  and jot it down if you need to.

5. Find the middle of each square section with the help of a ruler. Mark the vertical and horizontal center points.  Make light pencil marks to mark out two equidistant spots from the center and then puncture holes there, and also repeat this on the opposite side.  Use an awl, skewer, or whatever you can find to help you puncture the holes for the criss cross wood skewers to pass through. (See pictures.)  On the adjacent sides the markings will have to be moved down about a quarter of an inch to take into account the thickness of the skewers/ chop sticks so they can overlap each other.  Erase the pencil markings so they don't show through the tissue paper.  Test putting the four skewers into this piece to make sure they fit, and then remove them again so you can decoupage on the tissue paper to these smaller squares. Let dry for a while, and then insert the skewers through the holes again, and use pliers to pinch off the sharp ends of the skewers.

DIY japanese lantern

6. Next, use decoupage medium to cover the outside of your lamp shade with tissue paper, or some kind of textured rice paper.  You can crinkle it slightly for a textured effect.  Give yourself a little margin on the top and bottom to crease and fold "into" the lamp to finish the top and bottom edges. Tissue paper gets more opaque when it is layered, so mind that you don't accidentally overlap it, if you don't want darker areas on your shade.

diy japanese lantern

[ Do keep in mind that the manila folders are very opaque and golden-toned when lit, so for best results I'd use light, warm colors of paper on the outside. One more word of caution: my first prototype lamp turned out quite nice, and I was very pleased with it, until I realized that there were printed logos on the inside of the folders that were shining through the paper when the lamp was lit.  So take that into consideration, and try to find folders that don't have obvious printed logos on them, or else plan to paint a design or paste  some kind of cloth ribbon around the middle of the lamp where the logo is to conceal it. ]

diy japanese lantern

7. Heat up your hot glue gun, and line up all the pieces on the table.  Study the picture of the finished lamp shade to see how to space them out.  There is one square on top, and then the skewered-square is second down from the top so that the light-bulb housing is dropped into the middle of the lamp as much as possible. In the middle is the main body of the lamp, and then one more square at the bottom.

8. When the glue gun is heated up, start from the "bottom" of the lamp shade.  Line up a skewer or chop stick with the bottom corner of the bottom-most square, and hot glue it on the inside corner edge, and work your way around with the other three sticks.

9. Now slip the open ends of the skewers up into the main body of the lamp, and glue them into the inside corners.  Now you will have used up four of the chop sticks or skewers.

diy japanese lantern

10. Then turn your lamp around and glue the next four skewers into the top half of the inside edges of the main part of the lamp so that they extend out about 7" above the edge of the main part of the lamp.

11. Leave about an inch of visible wood skewer, and slip on the square that has the criss-cross skewer construction.  Glue them inside the corners, taking care to space it evenly on all four corners so it doesn't look crooked.

12.  Finish up with the top-most square, and glue the ends of the skewers into place.

13. Thread the plug-end of your light-bulb kit through the bottom of the lamp shade, and up through the middle of the criss-crossed skewers.  The end of the light kit should stop there, if you've measured correctly, and suspend down from that point.  Hook up your light with a  hook screwed into your window sill or ceiling.

Follow Me on Pinterest

Disclosure: this article may contain affiliate links or other forms of sponsored content. Opinions are 100% the author's. Full disclosure policy.


  • maria said:

    that is so pretty and easy to make….I will def have to try this soon.

  • Kathy V. said:

    doesn’t it make you think that you could use a box kite to make a lamp too? Great idea and creativity!

  • Anne said:

    awesome,just awesome

  • Melissa said:

    Heather I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for Stylish Blog award!

  • mikeasaurus said:

    Wow, looks great!

  • breanna said:

    what a fantastic idea!! beautiful!

  • Jeanette said:

    Thanks for all your feedback all of you! I’m so glad you like my lamp design! Let me know if you end up making it (or something similar.)

  • Catherine said:

    Crafty superstar for sure! I am seriously amazed by how designer the end product is that it’s hard for me to believe these are so cheaply made. Excellent work, Jeanette!

  • Sylvia said:

    I think this lamp is quite beautiful, and was considering making one for the front windows in my shop, however, there’s no mention of the size of the light bulb (wattage-wise), and whether or not this lamp would be suitable for multiple hours of use at one time. Is the glue safe from flammability?
    I was very enthused when I started going through the list of supplies and had everything except the light fixture. Due to lack of funds for my Herb Shop, I love making things and saving money; it only adds to the “me” factor of my store.
    Thank you for wonderful ideas!

  • heather (author) said:

    @sylvia, I would use a compact fluorescent because they are cooler, and wait until the glue is completely dry before you light it up.

  • OffTheCuffCooking said:


    To answer your questions — if you pick up the light kit that IKEA sells, or a similar one, it will have a sticker with a maximum wattage of 100 watts. I currently use an incandescent 40-watt bulb which provides enough brightness to shine through the manila folders, but it still makes a cozy glow instead of a bright light. I tried using the CFL for a while, but found that it was not bright enough to shine through the manila folders.

    Also, the way the manila folders are put together, the light does not come within more than 2″ on either side of the paper so aside from ambient heat, there should be no direct fire hazard. (My light-kit also comes with a plastic “basket” around it to keep any of the paper sides from touching inadvertently.)

    I usually turn my lantern on at dusk until bedtime, so it’s on about 5 -8 hrs per day depending on the time of year. I have no problems with scorch marks or overheating. It’s been in use for a year now,with no problems. But as with any other electrical or fire-hazard concerns, to be on the safe side, don’t leave lamps on if you are gone for any length of time. Thanks for your feedback!

  • How To Make An Awesome Japanese Lantern For A Few Dollars said:

    […] Here is the full step guide!  […]

  • Make A Japanese Lantern For Just A Few Bucks | Lifehacker Australia said:

    […] in a few hours with just a few dollars worth of supplies or things you have lying around already.$1 Japanese Lantern Tutorial [Dollar Store Crafts]Tags diy household papercraft Related Stories Make Gears Out Of Wood And […]

  • phrend said:

    Neat, but the title says, “$1 Japanese Lantern Tutorial” but the supplies cost considerably more than that… misleading. :(

  • heather (author) said:

    Hi Phrend! The cost is for the shade itself, not the light kit. I base my estimates on the supplies I personally have on hand at home. Your costs may vary depending on your stash.

  • Jenn said:

    I LOVE this idea! I am making my sons room Marvel (comic book) theme and we have purchased comic books to do something with to decorate his room, this would be absolutely perfect! I would like to do a bed side lamp instead. You thrifty gals are simply genius!

  • How To Build A Beautiful Japanese Lantern For Less Than $3 - Unique DIY Ideas said:

    […] How To Build A Beautiful Japanese Lantern For Less Than $3 […]

  • 25 Creative Dollar Store Hacks to Make Your Life Easier - DIY & Crafts said:

    […] DIY Instructions and Project Credit – Dollarstorecrafts […]

  • camden said:

    will school folders work

  • heather (author) said:

    @camden I bet they would – sounds cute! If you try it, send us a picture.

  • Jaz G said:

    says only 3 dollars and the lamp piece costs around 5 dollars…lol so which is it 3 dollars or more than 3 dollars…be real now…