Make your own floating paper lantern in just a few easy steps
They're known by many names — “Chinese lanterns” or “wish lanterns” or even “sky candles” — and you may have already seen them somewhere floating in the night sky. If you haven’t though, here’s what they look like: little translucent cartons made out of paper with a candle inside, and light enough to float upward once you light them. Whether you send one skyward for good luck or just for the magic of it, they’re always beautiful. Follow the steps below to make one yourself!
WARNING: Before you start, take a look at the rules where you live about fire and balloons in public airspace. Every country has different legislation so be sure to check if it's legal and that you understand all the necessary safety precautions.
Once you’ve taken care of all the legal stuff, you can begin.
- 8 sheets of tissue paper, 18 x 22 inches each (you can use different colors for a bright, fun lantern, or white-natural for a simple, traditional look)
- Fire retardant spray
- 48 inches of bamboo, balsa wood, or rattan rod (it must be slender enough to bend easily without breaking)
- Wire cutter
- Rope or clothesline
- Poster board or card stock
- White glue
- Masking tape
- 2 or 3 small candles
- Pliers or tongs
- Matches or lighter
Hang each sheet of tissue paper on a clothesline or rope and spray them from the bottom up with fire-retardant spray.
Be sure not to soak the top where the clothespins are: the paper can easily tear if it gets too wet.
Once the sheets are dry, take them off the line and glue two pieces of tissue paper together: lay the first piece horizontally and glue the second piece along the bottom, overlapping them by about a quarter of an inch. Make four of these large sheets, each about 35 x 22 inches total.
Using the card stock or poster board, cut out a template for the lantern following the measurements in the picture.
Fold one tissue paper sheet vertically in half and lay the template on top with its straight side along the folded edge of the tissue. Trace the pattern with your pencil, remove the cardboard, and cut both halves of the folded sheet along the line. Unfolded, the result looks a bit like a fat bullet (see picture). Repeat this step with the other three sheets of tissue paper.
Unfold one of the tissue sheets and lay it down flat. Apply a thin line of glue all along one curved side from the flat end to the point. Lay a second unfolded sheet directly on top, pressing the edges together where the glue is. Fold the top tissue in half along the same axis that you used for cutting the tissue.
Apply glue along the same line from top to bottom (flat end to point) of the new folded layer on top of the glued sheets. Lay the third unfolded sheet over this one, pressing its edge onto the edge with glue again. Fold the third sheet in half along the same axis.
One more application of glue along this new edge AND a line of glue along the OTHER edge of the bottom-most sheet, which has been sitting there unfolded all this time — then lay the final sheet on top and now press both sides together. The fourth sheet is glued on one edge to the folded third sheet, and on the other edge to the first, bottom sheet.
Now all four walls of the lantern are glued together: leave the glued sheets to dry thoroughly.
For the hoop, bend either 48 inches of bamboo, rattan, or slender balsa wood, or two 24-inch pieces, gently into a circle and tape the ends together.
Cut two 20-inch pieces of wire. Bend each with a right angle in the middle, hook one around the other at the center and then wrap each of the ends at four equidistant places around the hoop, attaching the wire to the circle of wood in all four places.
To attach the lantern to the hoop, apply a thin line of glue along the outside edge of the hoop and stick the bottom, open end of the lantern to it. It’s important that there aren’t any folds or open spaces in the paper where hot air can escape. The best way is to do a little bit at a time, pressing a few inches of the paper against the glue on the wooden frame until it holds.
Since your fire source needs to be hot enough to provide the lantern with lift but also not too heavy, it’s good to use a strip of cotton. Take a 10-inch piece of fabric, fold it over and knot it into a bow, and then place it on a piece of tin foil or the lid of a jar. Light a candle and drip the melting wax onto the fabric. Drip enough wax over the fabric to cover it well (it could take a few candles).
With another piece of wire, attach the fabric to the crossed wires in the middle of the hoop, wrapping it a number of times around in an "x" shape.
Be extra careful as you light the lantern, staying clear of power lines and dry areas. With two people holding the bottom, light the fabric. It will take a couple of minutes to fill the lantern with hot air. Once it’s ready, you’ll feel it pulling away. Let it go and watch it float upward.
A group of wish lanterns flying in a dark sky makes for an incredible experience. However, be sure to exercise extreme caution around fire and respect all the safety laws that are in place wherever you live. This way you can fully enjoy the magical picture and the satisfaction of creating it yourself!