Karakuri: How to Make Mechanical Paper Models That Move book review

By Ben Everard. Posted

Paper is an almost magical material. In the tutorials section, we’re looking at a childhood favourite – paper planes – and here we’ve been making some far more complex models, thanks to this book. This isn’t a particularly new book, but is one that we’ve only just come across, so we’re going to include it in this month’s reviews section for all the other people who also haven’t come across it yet.

Karakuri is a Japanese word for mechanised puppet – not unlike the Automata we’ve looked at in this issue’s cover feature. In this book, Keisuke Saka shows you how to make them out of paper. You might hear the words Japan and paper, and assume that this is a book about origami but, while there are some similarities, the techniques Saka uses are different – most notably, because they involve scissors and glue. Well, we say scissors; you’ll actually get a much cleaner cut using a craft knife.

As well as a look at the culture around these paper creations, the book contains twelve models to make. Eight of these are a look at specific mechanisms – gears, cams, etc. They’re printed on white paper so that you can build on them to make your own designs. The other four are full-colour models – the ones that are on the cover: a penguin, a bear, a robot, and a train. They’re fun to make and surprisingly addictive to use. This author has had one on his desk for most of this month while putting the issue together, and he constantly finds himself idly turning the handle while waiting for a meeting to start, or while reading an email.

Cut and fold

The models are well explained and it’s easy to follow the instructions, but you will need a steady hand and a very sharp knife to make them. They’re all printed on cardstock, rather than the sort of thin paper you’d typically find in a book. This chunkier source material makes for sturdy builds (at least by paper standards), so that they survive a bit of use. The builds are quite involved and you do have to take your time. There’s a particular type of making that means you lose yourself in the process. It’s not necessarily hard, but requires concentration and careful movement over a long time. This author finds it a great option if he’s had a bad day, or just wants to get out of a particular head space – it’s almost meditative. Making these paper models is just like that. It’s absorbing without being taxing.

A slight disappointment with this book is that you destroy the builds by making them. This is, of course, fairly obvious, but particularly for the ‘white paper’ mechanisms – which you can build on to make your own projects – it’d be great if there were a way to use them more than once – a downloadable template, for example. Or even the ability to buy just particular models without getting the whole book.

It feels a bit like you learn about making the models as you go through the book, but then get stuck when you get to the end because, while there’s quite a bit about using the mechanisms, there’s not much about designing the mechanisms yourself: how to make sure cams fit properly on the shaft, etc. It feels a bit like you’re falling off the edge of a cliff when you finish the book and want to start out on your own.

We shouldn’t focus too much on this, because we did have a lot of fun going through the book. There are a lot of models to work through before you get to the end of the book. As well as learning to work with paper, it gives you a chance to explore some mechanical concepts – the same sort that we’ve looked at in this issue’s cover feature.

Price is a feature

There are few areas of making where you can make so much stuff with so little equipment. On the off-chance you don’t already have a knife and some glue, you’d still be able to get everything you need for twelve builds and have change from £15. That’s a lot of making for your pound.


9/10 Great fun, but we’d like the ability to carry on

Price: £9.39


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