How to Make a Chinese Flying Lantern

Written by julia sherman
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How to Make a Chinese Flying Lantern
A grouping of Chinese lanterns. (Chinese lanterns image by Paul O"Hearn from

Chinese flying lanterns are also called floating lanterns. They are flown during holidays of every sort and just for fun. Many are still made from waxed paper with hard beeswax fuel to heat up air from underneath. Some are made from fire-resistant, reusable materials and have replaceable fuel. Chinese floating lanterns are called Paper UFOs in the United States, Chinese "Kongming Deng," the Archemedes flying fortress and early hot hair balloons.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Pattern
  • Tissue paper
  • Rolling cutter with paper cutting wheel
  • Glue
  • Kitchen Wax
  • Bees wax
  • Alcohol
  • String
  • Wire
  • Duct tape
  • Awl
  • Food cans
  • Tongs

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    Making the Floating Lantern

  1. 1

    Enlarge the pattern of your choice to the height that you want and print it. The patterns typically are drawn as half the design. The longest straight line on the pattern is the fold or centre line. You place this line of the fold of your chosen material.

    How to Make a Chinese Flying Lantern
    (Chinese lanterns image by Karin Lau from
  2. 2

    Lay your tissue paper out on a clean, flat surface and then lay the pattern on top of the paper. If the tissue paper comes folded, leave it folded and place the fold line of the pattern on the fold line of paper.

  3. 3

    Holding down the pattern with food cans, take the rolling cutter and cut out the pieces. You will need to cut four full balloon sections.

  4. 4

    Fold the side edges of the tissue paper inward and apply the glue to the sides of the folded edges where they will meet the other edge. Press these matched edges together and make sure the glue is making good contact. While this is drying, go onto the next step.

  5. 5

    Make a wire ring between 9 inches and 10 inches in diameter and twist the ends of the wire around each other to secure the ring. Apply a small piece of duct tape on each of the sharp ends to keep the ring shape in place.

  6. 6

    Apply glue to the bottom inside edge of the balloon and insert the ring. Bring the glued edge over the ring and press in place to seal the ring.

  7. 7

    Take two more pieces of wire and make a cross piece. Twist the two wires in the centre so they stay in place and then straighten it out so it looks like a cross.

  8. 8

    Using the ends of the wire cross piece, push the ends through the paper just above the ring and wrap the cross piece wire ends around the ring. This cross section of wire attached to the bottom of the balloon will hold the fuel cell.

    The Fuel Source

  1. 1

    To make the fuel source, melt one sheet of gulf wax and add two small pieces of beeswax approximately the size of crayons in a double boiler.
    Cut eight strips of tissue paper 2 inches wide by 12 inches long and place them in the liquid wax to soak up the wax. Then using tongs, take out the strips, holding them over the wax to let the excess wax drip back in.

  2. 2

    Lay the waxen strips on a flat non-stick surface and as each one cools down, and while still warm, lay strips of waxed paper together, making a stack of four sheets. This is enough material to make two fuel cells.

  3. 3

    Lay the completed, cooled sheets on the crosspiece centre and, using an awl, punch four small holes around the cross section of the wire cross piece.

  4. 4

    Cut two pieces of string and dip in wax to lightly temper the string. Coming up from underneath, thread each end of the string up through the holes. Tie a standard overhand knot to hold the wax sheets in place. The knot should rest on top of the wax sheets, not underneath.

  5. 5

    Once the wax strips are hardened and cooled, you can light the string. As the wax melts and the air heats up, the lantern will fill with hot air and take off.

Tips and warnings

  • You can tether your lantern to the ground with some string.
  • If unsure if your material will withstand the heat, you can apply fireproofing spray prior to making the kite.
  • Add small glow sticks to the tethering string for added fun.
  • Use PC7 epoxy and affix a votive holder to the centre of the cross piece so you can use a small candle instead.
  • Do not fly in inclement weather of any type.
  • Do not use sterno for fuel as the sterno solid is too hot.

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