How To Make Trees (or Christmas Trees) Out Of Paperback Books




This project is quite easy to do, once you get the knack of the folding, it’s just a matter of repeating the process. It is also cheap, as second-hand paperback books don’t cost much; the books I used were discarded from my local library. It was nice to be recycling, or up-cycling, these books and it’s a nice irony to see a tree turned into paper, turned into a book, and that book turned into a tree again.

You will need between 130-170 pages – this is going by the books printed page numbers.

Look for books with a soft-glued spine rather than a hard spine (which may crack). I found that classics published by Penguin are excellent for this project because the spine glue is bendy and the paper is a good quality for folding.

I have seen some versions of this project where the amount of pages needed is cut off the book, then the pages are folded, but I prefer to keep the book whole and cut the folded pages off after I have enough folded pages. This is because the book is easier to handle when it is whole, plus you don’t want to fold a lot of pages, and then realise you haven’t cut off enough. Also, having the height of the whole book is a handy space to push the folded pages into when you get a bulk of folded pages.

I have found that these book trees take twice as long to fold during the second half because the amount of folded pages building up makes progress slower, and it takes even longer if you stop to read the book!


For reference, here’s a bit about the trees in the above photo:


Tree on the right:

The finished tree has 160 folded pages, and has a light application of gold glitter glue painted over the surface, which unfortunately hasn’t shown up in the photo.

It is made from a book measuring 18cm tall.

The pages are 50gsm bulky news.

The ‘gsm’ refers to the rating of a papers density. It is an acronym for ‘grams per square meter’. As a reference: typical standard paper used in photocopiers and printers is 80gsm. Some books will state the gsm rating on the copyright page, found in the front of the book, such a this one:



The tree on the left:

This is made from a book measuring 19.5cm tall, and has 160 folded pages. I don’t know what the gsm rating is, but it is a little bit thicker than 50gsm.

(Incidentally, it was called Cooking the Books by Kerry Greenwood, and I picked up little cooking tips by reading bits on the way such as, for a Raspberry Cream Roulade: “if the sponge cake is too cold, it cracks. If it is to warm it cooks the filling and goes soggy”, plus fabulous words such as sybaritic, Lemurian, and Heliogabalus – I would have had this book tree made quicker if I hadn’t stopped to read sections about cooking, and to look up the dictionary so often!)


The tree in the middle:

This book is 18cm tall, and the title is Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. It was a nice paperback to work with (published by Penguin Classics) – the glue on the spine was bendy and the paper was great for folding. I folded 131 pages in total, folding 115 pages in half an hour, plus I didn’t need clips to hold the folded pages out of the way.

This tree has a slight difference in the folding to the other two trees in the photo, in that the small triangle (that is tucked into the folded pages of the other two trees), is left poking out, giving the underside of the tree a pointed edging. Because it doesn’t sit flat like the other two trees, this one needs to be raised up on something tall to display it, and it is handy that the folding construction of this tree naturally creates a flat circular base further underneath the bottom of the tree.  You can see this flat base forming under the tree in a photo near the end of this article, and the instructions on how to make this particular tree can be found there too.


Just before we get started, I would like to add that magazines work well for this project too, such as TV Guides, Woman’s Weeklys, and National Geographics. With magazines, to get a full looking tree, it is advisable to use two magazines (to make two trees), then glue them together with glue tape.




First tear the cover off a paperback book:



Start folding the pages by turning the right hand top corner of the page down to the spine of the book, as far as it will go, until you have a nice sharp fold at the top of the spine where the page is attached.



Fold the same page again so that it is halved, and the right hand side is aligned down the spine.



TIP: The tool in the following photo is used in pottery, but it had a nice sharp flat edge that was handy when you have a number of folded pages built up in the top corner where the pages are attached to the spine. The sharp tool allows you to get into the tightly folded pages at the top and press the folds down to get a sharp neat fold that forms the top of the tree (or just use your fingernail).



There will be a small triangle poking over the bottom edge of the book.

Use the natural sharp edge of the bottom of the book to crease a line across it, as in the following photo:



Fold the page out and fold up the small triangle at the bottom of the page along the crease line you just made.



Fold the page back to where it was, so it looks like this when completed:




TIP: Later on as the folded pages become more plentiful and build up, it will be easier to tuck this small triangle between the folded page rather than folding out the whole page to do so.



Continue folding like this for each page, until you have enough folded pages for a tree. The folding gets a bit difficult as the volume of folded pages increases.



TIP: Use a clothes peg or bulldog clip to hold sections of pages out of the way of where you are folding. Some books don’t need this as the folded pages naturally keep out of the way, but if you have a stubborn set of pages that get in the way of your progress, you may need several clips.



TIP: When you have folded quite a few pages, place the book on something higher, in this case I used a thick dictionary, so the folded pages can hang over the edge and this gives more room to work.



The spine may, depending on the quality of glue and paper density, fold back in a nice even curl as you keep folding pages. Each book is different, but this was a particularly nice example (this book is published by Penguin Books, and has bendable glue on the spine):



When you cannot fold any more pages easily, or you feel you have enough folded pages to form a tree, bend the spine back and carefully cut down the spine of the book. With some books you can start a cut, then tear the rest of the spine off. Be extremely careful of your fingers when cutting down the book spine as it can be quite tight to get the knife in the right place against all the folded pages, and tricky to get started.



TIP: to get a clean cut, and to protect your last folded page nearest the knife blade, turn a couple of unfolded pages across against the last folded page, and cut between this and the unfolded pages. You tear these few pages off when your cut is complete.


Your tree should stand up on its own in a conical tree shape. You shouldn’t need to glue the first folded page and the last one together, but you can play with the top of the tree and twist it slightly or glue it and mold it until it sits how you want it to.

The top:



The base:



I have made plain trees just to show the standard folding structure, but you can embellish them with coloured dyes, paints, glitter, add ribbons, or rub some gliding wax down the folded edges, or whatever you like. I added an origami 5-pointed star to the top of mine. The star is stuck to a long skewer that is inserted down through the top of the tree (or use a toothpick).

To make origami 5-pointed stars, please follow this link:



(This is the tree in the middle of the photo at the top of the page)


As a variation on the theme, try making a tree without folding the extra small triangle shaped piece back into the book. Let the triangle hang below the page line and it will create a tree like this:



The structure underneath the tree:






Another variation of fold gives a slanted effect to the edge of the tree, instead of a pointed edge.



To do this, fold the pages as per normal to make a tree as in the photo at the top of the page, but make one extra fold to turn the pointed corner in towards the book.




Have fun, and happy tree-making!








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