Traditional Origami Sampan Instructions Step by Step

origami sampan

“Back and back the planes had come with their hail of bullets, while sampans sank and went under. Back and back until there was but one empty sampan left drifting on the water. Then the planes had come no more— not for one empty sampan. It had drifted silently— empty.”

-Meindert DeJong, Writer

The Sampan is a type of Chinese flat-bottomed wooden boat.  The word “sampan” comes from the original Cantonese term for the boats and literally means three planks.   One plank for the flat bottom and two for sides. 

The boat was generally used for transportation in rivers and fishing.  It was not designed to handle rough waters, just like the origami Sampan model.

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About the Traditional Origami Sampan Model

This traditional origami Sampan model will float if you put it on water, but probably not for very long before the paper gets wet. You can make this out of pretty much any paper. Paper that is coloured on at least one side works best.  I’ve chosen to make this out of brown paper to give the impression of a wooden Sampan boat.

The Sampan is a traditional origami model that’s good to make with children because it is very simple to do and the last step is fun – you get to turn the whole model inside out!  I have included the origami Sampan instructions below.  Give it a try.

Difficulty: Simple
Base: Blintz. You can find instructions for folding a Blintz base here.
Paper: Any, but if you would like some origami paper, I recommend Folded Square.  You can get it on Amazon here.
Time to make: Less than five minutes

Traditional Origami Sampan Diagrams

If you want to fold an origami sampan, just follow the step by step instructions here:

Start with a Blintz BaseCompleted Blintz Base
Unfold two opposite cornersUnfold two opposite corners
Fold the tips on the unfolded corners back to meet the crease lineFold the tips in to meet the crease line
Refold the cornersRefold the corners back in
Fold the tips of the other two corners back out to the edgeFold the two points out to the edge
So it looks like thisResult of preceding steps
Turn the model overTurn the paper over
Fold the top and bottom edges to the centre lineFold the top and bottom edges to the centre
Fold the four corners in to the centre lineFold the four corners in
Fold the corners in again. They will not reach the centreFold the corners in again
Fold the top and bottom points to the centre lineFold top and bottom points to the centre
Now the fun bit! Put your fingers inside the folds lying along the centre line and turn the whole model inside outTurn the model inside out
You have completed the SampanCompleted Sampan

Get Involved

I’d love to hear your views on the traditional origami Sampan. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments below, or you find can me on Instagram or Twitter. Check out my Pinterest boards too!

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About the Author


Russell has been folding origami since he was 8 years old and has recently written the book, Origami Made Simple. He is on the Council for the British Origami Society and a member of OrigamiUSA. When he is not folding, he enjoys photography and traveling.

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