After 16 years, I finally folded the King Cobra origami!

Origami King Cobra

I’ve been folding origami since high school. About 16 years ago, right at the start of my hobby, I found these instructions for the King Cobra by Ronald Koh (all credit to him). And I was amazed! I fell in love with the beauty of the model, but I had one problem: I didn’t have paper long enough to fold it!

Most origami is folded from a square, 1 x 1. Koh suggested a strip of paper 1 x 28! Where would I find such a paper? In the instructions, he says that the original model was constructed from a 100m long paper! Here’s a link to a blog that shows the result of that original Cobra model.

This summer I went to Japan, and found several paper shops! I didn’t find the length of paper I needed, but I found a decent-sized handmade sheet of beautiful gold and red paper.

Red and gold paper

For 5,200 yen (about $5) I now had the paper I needed.

I cut the paper into four strips, then carefully taped them together with masking tape. I used masking tape since it folds easily, unlike plastic tape. You can’t even see the seams in the final model!

Origami paper

Cutting origami paperTaping strips of paper with masking tape

I don’t think I quite got to the dimensions of 1 x 28, closer to 1 x 24, but that’s okay.

Now it was time to fold the sucker! I printed off the 25 page instructions (!) and went to town! Because the paper was handmade, it was a little thicker than standard origami paper. It has a cloth-like texture, not unlike paper money. Because of this, the paper didn’t hold creases as well as I would’ve liked. However, it held enough to keep the form.

One challenge of working with such a long strip of paper is keeping it under control! I rolled up the paper and held it together with paper clips to make it easier to handle.

Rolled up paper

Beginning folding the cobra

Beginning folding the cobra

Unfortunately, I made a mistake. It was difficult to tell from Koh’s instructions whether the colored side should start facing up or down. I began with it facing down: and after two hours of folding the head, realized I’d made a mistake! So I unfolded it completely, unrolled the paper, then started from the other end, which wasn’t tainted with mistaken folds.

Luckily, I was able to fold the head faster the second time. After about an hour and a half, the head was complete.

Origami Cobra head

The head was the most difficult part. The fan on the side of the cobra’s head required a lot of pleating, and then folding at angles to get it to flare out.

The next step was folding the scales. This was by far the most tedious part of the entire model. It took several hours just to get all the precreases in place. Then I had to pleat a diamond pattern across the entire length of the model! The body was more than 10′ long, and required hundreds of creases.

Origami Cobra scales

As you can see, the scales weren’t folded precisely. The thickness of the paper caused a lot of problems, and the creases didn’t want to stay in place. But then again, animals aren’t perfect, right?

After several more hours, I completed the pleating. With all the pleats in place, I could no longer roll up the snake’s body. I had to fold the snake on the floor it was so long! The final model was 9’4″.

Pleated origami cobra scales

Origami Cobra 9 feet 4 inches

Now the model needed the final shaping. It looked like a shed snake skin!

The paper isn’t strong enough to support its own weight: Koh recognized this and recommending supporting the neck and head with wire. Technically this violates the spirit of pure origami, but who cares?

I cut three lengths of 22 gauge wire and twisted them together. I did this twice. Then I bent the wire and hid it along the cobra’s back as best I could. I bent the wire into an S-shape to get that classic cobra stance.

Underwire for Origami Cobra

Underwire for Origami Cobra

The head was too heavy to stay on the underwire, so I used tape to pin down as many flaps as I could. The underwire is still visible: however, the model will be displayed so that the head is looking outward, the back toward the wall, so most people won’t see the underwire unless they really look for it.

Underwire for Origami Cobra

Next came the shaping of the body. I curled the paper in my hand, but again, because the paper was so thick, it didn’t want to retain its shape.

Shaping Origami Cobra

I packed the inside with cotton balls: I used an entire bag to do this! Then I held together the two sides with masking tape. The tape appears on the bottom of the snake, so nobody will see it. I decided on masking tape so that if I didn’t like the snake’s final shape I could remove it easily without damaging the paper.

However, I wonder about the long-term strength of the tape, so someday I might have to switch to something stronger, like packaging tape.

Origami Cobra packed with cotton balls

Filling origami Cobra with cotton

Finally, the model was complete! I curled the snake around itself, just as Koh did in his diagram. I think it turned out well!

Front view of Origami Cobra

Top view of Origami Cobra

Back view of Origami Cobra

The body still needs a little more shaping to smooth out the rough angles. Once I move the cobra to my office (somehow) I’ll put the final touches on it.

Overall, I’m really proud of this snake! It took approximately 12 hours of work to get this far! This is the most difficult and time consuming origami I’ve ever done. I had to take frequent breaks in the folding process because my back and legs got really sore from hunching over so much.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy folding,
~Dennis

Origami Cobra

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