What is a Bone Folder?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A bone folder is a tool often used in paper crafts such as Japanese origami (artistic paperfolding), scrapbooking, and card-making. Classically, it is carved from real animal bones, often deer or elk. Bone is an ideal material for paper crafts because it is sturdy, smooth and grainless. Many bone folders are carved with ornate handles or other decorative features, but a basic one is typically shaped like a wooden tongue depressor or a large flat stick. It may have rounded ends or a pointed end for working in corners.

Deer bone is traditionally used in a bone folder.
Deer bone is traditionally used in a bone folder.

There are a number of uses for a bone folder, including folding creases, burnishing decorative papers and scoring paper stock. Many crafters use this tool as a means of giving a folded page a more professional-looking crease. The friction between a finger and paper may create problems over time, but a bone folder's smooth surface can be drawn across the fold time and time again. The material allows the crafter to apply constant pressure while finishing a crease.

A bone folder can be used for making origami.
A bone folder can be used for making origami.

Another function of this tool is called burnishing. The smooth finish imparts a glossiness or shininess to paper as it is drawn across a fold or crease. Burnished decorative papers often present a more professional finish than unburnished ones, and the tool acts much like a polishing stone, smoothing out the paper's fibers and creating a more defined fold.

The straight edge of a bone folder also makes it ideal as a paper folding aid. The crafter can hold the stick against a scored line and fold the paper along its edge. The pointed end can also be used to square off a corner from within the folded area. This can be a difficult task to accomplish in the more elaborate folds of origami projects.

The edges of some folders are also sharp enough to score paper. This can be a blessing or a curse for users, depending on the project. Excess paper can be trimmed away with a straight edge and a sharpened bone folder if desired. Paper crafters must be careful not to puncture or slice through a project accidentally, however.

A basic bone folder can usually be found in hobby and craft stores, scrapbook supply stores and online craft stores. They are sold in different sizes and shapes, so crafters should look for one that suits their creative needs and fits well in the hand. More ornate folders may be available at professional carving outlets or through custom order. Materials such as horn, stone and even TeflonĀ® are also used to create paper folders, so it helps to read product performance reviews before investing in professional-level art tools.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


I am new to paper folding. I want to be able to fold a relatively small number of pieces of 8-1/2 x 11 paper (a few thousand pages) into a fold similar to a triangular folded flag. I need the folds to be consistent in location and quality. For this type of job, is there an inexpensive ($500-$2,000) machine that would do the job, or should I focus on a small team of people doing the folds with rulers and bone/teflon folders? - NewToTheFold


I am just recently getting into origami and decorative paper folding, and I can tell you that a bone folder definitely beats the pants off of those folding machines -- I use a Teflon bone folder too, and it really gives you crisp edges, but with a lot of control over the paper and fold as well.

I would recommend everybody to start off with a Teflon folder first though -- sometimes the bone ones are too difficult to use.


@tunaline -- I don't know about book binding, I usually use my bone folder for origami. Do you really fold a lot of paper in book binding? Forgive my ignorance, I just really don't know.

They of course make synthetic bone folders, though I believe that the real bone folders are supposed to work a little better.

I personally have always used a Teflon bone folder with no ill effects.

I suppose it's up to you, but if you do end up getting one, make sure you get a book or read some articles on how to use a bone folder properly -- it does take a bit of skill.

Happy crafting!


I have recently been learning about binding books, and I heard this term. I have been using an automatic paper folding machine, but now I'm wondering if I might do better to get a bone folder -- some of the books I'm working with are very old, and some are more decorative, and work with shiny papers.

Should I stick with my paper folding equipment, or would it be better to get a bone folder, do you think?

And are all bone folders made of bone? I assume that's where the name comes from. If not, then are there advantages to using a "bone" bone folder over a synthetic one (if such things exist)?

Thanks so much for the info.

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