Living Hinge: A Magical Laser Cutter Project for All Grade Levels

What if it were possible to make wood flexible? 

Actually, it is. When a laser cutter cuts a piece of wood in certain patterns, the wood itself becomes a living, or flexible, hinge. A living hinge makes it possible to fold wood into a box or a book cover or even a mobius strip.

When you know how to create living hinges on a laser cutter, you open up your students and fellow teachers to a whole new world of possible design challenges and project ideas that can be worked into curricular goals across subjects. The Dremel DigiLab laser cutter makes this project accessible, safe, and quick to implement. 


How Does a Living Hinge Work? 

  • The simplest living hinges are comprised of a series of parallel, lattice-like lines.

  • But there are many designs available that go beyond lines and include shapes. 

  • The hinge will work differently depending on how far apart the lines are spaced, if the lines are curved, and the type of shapes used.

    Living Hinge Project for All Levels

    The living hinge is such a powerful laser cutter project because it can be applied across grade levels. Here’s how to tailor living hinge design projects across subjects and age groups. 


    Living Hinge Stress Test Math and Science STEM Project

  • Design Challenge: What are all the most durable living hinges that we can create on a laser cutter? 

    Level 1: Teacher creates a variety of living hinges on the laser cutter. 

  • - Place living hinge assortment in classroom science center for students to hold and touch. 
    - Set up a stress test to see which living hinges hold up best. Here’s an example  but there are other ways to do it. One simple approach is to see which hinges are still in tact after student hands have been working with them.
  • - Make observations as to which designs hold up best: 
  •           How far apart are the lattice patterns spaced? 
              What is the width of the lattice?
              Do the patterns include only lines, or shapes as well? 
              Is there any commonality among the shapes? 
              Do the strongest hinges have more or fewer cuts than the weaker hinges?
              What conclusions can we draw? 
  • - Extension/Option: Cut each living hinge design in a variety of materials, such as single wall corrugated cardboard, acrylic, and rubber. 

Level 2:  Students choose from living hinge vector files to select one for the laser 
cutter to create. They individually send their vector files to the laser cutter. Once living hinges are created for each student, divide students into groups with one student per group representing a different hinge design. Follow procedure for Level 1 above. (Option: Give students the option to choose from a variety of materials. Which do they think will be most durable?)

Level 3: Middle school and high school students can work to design their own living hinges. 

  • - First have students examine a variety of living hinge designs online. Pinterest is a good source. 
    - Begin analog with graph paper, pencils, and rulers to sketch ideas. 
    - Check for understanding of the concepts based on student initial sketches. Teach a math/architectural lesson if needed. Here’s help from Makezine
  • - Transfer designs into an online design program such as Google Sketchup, Inkscape, or CorelDraw. 
    - Students create their own vector files from the final design and send to the laser cutter to cut into wood. (Option: Students choose to use what they think will be most durable from a variety of materials, including wood, acrylic, and rubber.) 
    - Set up a classwide stress test to see which designs hold up best. 
    - Make observations as to which designs held up best: 
  •        How far apart are the lattice patterns spaced? 
           What is the width of the lattice?
           Do the patterns include only lines, or shapes? 
           How far apart are the lattice patterns spaced? 
           Is there any commonality among the shapes? 
           How far apart are the lattice patterns spaced? 
           Do the strongest hinges have more or fewer cuts than the weaker hinges?
           How far apart are the lattice patterns spaced? 
           What conclusions can we draw? 
  • Extension: What might be all the cool items students can make with their living hinges? How might this inspire a follow-up design project to relate to many different subjects? For example, students can make book covers for their language arts writing or history papers. They might use this concept to make bracelets or earrings or pencils holders or other projects for a school Make Sale
  • - Advanced engineering extension: If you’re an engineering or physics teacher, you might consider a lesson in which students predict torsion, stress and strain, and even use finite element analysis to optimize their designs. Give students constraints like “create the strongest design with the least cuts” or “make the strongest design with the tightest radius.” Then have them perform a stress test.  

The living hinge has the potential to inspire many teachers throughout your school. If you are a technology director or makerspace facilitator, hold a quick living hinge training to show how easy it is or simply share this article to spark possibilities.


Examples of Related Standards for this Project: 

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
Engineering Design
 2-PS1-1.

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
3-PS2-1.

Structure and Properties of Matter
2-PS1-1

Common Core State Standards (CCSS)
Modeling with Geometry

Analyze Patterns

Classify Two-dimensional Figures into Categories Based on Their Properties