How to Make Awesome Cardboard Paper Mache Anything

Awesome Paper Mache Hats

Awesome Paper Mache Hats

A few weeks ago a friend of mine had a “bad movie night” where he was showing the film1Sharknado.”  Inspired by the theme for the party, I decided I had to wear a shark hat for the event.  After making my hat, my daughter requested a monkey hat.  This was not a request I could refuse.

I took pictures of the process to show you how you can make your own.  I haven’t ever tried to make paper mache hats before, so this was not only a lot of fun – but a great learning experience.  While I own the really great paper mache monster books by Dan Reeder, I only used them for inspiration and tried out a few new things on my own.

Even though I used this process to make hats, the directions here could easily be adapted to making anything out of paper mache.

1. Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools

All the things you need to make your own awesome paper mache anything

All the things you need to make your own awesome paper mache anything

Here’s what you need to get started:

  1. Cardboard Boxes.  Cardboard forms the “skeleton” of the structure.  It’s cheap, ubiquitous, sturdy, and easy to cut and form.
  2. Masking Tape.  Once the cardboard has been cut, liberal use of masking tape will keep your creation together until it can be covered with paper mache.
  3. Scissors and Utility Knife.  Scissors can be very helpful in cutting cardboard or paper.  While scissors can be helpful, and appropriate for kids, I find a utility knife gets the job done faster.
  4. Measuring Tape.  If you’re not making a hat (or other apparel or armor) you won’t need this.  But it is helpful when making measurements.  ((In a pinch, you could just use a piece of yarn or string to mark lengths, and then put the yarn on the cardboard for reference.))
  5. Plastic Wrap.  Whether you’re working with gluey paper or paint, the process is messy.  I would recommend covering the work surface with plastic wrap.  I happened to have a really large plastic bag, which I taped directly to the table.
  6. Glue.  I just used a big bottle of Elmer’s white glue from the hardware store, but I’m pretty sure wood glue would have worked as well, if not better.  It’s also more versatile and sturdy.
  7. Plastic Tray.  The next time you get take-out or have a plastic liner from inside some packaging, save it.  It makes a great wide tray for mixing water and glue or when your project is dry, it is also great for mixing paints.
  8. Paper Grocery Bags.  The “twist” with this process is that I used torn up grocery bags, rather than the traditional newspaper.  It turned out this was a really good idea for a number of reasons.  Paper bags are a cheap and plentiful material.  When thoroughly wet strips of paper bags are easy to place, mold and shape. However, the most important features of paper bags is that they hold glue and water really well and then dry quickly into a sturdy hard shell.  In fact, they form such a sturdy surface that I only had to do a single layer of paper mache around the entire hat.  This means that you can quickly put down a single layer of paper bag strips all over your cardboard form, wait a few hours for it to dry, and then get to work finishing the project.
  9. Paper or Newspaper.  While grocery bags work really well to cover your cardboard form, they can leave some small gaps where they overlap.  When I found gaps in the project, I simply used a few thin strips of the newsprint style paper to cover the holes and smooth out spots on the rough paper bag layer.
  10. Cup of Water and Paintbrushes.  An old mug is best and pile of cheap dollar store brushes is probably fine.
  11. Paints.  I prefer acrylic paints.  They are cheap, can be diluted with water, easy to mix, they stay wet long enough for you to blend, but not so long that you have to wait days for it to dry.  They also clean up well with water.

2. Step 2: Create Cardboard Form

Process for creating awesome hat

Process for creating awesome hat

The process I used to create the cardboard forms for the hats was pretty quick and easy.  I measured the circumference of my daughter’s head and then the distance from her ears to the top of her head.  Using these measurements, I cut out a strip of cardboard as tall as the distance from her ears to the top of her head and as wide as the circumference of her head – with a little extra to allow for overlap.

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In the pictures above you can see the strip of cardboard cut out and then taped into a cylinder with the masking tape.

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Cut strips into the cardboard cylinder, fold them down, and add enough masking tape to mold it into a hat-shape.

3. Step 3: Add Embellishments

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A paper mache hat is way more interesting with some kind of embellishment, like ears, shark fins, wings, or whatever else.  Here I cut ear shapes out of cardboard, curved them slightly, taped them to hold the curve, and then taped them to the hat.  When I made the shark hat, I cut a long slit into the hat through the tape and inserted the shark fin through the underside of the hat.  Don’t be afraid to use a lot of tape.

4. Step 4: Prepare the Work Surface, Paper Strips, and Glue Mixture

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Cover the work surface with plastic sheeting.  I used a big plastic bag from a helium balloon order from my daughter’s birthday.  However, a big garbage bag or plastic wrap would also work well.  Paper bags from the grocery store work really well – but there are too thick in places.  Tear off the handles and pull the paper bag apart at the seams.  You’ll probably need to discard some of the sections where the the paper bag is too thick to use.

Add some glue (I used about a tablespoon) and warm water (about a half cup or so) to the plastic pan.  It should look like milk or heavy cream once you’ve mixed it up.

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Completely soak the strips of paper bag in the glue mixture.  They should be completely soaked all the way through until they’re nearly translucent.  Unlike paper mache with thin pieces of newspaper, you won’t need to put layers and layers of paper on the form – just one layer where the pieces overlap a little should work fine.  The excess glue from the strips of paper will soak into the cardboard and help make the entire structure sturdy.

5. Step 5: Set Model to Dry, Patch Holes with Paper

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Since the cardboard helps soak up the water, the entire structure should dry relatively quickly.  I put the shark hat outside in the sun for a few hours and it was ready for painting.  Once the hat is dry (or dry enough), you’ll probably notice some holes and gaps from the paper bag strips.  Tear up some newsprint paper, soak those in the gluey mixture, and cover and smooth out any defects.  Once these pieces dry, the project will be ready to paint!

6. Step 6: Paint to Suit

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The great thing about acrylic paints is that they are so easy to work with.  They dry really quickly, so you can paint one side of the model, work on the other side, and then come back to the first side to add details.  In any case, just paint the project to suit and you’re done!

Each hat went together really quickly.  I put the cardboard form together in about 15 minutes, covered it with the gluey paper bag strips over maybe 30 minutes, let it dry for several hours, and then paint it over the course of maybe an hour.

If you make your own paper mache hat (or other sculpture), let me know in the comments!

  1. And I use the word “film” loosely here []

Upcycling Plastic Bags into Fabric

Releve Design - How to Fuse Plastic Bags

Releve Design – How to Fuse Plastic Bags

Last year was our family’s second time at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire.  October in Oakland tends to be a really rainy time – and the last few EBMMF’s are no exception.  The rain didn’t seem to dampen the crowds or diminish attendance, but it did make the experience a little more trying.  ((Don’t get me wrong – I love Maker Faire, even little ones.  But, the EBMMF has been a tough one to love.  There are small with tight quarters inside classrooms or open spaces outside – in the rain, there were long lines for the very few food options, and most of the vendors ran out of food really early on))

So, the point behind this post – I learned something really awesome I’ve been looking forward to putting to use.  Some ladies, unfortunately I don’t recall who, were teaching people how to fuse plastic bags into a fabric.  The basic process was shockingly easy – layered sheets cut from plastic shopping bags are ironed together between protective layers of paper.  This one site has a good detailed description of the process with lots of tips and suggestions.

I’d love to make a bag, backpack, project enclosures, package linings, maybe a kite, and/or parachute using this stuff.

ProfileMaker Version 2.0 is coming!

A few cosmetic details to work out yet…  but I’m almost ready to launch the second version of my ProfileMaker.  I released the first version late last night.

I’d like to think that I’ve increased the number of options while still keeping a slim and intuitive user interface.  I would really appreciate any comments, criticisms, or questions you may have.

OpenSCAD tutorial outline

They’ll continue, but I think the next one will come out on Friday.  So far I’ve covered the interface of OpenSCAD, 2D forms, and 3D forms.

My goal is to show people how to use OpenSCAD in a way that is intuitive and builds quickly on what was taught earlier, with a secondary goal of getting the reader to be able to make something useful as quickly as possible.  Here’s the rough outline/idea of where I’m going:

  1. OpenSCAD interface
  2. 2D forms
  3. 3D forms
  4. Union/difference/intersection
  5. Rotate/mirror/translate/scale
  6. Variables/module
  7. Linear and rotational extrusion
  8. Using other programs to make using OpenSCAD easier (Sketchup, Inkscape, Notepad++)
  9. Include/libraries
  10. Conditional and Iterator Functions

I know I’m leaving a lot out of that outline.  What would you like to see?

OpenSCAD tutorial, take II

So, I’ve been working on some OpenSCAD tutorials over at the MakerBot blog.

What did you think of them?  Are they too high-falutin’ or too basic?  Are they too serious?  What would you like to learn next?  I’m probably going to cover 3D forms next.  Do you want to see more tutorials?  What other things would you like to learn besides OpenSCAD?  (That will give me a good excuse to learn it too!)

Do you want to learn OpenSCAD with me?

I’m really just learning OpenSCAD right now.  I can make some basic shapes, put things together, and whatnot.  I was thinking about putting together some super super basic tutorials that would take a user from knowing nothing about OpenSCAD to knowing as little about OpenSCAD as I do.1  Is this something you’d be interested in?

Please leave a comment and let me know.  What would you like to know about it?  What would you like to learn?

  1. Perhaps even a little less! []

MakerBot Calibration

After my design-print failure I thought it was about time I recalibrated my ‘bot:

  1. Starting from scratch, I’m using the 0.5mm test pieces from Spacexula’s calibration set.  Before starting I set Skeinforge->Carve->Layer Thickness (mm) to 0.4.  Thus, I came to test piece 815.1.  The piece came out well, but I noticed that where the Z axis raises there is some slight blobbing and just before the blobbing, some sparse areas I can see through.  Otherwise, great interlayer adhesion.  The height of the piece is 10.25, 10.31, 10.30, 10.55.  Throwing out the high and low, there’s an average of 10.305mm.  It is 22.29mm x 22.29mm.
  2. Skeinforge->Carve->Layer Thickness (mm) to 0.38.  Test piece 815.2.  Again, slight blobbing, very small sparse areas and great interlayer adhesion.  Piece height is 10.39, 10.40, 10.18, 10.19, we’ll call this 10.29mm.  It is 22.41mm x 22.13mm.
  3. Skeinforge->Carve->Layer Thickness (mm) to 0.36.  Test piece 815.3.  Slight blobbing, very small sparse areas and great interlayer adhesion.  Piece height is 10.25, 10.31, 10.14, 10.30, we’ll call this 10.275mm.  This one was 22.33mm x 22.29mm.

New 3x2x1 Rubik’s cube design – totally printable!

X-Ray view of the 3x2x1 puzzle cube

X-Ray view of the 3x2x1 puzzle cube

This is easily my most intricate digital design for the MakerBot yet.  It’s a 3x2x1 variation on the Rubik’s cube puzzle I had posted earlier.

This version incorporates the prior improvements as well as designing a connector system inspired by R3bbeca‘s beco block connectors.

This has enabled a totally printable toy.  This just makes me happy. 1  The idea that I can crank out a set of these parts, clean them up a little, and just snap the toy together is just amazing.

TomZ‘s original 1x2x3 “friendlier” Rubik’s cube designs were also totally printable – but required a printed pin that was later glued in place.  I like the ideal of all printed parts – but strongly prefer a design that can later be disassembled easily.  And, as I mentioned above – the ability to hand assemble the toy is important to me.

I wasn’t able to recreate R3bbeca’s female connector designs2 so I made a simplified version that should suffice.

The simplified connection mechanism is essentially two plastic fingers that will (hopefully) pinch the barbell into place.  This was made by designing the outline of the gripping “fingers,” creating a horizontal cylindrical hole slightly larger than the intended end of the barbell, then creating a vertical cylindrical hole in the center for the barbell to be inserted through, then a bit of cleanup.

The biggest potential problem is that this design will require a carefully tuned ‘bot.  The center cube pieces have a lot of stuff packed in there – semi-circular slots for the semi-circular tabs, connectors for the barbell, and thin walls separating things.  With those thin walls and interior overhangs, this may be a difficult design to print.

I think Bender is up to the task, but we’ll see in a few hours.  :)  I can’t wait to print this!

For me, having a MakerBot is like waking up to Christmas every morning.

Oh, and before I forget, if you want one of these – leave a comment or send me an e-mail through the Contact page.  Make me an offer.

  1. Perhaps a little prematurely, since I haven’t actually printed this yet… []
  2. I believe I’ve already sufficiently lamented my inability to understand women and their mysterious lady ways. []