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 []

Maker MBA



I’ve been investigating the possibility of trying to make a business out of making.1 This got me thinking about the best series and the best single post about making money out of making.  I got a lot out of these posts and I hope you will too:

  1. Photo courtesy of Poster Boy []
  2. Besides, no one makes pocket sized business school graduates, amirte? []
December 6, 2013 | Comments Closed

SpiderBot – once more into the breach!

So, I’m about to begin a completely new design on my little spider bot using what I’ve learned from the last try.

Failure is fun!

March 6, 2011 | Comments Closed

It’s alive!

I’ve got my Thing-O-Matic operational.  There were some initial hiccups, but it seems to be working.  However, I definitely need to calibrate Skeinforge and the “end.txt” cool down settings for this machine.  More on those details over at the MakerBot blog.  My initial print, a mini mug1 , turned out reasonably well – but is a little too sparse for actual toasting.

  1. Natch []

MakerBot woes

Building my MakerBot and getting it printing reliably was challenging, but totally doable by a technical novice such as myself.  I have lots of people on the MakerBot Operators group to thank for their patience and help in getting my MakerBot online. 1  Looking back, I spent about a month building and then calibrating my ‘bot. 2

It’s easy for me to forget that first month of occasional frustrations and triumphant victories, now that I’ve been printing successfully for more than eight months.  It actually makes me a little sad when I read people writing about their own frustrations and how they’re ready to throw in the towel.  The most recent example was noobcake getting frustrated with her ‘bot and getting ready to sell it off in parts.  Thankfully, Spacexula swooped in to help her out.

This brings me to We Alone On Earth‘s recent post.  WAOE are a group of introspective, philosophically and technologically minded twenty-somethings.  To give you you an idea of their frustration with their ‘bot, the post was entitled, “MakerBot: not very much fun at the moment (caveat emptor)”  Yikes. 3  I realize that WAOE has revised their original post several times since the original publishing date – but they have a lot of legitimate concerns.

WAOE list off seven problems with the MakerBot.  I’m not going to refute these points – but rather offer another perspective on them.  After several updates, WAOE offer additional comments, I’ll include them here in “[]”.

  1. The PTFE is prone to melting.  [WAOE expects the new MK5 Plastruder will resolve this issue]. I have never heard of a PTFE barrier melting.  I’ve heard of them deforming from a blockage and had one develop a clog which I had to remove.  Several people have purchased MakerGear PEEK replacements – but these are far from necessary.  I clogged my first barrier once, cleared it, clogged it again, and am now using a slice of it as an insulating washer.
  2. Inexplicable printing behavior due to noise.  [WAOE fixed this issue by twisting wires and installing a resistor]. I’ve never had this problem, but I know others have.  Like WAOE, I’ve heard of people fixing these issues by twisting wires, using resistors, or ferrite beads.  Perhaps my workstation has less electronic noise, but I haven’t had to do any of these things.  Then again, perhaps my prints suffer from a certain degree of noise?
  3. Printing large objects is hard without a heated build plate.  [WAOE notes this isn’t an issue if you’re good at soldering]. Totally true for ABS, but not PLA.4  However, this is really a problem with the print media – not with the printer, right?  ABS will warp as it cools, unfortunate but true.  I’ve had less warping problems in warm weather or during with a second print – basically when the build platform is already warmed up.  Zaggo’s printruder is one of the largest things I’ve printed.  Interestingly, his design takes into account that certain parts are expected to warp. 5  Or check out Clothbot’s train track – it was designed with a lattice/correlated bottom to prevent warp problems.  Plastic warps – but with careful and thoughtful designing, this shouldn’t be a limitation.
  4. The heated build platform is difficult to build and requires a relay kit. [WAOE notes this isn’t an issue if you’re good at soldering]. I can’t dispute either point.  I just got both and haven’t had a chance to assemble them yet.  I’m assuming the heated build platform, which requires SMT soldering, will be challenging.  Frankly, fear of SMT soldering was the big reason why I didn’t jump into buying a MakerBot sooner. 6  The MakerBot HBP is just one option for a heated platform – there’s several others out there.  Don’t like SMT soldering?  Try out Rick’s platform over at MakerGear.  More into DIY?  Well, use the plans posted for any of several other variations.  As for the relay kit – it’s not a requirement – but it will prevent MOFSETs from burning out on your extruder motherboard7
  5. Calibrating Skeinforge is hard.  [WAOE notes this is still an issue]. I like to use the word, “challenging.”  A better way to look at MakerBot calibration is that you get out of it what you put into it.  I have my MakerBot tuned to the point that I get reasonably good looking durable parts.  Sure, I could spend more time and get even better looking parts.  However, once I got it printing reliably I was much more interested in printing new things than refining the printing process.  I’ll get around to improving the print quality even more – but I’m having too much fun right now.
  6. The Plastruder MK4 feed system is unreliable. [WAOE expects the new MK5 Plastruder will resolve this issue]. Getting the tension on the MK4 idler wheel is just one of those aspects of my MakerBot I had to experiment with and get just right.  I’ve been printing reliably for eight months using the same idler wheel and gear.  With proper maintenance, flossing the extruder, and clearing chips out of the extruder the current setup is serving me well.
  7. The threaded rods are of poor quality. [WAOE are getting new threaded rods, which should fix their problem.]. Of my four threaded rods, one is definitely warped and two have very minor warps.  By experimenting, rotating them just so, and printing a few wobble arrestors I’ve eliminated most of these issues.  You can definitely get more expensive and straighter threaded rods and improve your build quality.

A MakerBot Cupcake CNC kit is not for everyone – but the kit can be build and operated by anyone who is willing to invest the time to do so.  It is a cheap, hackable machine that is literally going to be just as useful as you make it.  Want less warpage, higher resolution, more reliable extrusion?  You can buy an upgrade, build one from their plans, or design your own solution. 8  Want a CNC mill, CNC pencil, or CNC music box?  Design the very first one!  Then again, you don’t have to do any of these things.

A MakerBot kit is just a platform for your creativity.  It’s just that big. 9

As for you, WAOE, if you want some help – drop me a line!

  1. If I had an acceptance speech, I’d go on and on while the music played. []
  2. My first successful print was on 12/31/2009. []
  3. Don’t get me wrong – I love my MakerBot, but I readily acknowledge its limitations. []
  4. From what I heard.  :)  []
  5. It was designed before availability or widespread use of heated build platforms. []
  6. Well, that and a little thing called “money.” []
  7. Did I get that part right? []
  8. I haven’t installed a single non-printed upgrade. []
  9. Or that small.  :)  []

MakerBlock’s MakerBot setup

I’ve posted about other people’s MakerBot work space set ups,1 but not much about my own yet.

Right now there’s a bunch of junk2 in the way so no pictures of the setup for now.  My MakerBot – “Bender,” a laptop3 , and a large long cardboard box with a wooden dowel running the length with badly cut cardboard spools holding what was once a 5 pound coil of black ABS4 , a very nearly 5 pound coil of clear PLA5 , and a full pound of white ABS I’ve never used. 678

All of this resides in our living room on an enormous former-library card catalog.  For those of you youngsters out there, a library card catalog is the kind of thing you see in the background scenes of Warehouse 13.  Imagine a huge chest about four feet tall that has lots of small, deep, drawers.  It is what libraries used to use to store information about their collections – an analog database.  Frankly, I didn’t realize the one I bought was quite so large. 9  It’s literally big enough for about six identical MakerBot/laptop/plastic coil setups to the one I have. 10  The drawers beneath the area where my Makerbot resides are devoted to tools and spare parts.  Right now the surface is covered in a number of unfinished projects and some totally finished projects.

Library card catalogs are super handy and useful ways to incorporate storage and a raised level surface for working.  The only problem is that these things are absolutely enormous and way way heavier than they look.

  1. Mattpr’s MakerBot cart , Tony Buser’s “Tea” #481 []
  2. FYI, junk = stuff waiting to be made into other, more useful or more amusing stuff. []
  3. Named Bleys, if you must know. []
  4. I would guess I’ve used about a pound over the last 8 months.  5 pounds is a LOT of plastic.  Dear faithful ABS, oh how I love thee… []
  5. Polly!!!!!!!!! []
  6. Though, I have very specific and immediate plans for it. []
  7. More on this later if you remind me.  I have a tendency to get lost in nested footnotes and parenthetical references. []
  8. Seriously, just imagine what my PHP code looks like.  Yikes! []
  9. Or far away.  Or would become so expensive.  That’s a story unto itself. []
  10. I best get printing more MakerBots, no?  Hmm…  I might have to print more laptops too… []

Sometimes a good deal isn’t

$3 utility knife and $1 utility knife

$3 utility knife and $1 utility knife

Several months ago I made an impulse buy at the local hardware store.  I picked up a utility knife that came with 6 blades for $1.  It was a good deal, if even for just the razors, and I couldn’t find my usual $3 knife.

Here they are, side by side.  My trusty Stanley utility knife on top.  This knife has a good heft, stores a few extra blades in its handle, and is slightly wider, making for a more comfortable grip.  The two sides also interlock as well as screw into one another.  Clicking the blade out another notch requires a small amount of force – just enough so you’ll never do it by accident – and so that it will stay in each notch as long as you don’t intentionally depress the button.

On the bottom is my no-name brand knife.  It’s lighter, slightly thinner, rattles with the extra blades inside, and the button to extend/retract the blade has a little bit of wobble and play to it.  Also, there’s no interlocking between the two halves.

What an extra $2 buys you

What an extra $2 buys you

I discovered that the seams between the two halves of the cheapie utility knife left a lot to be desired.  While using the knife I felt a sharp poke in my palm.  Turns out that some of the spare razor blades were poking through the incomplete seam.

So, if you’re headed to the hardware store, invest the extra $2 in the better knife.  :)

August 19, 2010 | Comments Closed

If I only knew then what I knew now

I’m going to warn you right now, this post has nothing to do with RepRap or MakerBot.

Three years ago I was  unemployed with a big fat mortgage payment.  The year that followed my newfound unemployment was a roller coaster.  I took contract work for others, I had a few small clients of my own, taught myself how to program in PHP/MySQL, built my first website, tried to turn that website into a business, did some freelance programming, and generally did whatever I could do in order to make ends meet.  It was an exciting and scary time.  About a year after becoming unemployed I accepted an unsolicited job offer and have been there ever since.

I wish that I had read Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week and Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start back then.1  I just finished reading the FHWW for the first time and I’m glad I bought it.  Like Reality Check and The Art of the Start before it, these are books I’m positive I will be using as reference manuals.  It would have been sooo helpful to have Guy’s book around when I started my first website business.  I needn’t have learn so many lessons the hard way.

The same goes for the FHWW.  Tim’s book includes a lot of advice that would have been invaluable to me as an unemployed entrepreneur-by-circumstance2 .  Basically, when I had a surplus of time and deficit of money.  With a steady job I no longer have a deficit of money3 , but I do have a deficit of time.  Some days I will daydream about what I could accomplish if only I had a little more time in the day.  I won’t know until I try, but the Four Hour Work Week may just be my chance to find out.

Suffice it to say, I’ve read both books and will probably re-read both again soon.  If you’re unemployed or want to start a business4 , you should definitely pick up both of these books.

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled nonsense.  :)

  1. Guy’s new book Reality Check is an updated and expanded version of “The Art of the Start.” []
  2. As opposed to an entrepreneur-by-choice []
  3. And, by no means a surplus!  Haha! []
  4. Perhaps a MakerBot or RepRap based business? []