Cardboard Tinkering Toy Series: Cardboard Tube Gun


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Part cross bow, part rubber band gun, part cardboard tube rocket, we affectionately refer to this device as the “snake shooter.”

You’ll need two strong cardboard tubes like the kind that aluminum foil comes on plus one more that fits over the two joined tubes, something like a poster tube might work.

Join the two narrower tubes with masking tape.

Add decorative tape.

Attach rubber band.

Cut notches on the sides of the larger tube segment.

Watch out tube heads!


Cardboard Tinkering Toy Series: Cardboard and Cork Flip Car

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This car is SO much fun!

It really makes my girls giggle because it seems like it has its own personality. We’ve had a great time tinkering with ramps, and there was also a failed zig-zag chute, but the girls also love attaching a string and chasing after each.

This project is pretty intuitive once you gather all the tools and materials together. A few pointers:

* Use large paperclips that have fewer kinks to straighten out.

* Try to cut your corks as evenly as possible.

* You can make the car without the hinge in the middle, but if you do make the hinge, be sure to leave a gap between the hinging parts.

I hope you try this one out, it truly is a toy for all ages!

Cardboard Tinkering Toy Series: Egg Carton Gondola

As Christmas marketing campaigns and expensive toy lists begin appearing on the internet, I wanted to start this series to remind parents and gift givers everywhere about  simple, low cost, recycled toys that kids will wrench out of your hands and say, “Let me try!”

In case you haven’t heard about the creativity crisis that’s being heralded by lots of important people, I just want to leave you with this simple thought. As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher. They are constantly watching you to find out what you think, what you like to do, and how you handle a challenge. While we don’t need to teach our children how to play, we do need to positively model for them the joy of learning, experimenting, creating and doing.

How do you do that? You can let your child see you make things, solve problems, fix what’s broken….. be resourceful. There are a million ways to do it, but if you want a place to start, here’s one:

To make an egg carton gondola:

1. Use the nail clippers to cut notches on both sides of the spindles in the middle of the egg carton. Measure down about 1 cm to 1 inch to make the cuts.

2. Cut a slit down the entire length of the tube. You will need a tube thicker than a standard paper towel tube. A tube that has three or four layers makes a gondola that’s quite strong and will hold up to lots of play.

3. Slide the tube unto the egg carton where you’ve made the notches so that the tube grips the egg carton when you put gentle pressure on it.

4. Puncture a hole in one end of the tube and tie a long string or piece of yarn to the gondola for moving it back and forth.

5. Thread an even longer second string through the tube for the gondola to travel on. Anchor this string in two places with a slight decline so that gravity will help the gondola to travel on its own.

And one more thing. I’m challenging everyone who reads this blog to make a handmade toy for a child they love for Christmas. It’s not an official challenge as I don’t have the energy for another one after the Cardboard Costume Challenge, but I just want to give you permission to make something quick and homey, and even ugly, that you can play with together on Christmas day. I promise your child will never forget it.

Cardboard Mermaid Costume

There wasn’t much time during the frenetic week leading up to Halloween to share the details of the cardboard mermaid costume with you, so those of you who have been wondering what happened to the pile of brown cardboard fish scales, well here they are in technicolor:

The mermaid costume was my favorite of the cardboard costumes I made for my family and myself because it involved a whole different approach to working with cardboard- threading together many cardboard pieces to create a kind of flexible cardboard skin. The costume is very securely held together, so one of the problems, in fact, was that is was a little hard for my daughter to move around in.

Remember the sage advice I passed on to you at the beginning of the challenge about creating a costume that you could sit down in? Well, we had a few problems in that department….

You can see the back of the costume here, which was covered with a cape for warmth, as well as to hide the paper cords. It’s possible to create a costume that is seamless, but because we had to take my daughter in and out of the costume a lot, I didn’t work too hard to make it all fit together perfectly. I’m thinking of adapting this costume into a downloadable PDF someday, so I’m going to keep expanding on some of the new ideas I tried while making the cardboard mermaid gown.

We painted the scales with regular watercolors, which worked beautifully and gave the costume soft, romantic coloring. I loved the fact that every scale was a little bit different because of the blending of the blues,  greens and yellows.

The great thing was that the costume was well loved, and my daughter just beamed on Halloween night, scooting carefully around from house to house with her sister Little Red Riding Hood.

Looking Ahead to Cardboard Costume Challenge 2013

I’ve finally gotten the chance to catch my breath, and think about the whirlwind that was October. It’s a wonderful feeling to be totally immersed in something that you love doing for so long, but I’m relieved for a little bit of a break. I do want to quickly throw out some ideas for next year’s challenge and get your feedback if you would be so kind. Here are a few of the things on my mind:

Categories: I’m thinking about eliminating categories altogether and just having a group of outstanding costumes chosen subjectively by the judges or keeping categories and changing them to kid-made, amateur, and semi-pro, so there are different levels of competition. Semi-pro would be designers and those with formal training in art or design, or those that make a living from their art and/or design. I know that some people were intimidated by the level of competition, so breaking it up might entice more people to join in, while still getting a variety of costumes at all skill levels.

Tutorials and Inspiration: I’m hoping to talk about the design process a little more next year. A lot of people have told me that they have a hard time coming up with a plan to execute their idea, so I want to talk more about making models as well as combining cardboard with different kinds of media, glue and paint. I’m also noticing some different kinds of cardboard costume combinations that work well, like cardboard heads, cardboard armor, cardboard vehicles, and gilded cardboard for gods and goddesses, so talking about those options might spark some ideas for people.

Community: Hands down the best part of the challenge was getting to know other cardboard makers through their work, and through communicating with them on the blog. I hope we can continue to build a strong community of people who love to work with cardboard. I’ll be feeding off the inspiration I gleaned from this year’s challenge for a long time, and hope you will too!

If you have ideas or suggestions for Cardboard Costume Challenge 2013, I’d love to hear from you! Don’t be shy, I’m ready for the good and the bad. All of it! There’s lot’s of room for improvement and the best way to make it better is with your ideas! What would you change?

Thanks so much and I look forward to seeing your cardboard costume in 2013!

Cardboard Costume Challenge Results

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(Notes: Because all of the costumes were essentially made of cardboard elements mixed with other media, I eliminated the “hybrid” category. There were no bicycle costume entries.)


Edward Westerhuis: I am the Ram!
Cardboardia: Cardboard Jack-o-lantern
(Special Mention) Leelada via Flickr: Cardboard Cowboys


wrnking via Flickr: Cardboard Knight
Rachel and Tom Morgan: Archery Knight

Kid Made:

Leo: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
Sid: Star Wars Storm Trooper
(Special Mention) Lego Block


You all have me pondering the many new ideas you put out there with your incredible costumes!
I’m thinking about metallic cardboard, felt on cardboard, fringed cardboard, cardboard horns, and wearable cardboard houses and cars.

So much inspiration! I hope you feel the same way! The level of creativity that turned out for the challenge was so overwhelming, I hope everyone feels a great sense of accomplishment from the costumes they created. Tomorrow I’ll be posting some reflections about the challenge and welcome your suggestions for next year.

Deep bows to all our judges and to MakeDo Japan for donating MakeDo kits to all the winners of the contest!

A Happy Halloween!

Our Cardboard Family, collectively, after a fantastic night of trick-or-treating!

A few announcements:

  1. Deadline for entries is Nov. 2, midnight EST.
  2. If you saw a fantastic cardboard costume out and about on Halloween you can let your friend know how to enter the challenge by sending them an email or phone message ( see post below)
  3. If you’re not sure which category to enter, just send me your photo and I can help you decide which one would suit your costume best.
  4. If you’ve been following us, but didn’t make a cardboard costume this year, you can start planning for next year! (My 3 year old already has!)

Check back on Nov.3rd for results of the Costume Challenge and thanks to all of you for the amazing costumes you’ve entered! Hope to see you next year!