By Scott Bedford
Amaze your kids by transforming two old toilet rolls and a few other recycled bits and bobs into a cool steampunk-inspired robot. Amaze them even further by balancing your robot on the edge of a ruler, table, shelf, or even your finger. And then triple amaze them by rotating the arms and revealing the steel heart in the body of the robot.
This is a fun summer project that’s also an excellent way for your kids to improve their understanding of gravity and mechanics. It’s also a very flexible project – while I gave my robot all the bells and whistles (literally, there’s a whistle on its head), you can easily customize your robot to suit the materials you have available.
2 cardboard toilet roll tubes
Cardstock, light-medium weights
1.5mm galvanised wire or an old wire coat hanger
Old AA battery
Craft knife or scalpel
Hot glue gun
Black permanent marker
Clear plastic lid; I used the lid from a can of Gillette Shaving Gel here. Your lid should fit neatly over the end the toilet paper tube.
Empty plastic roll-on deodorant bottle; it should fit neatly inside the toilet paper tube
Metallic silver spray paint
Metallic bronze spray paint
Step 1: Take a toilet roll tube and use a compass to draw a circle on one side. Make this circle slightly smaller than the diameter of the tube. Now draw another circle on the opposite side (it can be a bit tricky trying to judge the correct position; just try and be as accurate as you can).
Finally, draw a small rectangle between the two circles. This will become the hole that reveals the robot’s steel heart. Once you’ve done that, take a craft knife or scalpel and carefully cut out the two circles and the small rectangle. You have now just completed the most tricky step; it’s freewheeling from here!
Step 2:Take the second toilet roll and cut along the length of one side (use a pencil and ruler to ensure it is straight). Squeeze the tube slightly, so the edges overlap, and then slide it through the holes of the first tube. Use a pencil to mark where the edges overlap. Pull the tube back out, and then cut off the overlap using a ruler and craft knife. Rejoin the two edges by gluing a strip of card stock over the join along the inside of the tube.
Now, shorten the length of this tube. It needs to be about 1″ (25mm) longer than the width of the first tube. To make a nice, straight cut, try this method: wrap a wide strip of cardstock (with a straight edge) around the tube. Make sure the edges of this strip line up where they overlap, and position one edge of the card where you want to make your cut. Use a pencil to mark the tube along the edge of the card. Then, carefully cut the tube along this line using scissors or a craft knife.
Finally, take the empty plastic roll-on deodorant bottle and cut off the top using a hacksaw. (Just a reminder: The roll-on should be the right size to fit within the end of the vertical tube.) Now spray the two tubes, the end of the roll-on, and some medium thickness cardstock with the metallic silver spray paint.
Step 3:To make the steel heart for your robot, cut a strip of paper twice as long as the rectangular hole in the vertical tube, and a bit wider. Take a black permanent marker and draw the outline of a heart (and some pipes) onto the paper, as shown above. Then color in with a silver metallic pen. Alternatively, you can spray the paper silver first and then use the black permanent marker to create the outlines. I’d also suggest making the spaces around the pipes and heart black. Once you’ve finished, glue the paper onto the centre of the horizontal tube and insert it back into the body of the robot. Finally, cut out two discs from the silver cardstock and glue them onto each end of the horizontal tube.
To create the arms, use the cardstock you sprayed silver in Step 2. Cut out an L-shape (more of a dog-leg shape), a rectangular strip, and some pincer-shaped hands – you can judge the sizes by eye, using the illustration above as a guide. Apply glue to the edge of the rectangular strip and stick it onto the outside edge of the L-shaped card, folding it slightly at the elbow. Glue the flat side onto the end of the horizontal tube (remember that the arms need to be mirror opposites, otherwise they won’t face the right direction). Finally, glue the pincer hands to the underside of each wrist.
Step 4: Now spray some light-medium cardstock with metallic bronze spray paint. Cut three thin strips and glue them around the ends of the horizontal tube and the base of the vertical tube.
To create the brain, start off by cutting a strip of silver cardstock (a bit wider than the vertical tube) and fold the ends over to create small tabs. Now cut different sized cogs from the silver and bronze card and simply glue them onto this strip. Lastly, apply glue to the tabs and secure the brain into the top of the vertical tube.
To create the robot’s jaw, cut two rectangular pieces of cardstock and trim them to the shapes shown above, with two grooves to form the mouth. Glue the bottom strip onto the bottom of the top strip, and then wrap them around the top of the vertical tube, gluing them into place.
Finally, make two eyes by glueing a small bronze rectangular piece of cardstock onto a larger silver piece. Take the clear plastic lid you saved from a shaving gel tube (or other package), and glue the eyes onto the side, towards the bottom.
Step 5: Push the lid (with the eyes facing forward) on top of the vertical tube. Use some hot glue to attach the lid to the back to the robot.
To make the counterbalance, take some thick wire (I used 1.5mm galvanised wire bought from a hardware store, but an old wire coat hanger would work as well) and cut a piece around 18″ (450mm) long using pliers or wire cutters. Curve it into a semi-circle and bend the ends at right angles using pliers. Make a hole at the back of the robot and feed the wire through. Use hot glue to attach the bent end to the opposite side of the tube. For additional strengthening I’d also suggest hot-gluing the area around the hole as well.
Next, apply lots of hot glue around the inner rim of the tube and slide in the top of the roll-on you prepared earlier. Hold it in place while the glue sets. Almost there! Take the AA battery and hot-glue it onto the exposed end of the wire. Once secured, spray it silver.
Step 6: Now for the finishing touches. Take the black marker pen and add further outlines to your robot – you can follow the photographs above. I added rivets, pipes, pressure valves, and simple outlines to give it the full steampunk look. Oh… I almost forgot – I also created a steam whistle from a piece of the bronze cardstock and glued it onto the side of the robot’s head.
Step 7: The last step is to adjust the wire so that the robot stands upright. This can be quite fiddly; the best way is to balance the robot on the edge of a table and gently bend the wire until your robot stands tall and proud!
Once you’re done, you can then look for fun and unusual places to balance your robot. My son loves balancing it on the end of his finger.
About the Author
Scott Bedford is author of the award winning What I Made - a quirky arts and crafts blog containing an eclectic mix of recycling projects, décor, kids crafts, and utter nonsense (all supplied with fun hand-drawn tutorials and downloadable artwork).