Making an Impressive Working Robotic Arm from Cardboard

Craft & Design Paper Crafts Robotics Technology
Making an Impressive Working Robotic Arm from Cardboard

Years ago, when my son was in high school, he came home with a robotic arm that he’d made in class. I was in the process of writing a book about robotics at the time (The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots) and was absolutely tickled by the design of the bot he brought home. They were studying hydraulics and had built robots using little more than some 1/2″ pine board, 10ml needle syringes, plastic tubing, and water. I think I had more fun playing around with it than he did. I hung on to it and still have it in my robotics collection today (right next to my Armatron and Super Armatron).

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This project, by the mysterious group of makers known as The Q, utilizes the same basic design as my son’s robotic arm except they substitute cardboard for the pine lumber. My son’s robot also made use of conventional hardware and some sheet metal for the joints and syringe holders. Here, they use wooden skewers, paper clips, zip-ties, and even a dead AA battery to make the joints and holders.

Here is the parts list they provide: Cardboard, 8 10ml syringes with rubber pistons, a dead AA battery, 4 lengths of clear plastic hosing, Popsicle sticks, super glue, water, and patience. Also, an empty soda can. The tools they use are a ruler, box knife, pencil, scissors, hot glue gun, and pliers/snips.

I love the ingenious construction here, the way they build up layers of cardboard as needed, make wooden and cardboard hinges, use a dead battery as the pivot point for the arm on its base, and their design of the arm’s gripper hand. So much here to admire.

Here are some screen caps from the video showing you various stages of the build. The design is so relatively simple that you can figure out most of what’s going on just by looking at these pictures.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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