Milk Carton Mechanicals

My father is a rocket-scientist (I'm not joking.) I am not a rocket scientist. I am not clever with mechanical things. I'm a neo-luddite at heart. However, a few weeks ago, I was over at a friend's house and flipped over a little mechanical toy -- when I saw the mechanics exposed underneath, I thought to myself, "I can make that!" I spent about an hour making one yesterday morning and then Sweet Child and I made another one when he got home from school. These were so much fun to make that I have to share them with you...

In anticipation of the project, wash out and save a milk carton, or two.

Cut off the tops of the cartons and trim the bottoms so that they're 3 1/4 inches high.

Cover the flat bottom of the carton and then the sides with paper. The bottom of the carton is now the top of your mechanical toy. Poke a small hole in the center of the top and then poke small holes in 2 sides of the box, opposite each other.

Using a needle nose pliers and stainless steel wire (19 gauge works well) create your crank and internal "camshaft" (this "camshaft" terminology was just supplied by my handy and technically-inclined Mr. Bloom...)

Insert your camshaft through one of side-holes. Maneuver the wire through the hole on the other side and bend it at a sharp angle (or into a large loop) so the wire will not pull back through the hole.

Take a straight piece of wire (approx. 5 inches long) and push it through the hole in the top of the box. Using your needle nose pliers, bend it in a small loop around the center of the camshaft inside the box. (TIP: You can pre-bend the little loop which will go around your camshaft. If you pre-bend your loop you will need to insert the un-bent top of the wire through the center hole from underneath the box.)

On the outside of the box, measure the wire approx. 2" from the top of the box. Bend the wire 90 degrees and create a loop (see photo above.)

NOTE: The first time I made one of these, I made plenty of mistakes bending the wire. I did a lot of bending, unbending and re-bending to get it right. When I made the second toy, it was much easier!

Now, you need to keep the "piston" (technical word again supplied by my Mr. Bloom) in the center of the camshaft. To do this, cut 2 small pieces of corrugated cardboard, 1/2 inch x 3/4 inch each, and 2 small strips of tape.

Roll the cardboard around the camshaft on either side of the piston and affix with tape.

It's a little tricky to work inside the box. I think this was the most difficult part for me...

Test your crank, and make adjustments. Now you're ready to create the little figure for the top of the toy. You will need a front and back for your figure -- glue them so they sandwich the loop on top.

If I were not too lazy to use photoshop, I would have loaded up the clip-art of the flying-fish and made a mirror image to use on the back of the figure. As it is, I used plain turquoise paper on the back of this figure to sandwich the wire.

Here's a little dragon Little Mr. B. and I designed together... And at the very end of this post is something my clever husband helped me set up...

If you have any questions about this project (or anything else) please feel free to post in the comments or find my e-mail by clicking on "VIEW MY COMPLETE PROFILE." I'd love to hear from you!

P.S. I tried adding a little bell to the camshaft of the fairy mechanical so there would be a little bit of fairy-music as she rode along on her flying fish. The little bell did not work, but I may yet take the whole thing apart (again) and try a different bell. I'll let you know if it works...


  1. OK. We'll have to make one. Hmmm... maybe Adrian will want to have a fluttering butterfly?

  2. Oh! Adrian will LOVE this and a fluttering butterfly would be perfect...

  3. P.S. If you have a look on Crafty Crow under "What Can You Do With an Egg Carton" there is a project for a caterpillar marionette which is making my heart beat faster... A great project for our caterpillar-crazy boys...

  4. What a darling idea! I love all of the different aspects of development - and that really any age can participate to their level. Cute! Can't wait to try it out... now out to find some boxes... :)

  5. (I'm here from The Crafty Crow.) This is one awesome invention! I am an elementary art teacher and cannot wait to give this a try with my Art Club kids. Wonderful!!!!!!!

  6. My mechanically-minded three-year-old will love trying this out! I think we'll probably go for a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

  7. Pure genius M. Bloom!
    Love it....I have a soft spot for interactives and I can foresee many projects using your method.
    Thanks so much for sharing and the step by step photos..much appreciated.

  8. Hi Summer, Gail, Bellgirl & Snippety Gibbit -- Thanks for visiting and thanks for your comments!!!

    Bellgirl, I'm sure your Tyrannasaurus Rex will be fabulous! Some blogs have a flickr page where guests can post -- but I haven't set that up yet. However, if you're so inclined, please send me a photo!

    Snippety Gibbet -- How marvelous to to be an elementary school art teacher. We have a parent-run art program at my son's school and I was the "lead-docent" for his classroom this year. I got a tiny taste of this "art-teacher" business & I love it! Next week, we're firing some clay projects in our school kiln. If you're interested please check back Wednes. or Thursday -- I'll try to post some photos...

  9. That is awesome... What a cute thing to create with older kids, wonderful.


  10. Welcome, Kathy!

    Bienvenida, Jimena!
    (note: On my most recent birthday I told everyone I was turning 197... It's rare I meet anyone who states their age as older than that!)

  11. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO inspiring! My mind is spinning with ideas!

  12. Clever girl. Rockets are just another step up -

  13. We are going to make one this weekend...with a Viking long boat bobbing in the waves! School project. ya for you and your cleverness and me and my memory x

  14. Hi. Just saw this on Pinterest- I teach after-school art and I think this would be great fun for my students. Thanks for sharing. (Your video doesn't seem to be working.)

  15. I was thinking that probably i'd make a fisherman's figure with a rod in his hand (magnet on the end of the thread), and then he could catch different things from the table :-)


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