We have been playing around with linkages the last few weeks in Maker Space, and have gotten a few questions from families about how they could make their own. It turns out that linkages are a wonderful activity for tinkering at home because they are so easy to make with simple, easily accessible materials.

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The first thing you will need is cardboard, as much as you can get. We recommend re-using cardboard boxes from online purchases or pizza deliveries. Then you will need to get a few tools: a box cutter (a grown up to lend a hand), something to cut on like a cutting mat (or even another piece of cardboard), a ruler and pencil.

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Measure out 1.25 inch strips on your cardboard and start cutting! Your strips dont have to be perfect, so just focus on using that box cutter correctly (cut across from yourself, not towards!).

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As a side note, cardboard has corrugation (those waves between the top and bottom of the cardboard sheet) and we have found that our cardboard linkages are stronger when we cut down with the waves instead of across them. You do not have to cut with the corrugation though!  Your linkages will work fine either way you make them.

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Then you are going to want to punch some holes in your strips. Generally, we just punch the holes where and when we need them, but you can pre-punch holes if you are working with younger makers. Don’t worry about making the holes uniform or evenly spaced, we actually think linkages look better when they are asymmetrical. To create the holes we use an awl, but really any sharp pointy object will work, like a sharpened pencil, a screwdriver, or a cheap pen. To punch the holes safely we put a piece of foam underneath the cardboard so kids don’t have to worry about poking their hands or the tables. You could also use sponges or big stiff bristled brushes.

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The last piece of the puzzle is brass fasteners or brads. You can buy these online, or from any office supply, art, or stationary store in a variety of sizes. We recommend 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, or 1 inch.

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Now we are ready to create some linkages! To start making the simplest linkage, an “X”, put a brass fastener through the holes in two cardboard strips and fold the legs out to secure it in place. Repeat this two more times and then connect your X’s end to end. Moving the first two links will cause a chain reaction causing all the other links to move too!

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After that try and experiment with squares, and asymmetrical linkages. By adding some simple crafting supplies like scissors, markers, colorful paper, and tape you can create fun mechanical toys ranging from grabber-arms to beautiful butterflies.

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For more inspiration check out the Tinkering Studio and the Moving Toys Workshop.