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Why build a giant dinosaur? Kids – and adults – love ‘em. And nothing else spruces up a dinosaur-themed birthday party than a giant wood dinosaur. The best part: you can build your own for around $150 and a little sweat. It’s time to break out your tools for something whimsical. Read on past the jump to learn how to build your own giant dino.

Obtaining Your “Plans”

A number of publishers – including Fox Chapel – offer plans for small, scroll-saw-project dinosaurs, generally ranging from two feet to four feet in length. If you run across one of these plan sets that you like, that’s a great place to start. But there’s an easier, closer, and more educational place to find plans: your local museum. Take a quick trip, check out the exhibits, then buy your favorite balsa-wood dino from the gift shop.


Once you’re home, put him together and enjoy. Then take him back apart, lay the pieces out on paper, and trace ‘em. Instant plans!Making Your Dino BIG

Obviously you’ll need to scale the plans up, and you have a few options depending on what equipment you can find. If you have access to a video projector – this is a great way to re-purpose the one at work, feeing it from Power Point however briefly – you can scan the plans and project them on the wall.

But there’s a cheaper alternative: and Artograph projector. Think of the Artograph as a a smaller, less expensive version of the “opaque projectors” schools use. They’re available at most hobby stores as well as online, and range in price from $10 to around $60. (More expensive models are available, but why splurge?)

Of course, you can also watch school auctions (and eBay) for used opaque projectors.

Once you have your projector set up, you’ll want to make sure that the image you’re projecting isn’t warped via keystoning or a poor-quality lens. The easiest way to check is to draw a square with whatever draw program you have on your computer, then print it, stick it under the projector, and shoot it up onto the wall. Measure the diagonals from corner to corner, and they should be identical. If they’re not, you’ll want to adjust your projector until they are.

Next tape some large butcher paper or poster board to the wall. Drop your dino plans into the projector and zoom it (or move it forwards or backwards if there’s no zoom function) until the plans fit onto your paper.

Note: Keep in mind that the largest piece of your dino should fit on a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood. It’s very difficult to find larger plywood stock.


Then simply trace the parts onto the paper. Swap out paper as needed. Be sure to label each part as this will simplify assembly later! Finally, cut out each part with scissors.

Buying Plywood

You’ll want to select the proper width of plywood to match the size of your dinosaur. We found that 1/4″ plywood works well for dinosaurs up to around 4’ (longest dimension). Up to around 10’ you can use 1/2″, and for larger dinos – like our 18-1/2” model – require 3/4″. For giant dinos, you can either double-up 3/4″ with fasteners or search for 1-1/8” ply, which is often used by builders for flooring or high-end sheathing.


For our model, we selected 3/4″ CDX plywood. Plywood is rated A, B, C, or D, with A being the smoothest and D being the roughest. You can also buy veneered plywood, though it’s quite expensive and overkill for this project. We suggest either CD – which means one side is rated C and the other D – or BC for this project. Expect to pay around $25 to $30 a sheet. If it costs more, you’ve probably picked up something of higher quality. Look around and you can save a few bucks.

Plywood comes in 4’ x 8’ sheets, so lay out your traced and cut pieces to get an idea of how much you’ll need. For example, our dino required four sheets.

Building Your Dino

Lay your plywood out on the ground and arrange your cutouts on sheets. Trace them onto the sheet with a black marker or carpenter’s pencil. Pay close attention to the slots that join the pieces together. If they’re larger than the thickness of your plywood, adjust them to the same size as the ply.


Use a jigsaw to cut out the pieces, labeling them with pencil for easy assembly later.


Assembling Your Dino

If you traced a museum dino, you’ll have less trouble assembling yours since you’ll have the smaller one as a model. Either way, you’ll want to assure that the slots fit together firmly.


They should require a little “help” from a rubber mallet if they’re fit correctly. You may need to pull out the jigsaw to adjust the slots on the fly.

Packing and Storing

One of the most fun parts about this project is that it keeps on giving: you can disassemble your dino and stash him in an attic, closet, or garage. You can even take him to the park or to events. Ours easily fits in the back of a truck.


25 Responses to How To: Build A Giant Dinosaur

  1. Henry says:

    You could definitely use an overhead projector (transmissive, not an opaque projector) if you had reference parts from a balsa dinosaur. Would definitely be easier to find at school sales etc, and would make a much brighter and clearer image than a 10 dollar opaque projector…

    just a thought.

    • steffanie says:

      Dear henry could you please tell me if there are other websites available for making other dinosaurs because this did not help me at all. Please tell me asap.


      • steffanie says:

        can you make sure the websites are things that that you cut out pieces and then assemble it together. Can you please blog them on this website?
        thanks again, steffanie

  2. David says:

    Cool idea, right?




    Dino Fest

    I got three more puzzles at Harbor Freight a couple of weeks ago. Gonna do a Brontosaurus this summer!


  3. Chuck Cage says:

    Henry: Absolutely! There are dozens of ways to project the parts and we encourage you to use whatever method you have handy or can find inexpensively.

  4. Scott says:

    you should put this project on intructables!

  5. mike t says:

    pimp it out with some hydraulics.

  6. mike t says:

    er i meant pneumatics.

  7. Chris Farley says:

    I have a hard time tracing patterns this way, so I built a one-foot long compass. Get a foot long 1×2 and rip it in half and drill a hole in the end of each. Use a wing nut to connect them – one that sticks out about half an inch past the nut. Put a pencil in one end hole and something pointy to trace with in the other. I made two different sizes and put in multiple holes for varying scale-ups. It is hard to use the bigger one when I try to use the holes in the middle. When you use it, the wing-nut, pencil and pointy thing should all stick out about the same amount to make a nice triangle base.

    This works great with my computer – I use a basic drawing program, print it, size it up and there’s my pattern!

  8. Hamilton says:

    This is genius. Sheer, unadulterated genius. They make everything with these kits: Dinosaurs, dragons, snakes, spiders, scorpions, eagles, human skeletons, tanks. The scaling probably wouldn’t pan out on some of those, but who doesn’t want a nine-foot wooden spider or a life-size Deinonychus in their front yard?

    So awesome. Such an awesome idea.

  9. BLUE BEAR says:

    We did this with a triceretops in college and reinforced the ribcage to hold a keg. The middle horn on the head was the tap. Definately not to OSHA standards but the chicks dug it. Hadn’t thought about that for a long time.

  10. rohanknitter says:

    So cool!
    So is this dino from you guys at Maker Faire? Happened across it on a blog I read and remembered Sean saying something about dinosaurs…..

    (scroll down for Maker Faire pics)

  11. Patrick says:

    Cripes. What a day to quit my job teaching kids woodworking. Hellova fun lookin’ project.

  12. Wesley Oman says:

    Well done, sir! Well, done!

  13. sumidh says:

    can u send me this all separate peaces in some deawing file

  14. Terry says:

    You’re kidding me!
    I’ve totally done this. I was about to do a blog post on it and wanted to find a picture of a balsa dinosaur kit to use or reference.

    It was for the high school play, back in probably 92 or 93… they were doing Our Town, and there’s a scene where a dinosaur skeleton collapses. Everyone was stumped on what to do, so I suggested an enlargement of a balsa dinosaur, made from massive cardboard. They had some triple-ply stuff to build sets out of. It was nearly an inch thick, and worked really well for the first show.

    Unfortunately, the collapse scene didn’t go gracefully, and the thing was in need of serious repair before the second show.

    This is awesome!

  15. Daniel says:

    Why even bother with the lage paper? Can’t you just get an extension cord for the projector to project the enlarged images directly onto the plywood? It would save a step in the process, and it would save having to get large size paper if you haven’t already got it.

    Just a thought.

    Another thought: paint job? A good coat of white or gray could work wonders for the “wow factor” effect. Just be careful about the joints.

    Cool project!

  16. Kimo says:

    I did this for a museum that I worked at. Built a Parasaurolophus starting with a small model. It stood about 20′ at the shoulder. We had to use three thicknesses of plywood for the upper and lower spine sections, with the joints offset and a channel cut into the center layer for an angle-iron stiffener. It rested on the feet (anchored into concrete), a pipe brace, and the two hands connected to the top of a wall.

    The model came with a paper that showed the two sheets of parts. I scanned that, scaled it up, and used a standard printer to make a “poster print” (tiles) that could be put together for the pattern.

    We also built a plesiosaur that measured about 12′ long. For the smaller size, I simply scanned the two sheets from the instructions and then scaled the image up to fit on a 4×8 sheet of plywwod.

  17. christie says:

    YES! I said I wanted to build a dinosaur with my kids this summer and set out to find out how. They are going to be sooooo excited. Thank you!

  18. Nico says:

    Great work! Thank you for posting. Do you happen to know what this type of slatted wood joining technique is called?

  19. Nicole Smith says:

    Hey, I came across your awesome giant dinosaur and wanted to reach out! I am a community management assistant at Instructables.com.  We’re an online project sharing website with over 60k user-submitted projects, documented step-by-step with photos, videos, and descriptive text.  I would be happy to feature it on our site if you decide to post the instructions there and help get it noticed among out 13 million visitors. Let me know if you have any questions about it.

    I look forward to hearing from you!


  20. PierreM-M says:

    Is there any chance of either the plans or a complete pic of the parts being posted please? 🙂

  21. wayne smiddy says:

    i have to learn how to make dinosours

  22. Jack Waszmer says:

    I made a 6ft pterodactyl with my 7th grade science class. Made it out of styrofoam panels sold at Home Depot. Put pieces of small wooden model on overhead projector and enlarged the pieces to the size I wanted. Came out incredible and is still hanging in the classroom I taught in even though I retired 11 years ago.

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