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.
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.