Picture of Building Machines From Paperclips

Several months ago I awoke one morning with an idea for a project. I had gone to bed thinking about a presentation I am going to make to a group of middle and high school technology teachers in a couple of months. I wanted to come up with a simple and inexpensive projects they could use to teach their students some aspect of technology and hopefully inspire their creativity. During the night I dreamed of making machines out of paperclips and this project was born. As for the cost of this project - the wood and paperclips cost me 37 cents.

I already had several projects I was working on at the time so I thought about the idea for a couple of months before I actually sat down with a box of paperclips and started trying to make a machine. During those months I figured out the design and process for making the machine parts and a way to assemble them. I found that I only needed a few items and tools to get started. I found the process to be easy. Paperclip machines are interesting to design and build, and fun to operate when finished. I think the sculptural form of these machines take on an artistic element as well.

For educators this project is a great way to teach students the physics of mechanical machines including cranks, levers, fulcrum points, rotary and linear motion all while stirring their curiosity and developing their mechanical aptitude. In PLTW: this could go under Modeling and Design as a miniature working model or as a machine prototype in manufacturing or structural systems. It could also go under the Power/Energy section. In STEM: it could go under nearly all of the categories. Many thanks to dauphin 1974 who shared a link to a project called FAT Friday at MIT. In that program groups and individuals build machines and then link them together in a row to create a chain reaction. I would think it would be pretty simple to come up with a way to do something similar with paperclip machines. That would allow a whole class of students to each build their own paperclip machine and then link them all together to create a chain reaction.

PS - If I win the Grand Prize in the Shop Bot Contest - and I sure hope I do - I will use it to make proto boards for this project and others for middle and high school students in the STEM program.

Here is a video of the paperclip machine I built.





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samjohn1 year ago
goyo811 year ago
I love this project, so I tried it with my 8th grade students last year. Many of them ended up exasperated, because they'd made their parts the wrong size and they didn't function together well. It might be helpful to take a picture of the parts laid out on graph paper so they can see the relative sizes. Thanks for the ingenious use of inexpensive materials!
Thanks!!! Your video is now public...jejeje
Is a great video. congratulations.
Youtube say: "Sorry, this video is private"
Your video is private.... :( then?
biochemtronics (author)  pipejaramillo1 year ago
Not sure why you made that comment. The video is public.
coolest instructable.
Tgwizman1 year ago
This makes me want to walk to the nearest Walmart, buy a pack of paperclips and rubber bands, and make a working miniature bicycle.
Ringer16331 year ago
This looks really great. i love having something to make.
can you help me with the assemblying? I did the parts already
biochemtronics (author)  wooohhhoooo92 years ago
I am sorry but it would be nearly impossible for me to provide detailed assembly instructions here for all of the possible parts configurations. Most of the parts have to be assembled as you make them. A perfect example is the hand crank and the leg stands it is mounted on. You can pre-make the leg stands, but It is simply impossible to get the crank onto the stands after you have bent it. You have to bend the crank as you mount it to the stands. You will just have to experiment with this on your own and figure out your own way of doing it. That is the fun of a project like this. Also, when you finish - it will be your's - and not a copy of someone else's.
oh and can you please name the parts on the completed sculpture picture because i can't figure out which part is which :)
triple-a2 years ago
wow that was awesome!!!
tzq33tdq2 years ago
one word... EPIC!!!!!! this is an awesome, ingenius machine!!! how did you figure it all out?!?!?! EPIC!!!!!
mr.frob2 years ago
Way cool! Now I know how to pass my time at the office!
erechtin2 years ago
We love this project and my daughter has created it for her science expo-can anyone please help us and list the different simple machine components that create the complex machine? I hope we did it right-we think there is a lever and pulley simple machine.
THANKS for this!
I see levers and a wheel and axle (the crank).
Use a motor (optional) and a hand drill. Color it and make it beautiful.
Great design, but a few things you could do with it.

1. You could build a machine to wind up a trebuchet, catapult, etc...

2. You could incorporate batteries into it and make it out of paperclips, batteries, and electical tape.

Those are just a couple ideas.
hrodriguez73 years ago
now ijust have to make one...
Not 'have to', 'can'.
This is really cool :) Thank you for sharing!
amsiladi2 years ago
The soldering idea is interesting. however, I think you could avoid a lot of difficulty by finding a wire with a gauge similar to that of the paperclips you are using. Of course the drawback is that you wouldn't get to say that the machine is made of paperclips.
slithien3 years ago
would i be able to use a block of polystyrene instead of wood for the base?
biochemtronics (author)  slithien3 years ago
Any solid plastic block should work so long as it can hold the pieces firmly and the holes don't become enlarged during operation.
ben_k3 years ago
Great instructable! I made something similar this past summer, but out of forged steel:

Shiseiji3 years ago
I wish I had the imagination to think of things like this, but I am really grateful you share your ideas. Love it. I love automata period, and this can be done sitting in my chair while my significant other watches something I have zero interest in. What a perfect instructabe!

awoodcarver3 years ago
Very nice work .there use to be a mail order company that sold a wire bending jig for making fishing lures going to have to look and see if I still have it around here somewhere and see what I can make ...If I cant find it your instructions are so well written and shown that even I can follow them
Wire bending jig:,7070.html

Metal Forming Plier Set:,7068.html
Tice Co3 years ago
Great instructable! I really liked the fact that to do this project you don't have a lot of startup cost. The only things I had to buy were the paperclips, a plier and a drill bit (spend about 10 euro's). I had a go at it and this is the result:

I found it quite hard to create an original design. I hardly have any technical knowledge, so it was hard to think up new (usable) parts. I ended up copying most of your design. Would be nice to have a list of cranks, levers etc. with instructions on how to assemble them.
SevaKaptur3 years ago
Few times ego i had try make mechanic birb the same way. But you make better than me. Now i'll try again!!
Exocetid3 years ago
This is really good. I am an EE professor and I recognize a great STEM awareness building project when I see one. This could easily be done by middle schoolers.

I could see some refinements: pre-drilled bases and precut wire segments that have had sharp ends smoothed. Other than that, leave all the bending and shaping in.

For HS students, just a bag of clips and a board along with the tools ;-)

Go collegiate and add the soldering idea.

I see competitions!

...again, great idea and execution.
dauphin19743 years ago
Very cute idea. Have you heard about FAT Friday at MIT? ( They have people build small machines and then link them all in a row to create a chain reaction. I've been trying to think of something that would be like that - but was small enough and easy enough for a bunch of 5th graders or cub-scouts to make themselves. This inspires me. Good idea!
biochemtronics (author)  dauphin19743 years ago
Thank you for a great idea. I hope you don't mind, but I put your suggestion and link into step one where hopefully more people can read it.
Sounds like a fine idea - keep up the good work. If I make anything I'll send you pix... :-)
This is AWESOME. I mean it, this is the coolest thing I have seen yet. ;-) My thought was that you could conceivably add a little mannequin-type figure; so that it dances or does something when you turn the crank. Also, couldn't you conceivably use a rubber band(and a stopper to control the speed? I'm just dumb) to wind it up? *headshake* Sorry, it's 4:30 in the morning. Thank you so much for posting this! I agree with the other commenters; like I just told my wife, this is the clearest Instructable I've ever seen. The instructions and videos are SO easy to keep track of... FANTASTIC job.
nachiketa3 years ago
Fantastic ! It's really nice one.
nice machines!i 'd like to make one by my own. thanks for the sharing!
bahnw3 years ago
In college in a power mechanics class our instructor used a similar problem for the design of cams. He gave us a board with a hole randomly placed and 2 x's on the top of the board and 2 on the side of the board. The object was to design a machine that by moving a lever between the two marks on the side would through levers make a wire that would move up and down to push cotton balls into the hole.
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