Introduction: 3D Printed Push Puppet Named Eeps

About: I'm a teacher (physics, grades 7 to 10), Maker and product designer. (Check out full of experiments, projects for Maker Education and kits for Bibberbeests!). Besides that, I write childre…
July 9th: Eeps the pushpuppet got featured on Thingiverse :-D

Push puppets are around as long as I can remember and I've always loved the simple yet smart, funny and inspiring little toys.

Making push puppets has been on my mind for quite a while, but somehow I never got to it. Until now. Until a MakerBot Replicator 2 appeared on my desktop (literally!). Alas, the machine is not mine and I can use it just for a couple of weeks, so I had to move fast. After printing Yoda, my name and a key ring holder for my daughter, I set to work.

I have some, but ancient, experience with 3D modeling (from the '90s!! I'm getting old). The 3d shapes that make the push puppets parts are pretty basic, and so are the operations on the shapes. I used Rhinoceros to create the parts, but they should be easy to remake in other apps (like 123D Design, Blender, etc.).

You can approach this Instructable in two ways:
  • Make the push puppet with the parts (that is, files) and how-to provided in the steps.
  • If you're comfy with 3D modeling apps: Make your very own custom designed push puppet. Use the Rhino-files as a template, and do your thing from there. There's a step with tips and tricks for modeling. Of course, sharing your design files in the comments, as a separate Instructable or on Thingiverse is highly appreciated :-)

Step 1: Stuff 'n Tools - Reverse Engineer a Collapsing Donkey Toy

  • 1 spring, 12mm diameter, 28mm height (unloaded). The easiest way to get a usable spring is to harvest it from a push puppet. Donkey let me use his :-). I bought Donkey for €2,- at a "wooden toy store" *) 
  • 1 meter of woven rope. It should be thin, supple, smooth and non-elastic. I bought it at an upholstery store. It's polyester rope used for raising curtains.
  • The 3d-printed parts (printfile in step 3).

  • Putty knife or a sharp knife
  • Small files or 400 grit sanding paper
  • The 3D printed Push Puppet mounting tool (printfile in step 3).
  • Something thin and pointy to push the cord through some beads. I used the tip of a pencil.
Allright, it's a bit silly to take apart a push puppet to get the parts to build one. But you'll learn a lot about the working of push puppets and that will help you when making your own. 

*) It's a mystery to me how Donkey can be sold for only €2,-, including margins for the shop and the manufacturer. But that is of no relevance here...

Step 2: 3D Print the Parts

The print files are included in this step. Every zip-file contains a printable STL-file and an editable Rhino file. If you need a different kind of file type that Rhino can provide, drop me a line. I'll add them to this step.

I printed the parts from MakerBot's MakerWare printer driver. Included are some screenshots with settings that worked for me.

I printed all parts with transparant PLA filament. You on the other hand can use any type of filament you like, but you might need to adapt some printer settings.

I set the layer thickness to the MakerBot's minimum of 0.10mm. This increases the printer time vastly, but the results are much better. 

I strongly recommend printing on "rafts". The raft is easy to remove from the base plate and the parts are easily removable from the raft. None of the models needed a structure beneath overhanging parts.

Printing all the files takes some time. The base and the beads take the longest, about 2 hours 15 minutes for each file. The other parts print within one hour. Reckon two evenings for printing all the parts.

Step 3: Making Eeps the Push Puppet - Step 1

Prepare the printed parts
Remove the parts from the raft carefully. Most parts can be removed bij hand, but some might need the help of a putty knife or xacto knife.

Finish the parts using small files or sanding paper. Check the beads' holes for thin filament threads. Remove the threads with a small diameter round file. 

Step 4: Making Eeps the Push Puppet - Step 2

Once you have the printed parts, the making of the push puppet is an extremely rewarding 10 minute job. It's easiest explained by the video (10 minutes crammed into to 2 min. 30 secs :-)). You'll see me making the push puppet in the main image...

If you like to have some kind of printed manual lying around while making the push puppet, here's a step-by-step.
Take a close look at the pictures and the captions that go by them.

Making the base:
The base consists of three parts and the two ropes.

With pictures 2 through 5:
  • Cut two pieces of rope, each about 60 cm long. 
  • Use a lighter to melt the fraying together into a decent solid ending (the ropes' fraying endings make it hard to get the ropes through the holes).
  • Stick one rope through two holes in the push button that are close together. Use a shart pencil to wriggle the rope through the second hole.
  • Do the same with the second rope and the other pair of holes in the base's pushbutton.
With pictures 6 through 11:
  • Stick the four rope endings through the holes in the base's "floor", opposite to the pushbutton's holes. Make sure that the ropes do not cross eachother.
  • Lay the pushbutton flat on the table and put the spring over the cylinder in the center.
  • Pick up the protrusive rope endings and gently put the base over the pushbutton with the spring. Make sure that the spring gets clamped and centered between the cilinders on pushbutton and the inside of the base's "ceiling".
  • Now lift the entire base from the table holding the ropes (pic 11).

With picture 12:
  • Turn over the base. Now clamp the tool's little hooks over the base's rim, while squeezing the spring inside the base. The spring is now loaded and remains so, until you remove the tool again.


Step 5: Making Eeps the Push Puppet - Step 3

Hind legs, body and tail
Thanks to the clamping tool just mounted under the base, stringing beads to make a push puppet is now a breeze.
Build up the puppet, feet first. Start with the hind legs and the body.
  • Stick each of the rope's endings through a hole in the body's rear end and push them through. Both ropes come out through the same hole on top of the back.
  • To make the tail, string beads over both rope endings.

Finish the tail with an "ending bead" (pics 4, 5 and 6)
  1. String an ending bead over one end of the cord.
  2. Push the second end of the rope through the ending bead with a sharp pencil.
  3. Tie the rope's endings together with a tight "double knot" (for the Dutch: dubbele knup :-)). The knot should be thick enough not to slip through the ending bead's hole. Make sure you put some tension on the rope when making the knot. The push puppet stands up because of the tension in the cord, provided by the spring.
Front legs, neck and head:
It's exactly the same procedure as the hind legs. So repeat steps 1, 2 and 3.

Final step:
Until now, the spring in the base was pushed in by the clamping tool. Now it's time to remove the tool, thereby releasing the spring. Because the beads are now locked in between the base's floor and the ending beads, the spring will pull tight the ropes. And that's what makes your push puppet stand up straight!

So, release the clamping tool from the bottom of the base. Your puppet should straighten up. Push the base's bottom, and your push puppet is alive. Congrats, you're done!

One more thing... Get crafty on that push puppet!
I didn't have time to do it yet, but of course you can decorate the push puppet any way you like. Paint it, give it googly eyes, add wings, do whatever you like. I'd love to see your makings in the comments.

Step 6: Call for Puppet Makers and 3D Modelers...

While making this Instructable, I bumped into my own limitations as a 3D modeler. To get to finish the project, I restrained my modeling options to the basics, using not more than:
  • Primary 3D shapes
  • Boolean operations
  • Drawing curves
  • Applying only extrusions and revolves to get from 2D to 3D
That's only the top of Rhino's iceberg of features and I'm planning to learn a lot more about it.

If you like this project and want to make your own 3D printed push puppet, please please please do so! It would be great to see the world flooded with all kinds of custom printed push puppets :-).

Here are some tips for a mechanically sound push puppet:
  • The holes in the beads are 3mm diameter.
  • To get the rope smoothly through the Y-shaped holes in the body, a diameter of 4 mm is needed.
  • Filleting the beads edges helps to make the puppet collapse gently. Yet, it's not necessary.
  • A lot of the puppet's movement depends on the strength of the preloaded spring. I obtained the height of the tool by trial and error (I printed 4 versions of it)
  • The ending beads can be used to tie two rope endings together. It would be great to have an ending bead that can clamp one ending to a strain of beads. That way, push puppets with two heads or tails can be made.
Feature request: a 3D printed spring
The spring I used is hard to come by (exept if you're willing to kill a push puppet in order to make one). It would be a big improvement if the spring could be printed as well. If you're reading this and have experience with printing spring-like parts, please drop me a line.

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