Introduction: Animatronic Fire Breathing Paper Dragon

About: Just an average guy. husband, father of four, grandpa, civil engineer turned cabinetmaker, jack of all trades master of a few. Enjoys, golf, curling, woodworking, creativity & making things.

Animatronics have interested me since I was a kid, and because paper can be easily transformed into so many things, It makes a great medium to create these mechanical wonders.

I've had this idea floating around in my head for some time. It just took me quite awhile to figure out how to get the gears to work in order to make a paper dragon, move, fly and breathe fire all at the same time. Well, turns out that was the easy part, crafting the paper dragon itself turned out to be the real challenge. I finally did it and I hope you enjoy this Instructable!

Please keep in mind that for the most part I made this up as I went along! I'm going to try my best to explain my process, following the photos will give you a clearer understanding. If you have any questions please feel free to ask me in your comments.


  • card stock for the body and head ( a dark green file folder )
  • heavy cardboard for the gears and bearing supports ( old Purdy's chocolate box )
  • orange kite paper for the wings and horns
  • black writing paper for the bearings, wings, rods and tubes
  • colored paper for the fire and eyes
  • bamboo skewers for the rods wing rods
  • small piece of rubber coated wire with the wire removed (rubber tubing ) for connecting bamboo skewers together ( universal joints )
  • bamboo toothpicks for the gears
  • white glue
  • two 12'' long zap straps for the fire and tail
  • two part spray activated crazy glue
  • cotton cord for the spine of the dragon and drive gear
  • small spring paper clips
  • small piece of wood for the base
  • tools, olfa knife, compass, compass point, 1/16'' hole punch, sandpaper, black felt marker
  • patience and a lot time on your hands!!!

Step 1: Head

Draw out the head on the back of the cardstock, cut along the redlines and use something to crease the cardboard along the black lines ( I used a dull screw driver and a straight edge ).

Fold the cardboard along the lines and glue the two tabs at the back of the head to hold the shape.

Repeat the same procedure for the jaw. Cut a hole in the back of the jaw tab and the back of the head to allow a black tube for the fire to pass thru. Glue the jaw and head together.

Note: In step 3 I will show how the black tube and bearings are made.

Step 2: Body

For tail section of the body use the same card stock as the head ( legal size file folder ) . Lay out as per ( pic #1 ) using a compass, 7/8'' spacing and a 6 1/8'' radius. Cut your card stock into the curved strips, then starting with the smallest one fold around a pencil and glue the ends together.

Glue the next one around the first one but be careful to only glue where the two pieces do not overlap repeat the steps until you have them all glued. Now on each piece you can cut the splines on the back as per photos.

Repeat the whole process for the neck section but start with the larger piece first and work your way to the smallest.

Take your cotton cord and carefully glue it one section at a time on the inside of the body, this will act as a spine and allow it to move and bend. Once you have the whole body together glue and fix the five center pieces together to act as the body of the dragon.

Step 3: Bearings and Shafts

All the bearings are made by rolling black writing paper around the paper straws.

To make the bearings that fit around the paper straw shafts, first wrap a small bit of tin foil around the straw ( the tinfoil allows a bit of clearance for the paper straw shaft ), then proceed to wrap the paper tightly around the tin foil while running a small bead of white glue along the leading edge as you roll the black paper. Continue to apply small beads of glue as you roll trying to maintain a wet edge as you roll.

Once you finish rolling the paper pull the straw and tinfoil out. You can speed up the drying process by placing the straw in the microwave for 15 -20 seconds. Note- the tinfoil does not go in the microwave.

The smaller shafts and other pieces were made using this same process but wrapped around different sized items ( like the bamboo skewers )

Step 4: Legs

For the legs I start by drawing the the shape of the legs, only using straight lines, then add tabs that can be folded together and glue giving the legs a three dimensional effect.

Once the legs are all glued together, trim and cut the tabs to fit the curvature of the body and glue in place.

Step 5: Wings

Draw out your wings to scale on a piece of paper. The bones of the wing are made by taking strips of black writing paper and rolling it into a taper cone using white glue as you roll.

While the glue is still wet you can curve them to match your drawing, remember you're making two wings so you need two of each of the pieces.

And, like the bearing straws, these can be put in the microwave for a few seconds to speed up drying.

Because the wings have to move I made hinges for the wing bones to attach to.

Once all the wing bones have dried is just a matter of cutting them ( I used an olfa knife ) to match your drawing and glue together using the crazy glue, be carful not to glue your hinge pins.

To attach the kite paper to the wing run a small bead of white glue to the bottom of the wing bone and press the paper to the wing. After the glue is dry use a black felt pen on the paper to color in the wing bones.

Step 6: Sprockets, Gears ,pullies

The concept of the gears came from what you would find in a old Dutch windmill. For the gears to work the spacing between teeth must all be the same, regardless of the sprocket diameter.

To get the equal spacing I used a compass point set to 1/4''to mark around each circle. I determined the exact diameter needed to have equal spacing by trial and error, I know there's a mathematical way to figure this out but I went old school. On a piece of paper I drew a circle and then using the compass points I would make my way around the circle to see if my spacing worked out, if not I adjusted the size of the circle until getting it to work out equally.

Once you you have the diameter and spacing worked out transfer those to your thick cardboard and cut the circle out. Using your 1/16'' hand punch go around the circle, punching all the holes for accommodate 1/2'' pieces of tooth picks to go thru.

Leave 1/4'' of tooth pick on one side ( drive side ) and glue the exposed toothpick on the back side.

For the bearing supports cut several strips of thick cardboard and fold into triangles an glue sections of bearings to the ends.

Now its just a matter of installing your paper straws.( main shaft ) thru your bearing supports, putting the small sprockets on ( glue to the main shaft ) and then position and gluing your bearing supports to the solid base.

For the hand crank pullies cut a 1/4'' wide section of a cardboard tube ( inside of a masking tape and toilet roll ) and then glue it between to round discs, 3/8'' larger in diameter the cardboard tube. The belt was made from the cotton cord with the two ends crazy glued together.

The belt is in a figured eight because it grabs the pulleys better and I wanted to change the rotation of the crank handle.

Step 7: Mechanics

The dragon is supported on a vertical main shaft with a pivot hinge at the top and glued to the belly of the dragon between its front legs. A smaller hinged shaft is connected to the main vertical shaft and under the neck of the dragon. This smaller shaft causes the head to lift and dip as the body pivots.

The drive mechanism consists of one long main shaft with 3 small gears and a large drive pully on the end.

Two of the small gears drive the two medium size sprockets attached to crankshafts which move the wings.

The third small gear drives a large gear attached to a crankshaft arm which drives a zap strap back and forth through the body of the dragon to the mouth, which is attached to the paper fire.

The large pully on the end is driven by a secondary smaller pully with a hand crank arm. The two pullies are connected by a cotton cord belt.

The wings are connected to the crank shaft with bamboo skewers that have two small pieces of rubber hose on each end to act as a universal joint.

Step 8: Finishing

The eyes are cut from yellow construction paper and the horns are made from rolled up pieces of kite paper (the same process as the bones in the wings).

The fire is a piece of orange paper brushed with a red felt marker, it has a series of cuts ( 1/16'' wide strips cut to 3/4'' from the end ). the strip is rolled around a tooth pic and glued in the same manner as the other paper straws. Remove toothpick and the end will fit over the pointy end of the zap strap passing thru mouth and body.

Step 9: Conclusion

This project took a fair amount of time to complete, mostly due to there being a decent amount of trial and error, with the latter being the highest number! My hope that if you decide try something like this that some of my techniques will make it easier for your projects.

Hope you enjoyed the short video and the cameo appearance of our dog Kobe at the end.

Cheers : )

Paper Challenge

Grand Prize in the
Paper Challenge