Introduction: DIY Paper Stomp Rockets

About: Educator, designer, maker of things

Being at home in quarantine has its challenges. For me, the biggest has been preventing inevitable boredom....and I am an adult........imagine if I was five? While I do not have kids of my own, my neighbors have been trying to find new and exciting off-screen activities to do with their whole family at home. After getting some inspiration from the Instructables' puzzle and game contest, I thought a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon would be to build and launch rockets.
However, my awesome and professionally made rocket launcher was locked away in my maker space classroom. After some brainstorming, I thought of a pretty easy way to put together some PVC scraps, random fittings, and duct tape to build a DIY launcher for hand-made paper rockets.

This project was a lot of fun for the whole family, I hope you enjoy it too!

Step 1: Launcher Construction: Tools and Materials

There are probably endless ways to put a very similar launcher together, but I was trying to work with some scraps I had laying around and this design worked out pretty well. The materials I used are:

  • 24" of 1/2" PVC pipe
  • 24" of 3/4" PVC pipe
  • 1/2" to 1/2" PVC 45 degree elbow
  • 1/2" to 3/4" threaded PVC adapter
  • 3/4" to 3/4" threaded PVC coupling
  • Two 3/4" PVC cross coupling
  • 2L soda bottle
  • Duct Tape
  • Hot Glue

The tools I used are:

  • Ratcheting PVC Cutting Shears
  • Tape Measure
  • Sharpie
  • Hot Glue Gun

This whole thing could have been assembled with PVC bonding glue, or probably just pressed together and taped. I used hot glue because it gave me the chance to pull things apart if I didn't like how it was going but still secured it all together enough to stomp on.

Step 2: Launcher Construction: PVC Sections

The first part of constructing the base was to use the cutting shears to cut the PVC pipes into six sections. Measure, mark, and cut two 12" sections from the 1/2" PVC pipe. Measure and mark four 6" sections from the 3/4" pipe.

Install the 3/4" sections into the two cross couplers, two sections per coupler. I used hot glue to secure the PVC in place and to stop the sections from rotating around. This will form the legs for the launcher. Because the coupler is thicker than the sections, the sections will not actually touch the ground evenly. Rip about 6' of duct tape and wrap the end of the sections to form padded feet on all four sections.

Step 3: Launcher Construction: Launching Chamber

On one of your 12" sections of 1/2" pipe, place a mark 2" and 8" inches from one end. Wrap these two sections with about 4' of duct tape to make the 1/2" section fit snugly through the 3/4" couplers. The diameter of these sections should be about 3/4" to 7/8" thick. Put some hot glue over the duct tape and slide the two couplers onto the 1/2" section.

On one end of this section, attach the 1/2" to 3/4" threaded PVC adapter and attach the 45 degree elbow to the other. Ensure the elbow is pointed up and away from the end with the threaded adapter. Install the other 12" section of 1/2" pipe into the elbow.

The non-threaded side of the 3/4" to 3/4" threaded coupler will fit snuggly around the threads of the 2L bottle. You can secure this in place using some hot glue and duct tape. After securing the coupler to the bottle, the bottle will be able to thread onto the launching chamber to complete the launcher construction.

Step 4: Everything Looks Cooler With Flames!

After constructing the launcher, I sprayed a quick coat of paint to give it a more finished look. Before spraying, I taped off the area where the rocket will be launching from and where the bottle will thread on. The pipe that the rocket launches from needs to have minimal friction, bare PVC is ideal.

I then free-handed some sweet flames with a paint marker and added some color coordinated trim with red electrical tape.

Step 5: Rocket Construction

This step was really fun and my neighbor's kids loved it! Using construction paper, scissors, tape, and some hot glue, everyone got to design their own rocket. The design is probably endless with fin and nose cone combinations, but we used this general method to build:

  1. Roll a piece of construction paper into a cylinder that fits snug over the 1/2" PVC pipe
  2. Tape the cylinder in place, don't use too much, you want this to be light weight!
  3. Cut out a paper circle, then cut a slit that is cut from one edge to the center (radius), twist and fold this piece into a cone, tape to secure
  4. Use a dab of hot glue to secure the cone to the cylinder
  5. Cut out however many fins you would like, use a dab of hot glue to secure the fins to the fuselage
  6. And of course, go nuts with the washable markers because stripes and flames make the rocket go faster!

Step 6: Blast Off!

I wasn't too sure how far the rockets would go, or even how long the 2L bottle would last. I was a little nervous before our first launch after promising these kids awesome rocket launches and spending 20 minutes making rockets.

But we were pleasantly surprised! The rockets went about 20-30 feet in the air and about the same in distance! The kids had a lot of fun running, getting some air, and stomping on the bottle which held up for about 30 launches with no problem.

In between launches, unscrew the bottle and blow air into it to re inflate. Then screw the bottle back on and stomp to launch again. If you were to use a smaller 16 oz or 1L bottle, this launcher would probably work pretty well indoors.....though I have not tested that theory.

Step 7: Conclusion

This project started as a whim but turned out to be a lot of fun. I personally haven't constructed a simple DIY contraption like this for a while and it was really nice to go back to basics with such easy and fun results. Added bonus, the kids and parents loved it as well! I think this launcher and rocket project will be the activity of choice over the next few sunny afternoons for sure.

Thanks for reading, happy making!

Toys and Games Challenge

Second Prize in the
Toys and Games Challenge