Introduction: Giant PVC Centipede- 10 Feet of Nightmare Fuel

About: Huur... derrr.

OMG centipedes! I lived in Hawai'i for about six years and I got to know these little horrors really well. When we first moved there we went to look at a really cool A-frame in the mountains above Honolulu. It was my dream house and the rent wasn't too outrageous. We were sold- until it was time to leave. There was a stone wall along one side of the carport and it seemed like there was a ten inch centipede peeking out of every crack. I had never seen giant centipedes before, much less a wall full of them. Needless to say we did not rent that house.

One night I was laying in bed and I heard that tell-tale skitter across the floor. I got the light on just in time to see a centipede scurry under my bed. I spent the next three hours meticulously emptying the room of furniture until I found and killed that centipede. There was no other option.

Centipedes are not just terrifying- they're bite hurts really bad. I was laying in bed one night drifting off to sleep when my thigh started to feel a little warm. I rubbed it and tried to get to sleep but it got worse. Now a spot on my belly was starting to burn and I felt something move across my chest. Before I could squash it the centipede managed to bite me a third time on my chest. What started as a dull burning sensation was now very painful. I applied a tobacco poultice and ice and it eventually stopped hurting enough to get to sleep. The one that bit me was less than an inch long. I can't imagine what a six incher feels like.

I knew a young Samoan guy who grew up playing with centipedes the way I grew up playing with anoles and cane toads. He'd catch them and remove their pinchers and play with them to freak out the tourists. It was hilarious and creepy at the same time.

This project started as something else completely. My sister cleaned out my nephew's rooms and brought me a big box of broken remote control toys. I managed to get a power train and radio working. My plan was to build a remote controlled prop for Halloween. I had recently acquired several pieces of thin walled 4" PVC sewer pipe. This is very light weight and easy to cut. I decided to cut the PVC into segments for a centipede body with a motorized head to drive around when trick-or-treaters came by. I cut the segments and made simple wheels. I attached the drive train to the front and tried it out. It moved very slowly, like a sad, dying centipede. I tried fresh batteries and even removed several segments, but the motor just wasn't strong enough to pull the centipede the way I had hoped. I eventually put it in a box and went on to the next project.

When I saw the PVC contest, I remembered the half completed PVC centipede out in the garage. I decided to turn the centipede into a yard sculpture. I want to mount it high up in one of my oaks in the front yard where most people won't notice it. Shhh... secret centipede.

Step 1: Designing the Centipede

When I approach a design like this I like to break it down into it's component parts. What does it take to build a centipede? This project was inspired by the idea of using PVC pipe to replicate the centipede's body segments. The red centipede above is similar to the one's I encountered in Hawai'i. Notice that the size of the body segments alternates between thin and thick segments. I designed a template for two different sized body segments.

The centipede also has legs, a head, antennae and a tail. I went out to my scrap pile and found some pieces of vinyl lattice. This can be cut down into strips to make legs, antennae and tail. I searched around for a head. I saw a water jug sticking out of the recycling bin and had an Aha! moment. I could cut my centipede head from the convex 'shoulder' of the jug.

I'm going to paint the whole thing with Rustoleum Painter's Choice spray paint. It sticks to PVC and other plastics very well and comes in a good selection of colors. I want my centipede to be a bit darker than the one in the picture so it blends into the tree's canopy a bit better. I'll use black, red, brown and yellow in satin finishes.

Now that it's all planned I can get started.

Step 2: Cutting the Body Segments

I taped the graph paper template design to some scrap plastic film out of a broken flat screen monitor. I cut out the templates with a hobby knife and traced them onto the PVC pieces. I cut them out with a jigsaw and sanded the edges smooth. I marked and drilled the linkage holes. I assembled the body with some reclaimed hardware to test the range of flexibility. Cool!

Step 3: Making the Head

The head was made from a small body segment and a piece of polyethylene plastic from a gallon water jug. See the pics above to see how it's done, but basically I cut an oblong dome shape from the shoulder of the jug and attached it to the small body segment on each side with a short screw and through the linkage hole. I attached it to the body to see how it was coming- pretty cool so far!

Step 4: Making the Legs, Antennae and Tail

I cut the legs from some old white vinyl lattice. The pictures above do a better job of illustrating what I did than words can. I mounted the legs on a board with short screws and traced a smooth contour across the tips. I trimmed and tapered them with a jig saw so they start short at the head and tail and get longer toward the middle. After the legs were rough cut with the jig saw I numbered each piece, removed them from the board and cleaned them up on the bench top belt sander.

I Remounted the legs on the board and screwed it to the edge of my work table. I used a heat gun to bend all the legs on one side at a 90 degree angle. After this cooled and hardened I laid the legs down on the bent side, added a board for support and used the heat gun to bend the other side at a 90 degree angle. I used expedient bench jigs and shims to heat and shape the legs. When they were done I test fit a few to check the flexibility and then put them aside for painting.

The antennae and tail where also cut from strips of vinyl lattice. I used the heat gun to bend the base of the antennas and spread them out a bit.They will be installed later after they're painted.

Step 5: Painting the Centipede

Before I could paint the centipede I had to take everything apart and wipe it down with alcohol to remove dirt and grease. I used various colors of Rustoleum Painter's Choice which sticks well to most plastics. I laid all the body segments bottom side up and painted them all black. I painted the inside of the head at the same time. I also hung the antennae and tail from wire and gave them a coat of black.

I flipped the body segments right-side-up and gave them a light coat of black. I then gave a light coat of the dark red down the middle of the body segments followed by a bit of the cinnamon in the very center. I let this dry a bit and then came back with another thin coat of black, red and cinnamon. I followed this with a bit of splatter in black and cinnamon. I let this dry and then highlighted the edges with black and added red at the 'nub'.

I hung the board with the legs on a piece of wire and painted them black. I added cinnamon about half way down and highlighted the tips with yellow. I let this dry then 'dirtied' the whole thing up with mist and splatter in black.

I added some cinnamon and yellow highlights to the tail and muted it down with black.

Step 6: Assembling the Centipede

I used a screw, a spacer and a nut at each body segment joint to assemble the centipede's body. I cut a slit in the front of the head to accept the antennae and attached them with the front head bolt. I attached the head to the body with a bolt, spacer and nut. I installed the centipede's tail the same way. Ta da- that's a giant centipede!

Step 7: Finishing Touches

I laid the centipede out on my work table and aged it with mists of black spray paint. I also used a cotton swab to blot black paint on all the bolt heads to make them blend into the black around the edge of the body segments. After the paint dried I posed him for some action shots. Tomorrow when the sun is out I'll hang him in the big oak out front and update with pics.

Yay! Giant centipede!

Summer Fun Contest

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Summer Fun Contest

Before and After Contest

Participated in the
Before and After Contest

PVC Challenge

Participated in the
PVC Challenge