For a recent Cub camp, a leader wanted to run an activity (or "base") making plaster casts of animal tracks.
Unfortunately, the camp site is so well-used that the few animal tracks we get on the site tend to be quickly trampled down by hundreds of size three trainers, so I decided to provide some predictable tracks for the Cubs to cast.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
I made these from scrap wood (pine, about 21mm thick), using a scroll saw, glue, a sharp knife and a rotary tool with a sanding bit and the "dentist burr" bit.
To actually leave tracks, you need a mallet or a firm footstep.
Step 2: Select Your Animals
Getting your tracks is easy, thanks to the internet.
I chose to make a badger and a small deer, since I know they are living in the area, so there is a (small) chance that they would actually wander through the camp
You can, er, print your prints and draw around them onto your timber, or you can draw them free-hand from your Googled images. The exact size and shape are not vital, because (a) animals grow and (b) soil doesn't carry details perfectly.
Step 3: Making the Deer Track
However you draw the design, you need to cut out the "pads".
I used my scroll saw, but most small hand saws can do it. You could show off and use a laser cutter.
When you have the pads cut out, glue them to another piece of timber, clamping if necessary.
The deer is easy, since they are actually hooves. I cut out the shape, slightly rounded off the edges with a sander, and glued the two parts to another piece of pine.
These are going to take a beating in use, so use plenty of wood-glue and clamp it firmly to dry.
Step 4: Making the Badger Track
The badger print is more complex, with six separate pads and claws, so it needs a slightly different approach.
I cut the print out in one piece, cutting between the toes to make a sort of claw/glove shape.
I then removed some of the wood between the pads with a sharp knife. It wasn't too difficult, but it would have been easier with proper chisels. I then tidied up the ragged gouges by whizzing around with the dental burr, and then domed the pads slightly with the sanding bit.
You may have noticed in the photos that the claws dissappear. As I removed wood from between one of the claws and the pad, the claw snapped clean off. I guess that, with the hammering the finished item will get, the other claws wouldn't last long, so I cut them off anyway. It's not a real problem, since the small claw tips often don't show up in ordinary soil.
As with the hoof print, I glued and clamped the paw print to another piece of pine.
For both prints, I also slightly rounded off the corners of the pine blocks with the sanding bit to make them slightly more pleasant to handle.
Step 5: Using the Tracks
The tracks are easy to use - place on the ground, then either hit them wuth a mallet or press down with a firm footstep.
Remember that they will not work in baked-hard earth - all you'll do is splinter the wood.
To make casts of the tracks, build a small cardboard wall around the track, and pour your plaster mixture gently into the track. Give the plaster time to set, then gently lift it out of the track and brush off any soil sticking to it.
If you are doing this as a group activity, make sure you label the cast with the child's name, maybe by scratching initials into the plaster as it sets.
If you don't want to use these to make tracks in the wood, they make nice display plaques, and if you work with older children (Scouts, youth groups etc, then you could make these as a craft activity themselves.