How to Build Working Gears From Junkmail and Cardstock




This step by step tutorial will show you how to print, cut out, fold, and construct a gear to get you started building your own papercraft mechanical devices. There is still some small problems with the design, but I'm trying to balance ease of construction with functionality.

You will need:

1. A Laser Cutter or X-Acto Knife.
2. A T-Pin, Straight Pin, or Push Pin at least 5/8" in depth, (regular pushpins are too short and map pins bend too easily).
3. Stiff paper, Brochures and Junkmail like Restaurant Menus are a good choice as long as they fit into whatever printer you're using.
4. A half hour of time and Patience, this is very much like miniature model building.

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Step 1: Choose Your Size

There is a small, medium, large and extra large gear your can choose from for now.

I'm including 3 different file types to get people started. A zip file containing the parts in an EPS format for laser cutting, a copy of each one as a PNG file, and an illustrator template file (by popular request, I've also just added an archive with the files as SVGs, Inkscape away!). Remember that when you use the template file, all the objects are located in the symbol library, along with prefabs to help make your own constructions.

If you are going to cut it out with the laser cutter, skip to step 5.

I've found that the larger the gear, the less slippage you will have in the system overall, but it will take more time to construct a larger part. Here are your choices:

1. Small Gear
1/2 piece of paper
Teeth - 8
Inner Diameter - 60mm

2. Medium Gear
1 piece of paper
Teeth - 10
Inner Diameter - 75mm

3. Large Gear
1 piece of paper
Teeth - 12
Inner Diameter - 105mm

3. Extra Large Gear
2 pieces of paper
Teeth - 15
Inner Diameter - 330mm

Step 2: Print the Gear

Once you've selected and opened the gear you would like to get started with, print the file out on a stiff stock of paper and optionally tape it to your cutting surface.

Use junk mail or restaurant menus, anything lying around that is stiffer than normal computer paper and can fit in your printer.

Step 3: Score Folds

For any dotted lines on the image, I highly suggest scoring these with a ballpoint pen or any semi-blunt object you have lying around. After a little practice, I've been able to use the back of my X-Acto Knife to score my folds. This will make it much easier to construct the gear once you're done cutting.

Step 4: Make All the Cuts

Using the Exacto-Knife (with a decently sharp blade), cut any solid lines inside the gear first, then cut everything out of the cardstock. On the inside, make sure you pop out any of the inner tabs as they will be hard to get to after you start putting everything together.

You should now have both sides of the gear cut out, now lets get to construction!

Step 5: Connect the Caps

Fold the center tabs inward on the bottom piece and push them through the groove you cut on the top piece. Make sure that all the tabs are pointing straight up through the top piece and that the printed side is facing out for both caps.

Step 6: Fold in Teeth

Fold all the remaining scores on both sides. Push the tabs at the bottom through the top slots.
Make sure that the tab is on the inside, they should be held in place by the right angle they create, and the designed to also add structural support.

Step 7: Poke Holes

Use a thumbtack to poke a hole at the center pivots on either side. This is to ensure that the gear doesn't go off kilter when it begins to turn.

Repeat the steps and test it out on your wall surface or corkboard. These gears can stack on each other, so if you have a pin which is long enough, try making multi dimensional mechanical devices.

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    62 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks a lot for the how-to! I managed to make one myself, it's pretty easy, even though i had a bit of a problem with folding the teeth. What else can i use instead of the thumbtack? I don't have one of these :(


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 1

    On this step (Step 1), if you click on the thumbnails of the gears (five of them), the image will be in the bigger preview above the thumbnails. Click on the italicized i on the top left of the bigger preview, click on "Original Size" in the left menu, and you should be able to save the png file that way.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    where is the PNG files? (not a double post its been a mouth and no ones got back to me)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you!
    I have a question for you, is it possible to use these deigns to make about 100 gears that all move at once? 

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     for many gears, you need something with involutes. Paper gears wouldn't be the best for that situation.

    this is absolutly perfect for my time project in which i gotta make a geared foliot clock


    9 years ago on Step 1

     This perfect, I'm working on a chair sculpture and  was stuck on the gears, Thanks sooo much this is amazing  


    10 years ago on Introduction

    mine keeps on printing to the side of the paper and get cut off and disoreintated, can you please help?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    The PNGs should work, but so will the ESP files (which if you're on a mac, opens as a PDF)


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It doesn't work on my computer. it asking me for a program but I don't know what program It needs.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    That's pretty awesome! It makes me want to build some sort of paper clock :D