I set out to make some tentacles for our front yard, and I needed them to be fast and cheap. Behold, pool noodles, duct tape and spray paint!
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
- 2 – jumbo pool noodles (I used the Big Boss brand – about 3.5” diameter with a hole in the middle. The hole is not vital, but it does make staking easier)
- 1 – regular pool noodle (about 2.5” diameter, hole recommended)
- 1 –6’ foam pipe insulation. I used some I had on hand, I think it’s 3/8” wall. This is for the suckers. If you can, get the kind that isn’t fully slit, it makes gluing go faster. Note: you can also use another regular pool noodle for this, but I liked the hole-to-foam ratio of the insulation better. How much you’ll use depends on the density of your sucker placement, I used 2.5 6’ lengths for 3 tentacles.
- 1 roll duct tape per tentacle (cheap is fine – look for at least 40yds)
- something to fill in empty areas – I used plastic grocery bags, you could also use foam or fiberfill or rags or ugly Christmas sweaters.
- Wire coat hanger.
- Glue gun and sticks
- Spray primer and as many colors of spray paint as you have on hand
Step 2: Tape Your Noodles Together
Gather your noodles, coat hanger, and duct tape.
Get the smaller noodle. Now, bend your coat hanger so it’s long and narrow enough to cram into the hole in the smaller noodle. Cram. Leave the hook end protruding a bit. This will make the tip area moderately pose-able.
Set up the three noodles as shown in highly technical drawing.
The smaller noodle is extending 18-24” above the tops of the two large noodles (eyeball it). That’s going to be the top of your tentacle.
You may want to cut a few inches of the bottom end of the smaller noodle, to use as shims for the curving procedure in the next step.
Tape the noodles together in a few places, just to hold them together while you’re working.
You can carve the top of the jumbo noodles to make them taper up toward the tip of the tentacle, or not. I did it both ways and I don’t think the effort was worth it, but your standards may be higher. If you are going to carve, you may want the extension of the smaller noodle to be a bit shorter, so you’re not losing as much bulk on your finished tentacle.
Step 3: Duct Tape
There’s a hook coming out of the top of your noodle. Start wrapping plastic bags or foam or whatever you’re using as filler around the top of the hook, to make a nice shape. Then start wrapping the duct tape over it. Add more filler as you go toward the junction of the three noodles.
Use lots of duct tape. If you want to pose the tip of the tentacle in a particular way (say, to hold a sign) do it now so that you don’t break the duct tape or lose paint trying to do it later.
Continue wrapping and stuffing until you reach the top of the jumbo noodles, and from there on down just wrap. Go all the way to the end, but leave the ends uncovered. You can only paint the parts that have duct tape on them, so be sure everything is well-covered.
If you want to try to shape your tentacles, you can add curves after the tentacle is wrapped. To do that, use a pair of scissors or a knife to cut through the duct tape and about halfway through one of the jumbo noodles. Now bend the tentacle away from the cut, and then jam a piece of pool noodle (from step 2, remember?) into the opening. Apply duct tape liberally over the wound, filling in with plastic bags or other stuffing to smooth the area if needed. The illustration on this page attempts to show that, but mostly it looks like an outtake from the worst sex ed curriculum ever.
Now you have a tentacle! It’s lovely! Make more!
Step 4: Suckers!
Cut the foam pipe insulation into small lengths;scissors will handle this just fine. Don’t obsess about it; the ends don’t need to be straight and it’s probably more interesting if they’re not. Mine varied from about 3/8” to 1" high.
If you are using the kind of insulation that is already slit and has adhesive strips, peel and stick the edges together before you start cutting.
If you google information about actual octopi, you will see that there are rules for where their suckers go. I did not do that, so I just made a giant inaccurate barnacle-y load of suckers. Your call.
Anyway, once you’ve either cut all your insulation or gotten bored with it and decided to move on to gluing for a while, you’re going to fire up your glue gun and start gluing suckers on your tentacles.
1. Put a bead of glue around one cut end of the insulation, stick it to the tentacle.
This will go on for a while. Your glue gun trigger finger will become tired. You will probably burn yourself if you’re not using low-melt glue. Again, do not obsess – glue drips or blobs will blend in once everything is painted. It’s a tentacle. It’s from the deep, dark ocean and it’s so freaky down there, sometimes you get a little hot glue around your suckers. No one says anything.
Step 5: Painting
Throw down a tarp, because this is going to get colorful.
I used spray primer (Rustoleum brand, if it matters) as a first coat, because I was concerned about the paint adhering to the duct tape. I think it helped.
Spray primer on everything. Try to hit the inside of the suckers as much as you can.
Once you get a coat of primer on, you'll see that the lines from the duct tape edges really stand out, and you'll feel a twinge of despair. It's ok, that's what the crazy paint job is for.
The Crazy Paint Job
The key is to avoid large areas of solid color, because then your eye is drawn to the fact that this thing is made out of duct tape. So, get out all your spray paint, no matter what color it is. First, lay down your base colors (mine were red, orange, and yellow), and then use every other color to add shading and highlights. To put it another way – spray a whole bunch of paint on there, some of it lightly, some of it heavily, overlap it and mist different colors and paint over anything you don't like. My tentacles have teal, metallic gold, neon green, spring green, dark blue, and black paint over the base red/orange/yellow.
Step 6: Arrange Your Tentacles
Remember when I said that it's good to have the pool noodles that have a hole in the middle? That's because all you have to do now is slide a stick into the bottom of your tentacle using that hole, and your tentacle is ready to go anywhere. Obviously, your plans for your tentacles will determine how secure they need to be. I used 3/4" PVC pipe lengths for my tentacle bases. They're supported by stakes in the ground - the pipe slips right over the stakes. The tentacle with the sign is also zip-tied to an upside-down tomato cage because I was having trouble balancing it. Tentacles!