PVC Man With Adjustable Joints

I needed to make a skeleton/frame for various uses: "Creepy guy sitting in my car", Halloween props, and guy hanging from balcony (fell while hanging Christmas lights).

My plan/sketch was basically a stick figure. Along with some measurements for each segment. For my test I opted for 3/4" PVC, rather than something thicker. It will be lighter, and easier to store. And I was able to find the 3-way tee and 4-way cross in that size at the local hardware store. The bendable joints were more of a test, but seemed to have work out well.

I first did a single pole body as a test, and it worked pretty good. But than I needed to find a way to fill the body out: Packing the clothes with filling or foam, paper mâché, larger diameter PVC? I wound up redoing the body out of three PVC segments to help give him dimension, that's the design I will demonstrate.

Supplies:

Parts List (for triple pole for body):

  • (2) 90 degree angle 3/4" PVC adapters
  • (4) 45 degree angle 3/4" PVC adapters
  • (5) 3-way tee 3/4" PVC
  • (1) 4-way 3/4" PVC
  • (2) 10' of 3/4" PVC pipe
  • (12) 2" mending plates (package says #6 screws, #10 fit better) (May need 14 mending plates, if also adding feet)
  • (12) #10-32x1-1/2" Machine screws, round head
  • (1) Foam head (or use the technique for filling a mask with spray foam?)
  • (12) #10-32 wing nuts
  • (24) #10 lock washers
  • (2) 54" pool noodles

Tools:

  • Hack saw
  • Drill
  • 3/16" drill bit
  • Tape measure
  • Drill block (optional)
  • 1 1/8" circle/hole cutter (optional)

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Step 1: Cut the PVC Segments to Length

Using a hack saw (or get fancy with a PVC cutter), cut the two PVC pipes to the following lengths:

  • (1) Neck = 5"
  • (2) Shoulders = 4 1/2"
  • (2) Torso = 17"
  • (2) Upper arms = 12"
  • (2) Lower arms = 12"
  • (2) Upper legs = 15"
  • (2) Lower legs = 17" [This may change if adding feet]
  • (2) Waist = 4 1/2"
  • (2) Arm to Shoulders = 2"
  • (2) Legs to waist = 2"
  • (2) Belly segments = 2"
  • (2) Additional belly segments = 3"

Step 2: Drill the Holes for Joints

On each arm and leg section, we need to drill a 3/16" hole for adding the joints.

On a single end of each arm/leg PVC section make a mark 1/4" from an end. Secure the PVC. Use a drill block if you have one (so the hole is drilled straight), and line the 3/16" hole up with the 1/4" mark. Drill a hole at the 1/4" mark, thru both sides of the PVC. Repeat for each arm/leg segment.

Due to the change to a double segment body, You'll need to make additional holes at the upper leg segment, and for the connector to the waist. Reference the placement of the mending plates on the PVC diagram.

Step 3: Attaching the Joints

Cheapest way:

For each joint thread two #10 bolts through two mending plates. Thread the bolts thru each PVC segment. On the other side of the PVC, add two additional mending plates. And then cap off the bolts with #10 nuts. You can tighten the bolts/nuts so the joints aren't too loose and will hold the positions you put them in.

Better way (and what I went with):

Add the lock washers so they are touching the PVC on either side. Instead of the nut, use a wing nut. You may be able to use a nylon lock nut to hold the positions better, but adjusting will be more difficult. You might get the lock washers to grip better by putting duct tape around the ends (I haven't tried this yet).

Step 4: Attaching the Head

I picked up a foam head from a local craft store (probably the most expensive piece of this build).

It already had a hole in the bottom, but needs to be expanded slightly. You can use a 1 1/8" hole saw to expand it, or just force the PVC segment for the neck into place. For the 1 1/8" hole saw I turned it manually by hand (rather than using a drill).

I saw another Instructable for filling a mask with spray foam; I considered trying that (and leaving a PVC neck segment in place), but it seemed labor intensive. There are mixes available for purchase online that expand more slowly, but I couldn't find a small/inexpensive quantity to test with.

Step 5: Feet?

I haven't tested or added feet yet, and the need hasn't arisen. If sitting in a chair are feet really necessary?

If putting in the lawn you could likely forego feet, and just put threaded rod through the legs.

Otherwise another joint for the PVC, or possibly a long L bracket could prove useful. Drill a hole through a shoe and bolt the L-bracket to the shoe or to a piece of wood (as a balancing base).

Step 6: Bulking Up the Body With Pool Noodles

Cut the pool noodles as follows, and than slide on to the appropriate PVC sections. The hack saw worked fine for cutting the pool noodle foam.

Note: In my build I added the pool noodles after the construction was complete.

Reference the PVC diagram for placement.

  • (2) 14 1/2"
  • (2) 12 1/2"
  • (4) 10 1/2"
  • (1) 4"
  • (4) 3"
  • (2) 1"

Step 7: Connect the PVC Sections

I mostly connected the sections as I was building, and rebuilding with the adjustable limbs. That said, following the PVC diagram will make the assembly much easier to explain. Each length is assigned a letter with a corresponding segment for placement.

Step 8: PVC Man in Use

Shortly after my build/test, I brought PVC man to my office as a pre-Halloween prank... A co-worker had recently switched to another group. With a printed out photo of the co-workers face attached to the foam head, I placed PVC man in a seated position at his old cubicle. It has startled everyone that has walked by (or into) his cube.

I'm not sure if anyhow noticed him sitting in the passenger seat of my car on the way to work (but he hadn't had a face attached at that point).

Security gave me a look, while shaking their head, when I carried him in and asked "does this new employee need to sign in?"

Other planned uses:

  • Sitting in the passenger or back seat with a Halloween mask on.
  • Greeting neighbors (who take the short cut under my balcony) during October.
  • Clamping to the balcony by his arms, as though he fell while hanging Christmas lights.
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    2 Discussions

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    webman3802

    4 weeks ago

    Great work! I've made a similar dummy using PVC before, and he's made numerous appearances at our church's fall festivals, Bible School decorations, etc. I ended up gluing a wooden dowel in the hole in the bottom of the foam head. This dowel fits perfectly inside the PVC to mount the head on the body, although it does limit the neck's posability a bit. For the shoulder, elbow, hip and knee joints, I have a variety of 90 and 45 degree pipe fittings that give me options for poses, although the mending plates hinges you used are probably easier to adjust and more versatile..

    I've thought about using one of the many instructables here to make a dummy out of duct tape (search "tape dummy") and then cutting it into sections for the torso, upper and lower arms, and thighs and shins. These could be attached to the PVC framework and stuffed to make a full-body dummy, while still allowing the joints to be posed. Similar to a crash-test dummy (or Buster on Mythbusters). Maybe that'll be in my version 2.0.

    1 reply