Paper Mache Skeletons

About: A Bay Area native interested in electronics, mechanics, and robotics, and automobiles. Formerly the electronics captain of Team 100 in the FIRST Robotics Competition, I now study Mechanical Engineering at U...

Halloween just wouldn't be complete without a few skeletons laying around. The problem is, there simply isn't a perfect solution commercially available. The Big Lots skelies (known by home haunters as Bluckies) are cheap, but they look like a bulbous mess. Then there's the defective medical teaching skeletons, but those will cost you an arm and a leg. So, I set out to make a cheap skeleton that was way more realistic than blucky, and settled on paper mache. My method is a little time consuming, but the results are well worth it.

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Step 1: Materials

This is what you need to begin-- about 50 or so sheets of newspaper.
You'll also need some duct tape, scotch tape, paper mache glue (I use a flour and water mixture. It's cheap and strong, but won't be weatherproof until you seal it), and paint (I used a can of light brown spray paint for the base, and some dark brown acrylic for details).

Step 2: Making Bones

Roll up 2-3 layers of newspaper corner to corner for a bone. The tighter the better. Use a piece of scotch tape to secure them. You'll need about 22 rolls for a full skeleton.

Fold the arm tubes and leg tubes in half. Then, using your own limbs as reference, fold over the extra paper on the thin side and tape it down.

Step 3: More Bones

The ribcage is a little trickier. If you search around for some reference shots, you'll see that a real ribcage has a rather egg-like shape from the front (also note that I didn't get it quite right on this one). Out ribs are loops of those newspaper tubes we made earlier (use your own chest to approximate the size). Make somewhere around 6-10 of them.
Tape the ribs to another tube that will act as the spine (in some of my more recent skeletons, I have used a piece of 3/4" pvc pipe for a spine, as it is much stronger and can even be bent into a slight "S" shape with a heat gun (as a real spine would appear). However you form it, beef up the base of the spine with some more tubes. How long should you make it? Use yourself as reference.
Those circular squiggley things are for the pelvis. There are more accurate ways to form it, however, since most people won't know the difference, this will suffice.

Step 4: Knobbly Bits

Crumple up some 1/2 sheets of newspaper for the knobbly bits on the ends of the bones and tape them on tightly.

Then, cut a piece of cardboard for that thing in the middle of the ribs. Tape it to all of the ribs, front and back. If you want, you can also fashion some triangular-shaped shoulder blades from cardboard.

Step 5: Paper Mache

Tear up a ton of newspaper into strips and dip them in your paper mache glue. Once again, I use a mixture of flour and water (there's no exact ratio that I'm aware of, just mix it so that it's a little on the thick side). Give the whole thing a coat or two and set it outside to dry.

Step 6: Painting

Give that guy a good coat of your base color. The newsprint tends to soak in a lot of the paint, so I suggest buying two cans of the spray.

With some dark brown acrylic, sponge on the texture all over. You can cheat, if you know at what angle people will be viewing the final prop.

At this point, you're probably wondering what we're going to do about the skull. My advice: just buy one of those four dollar foam skulls and hot glue it on. It's just not worth your time to try to make a realistic skull from scratch. Of course, you can always embellish it.

You'll also want some way to keep those bones together. I drill a small hole into the end of each one and glue a piece of wire in, connecting the two bones together.

Step 7: Some Finished Products

Here's one I've prepared earlier...

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    34 Discussions


    8 years ago on Step 5

    I found the best mix is 1 part flour and 6 parts water. Mix and then boil for 3 minutes, and then cool. This makes a realy nice thick sticky goo ready for the paper.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    F* AWESONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    8 years ago on Step 6

    Hey, just wanted to add a little bit in regards to the skulls.

    If you're making a whole bunch of skeletons and four bucks turns into more like 40, you can pick up a couple of foam heads, wrap it in foil (or anything else to stop contact between your mold and the mache) and paper maché on to that.

    To remove it from your skully mold, just cut down the middle, the foil makes it easier to pry off, then tape on the inside, maché over the cut and you've got yourself a pretty good paper skull and still have a mold to make more =)

    Your instructable is awesome by the way, and your skeleton looks really well turned out!


    8 years ago on Step 6

    You did not say how to attach arms or legs to body or head? Are there clavicles in this design? How do you attach the Pubic gurde and the legs to the pubic area? Your instructions could use an update. The idea is a great one and cheap. What do you seal it with?


    You would probably want to prime it first before applying the base color, all that said, I plan to try this for next year.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Awesome idea, and I plan on using this during the current Halloween season. I noticed a lack of a skull/ pelvis... Big Lots (or any Halloween store) sells a 'bag of bones' that usually have those two pieces in there.

    A full bucky or blucky is a bit out of my price range, so this will be great to... Well... "Fill in the pieces". I plan on doing a full corpsing instructable when I get under way, and you will definitely make a it to the 'links you'll need' page.

    Hi there! followed your 'structible.....made this dude!!! Gr8! 'structible!! Boner is Wonderful!..I used a Marcus The Carcass for the head n hands......


    9 years ago on Step 4

    that thing in the middle of the ribs is called the sternum


    9 years ago on Step 1

    This looks great! For sheets of newspaper, do you mean a single page or a full two page spread? I look forward to trying this in the spring.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Great Instructable! I am building a version of one now. I am using PVC as suggested for the spine / tibia + fibula and femur. Your suggestion to curve the spine PVC with a heat gun gave me this idea. I took a 2 spare wire coat hangers, and cut 2 U shapes and one single length of wire, to get 5 total. I placed them in a piece of 3/4 in. PCB and then heated the pipe while squeezing the end in a pliers. This way I was able to crimp the wires into the end of the pipe. Once the pvc was soft, I transfered it to a vice and tightened it to completely hold the wire. I let it cool, and now I have a piece I can use as a foot or hand depending on how you mount / trim it. Each wire becomes one of the metatarsal bones (if we are talking about a foot) or one of the fingers of a hand.