TOS Klingon Communicator (Props Made From Cardboard and Paper)




Introduction: TOS Klingon Communicator (Props Made From Cardboard and Paper)

Greetings everyone:

In the realm of Cosplay, some of the oldest are members of the Star Trek Community. And we've been doing it long before Cosplay was even a phrase or term. I'm a member of one of the oldest Star Trek Groups which represents the Klingon Community, known as the Klingon Assault Group or better known as KAG. And while this project was initially intended as an article for their periodic publication, I thought they and the Klingon community would be better served with it being published here.

Everyone knows that Capt Kirk and his crew had communicators, tricorders and phasers... And they were cool!

Did you know that Kor, and the original smooth headed Klingons had their own as well?

On this Instructable I'll show you how to make the communicator primarily from cardboard and cardstock. But it can be modified for those that are a bit more adept at styrene and other plastics for something that is sturdier. Don't get me wrong, while this prop is made out of paper, it will stand up to the being handled and used. While it won't survive being sat on it, or being balled up by a Gorn, it will survive normal cosplay use.


Cardboard - For this project I used the box that held instant hot cereal packets, but any cereal box type of cardboard will work.
Cardstock - Can be found at any hobby store, and can be found at Walmart or Target, you can use 65# or 110# for this project.
Aluminum Contact Paper - I bought a roll of Metal FX contact paper at Home Depot. It's used for lining shelves, but works perfectly for this and many of my paper modeling projects.
Gold Vinyl Contact Paper - I found this in the Cardstock Section at Joann's.
Clear Packing Tape - Yes, tape can be used for more than just holding things. (Just make sure that it's very clear)
Sandpaper - 220 or 320 grit
Gold Sharpie
Silver Sharpie
A small dowel, q-tip, or toothpick
Thin straw


Double Sided Tape - used to hold down pattern pieces to the cardboard.
PVA Glue - Also known as white glue. My preference is Aleene's Tacky Glue, but you can use which ever PVA Glue that you want to use. I would stay away from "school glue" as it usually too watery and will warp your paper/cardboard.
Super Glue - My preference is the gel type designed for crafting. It gives you a bit of time to adjust pieces and helps fill some of the voids that you get from seams and edges in paper.


Hole Punch or Pin Drill
X-acto Knife
Metal Ruler
Clothes Pin
Cheap small paint brushes
Popsicle Sticks
Small Dowel

I highly recommend reading through this article a couple of times to become familiar with the process. And keep in mind, one of the best things about working with paper and cardboard, if you make a mistake, or mess up a piece, you can simply reprint and go at it again. (I had a few reprints working on this demo.)

A Note About Construction

While this prop has several steps they are actually more like different build sections, and most of them can be done at the same time. The reason that I mention this is that there are several times throughout each section, where you should set the piece aside for a day to let glue to dry and set. So, if you did it literally step by step, it would take about a month or so to put this together, whereas if you work on the different portions while other parts are setting, you can actually get it finished in just over a week.

Step 1: Laying It Out

There are two sections in the printout. One section is for the cardboard, and the other needs to be printed out on cardstock. You can use either 65# or 110# cardstock for that section.

A note about the cardboard. For this project I recommend the type of cardboard that is used for cereal boxes. Corrugated cardboard can be difficult to fold, especially with some of the small folds that are required for this project, and does not provide a smooth surface when curved.

The reason for the cardstock is that because of the sharp folds, cardboard has a tendency to delaminate, e.g. spit apart.

Depending on the size of cardboard, you can just tape the whole sheet onto it to cut out, or you can cut up the print out and arrange them onto your cardboard anyway you see fit. There is plenty of cardboard in a single box of instant hot cereal to make one of these communicators. A regular cereal box will produce several.

To prepare the cardboard, you should lightly sand the printed side of the cards board. The is a thin film that is used during the manufacturing and printing processes that make it difficult for glue to adhere to the that surface. Lightly sanding that surface will remove enough of the film and roughen up the surface so that glue will stick.

Step 2: Communicator Shell

I highly recommend scoring all of your fold lines before you cut out your pieces. You can use an empty ball-point pen, a butter knife, or if you do crafting, a scoring/scribing tool. This will help create sharper bends in your material, which gives it a crisper look. When scoring straight lines, I recommend using a ruler to help guide you.

After you cut out the shell, carefully fold it into shape. You may need to use the edge of a ruler to help coax it into shape. After the shell shaped out, add the cardstock tabs. These are glued on sides of the shell so that the tabs can be used to close it up. I recommend using clothes pins to hold small parts down.

A tip that may be of use, when gluing the small tabs, put a piece of plastic wrap over the glue area, this should keep the wood from the clothes pin getting glued to the tab.

Allow all the parts to dry for at least a day before wrapping it with the vinyl contact paper.

When adding the vinyl contact paper, think of it as wrapping an open lidded gift box. I added the vinyl to the large surfaces of bottom of the shell first, then cut it free from one section so that it can be folded up and cover the ends and sides so as to minimize seams and prevent multiple layers from building up.

Anything that goes beyond the top edge can be wrapped back down inside of the comm shell so that it covers the raw edge of the cardboard.

Where the notches are at for the hinge wheels, cut a Y into the vinyl so that you can wrap it over the edges of the holes. Because there isn't much to grab with, you may have to add a bit of glue to help keep those small edges down.

Step 3: Hinge Wheels

For the hinge wheels, I ultimately wound up using 4 layers of cardboard on my wheels. You're results may vary depending on the thickness of the cardboard that you use.

Again to minimize separation, if you are using cereal boxes, sand the shiny side of the cardboard.

To make the hole in the hinge wheel, I used a hole punch. Another option is to drill the hole after you have glued the layers of glue together. The size of the hole will depend on what you use as an axle. I used the stick off of a Q-tip, but you can use a thin dowel, toothpick, or even coat hanger wire.

I glued all the layers together at the same time, then pressed the flat edge against the table, and used a toothpick to help better align it. After the layers were aligned, I clamped them together with a couple of clothespins. Let these set for a day before going onto the next step.

If the edges are not smooth you can even them out with a piece of sand paper, small file, or an emery board.

Note on the emery board - Gentlemen, to keep the peace in your household, don't use your significant other's emery board to file down the cardboard, go to a dollar type store to get some emery boards for your kit.

To clean up the look of the hinge wheels to the lid, it will need to be notched. This can be cut, carved, or sanded down with the emery board.

After the hinge wheels have been layered, shaped and punched, now it's time to make cardboard look like metal. I started with the edge. Laying a hinge wheel on it side, you can take a strip of the metallic shelf paper and wrap it around the edge. You can use the table surface as a guide for the first side. (Do not put the stripping where you notched the hinge wheel, as you'll need that surface for gluing it to the lid.) After you've edged the piece, you can cut it off flush. You and do this either cutting it carefully with a razor knife, or you can use the inside of scissors laying flat against the surface of the hinge wheel, and slowly cutting off the scrap.

After you've edge it, lay a piece of the aluminum contact paper glue side up and place the hinge wheel on it to one side. The piece should be large enough to cover both sides of the wheel. Folding the wheel across the flat surface, keep it tight as you fold it over to the other side. Again, the scrap on the outside can be cut with either a razor knife, or with scissors using the edge as a guide. It may take a few of passes around the edge to give a clean look.

After both sides have been wrapped, you'll need something with a sharp point to punch a small hole, that you'll need to slowly work around so that the hole in the hinge wheel will be large enough to accept what you are going to use as an axle. There are a couple of techniques that you can use to cut out the hole, one is to punch a small hole in the center and slowly expand it (alternating sides) using a skewer, you can slowly cut it away using the tip of a razor knife and perforating the edges of the hole, or you can try to drill it out. I've used the first two methods with success, have not tried the third.

after you have wrapped it, you will need to cut away the area where the hinge wheels are notched. Again this can be done by razor knife, or using the tip of the scissors to clip it out.

Also keep in mind that if the metal contact paper has a grain to it, I recommend that the long grain goes around the edge and that it runs parallel with the flat edge. This will give it more of a natural metal look.

Step 4: Lid

The lid is the thing that people will notice first about your communicator. There's something about bright shiny things that just captures everyone's eye.

You have a couple of options when it comes to making the lid. You can either do it all out of cardstock, or you can use cardboard as the base. While both work, cardboard will be less likely to warp, and will provide a stronger piece, whereas cardstock is easier to curve.

When it comes to the construction of the lid, they are done nearly identically. You will need to score where the fold will be for the back of the lid, and the top portion of the lid will need to be curved. Do this slowly so that you don't wrinkle or crease the card board. The main part of the lid has a fairly easy curve that can be obtained by rolling it over a rolling pin, coffee cup, or any large diameter curved surface. As you get closer to the lip of the lid, you'll need to use smaller diameter items (such as a pencil) to get the proper curve. To help coax it into shape, you can take a warm damp cloth and cover the lip to help relax the fibers in the cardboard to shape it.

Note - I said damp, not wet or soaking, you don't want to soak the cardboard as this will cause other problems such as delamination. Test it on a scrap piece of cardboard first until you find that right balance of dampness and heat.

The sides have one spot that needs to be scored, and that will correspond with the sharp edge on the top part of the lid. If you are doing the side out of cardboard cut out the tabs, and we'll add those back in with cardstock afterwards.

The cardstock sides should be glued to the cardboard side in two portions. Start with the largest section, and either clamp them between a couple of popsicle sticks and clothes pins, or under something flat and heave, and let set. I would recommend letting them set for a day, that way they are more apt to stay straight as the paper and card board have different shrink rates, which will can cause them to warp if you don't give them time to set.

After the large portion has set, align the angle, glue and clamp the smaller section. Again let them set for a day. This way everything should stay straight and make for a cleaner build.

Here's a reason why you read through the instructions before you start this project. You should have scored the tabs before you glued the cardstock sides to the cardboard sides. You should also make sure that the tabs will fold evenly with the top edge of the cardboard. This will help minimize gapping between the top and sides.

After the sides have set, the first thing you'll want to check is make sure that the curve on the top matches the curved portion of the sides as closely as possible. If they are not even, your lid will most likely twist. If you're happy with what you've got, then you can glue the sides to the top by starting at the back edge and gluing a few tabs at a time. Glue three or four and wait a few minutes before gluing a few more. Again, by taking your time, minimizes twisting. When you get to the end, you'll probably need to use clothes pins to hold the top down to the last pair of tabs as it has a pretty sharp curve towards the front. Time to set it aside again.

After the sides have set, I would recommend cutting a narrow version of the top out of card stock to help fill the gap between the two sets of tabs on the inside of the lid. This will give you a smoother surface area to add another layer of cardstock. This will ultimately make a stronger, and a bit heavier lid and help with the illusion that it's made of metal when someone looks at the inside when it's open.

Before adding the shelf paper, I would recommend that you go over the raw edges and the seams with a Silver Sharpie. That way if there is there are any gaps, they will not be obvious.

If you just want a metal looking lid, then like with the hinge wheels you can take it a bit at a time, and just cover all the surfaces. Just keep in mind that if there's a grain pattern to the metal shelf paper that you are using that it all flows in the same general direction.

If you want to add the logo to you "metal" lid like I did. You can tape a piece of shelf paper to a piece of paper and run it through a laser printer. Just be careful with it after it prints out. The toner can easily be scraped off, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Good that in that after you cut out the pieces, you can remove the black line that is left behind, but bad in that you can easily scratch the logo. What I did to protect the logo, was first, I carefully applied the shelf paper to the lid. Make is as smooth as possible, just try not to touch the logo. After it has been attached, what I did was I carefully pealed a section of clear packing tape (the stuff I use is from Office Max, and you can read the cardboard roll though the tape easily), anyway, carefully peal off the tape so that you don't get any wonky glue lines or folds in the tape, which will spoil the illusion. Starting at the front edge, slowly apply it toward the back, and smooth it out as you go along, work out any air bubbles that may form, and continue until you go around to the back of the lid. After that, like you did with the hinge wheels, and with the "metal" surfaces of the lid, carefully cut away the scrap tape. The tape should add a shine to the lid, protect the logo, and not be noticeable.

To attach the hinge wheels, you'll need what ever you are going to use as an axle, and use the comm shell to space them out first. Then what you'll need to do is glue to them to the inside back of the lid (which is why we haven't add the shelf paper to that spot yet). A trick that will help, is after you have put glue on the wheels and attached it to the back, put a thin metal ruler between the wheels, and weight it down to let it set. I cannot stress enough that this really does need to set for a full day because this is stress point on your prop. After it has set, you can add the last little bit of shelf paper between the wheels, then add a small bead of glue along the seam. This can give it a welded look, and help reinforce the joint.

Step 5: Control Panel (What's Under the Lid)

Almost all of the pieces in the section are going to be covered with the vinyl contact paper. So as you apply each piece, take your time...

After completing this build, and looking back on it, there are some things that I will do differently the next one of these that I build. (And I'm sure that this is the first of many).

I will explain it how I will build it the next time so that you get the benefit of my lessons learned.

The top surface and control panel has several layers, which gives it a very unique look. The first layer is the locking plate, and is noticeable by the thinner arms that hold the control panel in place. The second layer is the control panel, in which all of the functions are controlled, and the third layer, is the recessed portion that hold the speaker/mic and hinge plate.

The first piece that you'll want to cut out is the control panel (second layer). After you cut this out and before doing anything else with it, you'll want to dry fit it to the comm shell. Make sure that it will fit neatly inside of the wrapped edges of the comm shell. If it will not fit inside, carefully trim the side and bottom until it does. If there is a little bit of room, don't panic you're in a good spot. At this point, cover the control panel, cutting the recessed area so that it will wrap under and cover the raw edge of the cardboard. Do not wrap the outside edge, but cut the vinyl so that the raw edge is exposed. (You'll understand why in a couple of steps.

Next cut out the locking plate (Top layer). Before wrapping, dry fit it to the comm shell the same way that you did the control panel, and it should fit the same without have to try and squeeze it in. If there's a hair line of space between the raw edge and the wrapped comm shell edge you're in a perfect spot.

Like the control panel go ahead and cover the face of the locking plate and wrap the inside edge, but leave some excess on the outside edge.

With the locking plate face down on your work surface, glue the control panel to the bottom of the locking plate, and line up the outside edges. Clipping where the corners are at into the vinyl on the locking plate, wrap both layers and secure it to the bottom of the control panel. This provides one cleanly wrapped edge that should fit nicely into the comm shell and should look much like the fourth photo.

Next we're going to prepare the recessed panel and all the greeblies. These pieces are printed out on cardstock. I used 65#, but you can also use 110#. The difference is just a few thousandths of thickness, but 110# is a lot stiffer, which for these surfaces is not a bad thing. To make things easier for you, here are a couple of tips, first, score all folds before you cut it out, and second, make your folds on the side before cutting out the notches in the recessed panel. Trust me when I say that this will save you some headaches.

You will want to pre-curl the control knobs before you glue them. To do this, start by curving it over something with a large diameter, such as a glue stick, large dowel, or the handle on a wooden spoon. Then work you way down. Ideally, you'll want to get it to a point where it will naturally be close to the size that you want. This will make it easier when gluing. The control knob is two sections, a long piece and a short one. The long piece is actually your glue tab, and the short piece is what should be exposed, so when it's wrapped up, the edge should come right up to the line. When it was time to glue the control knobs, I found that a small dowel that I used for the final curling was almost the perfect size when wound up, so I used a small bit of double sided tape on the end to keep it in place and started to wrap it up. I went a small piece at a time, a bit of glue and wrap to cover the glue area, a bit more glue, and a bit more wrapping, and did that all the way to the end. After a few minute, I pulled it off of the dowel and set it aside while I made the next one. An hour later I added the vinyl contact paper, and added the circle on top with a dot of glue and set the whole thing aside for the day. For the circle I applied a small scrap which was larger than my circle on the back side of the paper, then cut out the circle, so that the black line would be on the inside of my gluing area and out of site.

The activation button is made of two layers of cardboard, the speaker and hinge cover are each made of three layers of cardboard. After those had set, the edges were sanded down to even them up, and were wrapped in vinyl contact paper.

On the frequency modulator, score all the tabs and the fold lines before you cut it out. After you cut it out, curve the top portion and fold your tabs. The top part is longer than what is needed, this will give you something to hold onto while gluing and make is easier while fitting it all together. I recommend test fitting everything before gluing. That way you can see if there are any gaps or anomalies that need to be addressed before glue meets paper. The short tab will go inside to hold the long piece. The long part can be trimmed after everything has dried.

After it's has a day to dry, you can wrap it with the vinyl contact paper. I used the print out to be a guide for how big you want the contact paper to be, it should look like a tall T. I made the long end long enough to not only go over the top, but long enough that it wrapped back around the bottom as well, so that every thing was flush and it provided a smooth surface to glue onto the control panel.

After the recess panel has been cut and folded, you'll want to add the vinyl after it's folded, and you'll want to cut the vinyl pretty much to size. There won't be any wrapping necessary on this piece. The tab at the top should not be covered as that's a gluing tab, and it's edge will be covered by the hinge plate. When adding the vinyl, I would start by reversing the folds on the sides, that way you can get a nice flat surface to make contact with. After that, I would hold down the tabs of vinyl as you fold up the sides. Using a toothpick, you can press the vinyl into the fold and use it to press the vinyl onto the sides. This will improve the contact and give it a crisp look, then you can press the vinyl onto the top tab of the folds so that the vinyl will ultimately continue under the control panel layer.

When gluing the recessed panel to the bottom of the locking plate/control panel, I would recommend a couple of things, first is have a few clothes pins and popsicle sticks ready to hold it in place. Before you glue it, test fit it to see how it's going to fit onto the upper plates. Lock it down with the popsicle sticks and cloths pins and take a look at it. The bottom of the recessed panel should be flat, and the sides should all line up. It's more important that the bottom is flat. If the sides go under the edges of the panels, that's ok, and may make it look even more unique, and people will wonder how you did that.

When you are happy, make a pencil mark where the tabs are at to make it easier to realign when gluing. Start with the bottom tab first, and glue it to the bottom of the panels. Use a popsicle stick and clothes pins so that it will hold it tight and flat. When that has dried, do the same for the sides.

After the recessed panel has dried. Cut out and dry fit the aluminum control surface from the shelf paper. This should sit neatly down inside of the recess and then will wrap up onto the control panel. When you are satisfied with the fit, I would recommend pressing it into place with a q-tip to get a good adhesion before pressing it down to the control panel.

Now would be a good time to add the hinge plate. That is attached at the top of the recessed panel, and you can clamp it down with clothes pins. The top edge of the hinge plate should align with the edge of the tab, so that when it's folded down, it will not be seen.

After that has set, you can glue in a thin straw. I used a coffee stirrer which was just a bit larger than the q-tip that I'm using as an axle for the lid. The tab should be folded down at a 90 degree bend, and the straw will sit in that corner. You will probably want to use super glue to hold it in place as I found that PVA glue does not like to stick to the plastic of the straw. But the PVA glue did provide a nice place to lock it into.

Step 6: Putting It Together

Ok, so now you have the three main components, Control Panel, Lid and Shell, and a few greeblie bits.

How do we put it together. The very first piece is easy. If the axle is still in the hinge wheels, go ahead and remove it. Now slip it into the slots on the control panel, aligning the holes of the hinge wheels with the straw that is on the underside, and slide the axle back into place. The lid should move freely. If it rubs a little bit on the side, that's ok as it will give it a bit of tension and keep the lid from constantly flapping. If it's too hard to open, then you may need to trim the slots just a bit. And his is a point where a little bit really will go a long way.

The next step is almost as simple, on the cardstock sheet, there are a set of five tabs, score these, cut them out, fold them up, and set them aside for the moment.

Now, to add the control panel to the comm shell. The first thing you'll need to do is dry fit it. Depending on how it fits will determine what to do next.

If the control panel sits on top of the comm shell, but the edges of the control panel are even with the sides of the shell, and the lid can open freely, then glue in the five tabs even with the top edge of the comm shell so that you have something to hold the control panel, and let it set.


The control panel sits inside of the comm shell, and the lid and can open freely, then what you'll want to do is take a scrap piece of paper and an pencil and measure how thick your control panel/locking plate is, and mark it on your piece of paper. Transfer that information onto the inside of your comm shell. This is how high you want the tabs to sit, so glue them up to the mark. Dry fit the control panel, and lid functionality one more time before gluing it down.


For everything else, make adjustments as necessary. As you can see on mine, there is a small gap around the edge, and a little trimming on the shell for the hinge wheels was all that was needed for mine. So unless you have CDO (which is like OCD, but alphabetical like it should be), then you're ok.

The nice thing about working with paper and cardboard is that it's cheap, and if you mess it up, trash it, learn from your mistake, reprint, and go at it again. I did a few of my one on this first model, and I'm sure I'll be making more in the very near future.

With the tabs in place, add glue to the 5 new tabs and connect the control panel with the comm shell. After that has set, there is the last tab that was at the top of the control panel. Pull the center part of the shell between the hinge wheels and add a dab of glue to the tab, and press it back into place.

To finish this off, attach the knobs and buttons with a dab of glue.

The alignment of the knobs are centered to the height of the control plate, and the outside edge should align with the outside edge of the speaker/mic.

The activator button and frequency modulator should be centered height wise in the open space between the control plate and locking plate, and the outside edge should align with the edge of the recessed panel.

Let everything dry for a day, and then show off your new prop to all your friends. I'd be willing to bet that very few will know what it is, and I think no TOS Klingon Uniform is complete without one.

Step 7: Tips and Tricks: Summary and Some Additionals

If you have a trick or a tip that you think should be here, please leave me a message, and I'll add it here (With due credit of course).

For those interested in KAG, they can be found at

Razor knives - X-acto blades are frequently the knife/blade of choice for a lot of hobbyists, and are what I use. The thing to remember about them though is that the blades will get dull, and more accidents happen with a dull blade than a sharp one. So if you don't know when the last time was that you replaced your blade, you probably should put a new one in. I usually replace mine every couple of projects (depending on the side), but I also have some ceramic sticks to give them a quick edge to keep them sharp.

Gluing - When it's time to start gluing there are some things that you'll want t have on hand. A small cup with water to keep your brushes in when they are not being used. Some paper towels to wipe off the brushes before you dip them in the glue (they don't have to be totally dry and the small amount of water will actually help you with spreading out the glue). A small plastic cup for glue, on my desk I have an empty fruit cup container, I flipped it upside down, so that the small depression on the bottom is facing up, and I put a small amount of glue on there. The next day before I start gluing, I can peel out the old glue to throw away and my cup is ready. And you'll want some paint brushes, used to apply the glue. Cheap multi packs that you can pick up at the dime store (ok dollar store now a days), work just fine.

I would strongly discourage anyone from applying glue directly onto paper if you are modeling, using a paint brush provides you with an additional level of control so that you don't over glue. Too much glue with paper leads to warping and other issues.

Hiding Seams - A tip to help you eliminate the line that you will get from the end of the paper is to lightly sand the end either before you glue it, or after it has set. This will provide a smoother transition that will be less noticeable after you have applied the vinyl contact paper.

Edging - A technique to hide or disguise the edge or seams of a piece. Traditionally with paper models, we'll use pencils along the edge of the paper so that it's not a white stripe in an area that should be grey or colored. For this particular project, I bought a multipack of sharpies that had silver, gold, and bronze. I colored the raw edges of the cardboard and the seam areas so that if there was a small gap, it would be disguised.

Cutting circles or curves - There are several ways to cut out circles and curves. One is to keep the point of a razor knife steady and turn the paper around the curve or circle. Another is a combo of turning the paper while cutting with a razor knife. For some curves or circles I'll cut them with scissors, but will pinch the piece between my thumb and finger, place my finger on the side of the scissors to act as a fulcrum, and gently guide the scissors around the curve. For smaller circles, you can find curved scissors, or you can even use a pair of nail clippers to clip around the edge.

Cutting Mat - While technically a tool, a good cutting mat will protect your work, extend the life of your knife, protect the surface that you are working on, and will help keep peace in a housed hold as you are not cutting up the counter, or table with your razor knife.

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    2 Discussions

    DIY Hacks and How Tos

    Great replica. This is probably how the original props were made too.


    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you.

    As to the originals, I don't believe any have been found, or at least not reported, and it was a rarely seen piece so there may have only been one or two of them made. I would like to think that they were at least made out of plastic, or a found item, as they had a small budget for props.