Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fun With Skeletons, Under $10 DIY

Alright, this is the project that made me feel like a badass.  Not because I managed it for crazy cheap (which I did) but because I got to prove to myself that I'm proficient with the most important of the power tools, the drill. But that's getting ahead of the story.  Today we start with this:

That little skeleton is quite possibly one of the best finds ever.  He is about 16inches tall and cost $1 at Dollar Tree.  I liked them so much I got three.  I also decided they needed a bit of work so out came the x-acto knife and I got started on making it look more like a real skeleton and less like blow molded plastic.

It isn't a huge difference, really, but I think they look nicer with visible ribs.  Then I went shopping, which was probably a mistake.  I found a better, if more expensive, skeleton that I instantly fell in love with.  Naturally, I bought it so I could use it for this project and I am ever so glad I did.

It's no contest really.  The nicer skeleton is the same height as the other and goes for $4.99 (at both Michael's and Walmart) but I should point out that using it instead more than doubles the cost of the project.  It would have been less than $5 had I not switched skeletons at the last second. 

$10 (or less) Skeleton Model

You will need:

1- small plastic skeleton  ($1 at Dollar Tree or $4.99 for the 'upgrade' at Michael's or Walmart)
1- 1/4" dowel rod, that is taller than your skeleton ($0.59 for a 36" dowel at Michael's)
1- 5" flat, round bit of wood to use as a base ($1.29 at Michael's)
1- metal hanger and something with which to cut it
a drill with a 1/4" inch bit and a 1/16" or 3/32" bit
* x-acto knife
*small saw
*glue (wood glue and hot glue if you plan on doing it the technically correct way, just hot glue works for the truly lazy, like me)
*wood stain (The internet tells me you can get this for $4.77 at Lowes.  Walmart has it too but they don't have the price listed online and it might well be less.  Also, check your garage.  There's no telling what you might find.  I've found all kinds of random but useful stuff in mine.)

* These are optional parts which you may not need depending on how you go about assembly.  For instance I expected to need glue, but didn't, and you don't have to stain the stand though it does look nicer if you do.  I also already had them which is why they aren't added in the total cost.

Total cost : $6.87 with the fancy skeleton or $2.88 with the Dollar Tree skeleton.  You read that right, I checked the math twice.  It is actually possible to make a version of this prop for under $5.

The Bones

Regardless of which skeleton you use, they will likely need some cleaning up.  You already saw what I did with the cheapy skeleton but the fancy one needed a bit of work too.  There was a lot of flashing left on it from the molding process and it made the skeleton look fake.  Do yourself a favor, though, and leave the loop and/or string on the top of the skull.  If you don't you'll have to come up with another way to hang/attach the skeleton to the base.

Looks much nicer, no?

The Stand

Every good educational model has a stand so I got a wood round and a dowel from the craft store.  I drilled a hole for the dowel so that it could act as the post.  A 1/4" bit for a 1/4" dowel makes a nice, snug peg hole that may not even need gluing.  Be careful not to go all the way through the base, I only drilled out between 1/4" and 1/2" down so that I wouldn't have to worry about the dowel slipping out the bottom.

Once you have the base prepped you can use your skeleton to measure off how tall a dowel bit you need.  You want it to be tall enough that your skeleton's feet hang at least 1/2 an inch above the base and there should be close to an inch sticking up over the skull.  Use a pencil to mark the height (go a bit high if you're worried, you can always cut it again) and then cut the dowel.  A helpful trick here is to cut from the end that doesn't have the price sticker on it.  That way you don't have to worry about getting the adhesive off.  Then you put the cut end into the base so the top is all nice and pretty.

Then it's outside to slap on a coat of stain.  The can will tell you the correct way to apply it (with the grain and wipe of excess after 5-15 minutes, it's easy).  While you're waiting for the stain to dry you can make the hanging hook.

This was truly a stroke of genius once I stopped being a moron.  I had been agonizing over how to hang the skeleton without it looking pathetically cobbled together.  I was going to cut a bit of metal hanger and shape it when I remembered that they are already perfectly shaped, as anyone who has ever turned a metal coat hanger into a toasting fork can tell you.  When you make a toasting fork out of a hanger you have to cut off or bend out the bits that stick into the cardboard tube.  I say cut them off and use them for this prop!

I scored the hanger at the length I wanted and used pliers to snap off the hook.  You may get to wait for a bit now because you need the stand to be dry enough to handle.  When it is get your eensy weensy drill bit and check to see how it compares to your metal hook.  It's OK if it's a bit smaller but you don't want it to be a lot bigger than the hook.  Once you've got a bit that looks about right carefully, very carefully, drill a shallow hole in the top of your dowel.  (This is the part that made me feel like a badass.  I'd never used a bit that small before and I was afraid that the dowel was going to split on me, but it didn't.  It worked!  All the random crap my parents taught me worked!!)

You can go slowly and test out the metal hook as you go.  (This is where you can correct "I cut the dowel too short" and "I drilled the hole too deep" problems.  Just cut off a longer bit of metal and use it to adjust the height.)  If all goes well the first time it should look about like this.

If your drill bit was a bit bigger than the metal you might want to put a dab of glue on the end of the metal before you stick it in so that it stays in one place.  Grab your skeleton and adjust the length of the string on its head so that it hangs where you want it to and trim off excess.

 And voila!

 One skeleton model and for far less than you'd pay to get a real one.  A 26 inch medical grade skeleton on a stand will run you $300-$400.  A 9ish inch teaching model will only set you back around $15 but that's without figuring shipping costs (Google estimates a final cost of about $28 with shipping).  Using the nicer skeleton and buying stain for this one will only cost you $11.64 (plus whatever your local taxes are, of course).  I would even argue that you could use this DIY model for basic biology classes; it appears to have all the major bones and unless you need to be able to see each vertebra and the individual carpals/metacarpals and tarsals/metatarsals it should get the point across.  Plus it has the advantage of being a $5 skeleton so there would certainly be no worry about kids handling it.  Enjoy!!

Yes, that is a light up brain and it's AWESOME!

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