Quick and Easy DIY Methods for Making Kids' Catapults
Since antiquity, children all over the world have played with homemade catapults. It’s no surprise that the simple toy has stood the test of time, as it’s fun for all ages to play with, both indoors and out. It helps develop hand-eye coordination, and it’s easy to make using only a few inexpensive materials. It’s educational, too, helping kids learn practical lessons about mechanics, math and physics. You can choose from several different DIY designs, most of which are simple enough for kids to help you make or, with a little guidance, create themselves. Lay down a few ground rules about appropriate projectiles, and children will have hours of fun playing catapult games and mastering their homemade machines.
A tabletop-style catapult sits flat on a hard surface and launches small, lightweight items into the air with an arc-shaped trajectory. You can play a game with the catapult by setting out cups or other targets on the tabletop and trying to hit them with the launched objects. To make a tabletop catapult, you need seven craft sticks, four rubber bands, a bottle cap and glue. Construct the catapult as follows:
Glue the Cap
Glue the bottle cap, flat-side down, close to the end of one craft stick. Set this aside so that the glue can dry while you assemble the base of the catapult.
Assemble the Base
Arrange five craft sticks in a stack. Secure the sticks together by wrapping a rubber band tightly around each end of the stack.
Make the Launcher
Place the craft stick with the cap glued to it on top of another craft stick. Wrap a rubber band tightly around the two craft sticks at the opposite end to the bottle cap.
Put It All Together
Open the two sticks of the launcher to form a V-shape with the bottle cap facing up. Slide the base (the stack of five craft sticks) into the V, perpendicular to the launcher. Wedge it in so that the launcher sits midway along the base. Secure the launcher and base in position by wrapping a rubber band around the point where they intersect.
To use the tabletop catapult, place a small item, such as a mini pom-pom, small ball of foil or a dried bean, in the bottle cap. Hold the base steady on the table with one hand, and with the other, press the launcher down toward the table. Release the launcher to send the projectile through the air.
A slingshot made using a forked, Y-shaped stick is a classic childhood toy, and it’s easy to make yourself. Send the kids out to search in a wooded area for a perfect slingshot stick—a sturdy, Y-shaped limb. You can trim the handle or forks with a small saw if necessary. You’ll also need two thick, strong rubber bands, a small rectangular piece of leather or felt, and some electrical or duct tape. Here’s how to make the slingshot:
Make the Launcher
Cut two small holes in the piece of leather or felt, one at the midpoint of each of the shorter sides close to the edges. Push a rubber band through one of the holes in the leather or felt to form a loop, insert the other part of the rubber band through the loop, and pull it snugly. Repeat with the other rubber band on the other side of the launcher.
Assemble the Slingshot
Loop the two free ends of the rubber bands around the upper forks of the stick. Secure the rubber bands in place by wrapping electrical tape around the stick above and below each loop.
To use the slingshot, hold the handle in one hand, and with the other, hold a projectile, such as a ball of paper, against the launcher. Pull the projectile and launcher toward your chest; then let go.
This type of catapult has a very simple design, but because of its size and mode of operation—you must step hard on one end to send an item flying on the other end—it’s best as an outdoor toy. It’s a good project for teaching the kids some very basic woodwork skills. You need a length of scrap wood, such as a 1 x 4, and a saw, sandpaper, screws and screwdriver.
Measure and Cut the Wood
Measure, mark and, with a saw, cut one long, rectangular piece of wood. Around 4 by 30 inches is ideal. Also cut two identical smaller pieces of wood, around 4 by 3 inches each. Smooth any rough edges with sandpaper.
Assemble the Pieces Together
Mark a spot on the larger piece of wood approximately three-quarters of the way along its length. Arrange the two smaller pieces of wood in a stack, and place the larger piece of wood on top of them with the marked spot over the center of the smaller stack.
Screw the Pieces Together
Hold the three layers of wood together and secure them with three or four screws. Make sure the screws go through all three layers.
To use the catapult, place it on the ground with the long-side up and the small base pieces acting as a fulcrum. Place a projectile, such as a beanbag, on the end of the catapult furthest from the fulcrum. Launch it by stomping on the short end.