Space Quest - Papier Mâché

This week was our third meeting with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters pairs working on constructing and describing their own solar system and we were all happy to finally be at the papier mâché stage of the project!  If you used this technique in the past you are likely thinking to yourself, "Oh, the mess!".  I know I was.  But I also knew I wanted the kids to be able to make 3-D versions of their planets which could be mounted on dowels which they can carry at our final demonstration of the dynamic interaction of the bodies in our system.  I could think of no better way to accomplish that than with papier mâché.  

Whenever we MAKETANKers have questions or concerns about a process or concept we try to seek out an expert for advice, it is the best way we have found to learn and share knowledge.  So I went to speak to assistant professor Melanie Mortimer at Miami University's theatre department to get some advice about making the "planets on a stick".  And thank goodness I did.  Melanie was so helpful and her most winning piece of advice was to ditch the mess making a paste to dip paper into and instead purchase large rolls of gummed paper tape.  This tape is traditionally used by shippers to seal boxes.  It is brown paper and has one side gummed like an envelope that needs to be licked.  All you have to do is dip it in some water or push it down onto a moistened sponge and, é viola, you are in business, paper and glue all in one tidy package.  Mess is always a consideration when we are working in other people's facilities so this was the perfect solution to the concern.  

One of our physics students, Ben, jumps in to lend a hand with the making of the planets.

One of our physics students, Ben, jumps in to lend a hand with the making of the planets.

Our goal for this day was to get on our first two layers of paper.  Since we have limited work time we did not let the first layer dry before applying the second.  I test drove this prior and it worked well.  During my trial runs I realized it was helpful to have a way to visually differentiate layer one from layer two so you were sure of getting full coverage.  When you are using paste you can alternate brown paper with newsprint but since we are on an all brown paper regimen I just made squiggly lines with different colors of sharpie on different supplies of the paper tape.  Even when torn into small pieces you could still always get a bit of color, enough to let you know where your layers were.  Everyone seemed to really enjoy this process, though they were sad to learn the eventual fate of the balls they were building around. Many wanted to know when they got the ball back and if they got to keep it.  It was a little like explaining to a small child that hamburger is ground up cow.  We ended up passing out most of the extra balls we had on hand for the kids to play with once they finished.

Once the first two layers are dry later this week I will drill holes in the top and bottom of each one with a forstner bit in a drill press and place 1/2" pvc pipe inside.  I'll then cap those pieces of pipe tightly, while securing a small square of tarp material to ensure a solid connection with the orb.  I will try to remember to post some photos of this process so it makes more sense.  This will allow a dowel to go into the center of the orb.  Next week the kids can apply their final layer of papier mâché and then on to decoration!