How to Make a Big Dinosaur Skull For Very Little Money – FREE Instructions

How to Make a Big Dinosaur Skull At Home For Under 20$

When you see a dinosaur skull at a museum, doesn’t it make you wish you had one at home?

Me, with my new nearly finished dinosaur skull…

Who doesn’t need a huge dinosaur skull in their dining room, classroom or even bedroom to greet you in the morning?  Well, now you can have your very own low cost theropod (meat eating) dinosaur skull, by following these instructions.   Because this project requires some drying time between steps, expect it to take several days to complete.   I needed an economical and lightweight but relatively strong dinosaur skull for MisterScienceFair and Tumblehome Learning events, to put on our display tables, so I decided to do the following project, and save at least a few hundred to a few thousand dollars over a resin or plaster reproduction cast, to produce a dinosaur skull that is not very far from professional looking.  I did this project for under $20, including everything (and of course I used various 50% off coupons at the major arts & craft stores, to get some parts a bit cheaper, but you can always order online and get pretty low pricing too).

Everyone needs a scary realistic dinosaur skull at home!

These are instructions for a generic looking theropod skull that is about  2-3 feet long (certainly big enough that a real one could eat my head).  For inspiration about a more specific theropod species, look up Nanotyrannus or Deinonychus, as a starting point.  Parents and children should work together because some parts, like the wire and mesh, may be sharp or a little tough to manipulate.  However, I found pliers or related tools were not necessary with the type of armature wire I used at all, and most likely could be manipulated by some children.

Parts you’ll need:

  • 2 Activ Wire Mesh” 12×24″ sheets (aluminum mesh for making 3D sculptures)
  • 1 pack Armature Wire 1/16″ diameter model making wire, 16′
  • 1 pack Armature Wire  1/32″ diameter model making wire, 16′
  • scissors
  • 2 plaster of paris 4.4 pound hobby, or one 8 lb tub (a good brand is DAP)
  • a big bucket, capable of holding water (say at least 8″ depth)
  • flour
  • a pile of old newspapers
  • a small amount of paper clay (at least around 5 ounces), (not modeling clay containing oils, polymer clays or regular rock-based clays)
  • coarse sandpaper
  • Superglue / Crazy Glue
  • acrylic paints of your choice

Armature wire pattern for the skull – note the blue part in the top view is the outline of the lower jaw

1.  Take the thick armature wire and make a general outline of the dinosaur skull, and use the thin armature wire to add supports.  With 16 feet apiece, you have enough to make some loops and make a general outline like the following.  At this stage, you don’t have to be terribly precise, but it should look roughly like the following pictures.  Be sure to keep the jaw connected to the top part of the skull, with at least 2 connection points, with several loops to make sure it’s extra strong.

Step One: Thick armature wire

I just use my hands, and no tools to shape the armature wire — I find even the thick alloy wire is pretty easily workable

Oblique view of final armature wire template

Top view

2. Take wire mesh and cut with scissors where needed, and make 3D pieces over certain parts of the wire armature, like the following diagram and pictures.  It is important to make a nice thick jaw, and to cover the snout.  Also note that the snout has a 3D Nike schwa-looking region, just behind the nostrils.   It is good to use the mesh for that.  Be careful because the edges are sharp.  To anchor, just wrap a little bit around the edge of the   WIth 2 sheets of mesh, I used about 90% of the material to make the following 3d template.  This whole process to get to this point may take several hours of time.

Guide for wire mesh layer – you can add more mesh where you deem necessary, but these are the main regions which require mesh

Beginning to apply the mesh, wrapping the mesh around the armature

Final armature wire and mesh overlay – note a small amount of duct tape was used in the front of the lower jaw for added stability, but may not really have been necessary

Closeup of snout region final mesh covering – note how a second layer of mesh was used to create the “shwa” effect around the snout

Front view

3. Papier mache.  Before beginning doing anything messy, make sure you set down some waterproof sheets and some newspapers, to make sure your work area can be cleaned easily later on.  It will definitely get messy.  Mix some water and flour (roughly 2 cups of water to about a half cup of flour at a time), and soak some ripped strips of old newspaper.  If you find it’s not thick enough to hold together well, add more flour.  Then, carefully wrap the paper mache around each and ever piece of mesh and wire armature.  1-2 layers should be adequate.  If necessary, take a break and let the paper dry, and turn the skull to the side to coat some of the interior areas (although really nobody can see inside the nostrils or under the skull, so detail is not terribly important here, and more paper and plaster weight makes the skull heavy; use your own discretion depending on your personal taste for detail).  Look at the following to see the process and final product at this stage. Make sure there are no bubbles or edges sticking out.  If there are, then when they dry, you’ll need to cut off extra paper with scissors (make sure you continuously trim the nostrils and other holes regularly too, because every additional layer might make it look worse, unless it’s clean early on).   You’ll need to wait about a day for the whole skull to dry; if you add more layers, wait another day until it totally dries.  Keep in mind that even real museum fossil skulls are usually quite deformed, and have bumpy parts, so don’t be discouraged if things are not perfectly symmetrical or if there are extra bumps in some areas and not others.  Be sure to leave holes where necessary, the diagram below shows where certain holes should be.

Note where the nostrils, holes and other features are located before applying paper mache

 

Applying the wet paper mache over the mesh and wire armature

 

Paper mache, after drying, provides a solid foundation, for later layers of plaster of paris

Mostly completed paper mache layer

 

4.  Plaster of paris.  Mix plaster of paris, with cold water in disposable cups and use a stick or other wooden utensil to mix it together.  Add more plaster until it becomes the consistency of more than gravy but less than toothpaste.  Work fast because plaster dries fast.  You’ll probably need many disposable cups and many sticks (maybe 10 or more), because they get caked with old plaster very easily.  Add generous layers of plaster over every single piece of paper, and fill in all cracks and holes (except for the ones you need, like nostrils, etc.).  You may need two layers, in which case, you may need half a day for the plaster to fully dry before adding more layers.  Alternate laying it down on one side and then the other to make sure you coat all the bottom and interior parts (again you may not need them inside the snout/nostril area or much under the jaw because nobody can really see in there, and you can paint it anyway).

 

Applying very generous amounts of plaster of paris over the dried paper mache layer

Plaster of paris first layer nearly complete – it’s still quite bumpy at this point, don’t worry

5. When you feel like the plastering is reasonably done, including some interior parts, then you can sand down some areas with coarse sandpaper to look like bone grain (and get rid of extra pieces of dry plaster chunks), and optionally you can smooth over some areas with a wetter mixture of plaster, or use a professional plaster patching material to fill in some holes or smooth over rough spots (which is somewhat expensive and will break the 20$ budget).

Note how smooth the plaster is after sanding and applying some patches.  But be sure not to make it too smooth, since fossil bones tend to be really rough.

6. Take some paper based clay (which dries in about a day), and make teeth.  Be sure to count the teeth in your favorite theropod to try to get it approximately close.  For instance tyrannosaurs and nanotyrranus may have about 11-13 teeth on a side.  Make sure you have very tiny teeth in the very tip of the front of the jaw, and then very large ones, which become smaller and smaller as you get closer to the middle of the jaw (toward the throat).   Note that most of the time, the noticeable teeth stop around halfway back, in the middle of the jaw.   After letting them dry for a day, use superglue to attach them to the bottom and top of the jaw.  Glue the tooth first and then hold it in place to make sure it sticks.  If it’s not perfectly aligned or spaced it’s ok, because real dinosaur skulls are not perfect either.  Then, once fully dry, it is best to cover around the roots of the teeth with a small amount of plaster or plaster patching material and anchor them to the jaw (and try to give them the appearance of a small circle around the tooth; check out google pictures of dinosaur jaws and see how the tooth root connects to a jaw).

Testing out the size of a few teeth, before finishing all the other teeth and gluing

Once glued you should have a dinosaur skull that looks roughly finished, like this:

 

Dinosaur skull, with teeth

7.  Be sure to use acrylic or other fast drying paint and paint the dinosaur in your favorite color.  Most museums go for a light to dark brown, and then they take a darker color, like a black and rub it into all the crevices using a paper towel or sponge and wipe off the excess to give it an aged effect.  Then, you can optionally coat it with a spray or paint-on varnish and wait a day for it to completely dry before handling.   The finished product should be both lightweight and strong enough to touch and poke lightly without worrying that the plaster will break or collapse.

Then, show off your dinosaur on the internet!  Send us a pic of your dinosaur and we’ll feature it on our website.

 

A theropod skull is featured on the front cover of my recently released new book about fossils and evolution: The Furious Case of the Fraudulent Fossil.  If you come and see me at a conference or book signing event, you might even get to see my dinosaur skull with me there too.  Read more about my book below:

Fun Frankenstorm Activity: Learn About How Scientists Can Predict ‘The Perfect Storm’ — Make a Weather Satellite at Home!

A Fun Space / Satellite Engineering Activity You Can Do At Home For Free!

In light of the upcoming “Frankenstorm” hurricane which is supposed to hit Eastern U.S. next week, we thought we’d post a fun activity about how you can make your own weather satellite at home (of course it won’t be able to predict the weather but it’s lots of fun):

Taiwan National Space Organization (NSPO)’s Formosat-II Weather Satellite

Image credit: EADS Astrium SAS/ NSPO (National Space Programme Office) of Taiwan

These girls did a project at the Taiwan International Science Fair, about Sudden Stratosphere Warming Using the Formosat-II Weather Satellite

During their trip to establish THL-Taiwan (known as 藏寶家 – Tsang Bao Jia), THL Co-Founders Penny Noyce and Barnas Monteith visited the Taiwan International Science & Engineering Fair, and saw a number of projects in Earth & Space Sciences about the Taiwan earth observation (imaging and sensing weather satellites) satellite series known as Formosat.  Formosat was developed with the collaboration of US, European and Taiwanese space agencies.  Formosat (and related project COSMIC) was designed, among other things, to provide highly accurate weather and related data to the scientific community, for current day weather, as well as long term studies of changes in the Earth’s atmosphere.  Formosat-I was designed to look at the ocean and ionosphere (the part of the atmosphere from 85 to 600km above Earth, which receives most of the effects of solar radiation from the sun).  Formosat-2 does what they call high resolution change detection (a fancy phrase meaning it’s really a giant digital camera), so it can help with the preparation for disasters such as hurricanes and tsunamis and was useful in the emergency management for natural disasters such as Katrina (and because of its excellent resolution camera, it can also be used to monitor security situations such as nuclear power plant sites in unfriendly nations).  Brief info on the mission, direct from NSPO, can be seen here. Formosat-3 uses GPS to produce highly accurate coordinates for ionosphere and magnetometer (which measure the strength and direction of magnetic fields, like that of Earth itself) data.

The new COSMIC project (Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate system - based on the Formosat series mission) uses a number of Formosat-3 GPS mini-satellites working together to produce accurate weather data at various elevations above ground.  Thus instead of using data from just one expensive satellite, with one set of sensors, this more cost effective LEO (Low Earth Orbiting) satellite array of data can be used to more precisely predict and monitor the impact of severe weather such as typhoons/hurricanes (like the two below, that Barnas experienced this summer), and more.  The COSMIC system, jointly developed by Taiwan and the US is one of the most advanced weather systems in the sky today.  These satellites previously used to be launched from various types of space vehicles in the US, including US Space Shuttle, and in fact a Taiwan satellite mission was in the last flight of the US Space Shuttle project.

A weather satellite view of two typhoons which struck Taiwan in rapid succession this year (which was supposed to become a “Frankenstorm” of sorts but never did)…

A closeup view of one of the typhoons, using Infrared (IR) data imaging, as opposed to regular optical imaging

So, with data from Formosat and similar weather satellites, students can not only develop new formulas and methods for predicting and planning for current day weather, but also track global trends, and even climate shifts.  The good thing about science fair projects of this type is that a large amount of the data is freely available online, as it is from a publicly funded agency.  From there ,you can do an infinite number of different types of computer simulations and develop new formulas which could potentially be useful to meteorologists throughout the world.

Penny and Barnas visited Taiwan’s NSPO to see how they make the real Formosat / COSMIC satellites

Following the science fair, Penny and Barnas also visited NSPO this year – the NASA of Taiwan, based around the center of the island in Hsinchu, Taiwan.   We learned that NSPO is planning not only to expand its COSMIC multi-satellite weather array program (see a youtube video about COSMIC here), but that it is working closely with US’s NOAA (US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) to do so.

A Display about NSPO (Taiwan’s NASA), and the various satellites they have launched, many of which were collaborations with the US, and are focused on weather data

A launch vehicle, and a large model of one of  NSPO’s weather satellites

Our guide at NSPO provided us with a cool and simple activity that you can do at home if you have an interest in meteorology or aerospace science.  He provided us with a piece of paper, containing all the parts of Taiwan’s Formosat-II satellite, which you can cut out, glue together (using general purpose, paper or wood glue), and pointed us to online images of what the real satellite looks like.  The satellite model contains accurate scale paper replicas of the solar panels (how the satellite obtains energy to power its instruments), it’s propulsion system (how the satellite can move around), and its body which contains various instruments (to monitor the satellite, collect data, and then send it back to Earth to be studied).  You can see some of the images and read more about the program here.

Here’s Barnas, on the ground, cutting out parts with a razor knife to make his paper weather satellite

Here is Barnas recently making his Formosat-II satellite model, using just some paper, glue and an eXacto razor knife (though you can probably just use safety scissors).  Be patient – this is medium difficulty project for a middle school student.  It takes a few hours (2-3 hours) for an adult to carefully cut out and glue all the parts together, to make a final product like the one below, working at a normal pace, so expect that it may take a bit longer for a child:

Here are all the parts, cut out

You can download and print the Formosat-II satellite PDF files (using a color printer of any type) to make a cool satellite model, via the links below.  There are really no accompanying directions, so it’s really a bit of a puzzle – but that’s what makes it more fun!  [Credit: Taiwan R.O.C. NSPO, produced this paper kit, for educational, non commercial purposes]

One view of the final product

Another View…

Yet another view

And, one final view.. a thing of beauty

Download your own 2 page cutout sheets, to print yourself in full color, here:  NSPO-Formosat-II-Cutout-2pages PDF

What you’ll need:

  • Download the 2 page cutout above and print using any reasonably good color printer (tip: print 2 copies each in case you mess up; also here’s a tip: we suggest you reinforce the blue solar panel either by printing and cutting 2 of them and gluing them back to back, or use a hard piece of colored paper and glue it to the bottom of the panel to make it stronger and more visually appealing)
  • Either an Exacto-type razor knife or good scissors
  • Strong paper or wood glue (and a toothpick or other object to apply the glue)
  • The pictures above, of the final model, will provide some clues about how to put it all together.  However, you may also want to download and print some pictures of Formosat-II  (or preferably, to be environmentally friendly, just google them and leave them open on a laptop screen which you can occasionally check as a reference for how the satellite looks).
  • Aluminum foil (optional: this is only if you want to cut out aluminum foil and place around portions of the satellite to make it look more interesting)
  • Thin string, preferably transparent fishing line, which you can tie loosely around your satellite and hang from something in your room, so it looks like it’s floating in space
  • Patience – again, there’s no instructions, and you need to research how the satellite looks yourself, so it’s both a fun and challenging project, requiring some preparation — and hopefully some learning, along the way (you can start with the several links provided in this blog post).

One of our scientist-authors at THL, Micheal Erb, is studying variations of the orbit of the Earth, around the sun, using a number of scientific tools, and one of them is satellite data.  His weather mystery/detective story book, which is available at THL’s online store, as well as Amazon.com is called “Kelvin McCloud and the Seaside Storm”.



THL will soon be releasing a weather activity kit to accompany this book, expected to be released later this year.

If you have fun making your satellite, and want to purchase a kit, we recommend taking a look at the upcoming THL solar kit series – we’ve got cars, fans, plant watering kits and more.  Nearly all satellites use photovoltaic (solar) energy in one way or another, and this is a fun way to learn more about how you can make energy just by putting a panel out side, and facing it toward the sun.

 

Solar Lithography

A simple experiment to demonstrate the power of sunlight.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 sheet of paper
  • a pair of scissors
  • a small piece of glass
  • light sensitive paper
Instructions:
  1. Draw a pattern on a sheet of paper
  2. Cut out pattern you want to imprint out of the paper
  3. Layer the design over the light-sensitive paper and cover with a glass
  4. lay the combined paper sandwich (glass upwards) in the sunlight and leave out for 5 minutes
  5. Remove the glass and rins the light-sensitive paper