How to Create a Gear-Powered Caterpillar

With just cardboard and cork, your little engineer can design an adorable critter that moves.
Aug 10, 2018



How to Create a Gear-Powered Caterpillar

Aug 10, 2018

Use cardboard and corks to engineer simple gears. Kids will get a kick out of designing a piece of art that moves.  

You'll Need

  • Pie tin or disposable aluminum cake pan
  • 2 or more corks
  • Serrated knife (for cutting the corks)
  • Ruler
  • Hammer
  • Small nails, 2-3 cm long
  • Corrugated cardboard

Safety Tips and Hints  

Only adults should cut the corks.

Older kids can help hammer and push nails through the corks, but young children should have assistance.

What to Do

Step 1: Show your young learner how to peel the paper off one side of some corrugated cardboard to expose the bumps. The bumps will act as cardboard cogs for the caterpillar’s gears.

Step 2: Help your child measure, mark, and then cut the peeled cardboard into 1.5 centimeter-wide strips.

Step 3: Adult-only step: Cut a cork into several 1.5 centimeter thick circles.

Step 4: Give your child some glue and let her use it to attach the cardboard strips, bumpy-side out, around the outside of each cork. Help her trim the cardboard as needed.
Step 5: Use a hammer or your fingers to push a nail through the center of each cork. Older kids can help with this step.

Step 6: Help your young engineer arrange the gears side-by-side to create a caterpillar. Ask him how close the gears have to be so that they will turn the next one in line.

Step 7: Assist in arranging the corks, so that when you push the nails into the pie tin or cake pan, the gears will interlock and spin together. Help push the nails through the aluminum.

Step 8: Ask your young learner to test the gear caterpillar by turning one of the corks.

Step 9: Rearrange the gears as needed. Remind your child that many projects require lots of tries to get things to work the way you want them to.

Step 10: When the caterpillar gears are in place, cover the nail points with more corks or tape to protect small hands from sharp points.


Step 11: Let your child paint her gear caterpillar.


Creative Enrichment

Make another gear-powered animal or design. What other creative moving creatures can your young designer invent?


The STEAM Behind the Fun

Some of the first gears we know about were created more than two thousand years ago by the Chinese and the ancient Greeks. Gears are simple but very useful machines that transfer force from one gear to another. They’re used in everything from mechanical clocks to kitchen mixers and oil rigs.

The bumps on gears are called teeth or cogs, and the cogs of one gear mesh with the cogs of another. A collection of several gears in a row, like the one in the gear caterpillar we made, is called a gear train. You can find gear trains in the transmission systems of cars. 


This project and more like it are featured in Liz’s new book STEAM Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Hands-On Projects Using Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (Quarry Books, spring 2018).

© Quarry Books, 2018/STEAM Lab for Kids; photos © Quarry Books

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