How to Build with Box Rivets

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Today we’re joined by TinkerLab reader and friend, Aricha Gilpatrick Drury who’s offered to show us how to build with box rivets. Aricha is a mom to four children and has a knack for tinkering. When she shared this uber-tinkering activity on our Facebook wall, we asked Aricha if she’d be so kind to share with us today. Lucky us, she said, “yes!”

If you’ve never built with box rivets before (we haven’t), you’re in for a treat. They’re simple plastic connectors that enable you build almost anything you can think of from cardboard: castles, theater sets, play structures, and more.

How to build with rivets and cardboard boxes | TinkerLab.com

About a year ago, my father sent the kids a package of Mr. McGroovy’s Cardboard Rivets (Amazon), which took up residence, half-forgotten on a shelf. My kids all love building with cardboard boxes, but I’d assumed the rivets would require a great deal of adult help and I was hesitant to introduce them. I was pleasantly surprised to be proved wrong when I finally got them out on a recent snow day.

Supplies: Build a Box with Rivets

My 9-year-old and I gathered our supplies:

Mr. McGroovy's Rivets | Tinkerlab.com

How the Rivets Work

After a quick safety review for the punch (to avoid punching directly into one’s hand), we checked out the rivets to see how they worked. Two rivets are positioned on either side of the cardboard with the prongs at a 90-degree angle from one another. When the rivets are pressed together, the ridged prongs click securely and hold the two layers of cardboard together.

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I demonstrated once, showing my son how to punch through two layers of cardboard then press the rivet together through the punched hole. Once he had the idea, which only took one demonstration, I turned him loose to design and build.

Build with Rivets and Cardboard

He started out by gathering all the boxes together and then arranged them into the general shape of the playhouse that he wanted to make. After getting a rough idea of where each box would go, he figured out which sides needed to be cut open and how to overlap the joints to secure the boxes together. For the most part, he was able to punch the holes and line up the rivets himself, though he needed an extra hand (or a longer arm) for some spots.

Creative Problem Solving

In a few places, the cardboard didn’t overlap and we used packing tape to join the pieces. When that proved to be far less reliable than riveting, he discovered that an extra piece of cardboard could be placed over both edges and riveted together, creating a much more stable joint.

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He also discovered that he needed to do some pre-planning in a few places by securing the harder-to-reach rivets first and leaving the ones close to the edge for last.

His final touch was a door, which I cut for him using the box cutter. He designed a handle with a strip of leftover cardboard and riveted it on.

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Once the house was complete, we carried it out for the rest of the children to explore. After an initial peek inside, they furnished it with pillows and blankets. Over the next couple days it became a play house, a castle, and a place to be alone. After a week in child care (including being moved by small children), the house is still standing solid.

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Resources

Mr. McGroovy’s website has designs for using the rivets to create projects from your own cardboard boxes, as well as ideas from customers and tips for acquiring large appliance boxes.

Mr. McGroovy’s rivets on Amazon

Note: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience


Aricha Gilpatrick Drury on How to build with rivets and cardboard boxes | TinkerLab.comAricha Gilpatrick Drury is an early childhood consultant and mother of four. She comes from a long line of fixers and tinkerers and hopes to pass on a tinkering mindset to her children. She likes to test out her open-ended art and tinkering invitations in her husband’s in-home childcare program.

Tinker Tots: How to Take a Plush Toy Apart

tinker with stuffed animal

Tinkerer: one who experiments with materials and ideas to fully understand their capacities, and who further iterates on their learning to find better solutions to current problems. 

Tinker tots: Take a plush toy apart, using an unloved toy.

Tinker Tots is a series of projects where I  share tinkering materials or tools that can be safely introduced as open invitations for children to explore and tinker.

Materials

  • Toy or Stuffed Animal that could be easily taken apart. Choose a toy that’s not well-loved, or do what we did and pick one out at the thrift store. Our criteria: A clean toy that my daughter was interested in deconstructing.
  • Scissors

Objective

To learn how a toy is assembled through hands-on exploration, and have fun along the way.

You might want to brace yourself for this one as it may seem a bit graphic. although my 4-year old didn’t seem to be unsettled by this at all. I’ll share some photos to inspire you, along with my daughter’s thoughts on the process.

tinker with stuffed animal

N, who I call “Nutmeg” for the sake of this blog, was able to cut parts of the toy open, and I helped make sure she used the scissors safely and also helped cut the more difficult parts. She wanted to start by cutting off the doll’s arms.

Nutmeg: Let’s call this “animal-cutting-open-pouch.”

Me: Do you like taking things apart?

Nutmeg: Yeah, I do. This one is especially fun because it’s hard to cut open. When you open it you see everything inside.

tinker with stuffed animal

This was followed by cutting off the nose and cheeks, which she could tell were filled with fluff. She wanted to pull every last bit out, which we stored in a large bowl.

Nutmeg (to me): Now cut the nose off.

Me: What do you think is in there?

Nutmeg: More cotton. That looks ridiculous!

tinker with stuffed animal

We turned it inside out to find some clues as to how it was made.

Me: How do you think this was made?

Nutmeg: I don’t know. I wonder how they put the hair on. That’s a big mystery. But the biggest mystery is how they put the whole thing together. That’s what we’re trying to find out.

tinker with stuffed animal

Me: What did you think would be inside?

Nutmeg: I thought cotton would be inside.

tinker with stuffed animal

Once the toy was disassembled, she came up with a plan to glue some of the pieces to paper, and this was followed by cooking with the stuffing. She also asked to save the stuffing in order to make our own stuffed toys.

tinker with stuffed animal

Tinkering is about hands-on experiences, learning from failures, and unstructured time to explore and invent. And through the processes of exploration and invention lies the potential for innovation.

Do you think we were successful? We took a stuffed animal apart — can you think of other toys that could be easily and safely disassembled?

This project is inspired by the Exploratorium’s project: Taking Toys Apart. They have a wealth of tinkering activities on their site and it’s worth pouring over if you like this sort of thing.

More Tinkering Ideas

Follow my Tinkering board on Pinterest

Why is Tinkering Important?

mama smiles phones tinkering

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. -Thomas Edison

hammering nails tinker

Hammering in the Mud Pie Kitchen, Tinkerlab

True to the name of this blog, Tinkerlab, I’m excited to start a new series called “Tinker With…” where I’ll introduce new tinker with materials, categories of materials, or tools that can be introduced as open invitations for children to explore.

The first Tinker With… will be tomorrow, so read on about why tinkering is important and then be sure to check back tomorrow for more.

What is Tinkering?

Tinkerer: one who experiments with materials and ideas to fully understand their capacities, and who further iterates on their learning to find better solutions to current problems. 

Last week I wrote an article called What is Tinkering?, and you may enjoy taking a peek back to read it.

In its classic sense, tinkering is about puttering around with electronics or machines, but in this more up-to-date definition, tinkering is about playing with materials and figuring out how just about anything can be assembled.

Tinkering is about hands-on experiences, learning from failures, and unstructured time to explore and invent. And through the processes of exploration and invention lies the potential for innovation.

gum drop building

Gum Drop Sculptures, Tinkerlab.

Why is tinkering so important and why should we care?

Tinkering is important because it can help children understand how things are made, enables children to have focussed and unstructured time to explore and test ideas, and it’s at the heart of invention.

Think of Thomas Edison as a classic example.

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Hammering nails into Rain Stick. From Anna at The Imagination Tree

Edison may be best known as one of the most prolific inventors in history. He’s responsible for the first light bulb, stock ticker, electrical power, and motion pictures.

And do you know how it all began?

Edison had a rough childhood. Due to illness, he started school late at the age of eight and was deemed unfit for education by the schoolmaster. Hard to believe, right? His mother chose to homeschool her son, where he learned at a much higher level than he would have been at in school.

At age ten, Edison built a chemical lab in his cellar. Soon thereafter, he was obliged to take a job selling sweets and newspapers on a train. He found an opportunity in what could have been drudgery, and built another laboratory for himself in the back of the train (very industrious and tenacious of this young boy!). In this train job, he further learned morse code and became a proficient telegraph operator.

Overall, he learned how things work together, he was a resourceful self-starter, and he created opportunities to test his ideas from a very young age.

power drill tinker

Taking apart a machine. From Kristin at Sense of Wonder

The world has changed a lot since Edison, but opportunities for tinkering and invention still abound! So I pose this question as something that we can unpack together:

What can we do to give our children opportunities to think like Edison?

Woodworking, from The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Raising a maker-kid doesn’t mean we have to outfit our homes or classrooms with high tech equipment or tools that our outside of our budget or comfort zone. Think back to Edison who was motivated to build a lab in his basement. What we CAN do is provide our children with opportunities to explore materials, take things apart, and imagine new possibilities through the process of invention. And this can be done simply by providing them with low-cost materials and time to tinker.

We’re entering a new era of invention and innovation, and if we want our kids to be prepared for this DIY movement, now is the time to provide them with cardboard boxes, rolls of tape, tools, and a lot of free time to explore and experiment.

makey makey tinker

In addition, we’re fortunate to live in a time where hacking and a DIY spirit are in full swing. Open-hardware invention kits like MaKey MaKey (above), magazines like MAKE and its related hacker-art festival, Maker Faire, open-source software,  maker camps such Camp 510, and websites like Instructables make this an exciting time to be a tinkering maker-kid.

Tinker with…

I hope you’ll join me tomorrow for the unveiling of our first “Tinker With” challenge.

Special thanks to The Chocolate Muffin Tree, The Imagination Tree, and Sense of Wonder for sharing their tinkering images with me.