How to make a rocket ship out of cardboard tubes

Written by gryphon adams
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How to make a rocket ship out of cardboard tubes
Make a white NASA rocket ship with a tapered nose. (NASA tour/rocket garden image by Wimbledon from

The idea of a rocket ship travelling to space engages the imaginations of people of all ages. Making a rocket ship allows kids to explore their interest in astronauts, space and the space program. NASA offers a website of toy space rockets with notes on how space-worthy each toy's design is. Make a realistic rocket ship out of cardboard tubes at home. A homemade rocket out of durable materials serves as either an educational model or a toy.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • 2 cardboard mailing tubes for each rocket, 12-inch or longer
  • Cloth tape measure
  • Yardstick or metal tape measure
  • Assistant
  • Strong, wide tape such as packaging tape
  • White self-adhesive shelf paper
  • String
  • Self-adhesive letters from a crafts store, 1 inch or smaller
  • White glue
  • Piece of corrugated cardboard for base, at least 12-by-12 inches
  • Modelling clay

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  1. 1

    Use a cloth tape measure to measure a mailing tube's circumference. Hold the end of the measuring tape against the tube. Wrap the tape measure around the tube until the tape touches its own end. Read the measurement. Place the two tubes end to end on the table to make one long tube for the rocket ship. Measure the length of the two tubes put together.

  2. 2

    Unroll the self-adhesive shelf paper the length of the rocket ship tubes and add 1 inch. For example, if using two 12-inch cardboard tubes, measure 25 inches of shelf paper. Use the yardstick to draw a straight line the length of the shelf paper.

  3. 3

    Mark the paper for the width of the tubes. For example, if the tube is 5 inches in circumference, measure 5 1/4 inches from the top edge of the shelf paper and make a pencil mark. Do the same at the bottom end of the shelf paper. Place the yardstick perpendicular to the length line drawn in Step 2 along the top mark you just made. Draw a straight horizontal line. Repeat for the bottom mark. This creates a rectangle of shelf paper to wrap around the cardboard tube rocket ship.

  4. 4

    Cut the shelf paper for the cardboard tube rocket ship's casing.

  5. 5

    Place the tubes end to end in a straight line, and have your assistant hold them together firmly. Tape the tubes together with reinforced packaging tape all the way around to make a strong seam. Wrap the tape all the way around twice, and cut the tape.

    How to make a rocket ship out of cardboard tubes
    Add details in a contrasting colour to decorate the rocket ship. (old rocket image by Albo from
  6. 6

    Remove the backing from the shelf paper carefully to keep it from sticking to itself. Place the shelf paper sticky side up on the table. Place one end of the rocket ship tube 1/2 inch down from the top of the shelf paper at one edge of the shelf paper. With an assistant's help, press the edge of the shelf paper against the tube, and roll it along the shelf paper to cover it in the shelf paper. Go slowly and press down firmly to press out air bubbles. Press the edge of the shelf paper on the tube so it overlaps the first edge. Fold the top and bottom 1/2 inch of shelf paper inside the tube.

  7. 7

    Add stick-on letters to the rocket ship, if desired.

  8. 8

    Create a cone for the tip of the rocket ship. recommends using a piece of string as a compass to make the cone the right size. Tie the string to the pencil an inch above the point. Wrap the string around the cardboard tube so that the string makes a circle ending at the pencil. Cut off the extra string. Hold the end of the string, and draw a half circle.

  9. 9

    Cut out the half circle. Fold the straight sides together to form a cone, and tape it on the inside. Put glue on the inside edge of the cone. Hold it down on top of the rocket for 30 seconds. Allow the glue to dry for at least half an hour.

  10. 10

    Mold modelling clay between your hands, and make a circle at least an inch larger in diameter than the rocket's base. The size and shape don't have to be exact.

  11. 11

    Push the clay into the centre of the corrugated cardboard base to make a reusable stand for the rocket. Press the flat end of the cardboard tube rocket ship into the clay so that the rocket ship stands upright, the way rockets stand at NASA. Using clay instead of glue makes it possible to remove the rocket ship from the base for blast-off and replace the rocket ship for display.

  12. 12

    Hold the rocket near the base, and twist it 1/4 inch to remove it from the clay to demonstrate blast-off and flight for a classroom demonstration or for play.

  13. 13

    Push the end of the cardboard tube rocket ship back down in the clay for display.

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