Instructions for Building a Jack-In-The-Box

Updated April 17, 2017

According to the V&A Museum of Childhood, the first toy to spring out of a box originated in the 1500s as a Punch box, and is likely to have been the precursor to the Punch hand puppet of a Punch and Judy show that we know today. The principle is based on a spring attached to the bottom of the box. When the lid of the box is shut, it is tightly coiled. And when the lid is released, it springs up and out to its full extension.

Choose a spring which, when compressed, fits inside a wooden box with 1 inch to spare under the lid. Apply acrylic resin adhesive to one end of the spring and to the centre of the inside base of the box.

Hold the spring in place while the adhesive dries for 10 minutes, and test gently to make sure it is firmly attached, by moving it slightly from side to side. If there is still some movement, leave for 5 minutes more. Paint the box in whatever colour or design you prefer.

Attach a hook or a catch to the lid, making sure that it is easy to open quickly. Ideally, it should be quick to undo so that the jack-in-the-box jumps out easily.

Draw a "Jack" on a piece of paper as a pattern for the puppet. Design the head and shoulders, and the arms and hands outstretched on either side. Extend the pattern downward to form a wide cylinder of fabric to fit over the top of the spring.

Use felt, cotton and any other fabric to make the front and back of the puppet. When these are complete, turn them front to front and sew up one seam, around the arms and head, and down the other side. Hem the bottom of the fabric cylinder. Turn the puppet inside out.

Use kapok or cotton wool to stuff the arms, hands and head of the puppet to give them structure. Add as much colour and decoration as you want to the puppet, and use buttons, embroidery silks, or tapestry wool to embroider the face. Make a small pom-pom for the hair or use strands of tapestry wool.

Open the box and slide the cylinder of fabric over the spring, pulling the puppet right down so that the stuffing is held in place by the top of the spring. Sew the fabric to the top of the spring, keeping the stitches small. Four or five stitches round the spring should be sufficient.

Push the spring and the puppet right down into the box and close the lid, fastening the catch. When you're ready, flick back the catch, the lid will fly open, and your jack-in-the-box will jump out.


Find a spring that is fairly flexible and extends out fully when it is released, for maximum effect. You can make the jack-in-the-box as large or as small as you like. Make sure that the spring is strong enough to hold up the weight if you make a large puppet. Be as creative as you like with the puppet, and experiment with designs for the head, body and the skirt. Consider making one, or even a set, as a gift.


Acrylic resin adhesive bonds skin to skin as well as to any other material. Take great care not to spill any onto your hand or onto surrounding furniture. If you accidentally stick your fingers together do not pull them apart, otherwise you may damage your skin. Seek medical advice instead. Very young children should not be allowed to play with a jack-in-the-box because of the sharp edges of the spring, and the removable parts of the puppet. Handle the toy yourself. A jack-in-the-box can frighten some very young children. If this happens, discontinue playing with it until they are older.

Things You'll Need

  • Spring
  • Small wooden or cardboard box with lid
  • Acrylic resin adhesive
  • Poster or gloss paint
  • Selection of fabric scraps
  • Needle and thread
  • Scissors
  • Kapok
  • Cotton wool
  • Catch retainer for the box lid
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About the Author

Veronica James has been writing since 1985. Her first career was as a specialty-trained theater sister responsible for running routine and emergency operating theaters, as well as teaching medical/nursing students. James's creative and commercial writing has appeared online, in print and on BBC radio. She graduated with an honors Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of North London.