The Cotton Ball Blaster (Catapult #1)

If you’ve been keeping up with the past couple weeks’ worth of EngiNerds-related posts, then you know the first book in the group’s epic adventure involves catapults. In celebration of EgniNerds’s release on September 12th, I’ve decided to channel my own inner EngiNerd (not too tough a task) and build a few catapults myself.

For my first catapult, I figured I’d start easy. Really easy. This first, most basic of launchers requires only THREE things:

  1. an “arm” (the part of the catapult that you bend back and release to let fling forward)
  2. a “bucket” (the part at the far end of the arm where you put the to-be-flung object)
  3. something to help attach the bucket to the arm

It took me only two minutes to find these three items around my house, and I’m 99.9% sure that you can find some equally acceptable materials in your own home.

For my catapult’s arm, I decided to use this bendy ruler:


It’s perfect for a catapult not only because it’s purple (which is tied for first place on my list of favorite colors, along with “mustard”), but also because it’s so flexible. A catapult’s arm, you probably know, needs to be bent back. It’s this bending back that traps propulsive force within the catapult, so that when the arm is un-bent, it sends its payload flying. In most catapults, this is achieved by anchoring the bucket-less end of the arm – attaching it to a heavy base or even directly to the ground. But doing so would require a few additional materials. And as I said, for this first catapult, we’re keeping things nice and easy. So my hand, gripping one end of the catapult’s arm, will serve as an anchor.

Now, onto item number two – the bucket. Approximately 90 seconds of the two minutes I spent hunting down materials for this catapult was spent in search of a proper bucket. I finally found it in, of all the places, the recycling bin.

Here it is:


If you’ve identified the object above as a particulary uncomfortable squirrel hat or as a shrunken pink hockey puck, I have bad news: you’re wrong. It is, in fact, the cap of a milk carton. I gave the cap a good rinse, set it aside to dry, and then reached for the final item on my list – something to help attach the bucket to the arm. It took no time at all to find the perfect thing. I didn’t even have to think about it. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably already guessed what it is I reached for.


That’s right, DUCT TAPE! That most glorious (and gloriously useful) of all adhesives.

Okay. So we’ve got our materials. Now what?

We build, of course.

I’d list the steps for you, but that seems unnecessary, considering there’s only one. Simply take a piece of duct tape . . .


. . . make one of those little inside-out loops . . .


. . . and use it to stick the bucket to the end of the arm:


Et voila! That means “Now let’s go launch some stuff!” in French. And if you look around your house for items like the ones above and build your own catapult, you can be launching in no time. Just grip the bucket-less end of your catapult’s arm, place something launch-able into the bucket, yank back on the arm – and let it fly.

I like to use cotton balls:


If you roll one up in your palm a bit before setting it in your catapult’s bucket, you can get some serious speed and distance out of it.

Action shot! That white blur is the cotton ball, racing toward its target.

Practice makes perfect. But unless you want someone to launch something back at you, you should probably avoid catapulting at anyone. And if you just can’t help yourself, then at least make sure your projectiles are nice and soft.

Happy catapulting!

. . .

For each catapult I make over the next few weeks, I’ll include a final rundown – a quick look at the difficulty and potential costs involved in making it, and also some suggested uses should you choose to build your own. The rundown for this first catapult is as follows:

Name: Cotton Ball Blaster

Difficulty: piece o’ cake

Cost: if you’re smart enough to have a roll of duct tape in the house, zero dollars and zero cents

Uses: annoying siblings; launching lightweight pieces of trash into the trashcan; battling an army of invading snails

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