“Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.”

We’ve started our new book (The Duchess Bakes A Cake), and as part of dealing with all things archaic or medieval, we decided it might be fun to see about making a small catapult. Based on the elaborate instructions for making one out of craft sticks and a rubber band, I promised Alex we’d make one today.

It was awesome.


We used painter’s tape, since I had a roll of that readily at hand. I’d recommend something a little stouter and wider if you take on this task, as we wound up having to not only tape the joins, but add in extra bindings to keep them from sliding around. Duct tape might be overdoing it, especially at the corners; you want something that will also let you hinge the arm, so some sort of masking tape is probably the best solution. I’d also consider multiple rubber bands for providing force, but we got along just fine with only one medium-sized one.

Alex got the knack of binding the joins pretty quickly, but finishing off the triangular frames required some willingness to just slap more tape on there. We quickly got into a routine where I’d tear off pieces of tape while she bound up the joins, and then I’d handle the very last join for each frame. It can take a while to complete, since there are a lot of little fiddly joins, and because we were using fairly narrow tape, we kept having to add in extra bindings. After a while, I decided that we needed to move a little faster to assure completion before Colin woke up from his nap, so I asked Alex to start looking for things we could throw while I finished up the assembly. She was thrilled by the idea, and started bringing in a lot of little odds and ends she found around the dining room — a piece of cereal, a bit of yarn, a plastic chicken, and a wine cork.

I whipped up a little paper box to hold our ammo, and we loaded up the piece of cereal. She pulled it back about an inch, and we let fly. The entire catapult jumped, and the cereal smacked against the wall.

We both let out a not-very-restrained yelp of glee, and went for the bigger items.

You need to have the thing braced. Our ultimate solution was that I’d hold down the frame while she loaded and fired. She had trouble following the loads in flight, so I recommended she take position directly behind, which solved the problem nicely. We spent a good ten minutes flinging corks and the chicken around the dining room and into the living room; if you pull it waaaaaay back, you can get 10-15 feet of distance easily, with a limited amount of arch to the trajectory. The arm is pretty sturdy, but be warned that unless you pull it straight down, your shots can go off to the side by about 20-30 degrees without too much trouble. I’d also recommend a fairly sturdy cup for holding your payload, as it can be a problem if a chicken falls out of a catapult in the firing process.


When Rivka got home, we brought it into the living room, and flung a new collection of objects about with great enthusiasm. It’s not the most sturdy construction in the world, but that’s to be expected from painter’s tape and craft sticks. The page we found this on also has instructions for building an onager from craft sticks, which also looks pretty cool.

I brought up her toy castle from the basement, and I feel sure it’s about to undergo bombardment. She’s also expressed interest in attending Punkin Chunkin out in Delaware, which we might do in future years, but not until Colin’s a little bigger, I think. This was a ton of fun, and suprisingly easy to do, even if it took a little longer than I might have hoped. She now seems to get what I’m talking about when I tell her about siege weapons knocking down walls. We’ll get into fortification design sometime later, but this is an incredible introduction to the subject.

This entry was posted in five in a row, science, social studies and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.”

  1. Betsey Langan says:

    That sounds like so much fun! And I just had a thought/suggestion for the next step. (Bear in mind, this is a suggestion from the “making it cooler” department, not any sort of expertise.)

    In addition to mounting bombardments of the toy castle, have you considered making walls out of wooden blocks and firing chickens at it? (Or, yes, other projectiles, probably a variety of projectiles. But chickens? Hee.)

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