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How to make pulleys out of foamboard or cardboard.

It is pretty easy to do if you know some simple techniques. I will show you how to make pulleys with just some really simple, and readily available, supplies.


To see a really good example of these pullleys in action you should check out my project called "The AMazing Spectacular Eclipse Machine!" You can watch a video and see the pulleys in action.

The eclipse machine


Here is what you need to make one pulley. And this is simply repeated to make any number of pulleys and in any size.

  • Rubber band
  • Foamboard or corrugated cardboard
  • Cereal box cardboard
  • Cheap plastic drinking straws
  • 3/16 inch wooden dowels (39 cents at Hobby Lobby)
  • 1/4 inch wooden dowel (39 cents)
  • Glue and/or hot glue
  • Miscellaneous common tools like pencil, scissors, hobby knife

Let's make a pulley.

You can follow my dimensions just for understanding. But you can make pulleys any size depending on the speed change you want.

A quick rule of thumb with pulleys is that if you double the diameter of the pulley and it will half the speed.

Use a compass or a round object to draw out a circle on your foamboard or cardboard. The exact center of the circle you draw is very important. You have to know where that is. With a compass it will leave a tiny hole in the center which is perfect. My circle is 3 inches in diameter.

Draw a circle with a compass


Cut out that circle. Try to keep it as perfect a circle as possible. The more accurate the better. It will operate better. (My circle is 3 inches in diameter).

The cut out disk


Use white glue to coat the edge all the way around. The rubber band will be riding on this edge and we want a hard glue shell. Otherwise the rubber band could dig into the foam and stop working. I show you in blue where to apply the glue - all the way around the disk. With foamboard it is the foam core between the two sheets of paper. Use your finger to smooth out the glue and insure it makes a nice and even coat all the way around.

Apply Glue


Next cut two disks out of cereal box cardboard. Make these disks about a half inch larger in diameter than our first disk. So my disks are 3 1/2 inches in diameter.

And as with the first disk be sure you know exactly where the center is. Our compass does the trick well.

Draw circles


Two cereal box disks


This next step is important! Sharpen one end of your 3/16 inch wooden dowel and use it to pierce through all three disks. Apply glue.

Glue the three parts together

And glue them all together. But don't get any glue on the wooden dowel. Remove the dowel and place this assembly under a weight like a few books to keep it all flat and allow it to dry.

remove the dowel

Apply glue in the runner of the pulley. Be sure to cover up the cracks. (Shown with a blue arrow). These cracks would be a place where the rubber band could get stuck.

Apply Glue

Once the glue is dry your pulley is complete. Now let's take a look at putting it into a machine.

Continue with the pulley tutorial