How to Make a Totem Pole Out of Cardboard

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Totem poles can include birds with expanded wings.
Totem poles can include birds with expanded wings. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Totem poles feature stylized animals and figures that relate stories about families, individuals and the community as a whole. Totem poles have traditionally been carved from the world's tallest trees, the coast redwood. They generally were between 60 and 80 feet tall, though a few exceptional poles can be found in the 100 to 173 feet range. A totem pole craft can be made using a piece of rounded cardboard like the tubes found inside of wrapping paper.

Things You'll Need

  • Cardboard
  • Paint
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Tape

Lay out your piece of cardboard on a flat work surface. Some tubes of cardboard are actually flat sheets rolled up and can be unrolled. Otherwise, cut it straight up one side. Place heavy objects on the corners to keep the cardboard flat for ease of drawing and painting.

Calculate the height of the individual sections of your totem pole by dividing the height of your cardboard by the number of sections you want. Use a pencil to mark the sections unobtrusively or have the sections stand out by using a black permanent marker.

Sketch your animals and figures on the cardboard. If you use a piece of paper first or have a template, transfer the picture to the cardboard. Rub the side of the pencil point along the entire back of the picture until it is completely shaded. Turn the paper over and place it on the cardboard in the spot you would like the picture, with the shaded side down. Trace your picture. Press hard with your pencil or pen to transfer the lead from the back of the paper onto the cardboard. Gently lift the paper up. A copy of the picture should be on the cardboard.

Paint your animals or figures. Cut out eyes or beak-shaped pieces of cardboard to glue onto the totem pole for a carved appearance. If you add pieces onto the totem pole, paint them first and allow time for them to dry before gluing them on.

Cut slits for wings next to any birds using a utility knife. The slits should be directly opposite each other. They should be just long enough and wide enough to accommodate a cardboard wing.

Cut out wings on a separate piece of cardboard. The wings should be made of one solid piece of cardboard. The wings can be either stylized or cut more realistically, depending on preference. Do not make the wings hang down too far or be too large as it will be difficult to slide them through the slits in the sides of the totem pole.

Roll your cardboard into a tube after all of the paint is dry and tape it closed by placing tape along the inside edge of one side of the cardboard. Use a strong tape like packing tape. Roll the cardboard and line up the two edges. Press along the seam where the two sides of cardboard meet to help the tape stick.

Insert the cutout wings carefully through the slits on the sides of cardboard. Wiggle the wings a bit to slide them through the other side. Do not use a lot of pressure as you may end up bending the wings or totem pole.

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