How to Make a Human Skeleton Model From Empty Plastic Milk Bottles

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A grinning skeleton waits for Halloween.
A grinning skeleton waits for Halloween. (Image: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

If you don't have a spare skeleton to hang in your window this Halloween, you can easily make a model from plastic milk bottles. There are several advantages. Your own homemade decoration will be more quirky and individual than a shop-bought one, so it will stand out from the crowd. Your spooky design recycles junk materials that otherwise get thrown away, so it's kind to the planet. Finally, family and friends can help put together your milk bottle skeleton, so it gets everyone in the party mood.

Things You'll Need

  • Nine 1-gallon plastic milk bottles
  • Black acrylic paint
  • Paintbrush
  • Craft knife
  • Cutting mat
  • Brad awl
  • Glue gun
  • String
  • Marker pen

Skull

Turn a bottle upside down and place it on a cutting mat. Use a brad awl to push two holes into the dome above the handle, where your skull's eyes will be. Enlarge these holes using a craft knife, until they are wide and glaring. The bottle's handle and the dents behind it now form the skull's septum and gaping nostrils.

Lay the skull, face upward, on a cutting mat. Make a straight cut with a craft knife across the width of the bottle, between the handle and spout. Cut deeply, so the spout is only held on by the back wall of the bottle. When you hold your skull up, this gives the effect of a wide, gaping mouth.

Make two holes in the top of the skull, using a brad awl. Thread a 3-inch piece of string through the holes, then tie the string to make a loop so you can hang up the skull.

Hold up the skull by its loop, so its mouth hangs open. Paint inside the gaping mouth with a brush and black acrylic paint. Paint the nostril depressions behind the handle black, too. Finally, push the paintbrush through the eye holes and paint the inside of the skull black. This makes the skull's features stand out spookily.

Trunk

Stand a bottle upright on the cutting mat. Use a craft knife to slit the bottle down its center. Start your cut just below the handle and finish it 1/2 inch from the bottom.

Make horizontal cuts around the bottle leading from the the top and bottom of the slit on either side, to make two flaps. Leave 2 inches of uncut plastic down the center of the bottle's back wall, so the bottle's base remains attached.

Use the craft knife to shape the two flaps you have produced into the curved wings of the skeleton's ribcage. If you're not sure of the shape, check the BBC link in Resources to see a 3-D image of what this part of a skeleton looks like. Cut slits in each wing of the ribcage to pick out 12 ribs on either side.

Cut the handle off a bottle, leaving a 1/4-inch tab of plastic around one end of the severed handle. Glue this tab between the skeleton's neck and ribcage so the handle forms a shoulder bone, projecting out to one side, ready to receive its arm. Make and attach a second shoulder bone in the same way. Keep the rest of the bottle to use for the skeleton's bones.

Cut the spouts off two bottles, leaving a 1/2-inch collar of plastic around the base of each spout. Glue the mouths of the spouts to each other, to form the skeleton's waist. When the glue has set, glue the collar of one of the spouts to the center of the ribcage's base, so the waist is now attached below the ribcage.

Cut off the bottom 4 inches from the base of a milk bottle. Carve a 1-inch deep half-moon shape into each of the four cut edges of the base, so that its corners form prongs. Turn the base upside down to make the pelvis of the skeleton. Glue the center of the pelvis to the collar of the spout hanging down from the skeleton's ribcage.

Limbs

Cut two long bone shapes from the side panels of a milk bottle. Push holes through the ends of each bone, using the brad awl. Push a loop of string through two of the holes and tie the bones together to make an arm. Make a hole in the end of a shoulder bone. Tie the arm to the shoulder with another loop of string. Make and attach a second arm in the same way.

Make legs in the same way as you made the arms. Push two holes into the top of the pelvis and attach the legs with loops of string.

Splay your hand on the flat surface of a milk bottle. Draw around your hand with a marker pen. You may find it easier to get someone else to do the drawing for you. Cut out the hand shape, make a hole in its wrist and tie it to an arm of the skeleton with a loop of string. Make and attach a second hand in the same way.

Make skeleton feet in the same way as you made the hands. Tie the feet to the skeleton's leg bones with loops of string.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can make tiny skeletons from smaller plastic milk bottles.
  • If you have no acrylic paint, mix a little white glue into black powder paint.
  • For a ghastly variation, paint the eye sockets red or green instead.
  • Soak the milk bottles in hot water to remove their labels.
  • Take care when using the craft knife, brad awl or glue gun. Supervise young children if they use any of these tools.

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