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How to Build a Catapult

Updated on September 12, 2011

Yep, it can be this simple.


A catapult, huh? You've been watching an old cartoon with the apparatus involved? Yeah, they can be pretty fun and interesting, but now you want to make one, for whatever reason. (Do you remember having to make them for science class in middle or high school?)

Let's start by discussing the different types of catapults:

  • Trebuchet - This model uses a counterweight to launch objects, similar to how a teeter-totter works. The counterweight pulls one end down so the other end shoots up quickly.
  • Mangonal/onager - This is the type you most likely see on TV, with a rope or spring that is released so the end comes up by way of torsion (remember your physics?).
  • Ballista - It looks like a crossbow, and shoots spears, arrows, and similar sharp objects.
  • Miscellaneous - I'm sure you've seen the spoon catapults, or perhaps the clothespin catapults...

Before you get started, however, there are a few things you should think about:

· Research catapults so you understand what they do and how they work. This is for safety's sake, and so you don't waste your time making something that won't help you.

· You definitely have to think about what the catapult is going to be for. It is for show? To keep in your cubicle for a distraction? To win a science fair or engineering prize? Do you want it to be strong? In that case, you'll have to think about which type would work best for the purpose.

· Understand what the different types of catapults are. Remember that a catapult may be considered the generally larger machine based off of the ancient creation that militants would use to hurl weapons such as rocks or fire at enemies; simple slingshots may also be considered catapults. Keep this in mind as you search for instructions.

· Be sure that you have the right kind of materials. For larger models especially, stopping short of appropriate supplies may lead to the catapult breaking or malfunctioning, which may be very unsafe.

· Speaking of unsafe, catapults can be dangerous, whether it breaks or the counterweight hits them or they end up being thrown by it. Use it in a safe, open area with nothing too heavy, hard, or sharp (at least when you start out).

With that said, we can start going into the steps on how to build your own catapult.

How to build a trebuchet catapult

Make your own catapult out of PVC piping!

How to build a small catapult

We can start small, say with a little catapult that will fit on a table and that will be powered by rubber bands (almost like a mousetrap!).

Please read these steps carefully, keeping the above tips in mind and referencing accompanying photos for additional help. The below instructions are of a sort of mix of the two models shown to the right, using the foundation of the top and the functionality of the bottom.

You'll need:

  • 2 larger blocks of wood of similar size to serve as the foundation
  • 9 smaller, thinner pieces of wood (sticks or dowels, for instance) of similar size to hold the foundation together
  • A larger, thinner piece of wood to serve as the arm of the catapult
  • A cup or similar object for the end of the arm, where objects can be placed for hurling
  • A metal axle, as from a toy car or a piece of metal from a coat hanger
  • Drill
  • Glue
  • 2 small hooks
  • Rubber band(s)
  • Sander, sandpaper, saw, measuring tape, ruler, hammer, nails (optional)
  1. Find a plan that suits your needs and desires. You can look online for some good ones with dimensions and proportions included so you know how big of a catapult you'll be working toward and what kinds of materials you'll need to build it. Generally, instructions for catapults of a smaller size should be rather similar for the most part. The mangonal type works well for smaller models.
  2. Acquire the right materials called for in the instructions. You'll need two sturdy blocks of wood set in a square to serve as the base and foundation of the small catapult. You'll also need dowels or sticks of wood for supporting the catapult frame. Fir or oak are solid, strong types of wood, but if you just want to build a smaller catapult, wood strength may not be that important of a factor. You might have to shape the wood, which involves removing awkward pieces of bark and/or sanding the wood. This may require sandpaper or a sander, a small saw, and measuring tape/ruler.
  3. Cut holes with a drill into the insides of the two blocks for the foundation; four holes along the insides of each so the dowels can be placed inside the holes to hold the two pieces together should be sufficient. Make sure the holes are an appropriate size so the dowels will fit snugly into them, and put some glue on the ends of the dowels before you slide them inside of the holes.
  4. Cut pretty deep into the tops of the two blocks parallel to each other near the middle of their lengths, large enough for one of the smaller blocks/sticks of wood to fit into to connect the two larger blocks. Glue the smaller block into the cuts in the two larger blocks to connect them. This is where the upright support bar will be built.
  5. To make the upright support, fit two smaller blocks of wood into the cuts in the tops of the larger blocks of wood, so the smaller pieces stand straight up, then glue them in place. Then connect the two upright pieces by gluing or nailing another piece of wood of the same width across the tops of them. You'll also want to add one smaller piece of wood to each side connecting the upright piece to the foundation, making a triangle with the three. Glue those two pieces to the upright support and the foundation.
  6. The catapult arm can be as long or thick as you want, so choose a piece of wood for the arm and decide how you want the cup to be; you can build it into the wood by carving into the end so it becomes concaved like a cup, or you can use a paper cup or a small box, then attach it to the arm with nails, thumbtacks, or glue. This might not be the sturdiest option, so you should prepare yourself for some carving and patience in shaping the end of the arm. Be sure there is enough room at the end with the cup so you can pull the arm down without getting in the way of the arm's path when released.
  7. Drill a hole into the opposite end of the arm from side to side, not top to bottom. This should be wide enough for a metal axle to fit through. (You can get an axle from a toy car, or cut a piece of a metal coat hanger off.) Drill holes of similar sizes through the catapult base's two larger blocks of wood behind the center dowel, then slide the metal axle through all three so the arm is attached to the base with the axle. Remember to add some glue to the axle to try to hold it in place in the wood.
  8. Find two hooks that can be easily twisted into the wood. Attach one to the outside of the dowel furthest from where the catapult arm is attached to the base. Attach the other to the arm right in front of the cup. Turn the hooks so they curve away from each other. You might want to add some glue to the hooks in the wood as well.
  9. Get a strong rubber band or similar object to use to propel the catapult arm. Place the rubber band on the hooks, making sure it runs over and not under the upright support of the catapult.
  10. Find a small object that won't hurt too much if someone or something gets hit with it, like a rubber ball or a sugar packet you didn't add to the coffee swill at work. Place it in the cup, pull the arm back carefully (try not to break the rubber band!), then release it in the desired direction (maybe you set up a tower of cards to aim for).
  • Note: You can adjust the angle at which the catapult fires by adjusting where the horizontal bar connecting the two upright pieces is. You can remove that horizontal piece of wood and replace it elsewhere along the two upright pieces, making sure it remains perfectly horizontal wherever you place it.
  • You can estimate the sizes and widths of the pieces of wood. Just make sure the two larger blocks for the foundation are the same sizes, and that the wooden dowels or sticks that connect them are the same as well, or at least will fit snugly into the holes you drilled for them into the foundation. You don't want the dowels to be loose or the foundation won't be stable enough.
  • This model is nice because it's not too difficult to fix; if the rubber band breaks, you can easily add a new one!
  • Don't forget that you can decorate the catapult! Spray-paint it, add stickers, or even put a nice lacquer on it!

Building a catapult by kit

You can work up to this level soon!


Human catapult


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    • profile image

      martellawintek 5 years ago

      hello again paul if your still in need of them here is there site

      and some info ,ring them if you need them urgently ,say I gift him out

    • profile image

      nick 6 years ago

      that's me on video taping the human catapult it was asome

    • profile image

      kay-kays dad 6 years ago

      am about to assist my daughter with building a catapult for her physics class. just wanted to say thanks for the info presented here on this glassvisage thanks for the help it is most appreciated.

    • profile image

      suckazzz 7 years ago

      this is nice.! i hope it helpzz i havee a science fair to do.! >.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks for your comments! Person, a lot of times PVC materials are used for the trebuchet.

    • profile image

      person 7 years ago

      please reply asap this project is due on monday

    • profile image

      person 7 years ago

      what kind of catapul is the one made out of pvc pipes i need to know because this is part of a school project

    • profile image

      kip 7 years ago

      yo this is awesome

    • profile image

      Barbie4life 8 years ago


    • profile image

      blondie:) 8 years ago

      i dont want to adree with daniel but it wold be pretty weird if people just brouse the site 4 fun. But it helped a lot with my assignment!

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California


    • profile image

      daniel 8 years ago

      your all nerds with nothing better to do with your time :)

    • profile image

      your da boo 8 years ago


    • profile image

      Nathan ortiz 8 years ago

      I like the 2nd one it was cool

    • LVM profile image

      LVM 8 years ago

      Great hub. Very informative. I'll be building one like the one they used during the French Revolution!

    • SageAquarius profile image

      SageAquarius 8 years ago

      awesome info, thanks!!!

      I need to build a hugh metal catapult! its for a very important project and i have a deadline of november! does anyone have the expertise to help me? i will fly you to Los Angeles, put you up in a hotel and pay your expenses plus wages. i have welders and steel workers to help us

      you have to have all ready built a few catapults

      please contact me ASAP thanks!!

    • profile image

      Russ 8 years ago

      Super content and good instruction. I'll give this one a go.Thx!

    • profile image

      woopwoop 8 years ago

      Cool info. Gotta make 1 for an assignment this really helped thx! :D

    • profile image

      cameron 9 years ago

      my brother could probally build that....

      good thing god is with us.....

    • profile image

      cameron 9 years ago

      the catabult is awesome

    • profile image

      clayton 9 years ago

      crazy stunt man are crazy this is the cops speaking and i say your going to jail man !!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      9 years ago


    • Tom Cornett profile image

      Tom Cornett 9 years ago from Ohio

      How far will it toss a cat? Great Hub! :)

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 9 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks everyone! Artful... Ha! Stronghold.

    • artfuldodger profile image

      artfuldodger 9 years ago from Earth

      This will come in handy as im laying siege to an enemy stronghold next weekend. Have you ever experimented with the "Potato Cannon"? They're really fun. But you'll need to go out to a sparsely populated, relatively open area to use it.

    • profile image

      gaaraluver  9 years ago

      thanks for the info!!!!

    • J_Eds profile image

      J_Eds 9 years ago from Blackpool

      Lol how bizare, but fun!

    • profile image

      t08c15 9 years ago

      That was interesting and fun reading. The references would be interesing too.

    • quiet tracer profile image

      quiet tracer 9 years ago from South-Asia

      Wonderful hub glassvisage! thank you for your hub

    • funwithtrains profile image

      funwithtrains 9 years ago from USA

      I saw a program on either History Channel or Discovery that featured trebuchets -- they were launching some huge things into the air! Very cool hub!

    • Brainstormer profile image

      Brainstormer 9 years ago from Australia

      No way. How much fun is this? I'm off to build my first ever catapult.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 9 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks everyone! It's like a collaboration of info on the net and from catapults I've tried to make myself :)

    • profile image

      PC 9 years ago

      Best info on the net!

    • profile image

      booyakamix 9 years ago

      that is so cool i have to go and make one

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Very interesting information and more than I ever imagined about catapults. Thumbs up!

    • tulwave profile image

      tulwave 9 years ago from Orlando,Fl

      I totally need about 10 of these giant ones in my yard. I would love to launch stuff. I also want a canon like from a Pirate ship. Safety is a concern in my hood. Great Hub


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