DIY dinosaurs: building a life-size Brachiosaurus humerus standee

January 23, 2023

Building life-size standees of big dinosaur bones has been a gleam in my eye for a long time. What finally pushed me over the edge was an invitation from Oakmont Outdoor School here in Claremont, California, to come talk about dinosaurs. It was an outdoor assembly, with something like 280 kids in attendance, and most of my show and tell materials are hand-sized and would not show up well from a distance. Plus, I wanted to blow people away with the actual size of big dinosaur bones.

 

I started with a life-size poster print of FHPR 17108, the complete right humerus of Brachiosaurus from Brachiosaur Gulch in Utah (the story of the discovery and excavation of that specimen is here). I used the image shown above, scaled to print at 7 feet by 3 feet. You can see that print lying on my living room floor in the previous post.

It was simpler and cheaper to get two 2 foot x 4 foot pieces of plywood than one big piece, so that’s what I did. I laid them out on the living room floor, cut out the poster print of the humerus from its background, traced the outline of the humerus onto the plywood, and then took the pieces outside to cut out the humerus shapes with a jigsaw.

The big piece of darker plywood is the brace that holds the two front pieces together. The smaller piece down at the distal end is a sort of foot, level with the bottom of the humerus but wider and flatter to give more stability. I used wood glue and a bunch of screws to hold everything together. Probably more screws than were strictly necessary, but I wanted to build this thing once and then never worry about it again, and screws and glue are cheap.

Even just the plywood outline without the print glued on looked pretty good. Early in the project I dithered on whether to make the thing out of plywood or foam core board. Foam core board would have been cheaper, easier to work with, and a lot lighter, but I also had doubts about its survivability. I want to use this thing for outreach for a long time to come.

To make the thing free-standing I added a kickstand in the back, made from a six-foot board and a hinge.

I used some screw-eyes and steel wire from a picture-hanging kit to add restraints to the kickstand, so it can’t open up all the way and collapse.

I didn’t want the kickstand flopping around during transit, and I also did not want the whole weight of the kickstand hanging cantilevered from the hinge when this thing is being carried horizontally, so I added a couple of blocks on either side for support, and some peel-and-stick velcro to hold the kickstand in place when it’s not being used.

I took the thing to Oakmont Outdoor School this morning and everybody loved it. I think the teachers were just as impressed as the kids. That’s Jenny Adams, the principal at Oakmont, who invited me to come speak. 

This was a deeply satisfying project and it didn’t require any complex or difficult techniques. The biggest expense was the big poster print, and the most specialized piece of equipment was the jigsaw. You could save money by going black-and-white or just blowing up an outline drawing on a plotter, by scavenging the plywood instead of buying new (all my old plywood has been turned into stuff already), or by using foam core board or some other lightweight material.

Many thanks to Jenny Adams and the whole Oakmont community for giving me a chance to come speak, and for asking so many excellent questions. However much fun it was for you all, I’m pretty sure it was even more fun for me. And now I have an inconveniently gigantic Brachiosaurus humerus to worship play with!

5 Responses to “DIY dinosaurs: building a life-size Brachiosaurus humerus standee”

  1. dale mcinnes Says:

    Ever think of putting a handle on the back ?!? Easier to carry ….. swing to and fro. Just saying.

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    I am thinking about putting a handle on, just dithering over what material to use and where and how to attach it. If I’d gotten my act together, a fabric handle with the ends screwed-and-glued between the plywood pieces would have made a lot of sense.

  3. Nathan Parker Says:

    That is an excellent prop. Extra points for using “poplar” (Liriodendron) wood for the kickstand – a genus that may well date back to the Cretaceous.

  4. Matt Wedel Says:

    Whoa, good spot on the poplar! I can barely tell trees apart when they’re alive and standing. No way could I identify them by their wood.


  5. […] the last post I showed the Brachiosaurus humerus standee I made last weekend, and I said that the idea had been […]


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