How to Make a Paper-Mache Volcano That Erupts

volcano school project
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You don't have to wait for your child's science fair to make an erupting paper-mache volcano. Making one at home out of paper-mache is fun for the whole family. Discover how easy it is to create your own lava-spewing volcano using an empty soda bottle for a tall volcano, or a cup for a shorter one.

The Basics of Paper-Mache

Paper-mache is a technique you use to create shapes out of shredded paper, typically newspaper, and glue. Paper-mache glue, also called paste, is a basic mixture of flour and water. The glue is used as a wash over the layers of paper to hold it in place as it hardens into a specific shape. With this volcano project, you'll recycle lots of newspaper, some in crumpled sheets and some as strips, to form the mountain's shape.

There are two types of paper-mache glue you can make: cooked and no-cooked (or uncooked). Cooked glue dries smooth and clear while uncooked glue is quick to make, but dries slightly lumpy and not as clear. Cooked glue is ideal for creating delicate paper-mache bowls or other decorative objects that require a clear dried finish. Uncooked glue is best for non-decorative paper-mache projects, such as this volcano.

It's simple to make uncooked glue for paper-mache. All it involves is mixing one part flour to two parts water to make your glue. It's quick and easy to make as much of uncooked glue as necessary while working on the project, especially if you're opting for a tall volcano.

Materials for the Volcano

If you have paper and flour, you probably already have most of the materials needed to make a paper-mache volcano. The recipe for the eruption is separate and included after the instructions on how to build the volcano. Gather this complete list of supplies:

  • Cardboard or a round cardboard cake tray measuring about 2 feet in diameter
  • Small paper cup or small water bottle (don't use a large of a bottle)
  • Masking tape (lots of it)
  • Paper-mache paste
  • Newspaper (lots of it)
  • Different colors of paint (acrylic craft paint works well) for the exterior of volcano
  • Paintbrush

Steps to Build the Volcano

  1. Make a base for the bottle or cup by crumpling a mound of paper about the size of a hamburger on a bun and taping it down on the center of the cardboard.

  2. Secure the bottle or cup upright in the center of the mound you just created by using masking tape.

  3. Start to build the form of the volcano by wrapping crumpled newspaper around the sides of the bottle or cup. Make it as wide as you want at the bottom and mold and shape it into a cone so it's narrow at the top of your bottle or cup.

  4. Tape it all down so it's secure and so the outside is smooth from the masking tape. Don't cover the opening of the bottle or cup at the top of the form; you'll need it later for the eruption.

  5. Mix up your glue (no-cook, or uncooked, works well for this project).

  6. Tear more newspaper into strips about one to two inches wide. The length can vary according to your project.

  7. Saturate one strip of newspaper by dipping it into the paste. You can also hold the strip of paper in your hand and "brush" the paste onto the paper using your other hand. 

  8. Start by sticking the newspaper strip over the volcano by using your fingers to massage and smooth each strip onto the form.

  9. Repeat this process with all the newspaper it takes to completely cover the form and the cardboard base. The strips should overlap and run in different directions (there's no right or wrong direction). All the while, keep the top of the bottle or cup uncovered.

  10. After applying one layer of paper strips, wait 24 hours for the paste to dry.

  11. If you desire, apply another layer of paper strips until you achieve the volcano shape you like, and let dry for another 24 hours. Every layer of paper strips and glue needs to dry for 24 hours.

  12. When the newspaper and glue are completely dry, then it's time to paint the volcano with as much detail, texture, and color as you'd like. Include brown or gray for the rocks, green for vegetation and add red streaks to simulate the lava that will flow from the top. Add little trees or dinosaurs at the bottom of your volcano to replicate a prehistoric scene.

Recipe for the Volcano's Lava

With all the anticipation, now it's time to gather the family to view the eruption. Place the volcano on a sturdy surface indoors or outdoors, but make it a place that's easy to clean. Gather the supplies you need to make the eruption:

  • 1 tablespoon warm water
  • Liquid dishwashing detergent
  • Red food coloring
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon of baking soda
  • Vinegar (though any vinegar will do, clear white vinegar shows food coloring best)
  • Small paper cup
  • Small funnel (use a funnel to put ingredients into a bottle)
  • Utensil or stick to stir ingredients

Steps to Create the Lava Explosion

  1. Start by measuring one tablespoon of warm water and pour it into the volcano crater (the top of the bottle or cup).

  2. Add three to four drops of dishwashing detergent into the bottle or cup.

  3. Add the baking soda and stir with a narrow utensil or stick.

  4. Pour white vinegar into a separate paper cup until it's one-third full, then add a few drops of red food coloring.

  5. Quickly pour the vinegar into the volcano crater, step back, and watch the volcano's bubbly and blazing red explosion begin.