Roll Tube Structures

Roll tubes are simply paper or card tubes which are accurately rolled using a thick wooden dowel as a former (sometimes called a mandrel). The tubes are taped near the ends and in the middle to prevent unrolling and can be used to design a wide variety of amazing structures which are incredibly strong compared to their weight.
The roll tubes have holes punched in the ends using a hand held punch or normal ring binder paper punch and this allows them to be joined together by a variety of methods including paper fasteners, nuts and bolts and wooden dowels.

They are ideal for making bridge structures and showing how the strength of a structure depends greatly upon shape and design rather than simply the choice of a strong material.

Various Science Investigations can be carried out on individual roll tubes and on whole structures to determine their strength or strength to weight ratio.

All sorts of design and problem solving exercises can be conducted using roll tubes eg. designing a bridge using the minimum amount of materials to cross a river valley.

Cranes, water towers, playground rides, fairground rides, castle siege towers etc. can all be constructed using roll tubes and with the addition of other materials and components there are endless possibilities.


Tightly roll a sheet of paper which can be A4, A5, A6 size around the dowel ‘mandrel’ keeping it as tight as possible. Secure with tape in the middle and in positions about 3cm from the ends - this keeps the tape away from the paper punch which would clog up with sticky tape!!!


Flatten both ends of the tube in line using your thumbs then place the ends all the way into a paper punch and punch holes clean through. Carefully reform the ends by pressing gently so that the flattened area springs back out into a cylinder shape.


Use wooden dowels (6mm diameter) with ends that have been partly sharpened (no points allowed! - safety!) to twist through the holes and join tubes together to make ‘structures’. Start with a simple triangular prism then add further tubes to make a bridge.


All sorts of structures are possible and it’s great just to use your imagination and keep adding more tubes.

Very soon you can build an enormous structure.

You will be amazed at how much weight the roll tube and dowel bridges can take!

Cranes are great fun and you can even make them wind up a string using the dowels as axles which can turn.

This type of crane can be made to look just like a typical tower crane used on a building site.

Lifting bridges are also possible - just like in Holland!

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Siege towers are great fun and provide an exciting problem solving challenge.

How can an invading army get into a castle with high walls and barricaded doors? If the invaders put up ladders the people in the castle will push them away!

A structure must be built which can be rolled nearer and nearer until at the last moment a bridge drops into position and the invading army can run across into the castle.


Strings and winding mechanisms can be added to release the bridge or ramp when the tower is in position.

This sequence of pictures shows the construction of a roll tube land yacht. Start with three roll tubes of length 21cm (this is A5 paper rolled to make a long tube). Then cut one of the tubes in half and fit all 4 pieces onto a dowel about 13cm long. Tape together then add wheels and short axle at the front for the single front wheel. Make a simple folded card seat and use a dowel or drinking straw for the mast. Add a card sail. The only thing missing is the driver!

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Gigantic structures can be built if you have the space! This is going to be a fairground with Ferris wheel and swinging pirate ship.

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