"Wow” your little ones with a simple and fun homemade gift this season. These little guys are perfect for everyday play. Use them in a doll house, as stars in a puppet theater, or take them on the go. The best part is, they are super cheap and easy to make.
I’ve made a few DIY kids gifts from PVC before and this is one of my favorites. There isn’t much cutting or measuring so you can spend your time and effort on the creative part, painting. Before we get to the fun part, though, here’s the quick and dirty on putting together the people.
Making the Figures
Use a piece of 1-1/4” size PVC pipe. You can find this at most big hardware stores or online. You don’t need much, just a few feet of pipe. The hardware store might require you to buy a whole 10 foot piece. That’s okay; it should just be a few dollars. If you want to sound like a pro, ask the salesperson where you can find 1-1/4” schedule 40 PVC pipe. That’s what they call the white PVC (there is also gray) which is easiest to paint.
Make sure you have something to cut the pipe with. This could be a hand saw, electric saw, or PVC cutting tool. If you plan on using PVC in the future I recommend a PVC cutter. You can find an economy style tool at the hardware store for around $10 and it will save you a whole lot of elbow grease. For my PVC people (which I like to call P-V-Ceople), I made the adult figures 8” long and the child figures 4” long. They don’t need to be exact. Simply cut them to whatever height you like.
The heads are made of 1-1/4” PVC caps (same size as pipe). Make sure you get the kind that just slip over the end of pipe. These are called “slip” or “socket” style caps. If you want to remove barcodes or writing from the caps and pipe use a little acetone based nail polish remover and a rag. That will take off any manufacturer marks and clean the PVC so it’s ready to paint.
On to Decorating
I used some regular non-toxic acrylic paint that I had from past crafts for my people. Save money on paint by mixing colors yourself. They usually come out better anyway! Here’s where you can really get creative with it. I chose to do a family for my first set (pictured), but you can really make them whatever you like. For instance, my next set is going to be three of my nephew’s favorite super heroes. So fun! Some other ideas are sports teams, princesses, pirates and firefighters.
I found it easiest to draw what I wanted on the PVC with a marker first. That way I had a guide as a start to paint. Some colors may require extra coats, so be patient. The acrylic doesn’t take long to dry, and you’ll get the best effect if you let each layer dry before going back over it.
Hint: Use the end of an unfolded paper clip to get super exact. Sadly, I only found this out towards the end of my project. The tiny paper clip tip is perfect for buttons, polka dots and precise lines.
Once you’re finished painting you can coat the figures in a non-toxic clear gloss to keep the color locked in and give them a nice finished feel.
Last, I added some yarn for hair. Use a non-toxic adhesive at the top center of the head and then cut the yarn into the hairstyle you’re going for. Yarn is optional, but I thought it made for a nice contrast to the hard plastic. You can see I painted on the man’s hair, which still looks good.
Ta dah! Custom hand-painted toy figures that make a perfect gift!
You can even use these guys as puppets! Wrap some fabric (this could be a rag or t-shirt) around the end of the dowel. Make the ball of fabric slightly larger than the opening in the 1-1/4” PVC pipe. Duct tape around the fabric ball, anchoring it to the dowel. Now shove the taped end into the opening at the bottom of the figure. Instant puppet! Check out some of the great PVC puppet theater plans floating around the internet, too. Another possible gift idea.
Overall, this is a simple and fun project for the little ones in your life. Here is how I would score it on the craft-o-meter:
Cost: Cheap (Under $20 - less if you have paint, glue, yarn etc.)
Difficulty: Easy, anyone can do it!
Time: Not Bad, 2 – 3 hours
This gift is especially nice if you already have some PVC pipe lying around that needs to be used. Handmade recycled and upcycled gifts are the best! As my fellow thrifty crafters may have found, though, handmade kids’ gift ideas can be especially difficult to come up with. Do you have ideas for fun PVC people themes or other easy DIY gifts? Share them here!
Amanda Hill is the Content Manager at Commercial Industrial Supply, a commercial industrial supplier of PVC products for both contractors and general consumers. Amanda works in and around PVC and in her spare time utilizes these materials to create cool and fun DIY projects. Learn more about the different types of schedule 80 cpvc and schedule 40 cpvc products that can assist with making the next cool DIY Project.