What Is a Rod Puppet?

by sheilamarie

Rod puppets are amazingly versatile and life-like! They are used in story telling and in puppet shows. But what is a rod puppet? Find out how to make a rod puppet on this page.

Watching a puppet show with your kids is sure to bring peals of laughter. Kids and puppets just seem to go together.

Rod puppets are fun to manipulate because the hands can move independently from the head, giving the puppeteer a wider range of motion than he or she would have with a simple hand puppet.

A puppeteer uses one hand to manipulate the rod or stick attached to the puppet's hands while manipulating the head's rod with the other.

On this page, you will find some ideas about making rod puppets. Your kids may want to join you in the fun. Together you can create characters to act out your favorite story.

Do You Know What a Rod Puppet Is?

Learn How to Make a Rod Puppet

When my youngest son was in elementary school, he and I made over a dozen rod puppets. At school, an artist-in-residence puppeteer taught the fourth grade students how to make a rod puppet. Patrick came home with his clown puppet he had made in school and showed me how to make a rod puppet for myself. We got together a bunch of supplies and set to it!

Over the years, our group of paper mache rod puppets got chewed on by mice, but I do still remember their faces. They were a cheerful bunch! I just may try and make some more. Care to join me?

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How to Make a Rod Puppet

A Sewing Project in Step-by-Step Format

If You'd Rather Work With Paper Mache, Here's How

How to Make a Rod Puppet with Paper Mache

There are several different ways you can work with paper mache to make a rod puppet. You could start with a balloon as a base and build the layers of paper mache on that. Or as in the above video, you could find an egg shape in a dollar store or a five and ten. I often just bunch up some newspaper into the size and shape I need and use that as the base to paper mache.

Once you have your base, tear newspaper into strips and dip them in a paper mache paste. Spread one layer of strips over the surface of the base and let dry. You can stick on bunched up tissue paper to add features, such as a nose, forehead, and chin at this point. Add additional layers of paper strips over the features until you have the coverage you want. 

When I'm making a small puppet, I like to use a molding paper that I can work like clay. That way I can shape the facial features as I go. The results can be remarkably realistic. 

After making the head, make the hands in the same way. One option for making hands is to cut them from stiff cardboard and paper mache over them. Another option is to use the moldable paper recipe to form hands.

What makes a rod puppet as distinguished from another kind of puppet are the sticks, or rods, that are attached to the hands to make them move. You can use dowels as rods, or you can get gardening stakes made out of wire. I cut wires from clothes hangers to make our rod puppets.

Paper Mache Recipes

No Cook Craft Recipes

Mixing up a bowl of paper mache with your kids opens the door to learning such things as measuring, a simple demonstration of fractions, and the properties of solids and liquids. 

Besides, mixing the bowl of paper mache is a whole lot of fun!

Learning is about fun when you come right down to it. A positive experience of being exposed to something helps you remember it better. And if this is true for adults, it's even more true for children, whose whole world is play.


Here are some no cook paper mache recipes to try.


I'll start with the most basic first. 

In a large bowl, mix:

  1.  1 cup of flour
  2.  2 cups water
  3.  3 T salt

Mix well to get rid of the lumps. The resulting consistency should be like glue. The salt is optional, but is recommended in order to prevent mold from growing in the paper mache paste.


Another no-cook paper mache recipe:

  1. 2 parts white glue
  2. 1 part water

Mix together and you are ready to use it with your paper strips.


Moldable Pulp Recipe

This recipe is great for molding noses and chins. It also makes good hands.

  1. Tear newspaper into small pieces and place in a bowl. 
  2. Pour boiling water over it and let it sit overnight. 
  3. The next day squish it in your hands until it forms a pliable substance that you can mold.
  4. Add a few tablespoons of salt. 
  5. Squeeze out the excess water and add a few tablespoons of white glue. 

Your pulp is ready to mold into whatever shape you fancy. After molding, let it dry thoroughly before painting.

What Is Your Experience with Puppets?

Are You a Puppeteer?
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I have made many rod puppets with my son.

Create Your Characters with a Little Paint

Alternatively You Can Glue on Felt Features

Once your puppet head is dry, it's time to slather on the paint to cover up all those news stories! You can use whatever paint you have -- poster paint, tempera paint, or, trickier and too messy to use with kids, (but my favorite) -- leftover house paint!

Plan your painting ahead. What works best is to start with a layer of white paint, add the eyes, then choose the color of paint you want for the skin. This could be people skin colors, or colors appropriate to whatever animal you are trying to depict.

Once the paint is dry, add hair. Hair possibilities: yarn, boa feathers, more paint, fake fur.

Next, stick a dowel into the head, add a costume with cloth or felt, attach the hands with glue gun to the ends of the sleeves, and attach the wires or dowels to the hands.

You will need to practice how to move both the head and the hands together. You could have two people to work the puppet if you want, but you can get good at doing the two things at once yourself, too, with a little practice. One hand can work the head while the other hand can roll the hand wires to make the puppet's hands move.

Here Are Some Photos of Rod Puppets One Group of Children Created

Look Here for Ideas to Inspire Your Own Rod Puppet Creations

Rod Puppets Are Great to Use in a Puppet Show!

With a Little Practice and a Whole Lot of Imagination, You Can Stage Your Own Puppet Show

Now that you have made your puppets and have practiced making them move, you are ready to create a show!

Begin with a simple plot using the characters you have created. Create a backdrop by painting an old sheet or unroll some large paper and create your background picture on that.

You can use a fancy puppet show stage like the one offered here, or you can work your puppets from beneath a table, using the table surface as the stage.

Choose some music that will go well with the story and that you can play while the story is being acted out. If you are lucky enough to have some friends who are musicians or who enjoy making music, you can have your music live. Otherwise, choose some recorded pieces that you can play in the background.

If you start with a simple story, you can perfect your skills to produce a smooth show. Fairy tales and folk tales are always a good choice to start with. Later, once you have ironed out all the kinks in your performance, you can write your own scripts, if you want to.

Plays You Can Use for Your Puppet Shows

One Person Puppet Plays
One-Person Puppet Plays:
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American Library Association
One-Person Puppetry
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A Good Source for Rod Puppets

Find a Rod Puppet for Someone You Love

Rod Puppet
Find a variety of rod puppets. Fun gifts that will appeal to a wide variety of interests.

Finger Puppets Are Another Type of Puppet Suited to Storytelling

A Great Addition to Storytelling with Young Children!

Finger Puppets
Great comprehensive source for finger puppets, including finger puppets for fairy tales, story book finger puppets, toddler finger puppet board books, Sesame Street characters, animals, even an Abraham Lincoln finger puppet!

Animal Finger Puppets
Source for animal finger puppets. Includes some rhymes, stories, and fingerplays to go with the puppets.

Children's Stories with Memorable Animal Characters
This page has links to animal characters in children's books. Most pages it links to include some finger puppets to go along with the stories.

Updated: 06/18/2015, sheilamarie
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What Do You Think About Rod Puppets?

sheilamarie on 08/07/2011

Thanks everyone for your comments. I hope we all get to perform some puppet shows this summer.

MugTreasuresByBrenda on 07/08/2011

We love puppet shows and rod puppets are great.

tandemonimom on 07/04/2011

I haven't done any projects like puppets in a long time. Maybe I need to break out the papier mache!

sheilamarie on 07/03/2011

They really are fun puppets to make. And once you make one or two, they are really not so difficult.

Jimmie on 07/02/2011

Looks fun. My daughter has made shadow puppets and a small shadow puppet stage, but we've never made these more difficult puppets.

sandyspider on 07/02/2011

I always enjoyed watching these puppet plays.

ohcaroline on 07/02/2011

Sounds like a fun thing to do and very creative.

mbgphoto on 07/02/2011

Looks like fun to have with the grandkids.

Guest on 07/02/2011

I have never heard of Rod Puppets before. I have done a lot of paper mache in my lifetime. This does sound like a great project.

petunia on 07/02/2011

Rod Puppets sound like great fun! Very creative project.

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