Building a Dora the Explorer Piñata.

March 29th, 2008

This post is about a little project I have been working on over the last week or so for my friend and work colleague Jodi who is about to head overseas to begin her big OE (overseas experience). This week was her last at work and she also had her 23rd birthday as well so I wanted to give her a nice birthday/leaving present.

Some time ago I bought a new backpack from the army surplus shop and on seeing it Jodi was teasing me asking if I talked to it like the one Dora the Explorer has. Dora the Explorer then became one of our work in jokes. Jodi happened to mention to me some time later how she had seen a Dora the Explorer piñata for sale somewhere. I was going to buy her one for her last day at work but unfortunately they didn’t have any left. Never mind I thought. I can build one!

So that is what I did. This describes how.

After completing my Bender Brewer Project I found I had a lot of foam and fibreglass left over. To make a piñata you typically build a papier-mâché shell over some kind of former. This is then painted, filled with sweets and hung up so it can be smashed with a large stick to release the treats. I decided to make a former out of fibreglass so that in the future I can make more piñatas based on the same basic shape.

To make the fibreglass shell I made a cardboard and foam base then glassed over it. The base is made from cardboard, half a polystyrene sphere (the other half of Bender’s head dome), left over pool noodles for arms/legs and expanding spray foam. I use hot glue to stick all the parts together since it is fast and easy.

After cutting a base board from thick cardboard I shaped and glued on the head sphere. I sanded the top and bottom of the sphere to make it more rugby ball shaped rather than spherical. The arms and legs were simply sections of pool noodle slit in half and glued into place. I then used more cardboard to build up the contours of the body and to provide little pockets the expanding foam could be sprayed into. The former doesn’t include the hands and feet which are made and attached later.

The expanding foam (sold at hardware shops for gap filling) comes in a spray can and you simply squirt it where you need it then leave it. Over time it expands to it’s full size. I left it to expand and harden overnight. Once hardened I used a blade and files to cut and shape the foam. Final shaping was done with 80 grit sandpaper. I was careful to make sure there were no overhangs on the former because when you add the layers of paper and glue you need to be able to pull the dried papier-mâché shell straight up and off the former. If you have overhangs the papier-mâché shell will get stuck and you won’t be able to remove it.


Once the body foam was shaped I needed to wrap the body up to prevent the fibreglass resin from attacking the foams used. This is because I was using polyester resin which will attack certain foams (like the head and expanding foam) but not others (like the arms and legs). To be safe I simply wrapped the entire body in tin foil with masking tape to make sure it was tight.

I next applied the fibreglass resin and cloth. I put on enough layers to make a hard shell. Since I was making a solid former I didn’t need to worry about removing the foam and cardboard once the fibreglass was dry. I fibreglassed the entire former so in the end I had one solid, sealed lump.  Once the fibreglass was dry I sanded it relatively smooth (you don’t need to make it perfect since the outside of the former forms the inner surface of the piñata) and then painted it with several coats of enamel paint I had left over from my TARDIS MAME console. This former can now be reused to make more Doras or perhaps other, similarly shaped characters.

Once I had a nice, solid former I began the process of actually making the piñata. Papier-mâché is simply strips of paper, I used newspaper, and glue. The glue I used was a wallpaper paste. This comes as a powder you mix with water and has the advantage of containing chemicals that prevent mould forming. This isn’t a problem for a piñata that’s smashed then thrown away but if you are making something you want to keep it is very handy. Before starting to make the shell I traced around the outline of my former onto some thick cardboard and cut this out. That provided me with the backing board that the finished shell is glued to. If I had more time I would have made a fully 3D Dora but I found the flat backed Dora worked out fine.

To form the shell the newspaper is torn into strips about 25mm wide (newspaper tends to tear well in one direction only so if you can’t seem to rip it into thin strips easily try turning it 90 degrees and tearing it that way). The strips are dipped into glue then layered onto the former. To make it easier to get the hardened papier-mâché shell off the former I loosely wrapped it in tinfoil. This forms a layer to stop the glue sticking directly to the former. I wasn’t sure how many layers of paper to put on but you need five or so to make a nice hard shell. Too many though and it becomes too strong. To be honest specifying the number of layers is difficult to do since once the first one is down and you start the next it becomes hard to see where on layer starts and another finishes! I sit the former on a block or spacer so it sits up off the table. The layers are left to hang down past the edge of the former by 30mm or so and get trimmed when dry.

Once you have put on enough glue and paper to form a nice shell you leave the shell to dry. I was in a hurry and since it was a lovely hot day I grabbed a ladder and put Dora up on my garage’s tin roof. Since the roof is a dark colour it tends to get fairly hot. I left Dora up there during the day then took her inside and left her to dry some more overnight.

Once dry you can carefully pull the hardened paper shell off the former. This takes some care but the foil layer should mean the shell won’t be stuck to the former. Once you pop the shell off you can peel the foil from inside it if you wish (the wallpaper glue doesn’t tend to stick to the foil very well).  With the shell off the former you then take the cardboard backing and fit that into the shell. It should fit nicely into the shell and can be glued in place with hot glue. Once the backing is in place the excess shell can be trimmed from around it. You should now have a sealed body. I cut a small hole in the back of the head as a door to be able to fill the body with sweets after it is painted.

The painting was done with acrylic art paints. After the paint dried I drew in black lines around the edges with a marker pen. The hands and feet were made very simply from flat pieces of cardboard (cut from Corona beer boxes appropriately enough) cut to shape and painted.These are then glued onto the body. The eyes and mouth were also cut from thick paper and painted then glues in place. The hair was made from black crepe paper glued into position. I am not entirely happy with the hair and next time may try making it from soft foam or some other material.  Once the paint was dry Dora was filled with sweets (use wrapped sweets!) and lollipops put in through the hole in the back of her head. The hole is then covered up with the piece of cardboard that was cut out earlier. Finally I glued on a piece of elastic used to tie Dora to the ceiling. I used elastic since that is what I had on hand. Normal string will work of course but the elastic did mean Dora bounced about in a most amusing manner when being hit!


And that’s it! All that was left was to hang her up and let Jodi smash the hell out of her with a stick (we couldn’t actually find a stick so a huge lump of lumber had to be used instead)!

And here is a small film of the finished piñata (and Jodi) in action!

Dora actually survived the beating quite well. The shell did rip in several places (the neck and corners of the arms and legs) but what actually failed was where the shell was glued to the backing board. In future I think I will weaken the shell before gluing the backing board in place to make sure it is the shell that splits and not the seams. Using a sharp knife it should be possible to cut almost all the way through the shell from inside providing a weak point she can rip open at. Another thing to note is that some of the lollipops, which were the hard glassy sugar type, shattered from the repeated blows and scattered lollipop shards everywhere! You might want to avoid using them.dora3

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7 Responses to “Building a Dora the Explorer Piñata.”

  1. David Says:

    You’re now #1 “Dora the Explorer Piñata” on Google.

  2. Simon Says:

    Not when I search from here. Google searches will return different results sometimes.

  3. David Says:

    Google ranks blog posts highly when they first appear (because of all the RSS feed readers pointing to them?), but they disappear after a couple of days.

  4. Simon Says:

    Ah, makes sense. I am not too worried about Google rankings for the blog thing really so I haven’t bothered tweaking it.

    Hey, commenting through blogs is WAY more reliable than chatting with Skype!

  5. juniper cards Says:

    Nice Site!

  6. patricia Says:

    hey do you think you could do a 3d one? i really need one thats 3d it would be a great help, thanks…

  7. Norris Coveney Says:

    I hope Dora the Explorer could find a different hair style. That bob Dora wears makes my family nuts. In fact more so because my little girl says that’s exactly how she needs her new hair-do.