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Build a Scissor Lift

Simple machines can be used to solve everyday problems. A scissor lift is a device that can fold up to be compact, but also stretch far out. Experiment with mechanical linkages by building your own scissor lift!

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  • What do you know about lifts?
  • Who could you ask to learn more about hydraulics and mechanical linkages?
  • How long do you need to complete this activity?
  • What materials do you need for this activity?


  • Cut the cardboard into at least 6 equal-size strips. The exact dimensions do not matter, but roughly 2-3cm wide and 10-15cm long is a good start.
  • Use pushpins to poke through the center of two strips and join them to form an “X”.
  • Form an “X” with a pushpin and each remaining pair of cardboard strips.
  • Now, use pushpins to join the top of one X to the bottom of another X, as shown in the illustration. It is important that the pushpins be in about the same location on each strip (e.g. don’t put one right in the middle and another one close to the edge).
  • Continue joining the top of one X to the bottom of the next X with pushpins. Make sure you alternate left-to-right which piece of cardboard is on top and which is on the bottom – this will keep your entire mechanism flat.
  • Use small bits of modeling clay or Play-Doh to cover the points of the pushpins sticking through the back of the cardboard. Don’t prick yourself!
  • Now, lay your entire scissor lift flat on a table. Gently hold the free ends of one “X” with your fingers. Try lightly pulling them away from each other. What happens?
  • Now try gently pushing them towards each other. What happens?


  • How much does the length of your lift change when it is extended? Use a ruler to find out!
  • How big can you make your lift? Cut some more cardboard strips to add on. You might need to use sturdier materials to make a big scissor lift
  • Can you build a sturdier scissor lift out of different materials? What could you use?
  • What did you learn that you did not know before?
  • How would you change this activity the next time you complete it?


  • Cardboard
  • Pushpins or thumbtacks
  • Modeling clay or Play-Doh
  • Scissors
  • Optional: ruler

Keep it Simple

Take it Further

  • Can you put a “claw” on the end so you can use it to reach and grab for things? Gather some materials and see what you can pick up with your scissor lift. How can you make your lift sturdier?