Make your own vehicles for your Action Man, GI Joe or other 12" Action Figure

When I was young, one of the joys of having an Action Man was building things for him that I couldn't buy. In my home town in the 1960's we didn't have a lot of money to spend on jeeps and helicopters so we used to build our own. In this descriptive article, I will try to provide inspiration for the home handy-person who has a child with a 12" action figure and desperately needs to build something for them.

The most commonly available material that is cheap enough to use for the purpose is cardboard. OK! it isn't weatherproof but then, you could always use the demise of your creation as an excuse to build an "Improved Mark II version". To complete the projects below, you could also use readily available waste from around the house plus a few cheap hardware items like sticky tape, string and old wire coat hangers.

Ready to go? Scissors and sticky tape at the ready? .......

Action Bob Sleigh

With the winter sports season looming ahead, why not take advantage of the snow? Dig yourself a bobsleigh track and use the Action Bobsleigh for an afternoon of fun and argumentative competition.

Take one large, litre or two litre, soft drinks bottle, preferably with a circular cross section (although square section bobs may look futuristic). Slice the whole thing vertically into two halves. Already, you should see the general idea. At this point, carefully scribe the shape of the base unit on any old bit of offcut  (1x4) timber that you may have lying around. (Use one of the half bottles for this - it's more accurate than measuring.)  Cut an aperture at the blunt end of the half bottle that is big enough to stick your figure into, then stick the plastic top piece on to the wooden bottom. You may need, at this stage to smooth the "front underside" of the wooden base so that the snow doesn't clog up against the straight edge. You can use a bit of sandpaper or a file for this task. Use strong adhesive tape (preferably weatherproof) to stick the two halves together. Paint the whole thing up to your colour preference and - Hey Presto! - A Bobsleigh!

Finer modifications can be achieved by screwing another small portion of the plastic bottle to the wooden base to serve as a seat for the figure. Bits of bent coat hanger can be used for the roll-bars but for play purposes, these are unnecessary.

Other winter vehicles can be made from bits and pieces. Collect Ice-lolly sticks and fashion them into a sledge for your arctic explorers. Use the bobsleigh above with toy tank tracks attached to make a skidoo. There's no end to the ideas once you get started.

Action Wheeled Vehicle

With the cost of GI Joe and Action Man vehicles riding into the tens and hundreds of dollars and pounds, a cheap alternative is welcome. The beauty of this item is that you design how it looks yourself and you can, for once, have exactly what you want. The basic model requires some sort of wheelbase, some heavy duty cardboard (Supermarkets usually supply all kinds of boxes) and some kind of tubing for armament. You can drill holes to fit the standard action figure small arms to make it look more effective.

First, you need that wheelbase! Scour the countryside for discarded baby buggies or prams. The small wheels, whilst a royal pain for mothers who want to ride over the edge of pavements, provide excellent scale wheels for Action Vehicles. You could also grab some discarded childs sit-on toy from a car boot sale or roadside dump and scavenge the wheels off the wreck. Face it, you're going to paint the wheels anyway, so don't worry about the colour. The base unit is, once more, made from an old plank or two, cut and fastened according to your taste. The wheels are attached to either the existing axle (sawn to fit, using a hacksaw) or a new one (obtainable from hobby stores). Cheap axle fittings can be made from plumbing pipe fittings of suitable diameter, screwed to the base.

The top structure is up to you. Whether you want to make an armoured car or six-wheeler adventure cruiser is down to your preference. Cut big chunks of cardboard and trial fit them first to ascertain the final shape. The "plates" can be fixed using sticky tape or strong adhesive. A final coat of paint will cover all the differences in colour and give you a finish to be proud of. I find that household gloss paints give a nice, thick, protective coat that seals all the annoying little gaps. You can then go ahead and spray the finished product with cheap car spray tins. Remember, practice makes perfect and also that, when cutting the cardboard, the bigger the better. It is easier to cut two sides at once and fold the joint rather than try to fix four unruly bits of small card together. Doors can be made to open by using tape to act a a hinge with a simple hasp made from card to provide the lock. Weapons can be made from existing toys or by using plastic tubing from old ballpoint pens and fibre tips.

For real class, you could substitute the card for sheet plastic (but that's another story)

Paint the finished creation in the colours of your choice. Stick-on letters can be obtained from motor spares shops to give an authentic look to the finished article. Added strength can be had by using wood screws to fix things to the base but, be careful that no point sticks out causing a danger to the child.

Action Boat (Thanks to Oscar Galvan for the idea)

You will need an old bicycle innertube, some sheet rubber and a few bits of wire coat hanger, cardboard and string.You will also need some waterproof tape to seal the joints.

Inflate the innertube and seal the inflator. Cut sheet cardboard to floor plan of dinghy (slightly larger than innertube) Form the keel of the dinghy from the coat hanger and attach to the inflated innertube (carefully) using insulation tape to soften the contact area. Stretch the rubber sheeting (cut to shape) around the keel and attach to the bottom of the innertube using rubber cement. When the cement is dry, run a length of waterproof tape along the joint to ensure its waterproof qualities. You now have the basic boat shape. Refinements like motors can be fixed on by creating a "box" for the stern of the boat to support the outboard engine. Oars can be carved or whittled from wood (A lost art is whittling). Seating is not something that you usually see figure largely in the real thing but if your man is that kind of guy, cardboard or thin plywood can be fashioned into a bench and inserted into the boat. String is used to create the "ballooning effect of the modular inflatable boat and, of course, to make those all important safety grab ropes. Paint the interior liberally with household gloss and then paint whatever colour you think fit  (using paint with some stretching qualities)

Yes - it floats!

The Reason For All This

The above items have not been described in any great detail for very good reason. The whole idea is to inspire you to make these things for yourself. If I provided detailed plans, you would give up because you didn't have the correct thickness of plank or the right sort of pop bottle. I have tried to be fairly general in my descriptions. If you find that these ideas don't work for you, try something else. I've tried to keep them as cheap as possible. If you have access to more expensive and durable materials - use them. Who knows? One day we may have a Home Made Action Vehicles Competition!

Space restrictions prevent me from telling you how to make a jet fighter from a few large, plastic cider bottles and some old cardboard computer boxes or a US Riverine Patrol Boat from discarded Estate Agents' "For Sale" signs (They're plastic, they're big and they're highly suitable for large scale modelling). Spaceships from supermarket boxes and radio sets from discarded stationery presentation boxes and old, empty ballpoint pens. The list is endless but here are some ideas to get you started:

Backpack Radio (Shower Gel dispenser and ballpoint pens sliced for the knobs and dials - elastic for the harness)

Laser Rifle (Old pens and pencil sharpeners cut to shape and glued with superglue)

Sandbags (discarded curtain liner fabric, machined to small 2x4 bags and filled with sand)

Field Howitzer (Small diameter plastic pipe or conduit with the good old cardboard box and a couple of pram wheels)

Table And Chairs (Sheet plastic or thick card and small diameter plastic tubing)

Space Bike (Cardboard boxes cut to shape, covered with vinyl covering and using plastic coat hanger for handlebars)

Rope Ladder (String and dowelling and a lot of knots!)

Tents (Wire coat hangers bent to form frame with fabric cut to shape and glued over to form tent shape)

SBS Canoe (Either; cardboard, cut to shape and painted with yacht varnish or rubber sheet stretched over wire formers)

Decoration can be achieved by the use of leftover household paint, sticky tape or thin insulation tape. Cut up magazine pictures to provide miniature "works of art", framed in sanded down matchsticks. If you have access to a computer, a bewildering array of typefaces are available for you to print out miniature notices to enhance your creations.


Some basic principles have to be observed here. Safety is paramount, especially where you are making these things for children to play with. All sharp ends (coat hangers and plastic card) should be filed to a blunt end or covered with vinyl tape to create a safe point. Waterproofing is difficult (especially using cardboard) but use of boat varnish can seal the paper base to make a useful water resistant surface. Waterproof tape is useful for covering places where water might seep in and can be covered over with paint to provide a proper water tight joint. When cutting wood, be careful! Saws can sever fingers (I know this - I almost lost one of mine) Craft Knives are ideal but must be treated with caution for the same reason.

Hinge joints (for doors and hatches etc) can be made using tape for the hinge. Wheels can be made from multiple layers of cardboard, cut to shape or by using tightly packed cardboard tubing, suitably cut to size.

What Now?

I hope that you have been inspired by the above ideas. I have built most of them in the past thirty odd years since I was a youngster playing with my first Action Man. I put this page here because I was appalled at the price that parents have to pay for what is, essentially, a few pieces of extruded plastic and vinyl. Maybe the world would be a better place if we spent some  of our "quality time" creating things for (and with) our increasingly alienated younger generation. Imagine, in years to come, overhearing a conversation between your child and a friend "Aw no - it wasn't much and it broke on the first day, but he made it for me because he loved me...."

Carry on...