How to Make a Labyrinth Using Foam Boards

How to Make a Labyrinth Using Foam Boards

Our family ventured a visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley last month. By the end of the day, the adults were deeply impressed by the life and times of Reagan. Whether you agree with all of his politics or not, Reagan will forever be memorialized as one of the more powerful icons of the ideal American character — hopeful, confident, gregarious, generous, rugged, independent…

Then there is the breath-taking vista of the location itself. Situated atop a hill, the library campus grants you rare access to a panoramic view of its wild surroundings — Simi Valley to the east, Moorpark to the west, and mountains to the north and south. One can easily get lost in its unpretentious grandeur.

That being said, however, my children were the most impressed by the gigantic labyrinth located at the third level of the Air Force One Pavilion. The interactive display requires careful coordination of several participants in order to usher the spherical object to its rightful home — a process comparable to the level of care and diligence exerted in planning and carrying out a president’s itinerary.

Inspired by our visit and their enthusiasm over the labyrinth, I’ve decided to attempt a homemade version. The result? Pretty awesome! And with some decoration, you can effect some wild concoctions. Here’s my prototype:

Material and Tools You’ll Need
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  • foam boards, 2 good ones, like Elmer’s brand
    It’s better to get the sturdier, more expensive types here because they will be used for the main construct of the game board. The cheaper, thinner ones might bend and crack with excessive (and most likely, overly excited) handling.
  • foam boards, 2 cheap ones (not shown)
    You can get them at the dollar store since they’ll be used to shore up the game board. But go all out and get 4 of the Elmer’s ones if you like it to be super-sturdy.
  • twisted nylon ropes, 1/4″ or thicker, 50 feet is plenty
    I’ve used the 1/4″ thickness for this project because that’s what’s handy. 3/8″ or thicker will yield better result since the thicker the rope, the higher the “wall”, the smaller the chances of the marble hopping the wall during the game.
  • nylon mesh bag
    Lemons, grapefruit, onions, marbles, etc… come in these bags. The mesh will be cut up and used to make the pockets for the holes on the game board. So the more holes you want, the more material you’ll need. A big grapefruit bag went towards the 20 holes for my board.
  • adhesives: it’s no easy thing to navigate through the world of adhesives. Since I’m still learning my glues, I’ll merely list the ones I’ve used with success. But if you have better alternatives, by all means, use them! (By the way, E6000 which is normally an awesome all-purpose craft glue is not good for Styrofoam products.)
    • glue gun with glue sticks (not shown)
    • masking tape
    • double-stick tape
    • Elmer’s glue
  • home-made compass (for drawing large circles; more later…)
  • maze pattern (I based mine on this one but you can design your own)
  • T-square
  • triangle ruler
  • metal yardstick
  • precision screwdriver (shown below)
  • apple corer
  • box cutter/ utility knife, with wide blade
  • scissors
  • kitchen lighter
  • pencils or technical pencils with thick lead
  • eraser
  • a piece of thread or yarn (not shown)
  • large cutting mat or thick cardboard for padding (not shown)
To Play the Game, You’ll Need
  • marble
  • some creative game rules
To Make the Labyrinth

Step 1: Prepare the boards. Tape your two sturdy, good boards together. There’s no need to tear off the masking tape from the roll yet.

two blank foam boards taped together

Make sure your cat approves. Mine did.

cat approving


Step 2: Secure the joint. Fold the two boards onto each other, taped side in.

fold two boards togetherSet it onto a chair with the joint exposed.

expose the joint

Step 3: Hot glue the exposed joint. Before the glue dries, open up the two boards to fuse the them together.

hot glue the joint

Cat slightly annoyed by repeated interruptions to nap…

cat annoyed

Step 4: Finish taping the two boards together by wrapping masking tape all the way around. Now you can tear off the masking tape from the roll.

wrap tape all the way around the boards

joint of two boards secured

Step 5: Make your home-made compass for drawing large circles. Ask cat to help, if possible. Mine graciously consented.

cat helping

Ask cat to steady his paw. Mine had such poor aim that I decided to go it alone.

cat's poor aim

Since my labyrinth will be approximately 30″ x 30″, I’ve decided to use the trim on one of the untaped ends to make my compass. Cut two inches off using a cutter and a metal yardstick. Cat was fired for messing up my measurement.

make compass using trim from boardMark one inch increments on your new “compass” and put some holes through them. Make sure the holes are big enough for a pencil lead to poke through the other side but they shouldn’t have wiggle room for the lead to go all over the place. Eyeglass repair screwdrivers are perfect for this.

put measurement on compass

Step 6: Draw the maze pattern using your newly made compass!

My maze will comprise of 7 concentric circles, spacing 2″ apart, with the outermost one being 28″ in diameter. So for the first circle, find the mid-point on the masking tape (about 15″ from the edge) and put the first hole on your compass directly on top with a pencil through it to secure the position. Poke your other pencil (a technical pencil with a big fat lead works really well but any pencil with a sharpened lead will do) through the second hole, 14″ away from the center.

using homemade compass

Still securing the position of the first pencil with one hand, carefully drag the second pencil with your other hand. Now, your board should look like this:

circle drawn using compass

Step 7: Continue your maze pattern. If you’re using my pattern, draw more concentric circles and space them 2″ apart.

drawing more circles

Yours should look like this:

initial design of labyrinth on board

Step 8: Double-check my board against the intended pattern. I’ve simplified mine in this case so the finished product did not look exactly like the referenced pattern.

check labyrinth pattern

Step 9: Finish the maze pattern. Draw a line, perpendicular to the joint of the board, through the center of the smallest circle.

finish labyrinth pattern

Draw 2 parallel lines, one on each side to the one you just drew, 2″ away from the center line. Repeat the procedure for the joint line. Now, you should have 6 lines and 7 circles on the board.

labyrinth pattern finished

Step 10: Make maze openings by erasing portions of your circles. To help with consistency, I measured a length of thread the size of the openings and used that as a guide for my erasing.

erase for openings

This step can get fairly tricky so make sure you’re in a distraction-free zone. Cats, dogs, kids, and other noise-making creatures should be safely stowed away.

erasing parts for openings

This was my first run. I ended up making the openings bigger after this picture was taken because I wanted to drill some holes on the path as obstacles.

all openings completed

Step 11: Build your maze! A partner will make things go so much more smoothly, especially when he didn’t mind smelling toxic fume emitted from burning nylon; or touching the semi-melted, still hot nylon rope ends to prevent fraying… Who? The cat? Are you kidding me? I meant my husband, of course.

The step was fairly intense so I didn’t take pictures of this step.

Basically, you just want to retrace your maze pattern by hot-gluing lengths of fat nylon ropes to the board. Making sure to burn and fuse the rope ends immediately after cutting is key. It can get quite tricky to maneuver even with help as the rope tends to start fraying and untwisting almost instantly after having been cut.

Also, you’d want to measure the rope a bit longer than the exact length required on the board to allow for the burning. Practice with a couple lengths first in order to figure out the allowance.

put ropes on labyrinth

Step 12: Build the obstacles!

This is the most fun you’ll have with an apple corer! Mark out with pencils the positions of the holes on the board and carefully gouge a hole with your corer. Make sure to do this on top of a large cutting mat or a bunch of newspaper and not your favorite table top.

Also, I found out belatedly that pushing through the board on top of a piece of cardboard (laid on the floor) works the best. Make sure you go easy at first so as not to ripe or crack the board.

drill holes in labyrinth using apple corer

I’ve divided my maze into four quadrants: the first being the easiest, having only two holes with the fourth quadrant having 6 holes.

Since the object of my game is bring the marble to the center hole, I’ve decided to make a few more holes on the critical path leading to and surrounding the center.

completed labyrinth

Step 13: Shoring up the maze.

The labyrinth is completely functional at this point so the following steps are optional if you don’t mind the board not being the sturdiest.

However, by this time I was fairly attached to my labyrinth (as in emotional attachment, not in a gluing accident), I’ve decided to shore it up with the cheaper boards on the backside.

But before I did that, I also took the opportunity to make pockets under the holes for the marble to fall into.

I’ve planned for this board to go onto the center of the backside of the top piece. The pattern of holes are repeated. The spaces on either side of this board will not be covered at this point. We’ll deal with that later with the second cheap board.

repeat pattern of holes on separate board (optional)

Step 14: Make pockets using the mesh.

grapefruit mesh bag used in making pockets (optional)

Cut mesh into approximately 3″ x 4″ pieces.

mesh cut to size (optional)

Cut as many pieces as needed for the holes you’ve made. I did 20.

mesh pieces ready for use (optional)

Step 15: Shape the mesh. Cut off all the corners of your mesh pieces so they resemble weird-looking stop signs.

cut all corners off mesh pieces (optional)

Step 16: Make pockets. Position the mesh over a hole and tape one side down.

tape mesh piece on board (optional)

Scrunch the opposite side of mesh a bit like so…

scrunch mesh (optional)

and tape down.

tape other side of mesh (optional)

Gather the mesh on one end and tape down…

gather top side of mesh and tape (optional)

Repeat on the other side…

gather last side of mesh and tape (optional)

Another view…

pocket created using mesh (optional)

Apply four more pieces of tape to secure the corners…

secure pocket (optional)

Step 17: Repeat for the rest of the holes. Or until you have an eerie Moon-like landscape like so…

add more pockets (optional)

Step 18: Glue the third board (from step 13) to the center of the backside. I used double-stick tape to go over the masking tape (since white glue probably won’t stick to the masking tape surface.)

put glue and tape on the backside (optional)

Then, I used my hand to apply Elmer’s glue liberally over the rest of the board. It’s faster this way and it washes up easily.

board ready for attaching (optional)

Repeat steps 13 through 18 for the rest of the backside with your second cheap board. Trim as needed and repeat any holes that fall outside of the center piece. Here’s a view of my finished product from the back.

finished backside of labyrinth (optional)

Push the mesh through the holes towards the back.

pull mesh pocket through the backside (optional)

Step 19: Admire your newly constructed labyrinth.

You can’t say it’s not cool!

learn how to make a labyrinth for lots of hands-on fun!

A close-up look on the front…

close-up view of your labyrinth

Step 20: Play! Play! Play!

Hope you enjoy this! My girls still do and so did a few other rowdy 4th-5th grade boys! Give it a try. Brag posts welcomed!

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