Put together a tinkering box with odd hardware pieces and scrap metal, add a set of magnets and have STEAM building fun with kids, creating quirky steampunk robots and machines.

Magnetic scrap metal sculptures, robots and machines. Steampunk-inspired craft and STEAM building fun for kids!

Building! Robots! With magnets! Each of these words must sound like a song to my son. Anselm just spent an hour building robots with magnets, tinkering with the old bolts and screws from Dad’s assorted hardware bin. After wandering off to find something else to do, he had to return for one of the robots – because its his friend. Later, he returned to his building station because his robot friend needed a smile. Now, they’re watching a movie together.

The idea came from a little magnetic kit we got as a gift over holidays. The hardware pieces from the kit connect to each other with strong magnets and created the impression of a robot. It was fun to make, but as soon as we built the original kit, we felt like we needed more pieces to offer more creative possibilities. So we went to get one of our crafting treasure chests.

Do you have crafting treasure chests? We have a few. A tub full of wool for felting, a box full of clay for sculpting, another box full of paints… The one I’m referring to right now is a box full of odd bits and pieces hardware in Dad’s shop. You know, screws from furniture disassembled long ago, spare IKEA Allen keys, gears from long-gone machines, bolts and springs and wire. I also made a quick raid into the kitchen and came back with a couple of promising empty spice tins.

Tinkering box for kids

We had eight little circular magnets and three rod magnets that worked very well. I’d say ten is enough to create most robots, but twenty would be even better, even if some are just cheap fridge magnets. They didn’t work well, so we only attached really light parts with them – nuts for eyes or wire for hair.

This was Anselm’s first guy. Welcome the wheelie bot! A lonely wheel from a storage bin that never needed it, a rod-shaped rare earth magnet for the body, a nut for the head that holds grommets for eyes and bent nails for the arms. This robot looks a bit like Wall-e, doesn’t it?

Magnetic scrap metal sculptures, robots and machines. Our handmade metal Wall-e!

I made this sad looking robotic girl.

Magnetic scrap metal sculptures, robots and machines. A sad looking robot girl!

Then we made a dog for her. It’s quite fun that thanks to their loose joints, the robotic creations are quite posable. This robotic dog can even bark and bite with its clip head!
Magnetic scrap metal sculptures, robots and machines. This is an articulated robot dog.

Anselm made a few other robots and lots of spaceships, but this was our final creation and the one he took to have fun with him. His name is Nailbot. He started like other robots, but was soon adorned with magnets from the fridge. He looks so contemplative in the last photo, observing a ladybug in his hand!

Magnetic scrap metal sculptures, robots and machines. Steampunk-inspired craft and STEAM building fun for kids!

The activity was so popular with Anselm that I decided not to put all the pieces of hardware back in the box, but organize a little tinkering box for him to play with. Oh, and he’s back to it right now! Time to build more robots.

Last but not least, remember that magnets are dangerous when swallowed, so do not let little children who put things in their mouths play with them, and always supervise older children.

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Have some STEAM fun with our nature STEAM bundle! Children will learn about nature while playing games, completing engineering challenges, going on scavenger hunts, and making art with natural materials.

Magnetic scrap metal sculptures, robots and machines. Quirky steampunk-inspired craft and fun STEAM building project for kids!