Creating Gears with Paper

//Creating Gears with Paper

This tutorial is created with the Making Things Move activity in mind. When it comes to creating gears, a laser cutter comes to mind as it can cut sturdy thick materials for use as gears. But with the support of a desktop cutting machine, and layering cardstock paper, you can also create functional gears, or any other designs that requires thick materials.

Tools and Materials

  • Desktop cutting machine 
    • Silhouette Cameo or Cricut
  • 65lb cardstock paper 
    • You can use thicker cardstock paper, but 65lb is a common thickness and a sweet spot for cutting machines
  • Spray adhesive 
    • Liquid glue would also work and you would end up with a sturdier material but it takes much longer to dry, plus it’s difficult to get good clean results with it.
  • Vector file for gears 
    • SVG files works for Cricut, but the Cameo would need a DXF (Drawing eXchange Format) file.
    • You can download SVG (Scalable Vector Graphic) files from the website. Choose your automata of choice from this page, and download the SVG file from the bottom of the automata page:
    • If you want to use the Trace feature on a non-vector image file, it will be less accurate and traces lines as if they are solid shapes. If you do go this route, make sure you delete the lines you don’t want cut.


Depending on the size of your largest gear, you would want to cut at least 8 copies of each gear and use spray adhesive on them. Line them up carefully as you stack them. 

Note: If you do not have a desktop cutting machine, you can cut it by hand with scissors or x-acto knife. It would take a longer time and would require a high level of precision, made more difficult by the curves and grooves.

If you are using a Silhouette Cameo, use a vector drawing program like Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator to open the SVG file and export it as a DXF file. 

Creating the Vector from non-vector files

The design software for both the Cricut and the Silhouette Cameo have a Trace feature that allows you to trace images that are not vectors. It’s better if you are starting from a filled image. If you are starting from a line image, it will trace the lines as if they are solid shapes. Follow the steps in the instructions below for Line Image to fix the issue.

Using Spray Glue

Lay out a protective surface for spraying. You can use newspaper or cross-layered sheets of regular printer paper, or anything flat from the recycling bin. Make sure you have plenty of extra paper to protect your workspace. Place your cut pieces on top. Set aside one piece for the top layer. Spray with the spray adhesive from 6-12 inches away.

If you don’t have spray glue, you can use liquid glue. Be careful that the glued pieces do not slip around and that it does not ooze out too much on the sides or your finished parts may not line up correctly.

Note: If your pieces cannot stack if they are glued on the wrong side, make sure to lay them down in the correct side so they will stick to each other. This will depend on what your design looks like.

Assembling the pieces

Line up the pieces carefully and press down to glue them together. You can start with a corner or edge and adjust before you completely combine two surfaces together.