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DIY Vacuum Grabber Tool | Robotic Arm Plans | Fun Projects

how to make a robotic arm, vacuum-power arm, vacuum grabber, how to pick up anything


Want to know how to make a robotic arm but don’t have a degree in robotic…um…arm science? Are you looking for an impractical way to pick things up? Are you just aching to make a task so rudimentary to our human physiology, i.e. using our hands, as unabashedly time consuming and difficult yet as totally rad at the same time? Yeah, us too. That’s why we built the DIY Projects Vacuum Grabber. Let’s get useless.

DIY Vacuum Grabber Tool | Robotic Arm Plans | Fun Projects

Supplies* for this DIY vacuum grabber project:

  • 2 ft. of 1-1/4 inch PVC Pipe
  • (x2) 1-1/4 inch PVC Coupler
  • 4-inch diameter funnel
  • Vacuum
  • Rotary tool with cutting disk
  • 4-inch hose clamp
  • 1 x six-inch balloon
  • Hot glue or plastic epoxy
  • Tape
  • Coffee grounds (about two cups or so)
  • Some pantyhose

*Use your vacuum hose to gauge the size of the PVC pipe that you will need. We used a shop vacuum and 1-1/4 inch PVC worked perfectly for us. Whatever you buy, make sure that the coupler  fits snugly within the hose of your particular vac.

Step 1: Fill a balloon with coffee grounds.

Place the mouth of the balloon over the funnel and shake some of the coffee grounds into it. Lightly tap the funnel to help the coffee grounds spill into the balloon and use your fingers or a pen to help push them into the balloon’s body.

Grabber Tool getting made.
Any roast will suffice.
Fun DIY project in the making.
You can use a pen to help push the grounds into the balloon.

This is a balloon for the arm grabber that will come into being.

Continue filling the balloon with coffee grounds until it is around the size of a baseball.

A balloon and a funnel.
The grounds won’t shoot back out and into your eyeballs.

Two friends.

Step 2: Cut the tip off of the funnel

Use a rotary tool with a cutting disk or a sharp pair of scissors to cut the tip off of the narrow end of the funnel.

A funnel all cut up for our DIY project.
Practice safety when using power tools. Be sure to wear safety goggles.

Step 3: Attach the balloon to the funnel

Place the balloon in the funnel and pull the mouth of the balloon through the small end and out the other side (do not tie it!). If you’re having trouble grabbing the balloon through the small opening, you can tie a piece of string to it and thread the string through the hole.

Arm Grabber project.

Take the string off and fold the mouth of the balloon over the funnel’s opening as shown. Tape the balloon to the funnel so that it remains in place.

Electrical tape wrapping around the funnel.
We used electrical tape, but any decent tape will do.

A lonely arm grabber tip.

Step 4: Put some pantyhose over the mouth of the funnel

Cut a piece of pantyhose and tape it over the hole. This will allow air to pass through while keeping the coffee grounds inside the ballon.

Some pantyhose getting cut up.
Anything that is porous enough to let air pass through while blocking the coffee grounds will work for this step.

Almost completed DIY fun grabber

Step 5: Glue the funnel to the PVC Coupler.

Use a fast setting adhesive to line the rim of one end of the PVC Coupler. We used Plastic Epoxy, but a hot glue gun, superglue, and many other quality bonding agents will work.

Arm grabber thingy for fun DIY project.
Let it cure for at least 20 minutes.

Place the 1-1/4 inch PVC Coupler over the funnel and allow the glue to cure.

Vacuum grabber.

Step 6: Attach the coupler to the PVC pipe

We didn’t have a 1-1/4 inch coupler and so we used a 1-1/2 inch to 1-1/4 inch adapter to make one. This ended up being better because we only had 1-1/4 inch pipe in the office. Hey, the hardware store is like ten minutes away and we’re busy.

Grabber Arm
The adapter simply slides into the coupler.

Vacuum arm grabber

Slide the adapter over the end of the PVC pipe. You can hit this with PVC glue if you want, but it is not necessary for this project.

Step 7: Attach the coupler to the PVC pipe

Slide in your 1-1/4 pipe into the coupler. Again, you don’t need to use PVC glue unless you want to.

Grabber arm almost done.

Looking good, arm grabber.
Almost done!

Step 8: Attach the PVC pipe to your vacuum.

As it turned out, our shop vac hose is roughly 1-1/2 inches in diameter. So we slid a 1-1/4 inch to 1-1/2 inch threaded adapter over the other end of our PVC pipe. Thinking now it would have made sense to just go to the depot and get bigger pipe to begin with. Ah well, you can be smarter than us with your version.


Slide a hose clamp over the coupler and the vacuum hose. Tighten it with a screwdriver until you are sure that the connection is air tight.

This hose clamp can be found at any respectable hardware store.
This hose clamp can be found at any respectable hardware store.

Step 8: Pick things up!

Mold the balloon around objects and turn the vacuum on. The coffee grounds will remain pliable with the vacuum off, then maintain a rigid shape so long as the vacuum is running. Your vacuum grabber robotic arm will hold objects securely of all manner of shape and size. Now you truly have a third arm. Have fun 😉


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