Building With Cardboard

The raw material is free (if you’re willing to do a little scavenging) and easy to work with, so why not try building with cardboard?

| November/December 1981

Some of the most joyous days of my childhood were spent rolling down hills in a discarded refrigerator box. Of course, most people would think it eccentric for a grown man to participate in such an activity (tempting as it might be to do so on occasion), but I still use corrugated cardboard in many decorative and practical projects.

Sometimes I tend to wonder, though, whether I might have banged my head a bit too hard on one of those trips downhill, because most people seem to hold cardboard in low esteem. Very few, in fact, make any effort to utilize this versatile material, which can be had for free — and in quantity — almost anywhere. To us avid recyclers, however, this lack of popularity is a blessing; it leaves more for those of use devoted to building with cardboard. I’m convinced that cardboard is a downright wonderful substance.

Tools and Supplies

Here are the tools and supplies you’ll need to become a cardboard carpenter: a utility knife with spare blades; an 18-inch ruler; a five-foot length of 1 X 2 to serve as a straight edge; one ordinary pencil and another with white or yellow lead; a screwdriver; a 45-inch drafting triangle; a carpenter’s square; a roll of 2-inch-wide brown paper tape; a few large paper clamps; a capped Bic ballpoint pen or some similarly blunt-pointed tool; white glue; latex paint; and a cutting board made of plywood or heavy cardboard (to protect your work surface without dulling your knife blades).

Build Up a Supply

Before I begin any project, I cut a number of flat cardboard sheets from large cartons. I use these, rather than assembled boxes, to construct my projects. The best sources for the “paper planks” are appliance stores that sell such items as refrigerators, washers, and dryers.

Always get permission before you take any boxes, however (snooping around the store’s rubbish bins at night could get you an expense-paid trip to the nearest police station!), and be sure to leave the trash pile at least as neat as you found it, even though you have to sacrifice some perfectly useful boxes to serve as catchalls for the clutter you remove from the best cartons. (You’ll probably run across boxes with two or three rows of corrugation in the core, but it’s best to begin by learning to work with material made of a single corrugated thickness between two face veneers. You can check the construction of the cardboard at any exposed or cut edges that are perpendicular to the “grain.”)

Once you’ve made your selection, cut the boxes’ bottoms off with your utility knife and slice the sides apart. Each box, then, will produce four separate side panels for you to take home.

Martha Sawall
11/15/2012 1:41:12 PM

Can we get a diagram with a little (or lot!) less blur? The one in the image gallery is unreadable.

10/20/2007 2:29:57 PM

Ultimate source for extremely strong cardboard are piano selling shops. You have to cut it with a circular saw.

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