DIY

Make a Corrugated Cardboard Car for $1

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This diagram gives the measurements for the frame and axle supports needed for the cardboard car.
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This diagram for the car frame includes measurements for the frame, front and rear bumpers, the windshield and wheels.
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This diagram for the cardboard cars includes the measurements for the front and rear fenders, axle support, body panel, and the tail and dash panels.
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It will take about six hours or more to complete your corrugated cardboard car, considering pieces must be cut and fit, and glue be given time to dry between steps.
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Once the corrugated cardboard car is done your child or grandchild can enjoy it to his/her hearts content.

This cut-and-paste plaything might just be the best
Christmas bargain yet.

Paperboard toys were around long before cereal boxes and
comic books made them popular. But the old “cut, fold, and
tuck flap A into slot B” routine needn’t be limited to
tabletop trinkets that are likely to disintegrate at a
child’s enthusiastic touch. In fact, at one time, real
rough-and-tumble playthings — such as the roadster you see
here — were commonly made from cardboard . . . and were quite
able to endure the punishment dished out by an earlier (and
maybe even rowdier!) generation.

None of this was lost on research staffer Dennis
Burkholder, who’s always been fascinated by paper art . . .
and by things costing very little (or no) money. So, armed
with a corrugated cardboard box (the sort used to ship
major appliances), some wood scraps, a small saw, four
half-liter plastic bottles, a utility knife, a pencil, a
yardstick, a staple gun, and some white glue (Elmer’s
Glue-All works fine, but Franklin Titebond does seem to dry
more rapidly), our trusty craftsman set out to build a
next-to-no-cost working toy that anyone could
duplicate.

If you could feel the sturdiness of the finished product
and heft its nine-pound weight, we think you’d agree that
Dennis achieved his goal . . . and, since he’s already done
the difficult design work, all you have to do is scale up
the patterns in the accompanying diagram and transfer them
to your own salvaged sheets of cardboard. The rest will be,
like the cereal-box toys, mostly a cut, fold, and paste
proposition.

OK, so you’ve laid out your two 48″ X 60″ corrugated
sheets, outlined the car’s various parts on them as
indicated, and cut the pieces from the paper panels. Your
next task is to glue the wheel disks together — in sets of
four each — and put them aside to dry. Now, take your main
frame section and fold it along the dotted lines, thereby
forming a square tube. (Remember to cut out the openings
that will later accommodate the square axle
supports.)

This central frame is bolstered — in the middle and at both
ends — with 3/4″ X 5 3/8″ X 6 1/2″ wooden stiffeners, and
further braced with two (3/4″ X 3/4″ X 7″ and 3/4″ X 3/4″ X
10″) wooden stays at the seam. (The job will be easier if
you secure the cardboard joint with tape and then staple
the stays in place, with the central stiffener between.)
The end boards can also be fastened along the top and sides
of the frame, but do leave them unstapled until you’re
ready to actually fit the body in place.

Our little runabout’s axle supports are, like the frame,
tubular members capped with wood. (Dennis used
2-5/8″-square pieces of 2 X 4, each with a 3/4″ hole
drilled through its center.) Once the plugs are positioned
and stapled, you can slip the supports into the frame
openings and glue them in place.

The next part to be installed is the body itself. But
before you fold it to shape, take the time to cut some 3/4″
X 3/4″ wooden stays that are long enough to surround the axle support
openings, then do the same for the top and side edges of
the front and rear body panels. With that done, slip the
formed body over the completed chassis and glue the stays
to the axle housings, then cement and staple the grille and
tail panels into position. (Be sure to slide the tabs
attached to those two pieces between the bottom of the main
frame and the end stiffeners before you glue . . . and go
on to finish fastening the lower face of the frame.)

The seat back is made simply by folding that component and
gluing its broad tab to the top of the frame. Next,
strengthen the sides of the cockpit by bending the lips
into the cab and cementing them to the inside of the body.
At this point, fold up the windshield . . . and glue, then
bolt, it to the top of the body at a point just forward of
the cockpit. (Here, 1/4″ X 1/2″ fasteners with flat washers
will do fine.) Now, the dashboard panel can be glued
between the forward edge of the cockpit and the top of the
frame below.

Each of the four fenders is attached to the body with tabs
that are passed through slots and glued from behind. Once
those wheel guards are in place, you can cement the
overlaps at the fenders’ bends to give them additional
strength. (On the other hand, the front and rear bumpers
are not tabbed: They’re simply glued and stapled to the
grille and tail panels.)

Dennis’ tiny car actually rolls along . . . not on its
cardboard wheels, but on furniture casters. To
attach these components, drill holes into the lower edges
of the wooden caps at the ends of the axle supports (making
sure the holes are of a diameter and depth compatible with
the casters you’re planning to use), and push the rollers
into these sockets. The “show” wheels, meanwhile, get
center-bored . . . and lag screwed to 2″ lengths of 3/4″
dowel. Each of these four assemblies can then be glued into
the holes you’ve already provided for them in the axle
housing plugs.

Half-liter plastic soft drink bottles provide our
convertible with suitable head- and taillights. The main
beams are made by cutting the necks off two containers,
then slicing the midsections from each. The two remaining
parts of each bottle can now be forced together — base into
the top — and the resulting pods painted, drilled, and bolted
to the tops of the front fenders. At the rear, the bottoms
from two similar bottles can be given a coat of red paint
before being glued to the back panel.

All that’s left now is to give your jalopy a snappy enamel
paint job. Although you could have done this before you
assembled the pieces, it’s a lot neater to do it afterward,
and to simply mask the already painted parts before you go
on to a different color. If you don’t care to use Dennis’
scheme as a model, vary it to suit your taste.

Mr. Burkholder advises that it’ll take up to six hours to
bring the project to completion, considering that the
pieces must be cut and fit, and the glue given time to dry
between steps. But, for an overall investment of a buck or
two (and a couple of evenings), we really don’t think you
could go wrong!

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368