Make an endtable out of cardboard — ENTIRELY out of cardboard!

September 26 | Guest post by Audrey

12. Voilà!Are you sick of cheap furniture which always looks the same? Are you longing for curvy furniture, furniture with as many drawers as you want, which adapt to the special shape of your home? Do you want customized furniture but can't pony up the custom furniture price? You can do it: with cardboard furniture.

A few months ago I spent a few days at a friend's house. I was taken with her beautiful bed stand — all bold lines and colors! I was SHOCKED to learn it wasn't wood, but cardboard! It was impossible to guess. I had to try it. Now that I have, I'm convinced this is the way of the furnishing future for Homies.

Let's see together how to build a simple shelf for, let's say, kitchen appliances. This is easy, it's cheap, and it's fun; but it's definitely not quick. You'll need a couple (dozen?) nights to complete it. There are different ways to build a piece of cardboard furniture, so let's see the simplest one.

Here is what you need:

1. Supermarket cardboard display
The support structure -- gleaned from a supermarket.
  • Sturdy 2-ply cardboard: If you don't have any you can find it by searching the recycling bin of stores or asking the store owners if you can help them get rid of their cardboard.
  • A cardboard display you find in supermarket. This will be the bones of your furniture. There are so many sizes available it shouldn't be a problem to find one to fit your project.
  • A craft knife and scissors
  • A glue gun and glue
  • Measuring tape
  • Gummed tape: a kind a craft paper with a water-activated glue on one side.
  • Sand paper
2. Tools
Tools!

Step one: Get inspired

Document yourself. Take a look at the pieces of furniture you like online (Pinterest, anyone?) and figure out the dimensions you need and the number of shelves your piece will have. Using graph paper helps create a precise plan.

Remember: using a cardboard display will determine the dimensions of the outside of the furniture. My example only has one shelf, but you can of course build as many as you want.

Step two: cut vertical sections

You ready to start cutting? The "grain" of the cardboard must always be vertical or your furniture won't be sturdy.

3. Sections 1 and 2

  • First, cut two identical pieces of cardboard with the cutter: these will be the front and the middle section of your piece of furniture. Name them one and two. You can write this on them if this helps — and maybe include which side is up.
  • If your furniture is going to be very long or wide, you might to cut another middle section.
  • Draw the outline of the furniture on both sections and include where you want the shelves to be. You need to hollow them so as to create the shape of the shelves.

Step three: struts and notches

You're now going to cut the struts and notches. Struts are what make your shelves — and the whole piece of furniture — sturdy. Notches are where struts will be placed.

6. Stuts and notches

  • Struts will determine the size of your furniture: if you want your furniture to be 2 feet long, then the struts must be 2 feet long.
  • As for notches, their size is determined by the width of the shelves: if the shelf is 2 inches wide, then the notch must be 1 inch long. There are notches on section two and on every strut.
  • The number of struts depends on the size of your piece of furniture. I would advise placing one every 6 or 7 inches. You have to place them both horizontally and vertically.
  • Start cutting the struts and notches. It takes some time. You may want to write the dimensions on each strut in order not to get confused ("DAMMIT IS THIS the 2-inch or the 1.5-inch??")

Step four: assembling 101

Once all sections, struts and notches are cut, you can start gluing. Mwahahaha! I love gluing.

9. Inside skeleton

  • Start by gluing the struts to section two: put a drop of glue in the notch and insert the strut. Make sure the struts form a right angle with section two: this way, they can really act as a support for your shelves and can be glued to section one and the back of the furniture. Glue all struts.
  • Place your structure in the cardboard display. Start gluing the struts to the display, making sure everything is horizontal: you can use a bubble-meter [Ed. note: this is apparently another term for a level, but I had to leave it in because, OMG. "Bubble-meter!" -Cat] or even the straight edge of books to make sure everything is square. Your furniture is slowly taking shape, and you now have the skeleton of your imagined shape.
  • For increased sturdiness, use your gummed tape on the structure: cut pieces of tape, dip them into water and place around the edges. You want to cover all angles and edges in gummed tape.

Step five: cutting and assembling 202

All we have now is the skeleton and the outside of the furniture. Now we need to create the shelves themselves.

11. Shelves

  • Measure the insides of the shelves. Again. Measure twice, cut once, you know.
  • The pieces of cardboard you'll cut must be ever-so-slightly longer and wider than the actual dimensions: we want these pieces to actually support the structure.
  • Proceed as in the preceding step: glue and gummed-tape. You can use books as weights to actually make sure the shelves are stuck.

Step six: completing your masterpiece

  • Pick up section one, which you cut in step one. Glue it to the front of the structure.
  • Cut a piece of cardboard to fit the dimensions of the top. Glue it to the top of your piece.
  • Gummed-tape all remaining edges and angles. Voilà!

12. Voilà!

Learn from what I learned:

  • If you don't have 2-ply cardboard, you can glue two pieces of 1-ply cardboard. Unless you plan on storing the entire Encyclopaedia Universalis, 2-ply is fine.
  • Never ever cut all the cardboard pieces at once. That's what I did for my first cardboard furniture. The dimensions might look fine on paper but you have to take into account the thickness of your cardboard, which might vary if you use different cardboards. Better cut as you go along.
  • You can use sand paper to smooth the edges and correct if some sections or struts are slightly longer than they should be.
  • If you have an electric saw, you can cut all your sections at the same time. This is cool because you're sure they'll have the exact same dimensions. But a craft knife is fine, it just takes more time and care.
  • Be careful if you're not used to the glue gun. This shit burns. Don't touch the hot glue.
  • Chuck Norris doesn't use glue. Chuck Norris only gummed-tape his furniture. I wouldn't do that as I think glue ensures sturdiness, but if you cut your cardboard extremely precisely and are very confident (or only intend to store toilet paper), you can try it.

I said earlier that this is the simplest way to build a cardboard piece of furniture. This is because the cardboard display serves as the outside of your furniture, so you don't have to cut all the outside sections and make sure the outside is sturdy — the supermarket figured it out for you!

However, I also said that cardboard furniture is cool because you can have whatever dimensions and shape you want. In this case, you'll have to work harder in step one (to figure out the shape). In step four, build the inside skeleton first, then cut the outside sections and glue them to the inside skeleton. Resume the procedure at step five.
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In our next installment: cardboard furniture strikes back!

Now that the structure is completed, maybe you're wondering: how the hell is cardboard furniture supposed to last in a kitchen, where water happens? We will see this in the next episode of How to Make Easy Cardboard Furniture — coming next week.

  1. WHAT. My brain is unable to process how this is weight-bearing, but I don't even care. this is a great life-hack.

    2 agree
    • I know this post is old but the information is still relevant. None the less the reason cardboard bears weight so well is the shape. You HAVE to make sure the "grain" is up and down is because it distributes weight. The science behind it is that cylindrical objects distribute weight more evenly and can bear more as a result (same way snowshoes work). The curvy "grain" between the flat layers acts like cylinders and distribute weight along the entire wall instead of focusing it in one particular point.

      My fiance often brings home industrial cardboard from work and we've made some really awesome furniture out of it. If you can, try to find the half inch stuff with large honeycomb shapes in between the layers, that stuff holds a lot of weight (like a pallet worth of car batteries kind of weight).

      The only concern with cardboard furniture is fire, namely candles.

      1 agrees
  2. The only problem, is it baby/ pet proof? I have made many a sculpture and model out of cardboard and they would not have healed up to my 1 year old.

    0 agree
    • Hi Kaitlin, I am the original writer of the post :) I don't have children, so I cannot really answer this. My only concern would be that if you make something like a console with a few objects on it, it would topple if the child tries to stand by leaning against it. But if you store heavy stuff, it should be OK. As far as pets go, I do have a cat. So far she's not interested, and the furniture is sturdy enough to withstand her 15 pounds. And she never sharpened her claws against it.

      0 agree
  3. very cool! you could also add papier mache for extra strength. I once made a very large… throne… in art class out of cardboard and papier mache and managed to give it enough strength to support my body weight.I think i also saw someone on craftster.org made a little side table with a draw using cardboard and/or papier mache…

    and if you wanted to get really fancy, you could give it a coat of resin for a smooth finish….

    1 agrees
  4. I want to make a fort for my son and daughter and say there are steps maybe 8 steps and a semi big platform, would it be safe for them to stand and play on

    0 agree

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