Introduction: Amazing Cardboard Shelf!

Picture of Amazing Cardboard Shelf!

In this Instructable, I'll be showing you how to make a small, useful cardboard shelf. It'll probably cost you next to nothing if you have some cardboard lying around the house, but it will provide a sense of accomplishment and happiness. Let's begin!

Step 1: Choose/Create Your Design

When making a cardboard shelf, the first thing to do is to design the shelf. This may require drawing up a few simple sketches, or even making a few rough drafts first. For me, the inspiration came from a design which I found on this site:

I thought this design would provide a challenge, while still maintaining an easy enough build. It also provides and interesting look and feel to the shelf.

Step 2: Gather Materials + Tools

The second step requires obtaining the following:

Cardboard! I used some I found on an old cardboard box lid, the kind with the removable lid. If you "use every part of the buffalo" you won't need too much cardboard.
(Like I said, this is a very "achievable" build)

Cutting mat
X-Acto Knife/Utility Knife
Elmers Glue and/or Hot Glue. When I built my shelf, I didn't think to use hot glue, and I got away with using Elmers Glue. However, looking back, I probably should have used a bit of hot glue as well.

Step 3: Start Cutting Cardboard!

Picture of Start Cutting Cardboard!

Once I chose my design and gathered my materials, I began to cut my cardboard. First, we'll want to cut six to eight pieces which will provide the main structure. For me, I cut pieces with the following dimensions:

A total of 14 in. long
A width of 1 and 1/8 in.
An inner "V" length of 2.5 in.
A "V" angle of about 125 Degrees
(If you're having any trouble with the dimensions, see the photo tags below. Also, if that doesn't help, step 5 may clear things up.)

To conserve space on my small sheet of cardboard, I drew out, then cut, the pieces so that the outer edge of the V snugly contacted the inner edge of the next V . (In the photo below, picture the top piece and the middle piece fitting snugly together to conserve space.) This resulted in the movement of each piece over a few sixteenths of an inch each time, but nothing I couldn't handle.

Step 4: Cut the Squares!

Picture of Cut the Squares!

Next, we are going to cut square holes in three places on each cardboard piece. These holes should be 3/8 in. by 3/8 in. and should be positioned near each end, then on the left of the V. Cut these three holes in the exact same spot on each piece, or it may offset your shelf.

Step 5: Cut More Cardboard!

Picture of Cut More Cardboard!

Now we're going to cut eight rectangular pieces of cardboard. These will add the main structural shelf part. Once you have these pieces, they will be glued to the edges of the original pieces we cut in Step 3. (This gluing process will take place in a later step.)  You will need to cut out:

A1 and 1/8 in . X 3 in . piece
B . 11 and 1/2 in. X 3 in . piece
C . 4 and 1/2in . X 3 in . piece
D . Another 1 and 1/8 in . X 3 in . piece (same as A)
E . 1 and 3/4in . X 3 in . piece
F . 3 in . X 3 in . square piece
G . 3 in . X 3 in . square piece (same as F)
H . 8 and 3/4 in. X 3 in. piece

Above, I've listed the eight rectangular pieces, each with a letter accompanying them. These  letters correspond with the photo below.

Remember: Your shelf may be slightly different than mine, and it will most likely require you to trim the pieces down to fit your exact shelf size. However, if you are sticking to this Instructable and not altering or modifying the design at all, these dimensions will not need as much tweaking.

Step 6: Create the Pegs!

Picture of Create the Pegs!

In this step, we are going to create three pegs. These pegs will provide key structure in the shelf. One peg will even double as a small hook on which to hang keys, ear-buds, etc.

To begin, you will need to cut out three pieces of cardboard for each peg. This means you will cut out a total of nine pieces for the three pegs. Use the dimensions found in the photos below.

Once you have cut out all nine pieces, you will assemble the pegs by gluing three pieces together for each peg. Assuming your cardboard is roughly 1/8 in. thick, you will have a square peg. See the photos below for help.

Remember: To create one peg, you will need three pieces of the same shape and size.

Step 7: Assemble the Shelf!

Picture of Assemble the Shelf!

Now that you have all your pieces, shapes, and pegs cut out, all you need to do is assemble them! Here's how it works:

First, the six to eight original pieces of cardboard we cut out in Step 3 will be lined up on edge. Next, the pegs can be inserted into the pieces. Try to evenly space the sections made in Step 3 across the pegs. After this, the shelf should be coming together quite well. Next, glue the main rectangles in Step 5 in their appropriate places along the edges of the sections made in Step 3. If you need to visualize this, check out the photo on Step 5. It will show you where each rectangular piece will go. Remember that the pieces B and C will need to be creased where they enter the V .

Once you have completed this step, you are basically done! In Step 8 we'll cover up some seams (optional) and in Step 9 we'll hang it.

The photos below will help a lot, make sure you check them out.

Step 8: Cover Up the Seams! (Optional Step)

Picture of Cover Up the Seams! (Optional Step)

When I finished my shelf, I noticed some unsightly cracks between my structural pieces and the outer "shell" created by the rectangular pieces. To cover this crack up, I cut out a piece similar to the pieces in Step 3, but much skinnier and only inhabiting the top edge. (See photo tags)

Step 9: Hang Your Shelf! + Finish!

Picture of Hang Your Shelf! + Finish!

Hooray! You're finished! Now all you have to do is hang the shelf, and use it for whatever you need!

To hang my shelf, I used a highly sophisticated  method of epicness, by which I mean, "I have no former experience in hanging a shelf of any kind, and thus used a system of nailing around one dozen finishing nails (without large nail heads) to securely hold that puppy to the wall." So essentially what I did was to place a nail in every strategic place I could come up with, mostly including the corners of the shelf. This method turned out to be quite useful. In fact, the shelf felt as sturdy as any ordinary shelf would if it was held to the wall with only a few nails.

I hope this Instructable provided you with enough info to successfully make your own. This was my first Instructable, so it may have lacked the epic intelligence which can surely be found in any of the senior Instructable masters' how-tos... If you end up making a cardboard shelf, be sure to post a picture below in the comments.

If anyone sees any errors in this Instructable, be sure to point them out in the comments, be they grammatical or other, I want this Instructable to be the best it can, and your feed back helps. Also, if you don't understand a step or instruction, just ask in the comments, I may be able to help. Good luck!


korikorikori (author)2011-01-30

Great instructable and also the first one I completed! I kind of improvised with the hanging part which included nailing some leftover cardboard cutouts and then gluing them to the shelf itself. I know it would be a mess removing it from the wall, but oh well :)

Loshanagan (author)korikorikori2011-01-30

Cool! Would you mind posting some pictures in the comments?

Ward_Nox (author)2011-01-27

this gives me an awesome idea thanks

TekoMuto (author)2011-01-26

brilliant! I can't wait to start mine!!

Loshanagan (author)TekoMuto2011-01-26

Good luck! Be sure to post pictures. Have fun!

iTixle (author)2013-04-18

Just a tip to anyone doing this: a great alternative to Elmer's glue or hot glue is spray adhesive. It easily forms strong, durable bonds. :)

drabinowitz (author)2011-06-20

Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack. Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack. Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack. Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack.

Noah972 (author)2011-01-29

One last question, do you think Command velcro picture hanging strips could hold the shelf, since I don't want to put holes in my wall? (I think they're supposed to hold at least 2 pounds, but I don't remember exactly)

Loshanagan (author)Noah9722011-01-30

Hmm... Well I bet they can hold a bit of weight, however, I think the shelf might fall since it is out from the wall more... That might not make sense because I don't really know how to put it...

Noah972 (author)Loshanagan2011-02-10

Thanks a lot!

Noah972 (author)Noah9722011-03-12

Okay, so velcro strips don't work... and I had put a piece of cardboard on the back of my shelf to make it level, but it wasn't stable, so I tore it off, meaning my shelf edges come out almost a full inch from the back of the shelf, and I can't trim them. I also can't use long nails or brackets because they would damage the wall. Can anybody think of a simple, cheap, easy way to hang this without damaging anything that actually works?

bricabracwizard (author)Noah9722011-03-15

You could use two wooden battens about 1" wide that reach the floor, attach your shelf to the battens and velcro the top of the battens to the wall. To make it look good paint the battens gloss black or white - hope this helps or gives you some other ideas.

Noah972 (author)bricabracwizard2011-03-19

Thanks! Say, what exactly is a wooden batten?

bricabracwizard (author)Noah9722011-03-19

It's just a thin strip of wood approx 1/2" by 1 1/2" wide, the length will be determined by the height you want the shelf. Just another name for a small plank, on board ships they say "batten" down the hatches, which basically means cover any holes with small planks

Noah972 (author)2011-02-10

Phew! I finished my shelf on Saturday and it looks great! It's a little wonky, since I'm not too good with an X-acto knife, but it only took 2 Saturdays to make and it's very sturdy. I haven't hung it yet, and I'm still debating how I should do it, but I'm really excited to. My desktop computer is down and I'm on my laptop, so I can't post a picture, but as soon as I can, I will. Very great instructable and really well thought out. Thanks for the idea, and I hope to see more great ones in the future!

Loshanagan (author)Noah9722011-02-19

Wonderful! Yeah please do post pictures when possible!

zpwn06 (author)2011-01-25

would recommend using angle brackets to hang your shelf. These can be purchased from a hardware store, or, of course made from cardboard

Loshanagan (author)zpwn062011-01-26

Yeah, those probably would have been better, but the finishing nails worked well enough, plus I was getting impatient. haha

msdrpepper (author)Loshanagan2011-01-27

angle brackets are a nice idea. Your nails are good too - and cheaper!! ;-)

technofossil (author)msdrpepper2011-01-29

You could also use a french cleat. It's 2 pieces of wood (or cardboard) that are cut at an angle on the long edge. One piece is attached to the wall and the other in the design of the shelf. It will allow the shelf to be moved slightly left and right for aesthetic positioning. If you attach one on the top and bottom edge, it may allow the shelf to hold more weight.

I attached a diagram but a quick Google search will give you more info.

Great job. I'm thinking of building one for next to my desk.

Loshanagan (author)technofossil2011-01-30

I like it...

technofossil (author)Loshanagan2011-01-30

Since posting it I have been giving it some thought. I don;t think the french cleat will work with a floating shelf. It may pull off the wall. However, you are holding it on with just finishing nails. It may be worth a shot but I think it will need vertical braces coming down to steady it.

Blue Mark (author)2011-01-29

For a stronger shelf, just stack together layers of cut-out corrugated cardboard together. They can be glued together with contact cement or spray adhesive into a super lamination. Leave the surface uncovered to celebrate the cardboardness of the material. Laminated corrugated cardboard is incredibly strong - you can make furniture with it.

Loshanagan (author)Blue Mark2011-01-30

That is neat, but I didn't have enough cardboard for that type of construction.

pop88 (author)2011-01-28

Hello '
How to stick on the wall
thank you

Loshanagan (author)pop882011-01-28

Check out Step 9

pop88 (author)Loshanagan2011-01-29

thank you

Loshanagan (author)pop882011-01-30

No problem.

uukay (author)2011-01-27

yay i just got an ipod touch 4 days ago

Loshanagan (author)uukay2011-01-28

Good choice!

uukay (author)Loshanagan2011-01-29

yeah it is Ipod Touch 4th Generation!

Icalasari (author)2011-01-28

How large can you scale one of these before the cardboard couldn't support things?

Because it would be neat to make one large enough to act as a bookshelf, but I highly doubt that that would work

Loshanagan (author)Icalasari2011-01-28

Well if you made a shelf that rested on the floor, like a book case, then you would make it a little differently than my method. The way you hang it is important too. If you hang it with only nails, it won't support weight further out. However, if you use L braces or something different, it'll probably support more further out. (Assuming that the shelf is bigger)

Noah972 (author)2011-01-25

If you had to give a rough guess, what would be the dimensions of the cardboard you used?

Loshanagan (author)Noah9722011-01-26

As in the total cardboard? Hmm... Maybe about 16" X 16", I'm not quite sure.

Noah972 (author)Loshanagan2011-01-28

Thanks! Great instructable, btw!

Noah972 (author)Noah9722011-01-28

I have a cardboard box that was holding a 16" X 20" portrait, so it'll work perfectly!

willrandship (author)Loshanagan2011-01-26

I was thinking "wait a minute..." until I saw the iPod. :P nice build!

Loshanagan (author)willrandship2011-01-27

Sorry, I don't follow....

absolofdoom (author)Loshanagan2011-01-27

Probably was confused the way I was, I thought it was huge at first, until you just said the dimensions of your cardboard. (I actually thought that must be an ipad in my delusions, didn't check it very well)

willrandship (author)absolofdoom2011-01-28


Loshanagan (author)willrandship2011-01-28

Oh okay I got it now.

devalpha_1 (author)2011-01-28

Simply great! It brought my idle brain out of slumber. Thanks.

roland985 (author)2011-01-27

How about using paper mache to give it a smooth finish and a slightly higher durability?

Loshanagan (author)roland9852011-01-27

I did only cardboard because I thought it would be cool :)

roland985 (author)Loshanagan2011-01-28

Sorry, I didn't explain properly. I meant doing the cardboard, and then a paper mache coating over it. But yes the coolness factor will be reduced somewhat....

msdrpepper (author)roland9852011-01-27

Oh ! I *like* that idea - and one could also use it to alter finish - not necessarily "smooth" but maybe a "hand carved" look, or a "bark wood" or some other faux material surface, especially if painted or used with colored papers etc.

WriterInLA (author)2011-01-27

I'm thinking the shelf can be covered in papier-mâché. The images of the paper would create the look of the finish. Then varnish. No one would even know it was cardboard!

This cardboard shelf may be the solution I was looking for to cover the ugly, mostly unused heat controllers in the middle of my walls. I can pull the shelf off on those rare days I need to turn the heat on.

Thank you.

Loshanagan (author)WriterInLA2011-01-27

Sure thing! The reason I didn't go with papier-mâché was because I thought just cardboard would be cool

WriterInLA (author)Loshanagan2011-01-27

It is!

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