Introduction: Cardboard Cantilever Chair

Picture of Cardboard Cantilever Chair

This cardboard chair explores variations on some techniques first thought up and worked through here. The structure uses a hybrid of two types of cardboard: traditional corrugated from boxes and sheet stock, and hexagonal-cell cardboard used in packaging of imported stainless-steel sinks. I combined stack lamination with embedded threaded rods to provide clamping pressure, tying the layers together. To further unify the structure and reduce the variations in the layers, the whole thing is wrapped in five layers of paper-mache, which was polyurethaned and waxed.

This chair is unusual in that it is a cantilever chair, a traditional modernist form first pioneered by the Bauhaus. Cardboard can be very strong, but the cantilever form presents several challenges in using a paper material.

First, the entire chair is essentially in tension: the weight and force of the sitter is pulling on all three of the critical joints, at the floor, the knee, and the junction of the back and the seat. Corrugated cardboard is very strong in compression, when the force is aligned with the grain of the corrugations. However, it has very low tearing strength, especially when the force is perpendicular to the corrugations. I partially overcame this by using the hex cardboard, which is strong in all directions because it has no directional grain.

Second, there are no back legs, meaning the force has to find a path to the ground that is circuitous, winding along the seat to the front legs. The runners along the ground also have to be long enough to prevent the chair form overturning backwards when the sitter leans back. Most cardboard chairs have mass positioned directly under the sitter to add support where there is the most weight.

Last, unlike the cantilever chair featured in my other instructable, this chair only has two legs, instead of a continuous face across the front. To overcome all these structural challenges, it is key that every piece of cardboard become a unified whole. There are no continuous pieces of cardboard; the whole thing is made out of strips, as opposed to cutting out big pieces make the whole profile. The strips are not nearly as strong, and are susceptible to tear-out. The threaded rods at all the critical junctions provide pressure to overcome this tendency.

Step 1: Cut Cardboard

Picture of Cut Cardboard

I ran corrugated cardboard through a table saw set with a combination blade. I cut strips 5" wide, both with and against the grain of the corrugations. Only the legs need to be with the grain, so I made substantially less strips with that orientation.

Instead of drafting on paper or in the computer, I just measured out a grid on the floor of my basement and sketched it freehand, full-scale, in chalk. The seat comes to about 14" off the ground. The end of the runners on the floor come even with a vertical line dropped from the top of the back piece. They have to be at least this long to keep the chair from tipping over.

I laid strips over the drawing and cut them with a boxcutter to get all the angles. I marked each one, and they became my templates. For strength, you'll want to overlap each alternating layer, meaning each joint should resemble a log cabin in section as you stack the pieces on top of one another. This also means you'll have to make two different back pieces and two different floor pieces, one short and one long. To save time on all the cutting, I bundled strips together with masking tape, scribed the angles from my templates, and cut them all at once with a handsaw. The last photo shows how strong the cardboard is, supported my weight with just ten inches of corrugated cardboard.

Step 2: Laminating

Picture of Laminating

The strength of this chair is mostly derived from the laminations. The chair has to act as a unified whole in order for it to work.

I just used plain 'ol white glue, about three quarts of it. I made a level surface to lay out the layers on, then stacked pieces, brushing on white glue thinned with water. The water makes it spread easily. Make sure all the cardboard is completely covered, with no dry spots. Too much water will make the pieces curl, so be careful about loading the brush too much. The goal is keep the glue as even as possible. Once I had a layer about two or three inches thick, I clamped it with plate weights.

For the leg/side pieces, I used 1-1/2" of corrugated on either side of two pieces of the hex-section cardboard. Then I put two of those together to make each side.

Again with the handsaw, I chamfered the corners. With a regular power drill, I centered 5/8" holes at the five joints.

Step 3: Assembly

Picture of Assembly

I trimmed the threaded rods down to the approximate width of the finished piece and poked them through the holes drilled earlier. Then, I laminated each layer together just like the others. Once assembled, I cranked down on the nuts on the rods and squeezed all the layers tight instead of clamping them. Let it dry for twenty-four hours.

Step 4: Surfacing

Picture of Surfacing

To clean up and finish off the surface, I covered it in five layers of paper-mache, the final two being kraft paper that is recycled packing material. My paper-mache recipe is a little different then most: three parts hot, hot water; one-and-a-half parts white glue; and half-to-one part flour. Stir very thoroughly. It should be the consistency of watery syrup, with no visible chunks of flour.

Once dry, I sanded down the surface, first with 100 grit, then 120, wiped it with a clean, damp rag, and put three coats of semi-gloss polyurethane on it. The material is very thirsty, and will soak up a lot on the first coat. Sand with 220 grit in between coats. I gave a final rub down with 0000-grade steel wool, then again with a clean damp cloth, dried it, and put on a coat of paste wax. The final surface is very hard, with a nice sheen to it; I would compare it to burnished leather.

Then I trimmed the threaded rods and tightened all the bolts again. The two threaded rods on the floor have bolts on the interior, which serve to space the legs and keep the thing square and un-twisted. Adjust those bolts to even the space between the legs.

The final product is very comfortable, but this chair was also very time-consuming, and the layers did not register as precisely as I would have liked, giving the final piece an uneven texture that serves to remind you of its handmade origins.


Turnip123 (author)2009-08-09 I have about a 1/4 of my guest bedroom filled right now with cardboard flat squares I got for free. Lots of companies want to pawn off their used cardboard palette covers, as well as boxes (sometimes they'll even flatten them for you).

quesoman (author)Turnip1232009-09-04

my dads work uses tons of cardboard so i can get pallets any time!!!!!!!!! yay

piper1234 (author)2009-08-06

is quite simple putting it in a swimming pool .. it gets wet :P

rick.leasure (author)2009-08-06

Great instructable! Great thinking. So, what's next: the couch, the kitchen table? How about a whole house furnished with your cardboard construction?!!!

mickey_shimitz (author)2009-08-01

id like to see what happens when you put that in a swimming pool

coolpizzadude (author)2008-12-15

where can I get this heavy card board.

ppatches24 (author)coolpizzadude2009-07-24

there is a box company called reli-a-pak that is were i get mine from they sell boxes with cardboard walls about 1 1/2 thick I forgot how much they cost but one box goes a long way sweet project by the way i have made a chair like yours and I love it

hu008 (author)2009-07-23

enter this instructable into the gorilla glue and tape cardboard contest, reckon it'l do quite well!

vihrnes (author)2009-07-06


mc_artist (author)2009-06-11

For a cleaner look, you could assemble the chair completely and then trim the all-thread rods before putting the paper mache on. After the mache is on, it'll look like just one big solid piece.

strangebike (author)2008-12-22

fantastic It always amazes me what can be made out of cardboard. and probably fully recyclable

luke (author)2008-12-22

i like it !

uncle frogy (author)2008-12-20

I love cardboard construction, nice chair. strength could be increased by changing the steal fender washers for larger plywood washers. before the paper-mache is applied you could apply some urethane directly to the laminations then the shaping with a sander would be easy but I like the uneven texture.

rejectcarp (author)2008-12-19

I love this! I remember seeing an exhibit of similar structures a few years back at the High Museum in Atlanta and thinking, "I really need to make one of those!"

beartoe (author)2008-12-18

The use of cardboard in furniture like this did not strictly come from the Bauhaus, it came from Frank Gehry, the well-known architect. He was experimenting with "common materials" in the late '60s and early to mid '70s. See an example here.

The form (especially of Gehry's work) is a little deceptive -- corrugated cardboard should flex about an axis parallel to the corrugations. However, his work (and this Instructables example as well) have a "flexing" form that is perpendicular to that axis.

I wonder what would happen if you could get a hold of one-sided corrugated, stuff that was really floppy, and just built up a lot of well-glued laminations. Could you develop the structural strength required?

As a student, I wrote Gehry (via snail mail, ca. 1977) about the adhesive technology that he was using in his chairs. I was interested in doing some experiments at the time. Gehry actually wrote me back, telling me (in a polite way) to go take a flying leap. Man, I wish I had that letter today!

wholman (author)beartoe2008-12-18

i wasn't referring to the bauhaus in the context of cardboard -- they, specifically marcel breuer, pioneered the cantilever chair out of a single bent piece of tubular chromed steel. i know about gehry's work, and generally he irritates me and many in the design community with his irrational, expensive, inefficient, and capricious designs. i do not think his work will age well, and will be seen as a symptom of nineties-era excesses in the future. but hey, everybody's a critic . . .

beartoe (author)wholman2008-12-18

Regarding much of Gehry's oeuvre, I don't disagree with you. If you look at Bilbao, you can see his learning curve. The titanium "scales" of the building are buckling....

stringstretcher (author)2008-12-15

I thoroughly enjoyed this! Perhaps plywood as the endpieces would let you spread the clamping forces (at least during the drying period) so as not to damage the cardboard (dimples). Nice work and good instructable!
For more inspiration see Cardboard Sculptures

wholman (author)stringstretcher2008-12-15

Just to clear up a misunderstanding in several comments: the "dimples" are not caused by clamping force, they are countersinks for the bolts so they don't stick out from the surface of the chair and catch on your clothing or skin. I finished them off a little sloppily, but they are on purpose.

potaderantor (author)2008-12-13

cardboard...the most important building tool =D

caitlinsdad (author)2008-12-12

This are the kind of projects that gave me the inspiration to work with laminated cardboard, on a smaller scale of course. Thanks. Since you were skinning over the entire thing, you could have carved out a more curvy or form-fitting bottom for the seat and back to make it more comfortable. At least it would be more like an airport waiting room seat than a park bench. I've found that cross laminating the sheets of cardboard - interior grain in alternating cross lapping directions - seems to be pretty strong and may resist the tearout if built massive enough. I might imbed small scraps of wood on the ends where the bolts go through. It would compress better without that dimple crushing the first layer of cardboard and is hidden by the paper mache. Maybe you could also embed a "C" shaped piece of pipe or metal to help with the bend. Then again, if this was pure cardboard, then you would not use structural tricks.

SoE (author)2008-12-09

Very nice!!! I'd like to see how it's holding up after use. This is something that I *should* make.

jeff-o (author)2008-12-08

Instead of paper-mache, could you just glue a flat sheet of cardboard to the seat and back? This is a fantastic idea, thatnks for posting. :)

chiok (author)2008-12-05

That's a great artisan design, I love the look of it. Good instructible too. Any photos of it in use at all? Perhaps you could fit some stops on the bottom of the seat to prevent it from bending too far down and ripping the material. How heavy would you say it is?

wholman (author)chiok2008-12-05

It's pretty heavy, maybe thirty pounds or so. But, to clear up the strength issue raised in your post and the earlier one, it doesn't flex at all. I (~145 lbs) can stand on it. It can support 200 lbs easily enough.

chiok (author)wholman2008-12-05

I imagine 3 litres of glue would have something to do with the weight. Guess it shows how strong cardboard can really be, especially in tension. Good stuff!

uguy (author)2008-12-05

Excellent, I love it. Well done instructable.

radracer (author)2008-12-05

Nice RTX.

Kiteman (author)2008-12-05

That's a nice project - I bet a lot of the unevenness could be eliminated with a belt-sander when the glue was all dry. Does it flex much when you sit on it? I imagine that the angle at the front edge of the seat will be the first to give way with use. Oh, for a future project, make that bottom edge a curve - this looks like it would make a brilliant rocking chair.

About This Instructable




Bio: Furniture hacker. Author of Guerilla Furniture Design, out now. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @objectguerilla.
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