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Cardboard Lumber

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How would you like an incredibly strong, cool, and cheap building material for making lightweight tables, chairs, shelves, or anything else you can think of. Reusing cardboard to make furniture has always been a good idea, but the results I've seem have been either incredibly complex, or shoddy looking.

By laminating sheets of cardboard together into a large block and cutting this up with a table, or circular saw, you can create cardboard lumber of any dimensions you want: 2x4s, 2x8s, 4x4s. If you alternate the grain of the corrugations you can create plywood. If you glue your lumber together end-to-end you can create strong honeycomb-like boards.

You will only need three things to create cardboard lumber:
1) A Saw
2) Lots of cardboard
3) Glue... lots of glue
 
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Step 1: Types of Saws

Table Saw: The best saw you could possibly use to do this is a table saw. You can adjust a table saw's fence to help you cut perfectly uniform lumber out of your cardboard block. This allows you to easily mass-produce cardboard lumber. Because of a table saws fence, you should be able to cut lumber twice as thick as the max height of your blade by cutting once, and then flipping your cardboard block over and cutting through entirely.

Circular Saw: If you're really good at cutting straight lines and have no other option then I guess you could give it a try.

Hand Saw: Possible, but too labor intensive for me.

Band Saw: If your band saw is as powerful as a circular saw than go for it, this could open interesting options.

Chain Saw: Messy...

No Saw: Unfortunately for people without access to saws, this instructable is not for you. I know it looks cool and all, but it's just not gonna work out.
I love this. I'm planning on turning a cargo van into a camper and was dreading the cost of all the lumber, not to mention the weight. With this it will be almost free and light! All I would have to have is lumber for main structural supports. How does it hold up over time?
IanTrek9 months ago
Would a large piece of this, about the size of a parking slot, be able to support people and several other things?
pastdue11 months ago
I saw kitty blocks at $35-$50...I would like to make my own and I think I can do it after reading your ible! I have access to ALOT of cardboard and am thinking of just making a template and gluing the pieces together with some kitty safe glue that won't attract roaches (ewwww...Las Vegas is full of them). I could do it your way if I only had the tools...it might go faster. Thanks!
How is this on weight versus wood?
theRIAA (author)  threecardmonty4 years ago
I would say half the weight of wood, volume-wise, and 1/4 the strength of wood weight-wise. aka, i think you could make something stronger and lighter with wood.
Yeah, that's the feeling I've gotten so far. It seems to have a surprising amount of compressive strength (I've stood on a sample without any alarming damage), but not so much laterally between layers. That might be solved with just a bit of wooden reinforcement.
mhyden11 year ago
If you have no saw available, why not pre-cut the cardboard before gluing it together with a knife or scissors etc. more time, but it should work if you're bent on doing it without better tools.
You could do that in theory, but you'd have to be very accurate and painstaking in your cuts. Any lapse would result in a kind of wonky edge.

I could see it being done with a jig or fixture of some kind, but you'd probably already have some kind of woodworking saw to even make one of those.
theRIAA (author) 4 years ago
yea.. just like you cant go into safeway and walk behind the register to look through the drawers for things you want, you cant go in back and look through the cardboard.
ipisors theRIAA4 years ago
You don't go in "the back", you just go in the main store while they are unpacking and take them. Almost any store in the US will let you take empty boxes from them, every day. it's trash. yes, they get maybe a penny a box for recycling them, but it's about equal to the work you're saving them from baling and processing it.
I work in a grocery store in the US, and we have a baler on site, and bale all our cardboard boxes (and bag all our plastic). we get 200$ per bale, and we make about 6-7 bales a week. (and this is a pretty small store). We do however let people take boxes/cardboard if they need them/show up before they get crushed.
foobear1 year ago
Any updates on how it has held up over time? It's been three years now, how did the bench do over that period? Thank you
PitStoP1 year ago
Great info here..
When I usto rent in the past and I needed cardboard to work under my car to avoid sand/dirt from getting on my clothes and tools when greasy I used to go to the furniture stores near by and get really large carboards boxes (from headboards) that they dumped. They were really long and wide and they covered the whole bottom of the car. They will be great for making longer pieces. I just started looking into this and my question is.. Can these cardboard lumber be used for outdoors and can it be sealed and protected like wood maybe using an oil base polyurethane or other? Just wondering if anyone have try this and how did it hold up? Thanks for the instructable btw!
kkuo478031 year ago
This looks great!
How cleanly does a jigsaw cut through the cardboard plywood? I'm thinking of making some cardboard furniture like Gehry's "Easy Edges" and was thinking that it might be faster to first create some cardboard lumber and cutting out a pattern from those rather than cutting out individual layers with a craft knife.
I think this is the coolest 'able. A great resource for a good cardboard supply is your local bicycle shop. Bike boxes are big, thick and most shops have a lot of boxes laying around. They'll be very excited to give you the boxes if you volunteer to break down the boxes for them!
interesting link on this topic..http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html
Mr.Miz4 years ago
Lumber in Colorado is expensive. Good hardwood is hard to find. I've read all the comments so far and I'm probably too far down the line for my comment to even get read, but I think the real value here is for making models. I'm a pretty below average wood worker. I can't tell you how much expesive lumber I've messed up learning. If I start using cardboard instead of lumber I will save myself TONs of money and it gives me a VERY abundant material to work with. THANK YOU this is VERY helpful and a wonderful idea.
paulzef Mr.Miz2 years ago
I agree with you. I live in Aus and I'm only a first year uni student, I can't exactly afford to go out and buy hardwood or lumber, so why not reuse the 3000 cardboard boxes that my neighbours throw out everyweek; not to mention I work in a supermarket and everynight there are 3 large (2 meter cube) bales of cardboard that just gets sent off for recycling without any monetary gain, I doubt my work would care.
In the movie Lord of the Rings, the entire Shire Village was constructed from cardboard. All the homes were built with carboard. I think it was in New Zealand where they constructed all of it. Now i am provoked to build a cardboard electric tri-hull pontoon boat for fishing and recreation! Conv. stores get a lot of cardboard too. Every week they throw away a lot of card board. I worked at a chain that has over 50 stores now. 9 years ago, there were only 7 stores. Wonder if I can design a trailer too from cardboard. I think I'll use the expoxy for extra strength. I've tried cardboard stuff in the past, but my results were poor. Thanks for this instructable!
theRIAA (author)  Mr.Miz4 years ago
You're welcome, it sounds like you're on the right track to becoming a great woodworker. and don't worry, new comments automatically go to the top.
micraman2 years ago
Great ible! Love laminated cardboard. But I am a little skeptic about the strength of the wheatpaste... I made a tiny bottlecap full and it seemed pretty sticky but doesn't feel as hard as glass like you say. Is it waterproof?
sonipitts4 years ago
Actually, dumpster diving is NOT a crime in most areas, as long as the dumpster is not on private property, locked or fenced up. YMMV, depending on where you live, but the law generally considers trash to be abandoned by the owner and therefore free game. OTOH, most cardboard storage dumpsters are going to be on store property. So ask first, and leave the place at least as clean as you found it, if not more so.
This. For example, LE can look through your trash without a warrant once you put it on the curb. By the same token, if the cardboard bin isn't in an area that's off limits to the general public, you're more than likely good to go.

That said, to avoid any problems, just ask the store.
hardlec4 years ago
There is a product called PC Petrifier that is designed to restore dry rot. When applied over paper or cardboard, it makes the cardboard much sturdier. In the Victorian era, Boiled Linseed oil was used to reinforce paper machie. I'd like to know more about either, but I really like the idea of using cardboard. What is the cost ratio to wood when all the glue is taken into account?
I've used a product called Wood Hardener on all kinds of weakened/open-grained wood that was either too valuable or difficult to replace. Love it but I think cardboard might soak up an awful lot of this stuff and it isn't cheap.

Boiled linseed oil used to be used as a finish for antiques but I've heard that it isn't recommended any longer. It does have a strong smell that lingers, sometimes for years.

A neuron just fired - Is there a new type of boiled linseed oil on the market that dries faster and has anyone used it?
Try going to your local hardware store and look for "HOMER FORMBYS FURNITURE FINISH".
I have been using Formbys for about 30 years in place of boiled linseed oil on anything I do with wood, if I want to have a durable finish.
There is nothing wrong with B.L.O., but Formbys gives you a hard waterproof finish that brings out the grain/colour of the wood, like B.L.O., with a matte varnish-like finish.
I've seen this in stores. I usually use a mixture of 1:1:1 mineral spirits, BLO, and denatured alcohol to restore a wood finish. After that any top coat can be used.

I restore antique sewing machines. In the interest of historical authenticity it is generally preferred that BLO is the final finish on the box-case-treadle stand. Unless they are for my own use and then, depending on how accessible they'll be to company, I choose btwn BLO and a satin poly. I've been wiping the poly on with a clean rag and it gives a nice finish.

Thanks for the tip.
theRIAA (author)  hardlec4 years ago
I guess I paid $8 for flour, but I wasted a lot. I think they have a different starch glue that they use that is much cheaper though. A much sturdier stool could be made from $3 worth of 2x4s.
precipice2 years ago
harika tebrikler..
quark434 years ago
if you painted it with Kilz or regular paint would that waterproof it. Im thinking of building a shed with this. thanks for the ideas
Just use marine ply (thin sheets will do) for the ouside and you got yourself a shed that IS waterproof. I raised my 'cardboard shed' with treated 4x4 garden poles (The shed walls are 4" thick as well and are sitting fine on it) on the ground to protect against standing water but just used thin sheets of marine ply (got offcuts from a local boat builder and had them overlapping, Just used 8x4's for the roof together with 'roofing tar sheets'. Total Waterproof and better insulated then my house in the winter. You just have to be careful with open fames or high heat as you are having a building made from flammable material. Maybe someone could come up with some cheap, home-made flame-proof material that could be painted on? Also I used water resistant wallpaper paste, it works really well and I have got no problems with rot or damp/moisture (and my shed is coming in to its 4th year by now. If you can not get marine ply you could use one layer of Fiber glass, it would do the trick as well but would be more expensive and would not look that well. All in all I paid no more than £100 for everything bit for that I got a 16x20 shed/workshop That looks the job and is better from what you can get in any Garden Centre, let alone the savings compared to a garden shed/house you would pay in any of them or DIY stores. Hope that helps.
xenor smutjeuk4 years ago
I'm thinking that the only way to safely fireproof this stuff would be to mix some sort of fire retardant in with the glue. That way it's all the way through the material, rather than just a coating. Does anyone know what they treat cellulose fiber insulation with to make it fire resistant?
johnny3h xenor2 years ago

I "think" I was told that most wood and fabric fire retardants were "salts" of Borax.

Someone else told me that just making a water solution of Borax laundry detergent [I understand that it's just pure Borax with no additives] and thoroughly soaking the item to be made fire resistant in it will do the job.

I've never tried it on cardboard [but we successfuly used it on home-made drapes] but soaking cardboard with water doesn't sound like a good idea to me.

Another excellent method of making something fire resistant is to use an INTUMESCENT PAINT [found at COMMERCIAL paint supply stores for professional painters (Like the Sherwin-Williams chain)]. 

It's VERY expensive, BUT... will protect a piece of cardboard so well that a several minutes long applicaton of the blue-white tip of a Propane torch flame will not even discolor the cardboard beneath the paint.

Intumescent paint, when exposed to the high heat of a fire, SWELLS up creating a FOAM, which then chars from the heat of the fire, and the charred foam acts as an incredible INSULATOR against high heat..

I've never used this paint because of the cost, but from demonstrations I've observed, and online research, I'm convinced it's an excellent product.

Although I've heard there are now several brand named intumescent paints available, the only one I recall is the frist such products which were made by an outfit called "Oceans" back in the 70s.

a4great xenor4 years ago

you could add something fireproof inbetween or in the cardboard.

Actually this is fairly fire proof as it is- and that is for the same reason hay bale houses are fairly fireproof. the material is so densely packed that it is difficult for combustion to take place. don't forget that the combustion triangle is fuel, oxy, and heat. this method packs the insides so tightly that Oxyis the limiting factor.
Speedmite xenor4 years ago
Good idea.
A cardboard shed sounds like a cool idea. I just have a few questions: 1. What did you use to water proof the cardboard? 2. What sort of adhesive did you use to glue that cardboard together and 3. Would it be possible to get a picture of the shed.
It does help i like your ideas though im not sure i can get marine plywood but im going to look. My shed wont be that big only about 8x8.
i would put layers of plastic in somewhere, or put wayyy too much glue on the outside layer(s)
glorybe quark433 years ago
Paint and other surface finishes do little to stop water intrusion. There are leak sealers that might work. Fiberglass and resin are known to work well as is sheet metal.
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