Introduction: Make Your Own Kraft Paper Tubes

I've enjoyed making homemade model rockets ever since I was a kid. I make almost every part of my rockets from scratch, including the paper tubes for the rocket bodies.

I often need to make homemade paper tubes for other projects as well, so I thought this deserved a proper write-up. Hopefully someone will find this information useful.

Note that these tubes will not be adequate for any firework-type application, if that's what you're looking for. There are plenty of tutorials online for making convolute (or parallel, non-spiral wound) paper tubes. 

Step 1: Materials

First, you will need some kraft paper. I bought a 36-inch wide roll at Home Depot a few years ago, and it will probably last me a few more. Sometimes I use thin painter's masking paper, but only as a final layer. You can get this at home improvement stores as well.

You will also need some water-soluble glue. I use Titebond (which is a basic woodworking glue), but you could use Elmer's or something similar.

Other basics you will need are a long ruler, cutting mat with rotary cutter or x-acto blade, paint brush, masking tape, and rags.

Most importantly, you will also need some kind of existing tube to use as a form. I generally use pieces of PVC or old cardboard tubes (like mailing tubes, carpet roll tubes, etc.), but I have also used steel pipe and other random cylindrical objects.

For whatever item you use as a form, it is crucial that it is true (meaning without any warps or bends). You can quickly test objects out by placing them on a flat surface and rolling them back and forth. If you see any light coming through along the bottom edge at any point, it means the tube is not true and you should use something else.

Step 2: Cut Paper Strips

The paper tubes are made by gluing up multiple layers of kraft paper onto the form. For smaller diameter tubes (2" and under), I usually use three or four layers, which produces a fairly lightweight, but reasonably solid tube. For larger diameter tubes (over 2") I use four or five layers. This has been sufficient for most applications I have needed.

For whatever diameter tube you are making, you need to cut strips of kraft paper that are appropriately sized for wrapping around the form. Too narrow, and your spirals will be really close together resulting in a shorter finished tube. Too wide, and you wont be able to wrap it very easily. Some quick trial and error will show you what width strip will work best for whatever size form you are using.

For the tube I am making in the photos here, I am using an 18" piece of 1 1/4" PVC pipe for the form. I have cut three strips of kraft paper that are 3" wide, and 36" long. This size strip works well for this size form.

Step 3: Wrap the First Layer

Do not use any glue on this step! You want this to slide off of the form when you're finished.

Wrap the first strip around the form in a spiral fashion, without overlapping any of the seams. Use a small piece of masking tape to fasten the kraft paper to the form at both ends. 

Make especially sure that the paper is wrapped snugly and that all seams are butted together without any gaps or overlapping.

Step 4: Glue on Additional Layers

Now you will glue on additional layers of kraft paper. 

The glue will need to be watered down. I mix one part water into about four parts glue. (If it helps at all, I've noticed that correctly watered-down glue has almost the exact consistency of store-bought eggnog, straight from the container.)

Brush a layer of glue onto a strip of kraft paper. There shouldn't be any puddles, and the entire strip should be completely and consistently covered.

Begin wrapping it onto the tube over the first layer of paper, making sure to cover the seam on the first layer. The seams on each additional layer should not fall directly over the seam from the layer beneath it. This is very important.

For each layer, you want to make sure the seams are butted nicely against each other, and that there is no overlapping. The glue will allow you a few seconds to reposition the paper as you begin to wrap it, but you do have to work quickly. Once you have the paper positioned well for the first wrap around the tube, you can continue wrapping and pressing the paper into place until you reach the other end of the tube. 

As you wrap on a strip of glue-saturated paper, you will feel that it can be stretched and pulled a little. You want to put each layer on snugly without any bubbles or wrinkles, but if you pull it too tightly or with inconsistent pressure, the finished tube will warp as it dries. I've made my share of warped, useless tubes.

In between layers, you will want to use a wet rag to wipe up any glue off of your work surface.

Once each layer is in place, roll the tube on the table back and forth with your hands with substantial pressure to work the layers together to create a good bond. 

Step 5: Trim the Ends

The ends of the tube will need to be trimmed before you can remove the paper tube from the form.

The best way I've found to do this is to wrap a regular sheet of paper tightly around the tube and use the edge as a guide to help you get a nice straight cut. Use an x-acto blade to cut through the layers of kraft paper, and peel off the trimmed end. There will be a little bit of glue on the form which you will want to wipe off.

Step 6: Let It Dry

Carefully remove the paper tube from the form. I like to stand mine up while they dry so there's no pressure on them horizontally.

I've tried speeding up the drying time by placing tubes in front of space heaters, but it has always led to warped tubes. So I recommend just letting them dry by themselves.

Once dry, I often paint on a layer of glue to seal up the paper, followed by a light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper.

To cut them to various lengths I prefer to use my chop saw (power miter saw). The edges need to be sanded lightly after each cut, but it is quick and accurate.

Step 7: Making Telescoping Paper Tube Sleeves

I often need to make telescoping tubes that slide nicely in and out of each other. For this, I have made special forms that produce tubes just a hair bigger than what come off of my plain tube forms. 

A sleeve-making form needs to be built up by gluing layers of kraft paper directly a plain form. I glue onto the new form however many number of layers I use to make tubes on the original form, plus one. This generally means four layers, and this has worked out well to produce tubes just bigger than the ones that come off of the original forms.

Sometimes I already have an existing tube that I'm going to use for something, like a mailing tube, and I need to just make a sleeve that fits over it. In this case, I'll cut off a section of the tube to create a form, and glue on one layer of kraft paper. This new form will produce tubes that work as sleeves for the original tube. 

There is a bit of shrinkage that occurs, so don't fret if tubes and sleeves don't fit at first. Let them dry fully, and if things still don't fit, you can either add another layer to the form and try again, or add an additional layer to the smaller tube so it fits better in the sleeve.

Step 8: Rocket Motor Mount Tubes

I also make smaller diameter paper tubes as sleeves to hold model rocket motors. 

To help make these small paper tubes, I made a jig from a used rocket motor, a dowel and some duct tape. Photos 2 - 4 show how it works. If you have any questions about any of this, please ask.

That's it. Thanks for looking!


qdogg made it! (author)2017-02-17

How about using old school gummed back paper packing tape. I have 2 big rolls I got at a shipping supply place & all you do is moisten the back and wrap around the form. Some of this tape is reinforced with fiberglass threads. Also, you don't need to "precisely calculate the pre-cut lengths for each layer" in spiral winding as stated in a previous post unless you love math--just make them longer than you need & trim when dry.

seamster made it! (author)seamster2017-02-17

That might be a great method - I'd be curious how it would work out. Give it a shot!

RushFan made it! (author)2016-11-17

Very nice. I like how you build your rocket parts from scratch, rather that relying on store-bought, mass produced items. So much more satisfaction!

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-11-17

Thank you. It's incredibly satisfying, that's for sure! :)

ZekeF made it! (author)2016-10-31

Just an update: I've painted my rocket and turned a nice oak nose cone for it, I hope it flies nice and true.

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-11-17

Hey, very cool. That nosecone looks fantastic.

I finally got myself a lathe a while back, after wanting one for many years. I'll have to follow your lead and turn a nosecone for my next rocket! :)

ZekeF made it! (author)2016-10-07

This worked great, it took me several tries. Here is the rocket I'm building.

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-10-07

Very nice, it looks straight and true!

It is a little bit of a fussy process, but with a little practice you can make some great custom tubes. Glad to hear it worked for you! :)

JGDean made it! (author)2016-08-17

Back when I made model rockets, I used to make most of my own engine mounts and tube adapters (by the methods you describe) because the local hobby stores wanted too much for my budget (very low). I probably still have some 25-year-old parts kicking around.

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-08-17

Very cool! It's a great hobby. I find myself returning to it every few years and making a few rockets. My kids are now old enough that they can actually make some themselves. Pretty fun stuff.

Thanks for the comment! Just saw your clamps instructable. That is a really good write up, I quite enjoyed it.

Laral made it! (author)2016-08-15

This is a very precise tutorial. Nice job. I am wondering if you have tried the 'dry glue' method as outlined in How To Make Your Own Body Tubes - Apogee Rockets.

They use a hot iron on paper that has dried glue on it, in oder to avoid warping. I am thinking of trying it using a heat gun. They are making convolute-wound tubes but it should work for spiral-wound as well.

There is also The Mathematics of Spiral Wound Body Tubes - Apogee Rockets, which shows how to precisely calculate the pre-cut lengths of each layer for spiral-winding.

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-08-17

Thank you!

I hadn't ever seen these instructions from the apogee site, but they look really useful. I just kind of made my methods up, so some of the things I did might not be the best approach in reality.

I appreciate you sharing the links, and I'll have to take some time to read through those more thoroughly. I haven't made a rocket tube for several years... too many projects!!

StephenA94 made it! (author)2016-08-11

As a model rocket enthusiast, and rocket scientist, I am always looking for ways to make my rockets without having to spend hundreds of dollars on specific company tubes. This tutorial is quite revealing. I do have a few questions though. When you put a lay-up on your form, do you crisscross the layers, or put them on in the same direction? Aerospace applications tend to use a crisscross pattern for strength. Also, about how long does a form take to dry? Finally, how do you cut your motor centering rings?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-08-11


Criss-crossing layers never worked for me, as it tended to cause the earlier layer to "unravel," basically. Going the same direction keeps the layers tight.

I think the forms took about a day or so to dry. But it depends on so many factors (size, amount of glue used, local temperature and humidity, etc.).

For motor centering rings, it depends on what material I used. If I used cardboard or paper based products, I usually just use an x-acto blade. If I used thin plywood, I use a scroll saw.

Hope that helps! :)

StephenA94 made it! (author)StephenA942016-08-12

It does. I tried your process and it worked. I finally read the remainder of the comments, and followed the advice of Dream Dragon; I want the motor mounts to be strong. Currently though the kraft paper I have found was quite thin. Rolling up took 4 sheets, 18"x8" along the 8" edge for an 18" roll-up on a 1/2" form. So I ended up with about 42 layers of thin paper and glue. It's about 100F in my garage, but humidity is around 50%. So I expect the roll-up to take about 3-4 days. That said, using an x-acto knife to cut 1/4" rings, how do you do that through 42 layers of glue and fibers (paper)? The Apogee folks do this for thinner thickness tubes, but a thickness of about 1/8" is not simple.

Your suggestion to tape down the ends worked very well, better than I thought. On a different note, did you ever consider 3D printing of the centering rings?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-08-12

You lost me on the motor mounts question. Are you cutting through the side wall of the tube (is that what is 42 layers)? Or are you talking about cutting centering rings? Maybe upload a photo of what you're working, and I can respond more specifically.

But depending on what you're trying to cut, if you're trying to cut through that much paper I'd treat it like wood and cut it with power tools, say, like a dremel or a scroll saw.

I've never considered 3D printing, but if you have access that could be a good option.

jspock-rank made it! (author)2016-04-07

Thank you!!! This totally just saved my 9yo's cosplay. We found out he can't take his small diameter dowel staff in, but I CAN use it as a form for this. He's now super excited instead of being super bummed.

seamster made it! (author)seamster2016-04-08

Cool! I hope it works out for you guys. Good luck!

Digital_Kills made it! (author)2015-12-29

Have you tried alternating the layers in oposite directions and if so, did it make any noticable difference?

Digital_Kills made it! (author)Digital_Kills2015-12-29

I just saw your post far below stating how it didn't work very well when you alternated direction. Is there a reason you don't let each layer dry before proceeding with the next?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2015-12-29

Yes. The reason is that the paper shrinks substantially when it dries. If you don't take the tube off of the form immediately once you've added the last layer, it will dry so tightly onto the form that the only way to get it off is to cut it off.

So you have to add all the layers in one shot, and then take the finished (but not fully dry) tube off the form and let it dry.

PrabalS made it! (author)2015-09-06

Hey,would brown paper work????

as in:

Honus made it! (author)2015-03-24

This is awesome! I'm building air rockets with my kids and I just
finished wrapping my first tubes. How long do you typically wait for the
tubes to dry?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2015-03-25

You're building air rockets with this kind of tube? What kind of air rockets?

This type of tube seems like a lot of extra work if their going to be anything like these. So you've definitely piqued my interest!

Regarding drying times, I live in a pretty arid place and a three-layered tube would usually be fully dry within a day. Just be sure to remove them from the forms (or move them to a smaller one) because they will shrink quite a bit.

Honus made it! (author)Honus2015-03-25

These are higher power compressed air rockets. We're working on my oldest son's science fair project doing a bit of accelerometer data logging. We're having a lot of fun with it- I built lots of rockets as a kid so it's bringing back lots of great memories for me.

The larger tube in the picture is a little bit smaller than a BT-50 tube as it's wrapped around a 3/4" PVC tube- it's about 23mm OD. I pulled the tubes off the forms last night and let them dry standing up and they're perfect now- I did three layers. Of course now I want to make my own light weight fiberglass tubes- LOL! :)

seamster made it! (author)seamster2015-03-25


I've been getting back into model rocketry with my boys for the last few months, and it's been quite fun. I'm glad you found this and am happy to hear it worked out for you!

I'd love to see some pics when you're all done... or will there be a full instructable write-up? :)

Honus made it! (author)Honus2015-03-25

There will of course be a full write up! :)

seamster made it! (author)seamster2015-03-26

I would expect nothing less! Can't wait to see it.

Honus made it! (author)Honus2015-03-29

Launched the air rockets today- man do they really go! My boys were super excited and several kids came up to us at the launch site and wanted to check them out. They couldn't believe they were air powered. The first launch we got readings that nearly maxed out the accelerometer at 15.73 g.

seamster made it! (author)seamster2015-03-30

Very cool! Did you incorporate some kind of recovery system? I'm getting a bit excited to see all the details on this!

Honus made it! (author)Honus2015-04-06

Here you go-

Enjoy! Still working on the video- YouTube is having some trouble...

Honus made it! (author)Honus2015-03-30

Gravity was the only recovery system- there were a few casualties- LOL! We launched the first one at 60psi and that was too much as the nose cone collapsed into the tube on landing and damaged our datalogger circuit and tore a hole in the side of the rocket. We were able to repair everything and launch again the same day. We got maybe seven launches before the tube finally buckled. It was awesome. I should have the complete write up with video done this weekend. :)

Prezz0506 made it! (author)2015-03-10

so the length and width of the paper strips will work with a 3 inch wide and 18 inch long tube also

bdubu made it! (author)2014-12-31

Quite impressive! The results look to be of commercial quality!

johnnycarlos made it! (author)2014-12-29

I bought "kraft" paper off amazon, but it doesn't look as thick as yours. More like waxy, butcher paper. Darn. Should have went to Home Depot like you.

builderfish24 made it! (author)2014-11-29

Do you think I could use a mailing tube like
Or would they be too heavy to be used for a rocket?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2014-11-29

I've never used them for rockets, but I suppose it could be done. They are built to be durable, so they are pretty heavy though.

builderfish24 made it! (author)2014-11-28

I was using elmers glue. They were pretty thin coats too. Are there any other methods you know of to make rocket body tubes?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2014-11-28

Sorry, not that I'm familiar with. You can always just buy tubes, which isn't a bad idea considering the time and trouble it is to make your own.

I'm just kind of a maker-masochist, and I enjoy headache-inducing creative processes . . . but understandably that's not for everyone.

If you do end up purchasing some tubes, I've gotten lots of supplies from apogee components, and have been really happy with their stuff.

builderfish24 made it! (author)2014-11-28

I'm trying to make this for the gopro rocket (3 inch diameter) and the paper just gets soggy and wrinkly. Any tips?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2014-11-28

Hmm. What kind of glue are you using, and what kind of paper?

The paper does tend to get a little wrinkly and soggy, but not so much that it falls apart. Make sure you're not using too much glue. There should only be a very thin, uniform layer.

If you continue to have trouble, post a photo or two of what you're experiencing, and maybe I can offer some more specific advice. :)

I should also point out, this is not a super easy method and it can be quite frustrating. So I completely understand any struggles you may be having with it.

padbravo made it! (author)2013-11-18

Tks for the info... I needed to make some of them!

thallone made it! (author)2013-10-29

I have found that when cutting off of tubes, a large, very sharp knife makes the straightest lines. I usually use the largest straight-blade kitchen knife to cut straight on tubes, rolling the work as I use my weight to cut into the material.

darthpope made it! (author)2013-10-11

Thank you. Very well done. I have wondered how to make this tubes. Awesome job.

godspiral made it! (author)2012-09-07

great post. Thank you.

Do you think it would be possible to make a very large diameter tube without a complete form?

For instance using a narrow tube and moving it inside, as you wind from the bottom?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2012-09-08

I don't think that would be possible. It's a tedious process with iffy results of you're not very careful as is. I think trying something like you suggest would be incredibly frustrating, and just plain not work. Sorry!

junglebrad made it! (author)2012-08-02

Do you think these could be used to make this project?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2012-08-02

Ah, probably not. These tubes I make are a lot more work than it would be worth for a project like the tube light. For the tube light, I would just use mailing tubes or something similar. It would save you a lot of time and hassle.

PaulTozzi made it! (author)2012-04-24

When making your own rockets, do you make your own nosecones as well? If you do, how do you do it?

seamster made it! (author)seamster2012-04-24

I have, yes. Although I don't have it down to a science, like I do for the tubes. I've used homemade paper cones, plastic easter eggs, carved balsa or foam, and a number of other things. To be honest, it's a weak spot in my homemade designs.

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Bio: I got an old sewing machine when I was just a kid, and I've been hooked on making stuff ever since. My name is ... More »
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