Introduction: Cardboard Hydraulic Press

2017 was the year of the Hydraulic Press. People seemed fascinated by the trends of random objects being crushed, and Youtube was flooded with videos of everything from dynamite to fruit and even diamonds. It seemed like the internet had a mission to figure out everything that they could and could not crush with these machines.
For many people, obtaining a hydraulic press is impossible. For one, these pieces of equipment can be extremely dangerous, so proper safety procedures and equipment should be used at all times. But the biggest hurdle can be the price; these machines can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars!! For most people, this kind of cost just to crush soda cans is not justifiable. This project is perfect for those who want to experiment with the physics of how hydraulics work at a low cost and in a safe way. All of the components can be obtained at a local craft store, and assembly takes less than a day before you have an operational machine. This type of project is perfect for school and home settings and is a great way to learn about pressure, fluid dynamics involved in hydraulics, and the physics of forces. In learning settings, students can work together to construct and interact with the press, and can even refine the design further.

Materials and Tools

  • Cardboard boxes (8- 4x4 inch, 6- 12x4 inch pieces of cardboard are needed)
  • 2 Syringes (100 mL each)
  • Plastic tubing that fits into the syringes
  • 1/8th-inch wooden dowels (about 40. There may be some extra)
  • Spray sealant (Modge-Podge)
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Scissors or cutting knife
  • Ruler
  • Sharpie/Marker
  • Water in container/cup


While this machine is much safer than the industrial variety, precautions should still be taken when building an operating. Hot glue is used to construct the structure, and supervision should be present when a hot glue gun is used. Modge Podge can be noxious if breathed in. Make sure to spray the cardboard pieces outside. The pieces can dry inside a well-ventilated area. Modge Podge is also flammable when sprayed. Make sure there are no open sources of flame or other combustibles around when spraying the Modge Podge. Make sure when the press is being used on something that can shatter or splinter that spectators are wearing safety equipment (goggles) and do not stand directly in front of the open side in case pieces of the object may fly out.

Step 1: Cutting Out the Cardboard Pieces

Measure out 10 4”x 4” pieces and 6 12” x 4” pieces of corrugated cardboard using a ruler and a sharpie.
For the 12” x 4” pieces, make sure the corrugation holes are on the short sides of the piece for inserting dowels into. Cut these pieces out using scissors or an X-ACTO Knife, making sure to stay as neat as possible so the pieces fit together.

Step 2: Measuring and Cutting the Wooden Dowels for the 4"x4" Pieces

In the corrugation holes of the 8 4"x4" pieces of cardboard, place 6 of the wooden dowels so that they are evenly spread into the cardboard. Cut off the parts of the dowels that are sticking out from the cardboard so that the edge of the dowel is even with the edge of the cardboard. Note: each wooden dowel can be made into 3 4" pieces. 2 total dowels will be used for each 4"x4" square of cardboard

Step 3: Inserting the Dowels Into the 12"x4" Cardboard

for the 12"x4" pieces of cardboard, the corrugation should be parallel to the 12' side of the cardboard. 3-4 dowels can be used in each 12"x4" piece of cardboard

Note: If the dowel creates a hole in the cardboard when inserting, it is a good idea to measure and cut a new piece. These holes can weaken the cardboard, which can affect performance.

Step 4: Gluing Together the Cardboard

Hot glue 2 4” x 4” pieces together so that the direction of the corrugation is perpendicular. Repeat until you have 5 double layer pieces.

Do the same with the 12"x4" pieces of cardboard. However, for these pieces, the corrugation lines will be parallel. You will then have 3 double layer 12"x4" pieces of cardboard

After gluing the cardboard together, trim any extra cardboard so the pieces line up exactly.

Step 5:

In the center of 2 of the 4"x4” pieces of cardboard, drill or cut out a hole large enough for the syringe to fit tightly into.

Step 6: Sealing the Cardboard

In a well-ventilated area, apply sealant spray to one side all of the double-layered pieces of cardboard, making sure to apply evenly. Let sit for 10 minutes, then flip over and apply to the other side.

Note: If there doesn’t look to be enough sealant, apply more as necessary, allowing 10 minutes to pass between coats.

Step 7: Allowing the Sealant to Dry

After spraying both sides of each piece, prop up so neither face is laying on the ground and let dry for 12-24 hours. You should now have 5 double layer 4"x4" [ieces and 3 double layer 12"x4" pieces

Note: If the sealant is not completely set after this much time passes, the next steps can still be completed

Step 8: Making the Base Structure

To begin putting the pieces together, take one of the 4x4” pieces and lay it onto a flat surface.

Glue one of the double 12x4” pieces to the edge of the double 4x4” piece so that there is a 90 degree angle between the 12x4” piece and the 4x4” piece. The piece should NOT be glued on top of the 4x4” cardboard base, but next to it. Repeat twice more so that only one edge of the 4x4” base piece is open.

Step 9: Adding in the Inner Support Pieces

Position the structure so that the open side of the base is towards you. On the right side panel, glue a double 4x4” piece of cardboard on the inside of the structure, so that the edge of the 4x4” piece is on top of the base piece. Repeat this on the left side of the structure.

Step 10: Putting the Syringe Into the Structure

Put the syringe through one of the two pieces with the hole cut into it. Glue this piece into the structure so that it is sitting on top of the two inner 4x4” pieces.

Note: The bottom of the syringe should be facing DOWN so that the nozzle of the syringe, where the tube will be attached, is facing upward

Step 11: Securing the Syringe

Fit the second 4x4” piece with the hole cut into it onto the syringe about 4’ above the other 4x4” piece holding the syringe. There should be between 3’ and 4’ left between this piece and the top edge of the structure

Step 12: Filling the Second Syringe

With the second syringe, close the plunger all the way to the bottom so that there is no air present. Attach the tube and fill the syringe by putting the other end of the tube into a cup of water. The syringe should be filled to about the 60 mL mark.

Step 13: Attaching the Syringes Together

Attach the other end of the tube to the tip of the syringe in the cardboard press. The plunger should be pushed all the way up in the barrel of the syringe in the structure so that there is no air left inside

Step 14: Testing the Hydraulics

Push the water out of one syringe into the other to observe the plunger of the syringe in the structure lower as it fills with water. To pull the plunger back into this syringe, pull back on the plunger that is not in the structure, taking the water from the other syringe into that one

Step 15: Crushing Objects With the Hydraulic Press

To crush an item with the hydraulic press, place an item underneath of the syringe in the structure. Then, as you push the water from the outside syringe into the syringe in the structure, the plunger will press down onto the item, crushing it

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