DIY CONCRETE:: Cylinders From Cardboard Tubes




Introduction: DIY CONCRETE:: Cylinders From Cardboard Tubes

This Instructable will explain how to make concrete cylinders using discarded cardboard packaging tubes (potato chips, ground coffee, mixed nuts, baby formula, etc.)

(2) Cardboard Tubes (best with foil or plastic linings for water resistance)
(4) 1" Screws
Clear Packing Tape
Thin Foam Wrap (a packing / shipping material)
Sacked Concrete / Rapid Set (if you're in a hurry, although it tends to wash out colors)
CHENG Pro-Formula Mix

Permanent Marker
Tin Snips / Wire cutters
Long Needle Nose Pliers
Phillips Screw Driver ( + )
Weights / Rocks / Sand
Diamond Sanding Pad / Sandpaper

Particle Mask
Rubber Gloves

Step 1: Prepare Tubes

These tubes were found in recycling bins at a nearby apartment complex. It might take a few trips to find the right sizes, but keep looking because they're being thrown away all the time.

The largest tube will become the outside form. In this case it's about 5" diameter and 9" tall (it contained coffee grounds). The inside tube is about 4" x 7" (shredded potato chip container). This means the wall thickness is only about 1/2" - do not go any thinner, this is already pushing the limits.

1. Starting with the Interior form, trace the diameter on a piece of thin foam padding (this is usually used for packing / shipping). The idea is to tape a circle of foam to the base so when we go to de-mold that metal ring isn't trapped down inside.

2. After the foam circle is taped to the base, cut a ~2" foam strip to wrap and tape around the bottom edge (to keep that ring from getting trapped).

3. Screw the (4) 1" screws into the top of the Interior form. The screws should rest on the lip of the Outer cylinder, helping to keep it lined up during the pour.

4. Clean up the forms, Inside and Out and remove any oils or residue with denatured alcohol. If you don't clean the containers out, you'll see it on the surface of the finished concrete for sure.

Step 2: Mix, Pour, Vibrate Concrete

For tips on mixing concrete, check out the How-To-Mix Concrete Instructable.

5. In a clean bucket, mix up some concrete. If you're using CHENG Pro-Formula, follow the directions in this link. Pro-Formula comes in a range of colors, is easy to use, and gives good results. The mix in these photos looks a bit too wet. A mix that's too wet won't be as strong, but for a small project like this it won't make much difference.

6. Fill the Outer cylinder with concrete first, smearing concrete around the inside surface as you go along. This will help the concrete fill the edges and should minimize air bubbles.

7. With the Outer cylinder about half full, wipe the exterior of the Inside cylinder with concrete and gradually push it down into the form. The concrete will be displaced and spill up out of the edges.

8. Take some weights (lead, solid metal, stones, sand, etc.) and put them into the Interior form. You want to offset the buoyant force of the fluid concrete. Too much weight and the Inside form will sink (and bend the locating screws). Not enough weight and the Inside cylinder will want to float up.

9. Vibrate the form by lifting it and dropping it repeatedly on the work surface (this is called drop compaction). Do this for a few minutes to help coax the air bubbles into rising to the surface.

10. With your vibrating finished, make sure the Inner cylinder is centered within the Outer one. Then move it gently to a quit place where it will be undisturbed.

11. Cover the piece with plastic and let it cure for 1-2 days.

Step 3: De-mold

12. Scrape Away concrete from the top edge and snip the metal ring, gradually peeling the cardboard away.

13. Hopefully the metal ring from the Inner cylinder isn't trapped. Use some long needle nose pliers if it is, although sometimes things just get stuck.

There's not much to this, just be careful not to cut yourself on the metal rings, and remember not to pry against the concrete because you'll just scratch it.

Step 4: Grind, Polish, Seal

14. Take a diamond hand pad or sandpaper and clean up any sharp edges.

15. The top surface will be a bit rough, and if you don't have a 5" orbital polisher, you might try sanding it with 60 grit sandpaper on a rubber pad or fixed to a block of wood. It will take forever but you can get it looking decent if you're patient. You can also grind and polish concrete using the same equipment you would use to grind and polish glass. At this step you'll get the best results if you have the right tool for the job (5" orbital polisher with pads for concrete).

16. (Optional) Seal the concrete with something like the CHENG Acrylic Sealer. Sealing concrete is a whole other thing, but there's some step by step information at that link. Sealing isn't necessary but it will protect the concrete and keep it looking good over the long term.

17. (Optional) If the cylinder is going to be a planter, drill a 1/2" hole in the bottom with a masonry bit.

Step 5: Variations

Here is the same process using smaller cardboard tubes. In this case the potato chip tube was cut down to fit. Sand was used as the ballast to keep the inside tube from floating in the wet concrete.

This piece hasn't been ground, and the top surface is how it came out of the form. If the outside tube has a metal lip, the concrete will fill to that edge and the top surface will be nice and flat.

Step 6: More Advanced: Use a Wine Cork to Cast a Drain Hole

To make the drain hole for a small concrete planter like these cylinders, we could always drill the hole with a masonry bit, but it's cleaner to cast the hole instead. It's easy, less dusty, and you can just use a wine cork.

1. Determine how thick the bottom of the piece will be, and then cut the cork to that thickness. In this case it's a little bit over 1/2".

2. Mark the cut line around the cork and use a utility knife or a fine-toothed hand saw to cut it.

3. Mark the center of the tube, spray both faces of the cork, and press it in place making sure it stays centered. Let the adhesive dry before starting the pour.

4. The interior tube should now rest on top of the cork (it needs to make complete contact with the bottom of the tube to create the hole).

5. Mix, Pour, and Vibrate the concrete. To eliminate the most air bubbles, use a small vibrating table or a table-mounted vibrator.

6. Remove lead weights and de-mold the finished concrete using tin snips and pliers. Be careful not to cut yourself on any metal. Wiping off the concrete while it's wet would have made this de-molding process a lot less messy.

7. Completely remove the form tubes and then pry out the cork knockout with a small slotted screwdriver. Try not to use the edge of the hole for leverage, it will damage the concrete. Instead, drive the screw driver into the cork and force it up without prying on the concrete.

8. In this piece, the knockout didn't make complete contact with the bottom of the tube, and 1/8" of concrete was filling the hole. This was simply tapped away with a rubber mallet and a slotted screwdriver.

9. The edges can be sanded with diamond hand pads and then the piece is ready to be finished or potted with a plant as is.

Step 7: Final Photos

These concrete cylinders are fun to make, and it's an easy way to start playing with concrete. Large concrete form tubes are used for construction, and the cardboard cylinders you find in the trash are basically scaled-way-down versions.

Although they might not make very good containers for food, with a cork lid or a wooden top you've got a nice little vessel for holding whatever.

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    9 years ago

    so lovely


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Good work!
    How did you get no bubbles? The surface is very smooth!
    Maybe it's all about vibrating?

    CHENG Concrete
    CHENG Concrete

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hey godzy,
    It's all about vibrating! Concrete will always have some air bubbles but they can be minimized by vibrating (and not using a mix that's too dry). In the shop we have a small table vibrator (Vibco PJT-100) that works well for tabletop projects like this. For something larger, like a concrete countertop, we'll use a few table mounted vibrators (Vibco US450T) hooked up to a variable speed controller.

    When you're filling the form it also helps to smear concrete on the inside of the form walls and brush over any air bubbles that might be clinging to that surface.

    If you don't have a table vibrator, you can still get pretty good results using drop compaction (picking up one end of the form and dropping it over and over), and there's a technique called rodding (basically pushing a broom handle up and down in the concrete). You can also take a reciprocating saw, remove the blade, and tap-tap-tap on the form walls, though I'd avoid that if your form is just a cardboard tube like the one in this instructable.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I tried doing this using PVC instead. I assumed that if I greased the PVC I would be able to just slide the concrete out. Boy was I wrong I finally got the tube out of the mold after spending 2 hours wrecking it with a bandsaw and chisel but it looks horrible from the accidental damage incurred by removing it.

    CHENG Concrete
    CHENG Concrete

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sorry to hear it didn't work out! PVC is a little bit too thick and too rigid to be used for the exterior form. And if you used it as the knockout for the inside you might never get it out!

    PVC works best when you don't plan to remove it, or if you score it very deeply beforehand so you can easily break it apart later.

    You could make an umbrella stand with a bucket and a length of PVC pipe. Just pour concrete in a bucket, cap the PVC pipe on one end, push that end down into the wet concrete and hold it in place with some kind of frame (or duct tape!). If the bucket is tapered the concrete will drop out and you can cut down the PVC pipe to be flush with the top surface.

    You might also use PVC tubing for a concrete lamp, or something that you'll be installing wires inside. The tubing stays in place and makes a tunnel for the wiring, and you can use fittings to make bends, etc.

    Smooth-on makes a good mould release that we use in the shop. Cooking spray can work in a pinch, but something very oily might have an effect on the appearance of finished piece.

    CHENG Concrete
    CHENG Concrete

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    definitely solid!

    Just added is a step showing how to use a wine cork to make a drain hole in the bottom of the planter.

    thanks for the comments

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