Introduction: How to Make a Can Organizer Out of Cardboard

About: I am just a creative kinda guy.
The purpose of this project is to construct a low-cost can-organizer system out of cardboard in order to make efficient use of the limited space in my pantry and facilitate a first-in, first-out (FIFO) rotation schedule for canned goods with an expiration date.

Before you start you need to understand is that this project is a combination of both origami and geometry. You need to have a plan and your customized plan is ultimately determined by two things: the size of the canned goods you wish to store and the space available in your pantry.

Step 1: List of Materials

Here is your list of materials:

Corrugated Cardboard Box ( 48 x 36 )
Ruler (preferably metal)
Measuring Tape
Exacto Knife
Pizza cutter
Pencil (or pen)
Carpenter’s Square
Glue (either a hot glue gun or paper glue) or Duct Tape

I used a Large Mirror-pack from a recent move and it had enough cardboard to make three can-organizers. If you don't have one, a typical Large U-haul box is enough to make one.

Step 2: Understanding the Basics...i.e. Algebra

In order for this project to be effective the cans must ride down the Second Level shelf to the Lower Level shelf. Both of these shelves are at opposing angles to each other. These angles are predetermined by you, with consideration paid to the amount of space available. I chose a 2" high ramp for both shelves due to the size and weight of the can I was using. You could use as little as a 1" high ramp but I would advise against anything less.

The slope of the ramp is very important because this value will be used throughout the entire project. Using my Lower Level shelf's length (14") I calculated the value of the ramp's slope as such:

Slope is the difference in two points on the Y-axis divided by the difference in two points on the X-axis (m = Y1 - Y2 / X1 - X2 ). If I were to plot the two points on a graph I would have points 1 at 14,2 and points 2 at 7,1. Using the formula I arrived at a 1" change in height for every 7" in length.

Next you need to identify the values of the following variables:
    W = width of the can
    L = length of the can
    X = depth of your available space
    Y = (X – W) or depth – width
    Z = 2 x W + height of ramps 1 and 2

The can I used for this project was a Campbells® Chunky soup can measured at 5”L x 3.5”W. The space I had available in my pantry is 12”H, 14”D, and 42”W. Allow for about a 0.25" overage for the can's dimensions for the thickness of the corrugated cardboard and clearance to roll.

You may use the charts provided if you desire. My project's information is also included as an example.

Step 3: Lay Out the Grid

Once you have the cardboard on a flat work surface its time to lay out your grid and find your Y- and X- axis.

Take note of the grain of your corrugated cardboard. Try to have the grains running the length of your ramps instead of across them. This will add some strength to the areas that get the most wear.

1. To begin, true up your cardboard by cutting off any abnormalities and make four right angles at each corner.

2. Measure the length of your cardboard with a measuring tape and find the center.

3. Using a carpenter's square (or like device) and a long straight edge, make a vertical line along the straight edge.

4. Find center and make a horizontal line as in steps two and three.

5. You are ready to begin drawing the sub-structures when you have (1) a straight bottom, (2) a Y-axis, and an (3) X-axis.

Step 4: Draw Out the Plan

Now we can begin drawing out the sub-structure.

1.The Lower Level shelf will use the Y-axis as a reference line. From the Y-axis, measure out your value for W and draw a line. Draw a line that connects the Y-axis line to the line you just drew at the value of W. This should make a rectangle as in point (4).

2. From the back corners of the Lower Level shelf, draw a line on each side at the slope value identified in an earlier step. I used a 1/7 slope value (1" change in Y for every 7" change in X) as shown in points (5).

3. Using the two slopes just drawn, draw lines at right angles to the slopes measured at a value of X (height of the space available in your pantry). Draw additional lines at right angles to the lines you just drew that connect to the forward corners of the ramp base. Ensure that the sloped lines are parallel to each other and that the far corners make right angles. The end result should be the creation of the left and right sides as shown in points (6) and (7).

4. The slopes at points (8) and (9) have the same slope value as used before. Ensure that these lines ultimately create two rectangles with four right angled corners.

5. Point (10) is drawing a box and lip that will serve as the rear of the total structure. Extend the lines of the Left Side the distance of W plus 1".  Point (11) is drawing a similar box and lip that will be the top of the structure only you don't want to completely encapsulate the organizer. Using the value of Z (depth of space available minus the width of the can) draw a box along the back line of the Right Side with a width of W plus 1".

6. Next draw a box as in point (12) that is W plus 4" by Z plus 4". This box will serve as the Second Level shelf.

7. Point (13) and (14) are designed to reinforce the back side of the Lower Level shelf where the cans will fall from the Second Level shelf. Point (13) is simply extending the base out an additional 1.75". Point (14) is simply extending the back side out an additional 2". During assembly you will fold point (13) down first, fold the back side into place, and fold under point (14) locking it all into place.

8. Point (15) is the front stop for the bottom ramp. It is intended to prevent the cans from simply rolling out of the structure. It is a 1" extension added to the front side of the base with two 1" flanges on each side for attachment.

9. Draw two vertical lines that will be your Second Level shelf reference lines. Measure the distance of the ramp height plus the width of the can from the back-bottom ramp corners (ex. my ramp was 2" high and my can was 3.75" so I rounded up to an even 6"). Using your carpenter's square, draw the lines ensuring they are at right angles to the bottom edge of the cardboard. When you form the structure the slope of the Second Level shelf will become apparent.

The end result should look like a well planned schematic.

Step 5: Cut Out the Sub-structure

Now that the hard part is over its time to start making the cuts.

Cutting out the sub-structures is a relatively simple process. I used an exacto knife against a straight metal edge to make nearly all of my cuts. At first I used scissors but I found that it crushes the cardboard just before making the cut and it caused weak spots and irregularities in the corrugated cardboard.

1. Cut around the outer perimeter of the substructure with an exacto knife (or equivalent).

2. Cut the Second Level shelf (point (12)) from the base sub-structure.

3. Last you have three small incisions remaining that you need to make relief cuts.

You should have two separate pieces now, the Second Level shelf and the base structure, ready for folding and assembly. Now is the time to make more cut-outs using the ones you just made as a template.

Step 6: Fold the Creases

Now that you have cut out the sub-structures its time to fold the creases.

Form a crease where you need to bend the box’s tabs. Use a straight edge ruler or like device and a pizza cutter. I used a pizza cutter because of the problems many of us face when folding corrugated cardboard without The pizza cutter isn’t typically sharp enough to cut out the pattern but it will make a nice straight fold crease. Granted, this is true so long as you are not using it parallel to the grain of the corrugation.

1. Create a crease along the yellow lines with your pizza cutter and metal straight edge.

2. Flip the cardboard over and create the creases along the blue lines.

3. Give the box a dry-run by folding at the creases to get a feel of how this should assemble.

Step 7: Assemble the Second Level Shelf

As you begin the assembly process, start with the Second Level shelf.

1. Take the Second Level shelf cut out and draw the tabs. My shelf was 10" long so I divided it into sections at 1", 2", 2",.2", 1", 1" & 1". The next three 1" sections are for a ramp stop that when assembled will form a triangular shape the cans cannot roll over.

2. With an exacto knife cut out every other tab.

3. Use a pizza roller to crease the sides and the folds in the ramp stops.

4. Align the side Second Level shelf along the right angle reference line you drew in an earlier step and mark where the tabs need to have holes cut for them. I used an exacto knife to poke small holes on each side of the tabs.

5. Set aside the shelf piece and cut out corresponding slots in the sides of the main structure that match up with the ones you made in the second level shelf.

6. Insert the extra flanges on the last ramp stop piece into the 1" tab cut-outs. Use glue to bind the 1" tabs together and hold the ramp stop in place.

7. Dry fit the Second Level shelf.

Step 8: Assemble the Sub-structures

Now that you have the box cut out and the folds creased, its time to begin assembling the sub-structures.

***Please be careful when using a hot glue gun...It really burns when it gets on your skin!***

1. Fold the Lower Level ramp slopes down then fold the left and right sides up so they are standing with the ramp in between. Go ahead and glue the space where the sides meet the ramps.

2. Fold point (13) down.

3. Next, fold the rear cover across the back and fold the lip inside the box. Using a temporary piece of tape, tape that piece shut while you assemble and dry fit the upper ramp. Leave the top open.

4. Fold under and glue point (14) locking point (13) into place.

5. Fold point (15) in and glue the two 1" flanges to each side.

Step 9: Glue the Seams

By now that you should have dry-fit all the pieces and made minor adjustments to ensure a tight fit .

Go ahead and glue (or tape) the back, Second Level shelf, and top down.

Step 10: Add the Finishing Touches

The finishing touches are really dependent on individual taste. Some of the touches I added are:

1. Cut out a semi-circle on each side of the can's exit. This enabled easier removal of the can instead of reaching in over the top to grab one.

2. Cut the excess cardboard away from the can entrance at an angle. The excess cardboard isn't needed unless you intend to stack another on top of it.

3. Cut out and adhere a cap over the Second Level ramp. I didn't care much for seeing any vacant space left by the ramp so I added a cap.

4. Cut the excess tab that sticks out of the sides of the box. You will need to do this if you intend to have several boxes side-by-side. Use glue to reinforce the tabs. If you are using Duct tape as an option, you can fold the excess tab down and tape it.

Once you've made your finishing touches, you are ready to use your new can-organizer. Hope you enjoy!