Introduction: Makedo Cardboard Construction in the Classroom

About: We're the spectrUM Discovery Area, a hands-on science museum in Missoula, MT. We have a physical museum located within the Missoula Public Library, but also create science kits, lead teacher professional devel…

This is part of a series of Instructables intended for teachers about educating students in the classroom around making and tinkering. For a full list of other Instructables see our collection or the .pdf Making and Tinkering Cookbook at the end of this Instructable. For more on the project itself and how our museum shares these activities with students and teachers, see this video on YouTube.

Build a creation of your dreams using recycled cardboard, Makedo screw connectors, and 3D-printed brackets.

Kids love building anything out of cardboard - it’s a common, generally free material that is endlessly useable for all sorts of things. Instead of using tape or glue, the addition of Makedo cardboard screws and associated tools in combination with 3D-printed brackets and hinges adds an additional engineering and design twist to this age-old activity.


  • Makedo screws available in kits on the website
  • Makedo screwdrivers and saws that come in a kit with the screws
  • 3D-printed hinges and brackets designed by Makedo
  • Cardboard - an assortment of big, medium and small boxes
  • Markers, pencils or crayons

Optional supplies:

  • It is helpful to have tool belts for each of the students (the two-pocket canvas ones available at most home supply or hardware stores are perfect)
  • A variety of measuring tools like tape measures, carpenter’s squares or bubble levels adds construction, design and engineering extensions
  • If you are making a large-scale design with many screws it can help to have a drill and modify one of the screwdrivers to a hex shank bit for disassembly, but having many hands to disassemble works just as well!
  • A parachute bag usually used for tools or fasteners is helpful to keep the 3D-printed brackets organized.

Step 1: 3D Print Brackets and Gather Boxes and Supplies

You can purchase a starter kit that includes tools, screws and an organizer from the Makedo website. I'll note that this Instructable shows their older, plastic versions of the tools and that the new ones that are metal are MUCH nicer!

Gather a number of boxes in advance. It doesn’t matter if they are assembled or flattened. Big boxes like refrigerator boxes are fantastic. Large boxes that bikes are shipped in are generally available at most bike shops for free, just be sure to remove any staples in advance. Avoid very thick, tough boxes or waxed boxes for shipping fruit/vegetables - they are too hard to modify for young students.

Pre-packing the belts with screws and tools in each can help if you have many classes back-to-back.

If you are using the 3D-printed brackets, make them in advance. They are not commercially available to purchase so have your local makerspace, FabLab or 3D printer at school create them, or order them to be printed online at vendors like Shapeways (

These are downloadable to 3D print from Thingiverse and also attached to this step as separate .stl files. I like to print each type of bracket angle in a different color so they are color-coded. For a classroom of 25 students, I usually print about 40-50 of each style of bracket. PLA is fine,

For the 90-degree brackets, it helps to put the edge of the bracket down and print with a brim, having the layers perpendicular to where the bracket bends at the corner prevents them from breaking as often.

I'll note that for my screw gun adapter, I just cut the handle off one of the screwdrivers and glued it to a cheap hex bit I had lying around - they have a 3D printable adapter that probably works the same.

Step 2: Demonstrate Tool Usage and Discuss Expectations and Limitations

Demonstrating this activity is quite simple - I usually create something in advance of class to show off. A simple robot, hat, puppet, etc. Have a piece of cardboard and demonstrate that it is easiest to use the ends of the saw or poking tool to create a hole in the cardboard you are trying to attach a screw to. Then use a screw to attach two pieces together. There are screws in two lengths, the longer ones are better for attaching 3-4 pieces of cardboard together, the shorter ones 2-3 thin pieces together.

As for the saws, well, they are a challenge. The new metal saw are a drastic improvement over the older plastic ones for sure. Usually, kids want to create a realistic dragon or elaborate sculpture by sawing little bits of cardboard, or saw out a huge window/door in a piece of cardboard. I generally try to demonstrate how they work and that it is best to score the cardboard before sawing with the pokey tool or pokey piece on the back of the saw.

This is also a great opportunity to discuss how the "grain" of cardboard is similar to that of wood - the way it is constructed makes it easier to "cut with the grain" along the corrugated channels, rather than "across the grain" perpendicular to the corrugation. I think this is neat because cardboard is, after all, wood!

I usually don't limit the number of screws each student can use, but the number of 3D printed brackets is something that I do encourage sparse usage of so that everyone can have 2-3 in their build. Talk about how the screws work - the age-old "righty tighty, lefty loosey" is good to bring up. Interestingly, a screw is a simple machine but not one that you would expect - it is an incline plane wrapped around a pole. This is a great concept to cover in terms of engineering and simple machines.

Introduce the concepts of measurement or determining angles with the carpenter’s square and measuring tape. Discuss occupations that utilize these tools.

Step 3: Get to Building!

It can be helpful to establish a theme for the class to build creations within to help those students who might struggle to come up with an idea of what to build. General ideas like Jurassic Park in cardboard, Star Wars, Hogwarts, etc. allow for free iteration within the theme. Give students at least 30 minutes of building time, then regroup to share their designs, ideas, and challenges. Have students disassemble their creations at the end of the class period to reuse the materials, or better yet create a display to share with the rest of the school!

I generally do not limit what students can build, though will note that encouraging freestanding pieces or buildings is a good challenge, otherwise they will just build a fort around a table without the challenge of designing it to be structurally sound enough to be freestanding.

The things they make are amazing - the above caterpillar box folded up back into the box for transport but unfolded to wear. The triceratops could fit 2-3 kids inside so they could wander around roaring and terrorizing the land. Students will pick a large variety of creative things to do when given the choice and opportunity - the "Bug Book of Strange and Cute Bugs" catalogued a variety of insects in our Jungle Fort-themed build and utilized the hinges so you could turn the pages.

Makedo has a large variety of ideas, templates, etc. here on Instructables as well as their social media pages. It's a great place to look for inspiration for students who are stuck!

Step 4: Explain, Expand and Evaluate

See the attached .pdf of our Making and Tinkering Cookbook for other activity ideas to use in the classroom or makerspace.

Explain and Expand

Have students share their creations with the class. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Why did you choose to build what you did?
  • What are some other things you might build with these materials?
  • What additional materials might be helpful to use when building cardboard creation?
  • What challenges did you face while making your creation?How could you combine what you built with the creation of another group?


Here are a few questions to ask during reflection:

  • How do the different brackets help to create different designs?
  • Did you use the measurement tools to help you build your creation?
  • How might they be helpful if you were building a house, bookshelves or other type of structure?
  • How high do you think you could build a structure with these materials? What would you need to do to ensure it was sturdy?