Introduction: Sleigh Headboard

About: Although I run a small design-build firm in DC, my hobby is also...designing and building. Cardboard furniture experiments not only inform my designs in wood, they tone my "right" brain in ways that no other …

I am thankful every night that I use this to sit upright and read in bed.  It fits me perfectly and is solid as wood.  Originally I had intended to spray-mount 1" foam and upholster it, but I kind of like the Van Halen tape marks for now.  This is another bad cardboard creation which anyone can make with a glue gun and a jigsaw.


2-4 sheets of 30x40 cardboard or whatever you can find in the dumpster :)
Glue gun
wood glue
Jig saw or band saw (band saw is better)

Step 1: Figure Out Your Shape

starting with a piece of scrap, draw a shape that you think would fit your back and return into the wall nicely.  I originally wanted a wooden cap for drinks, snacks, and books, but space constraints didn't allow it.  The curve here is an angled back (rounded a little), and a curved transition into the wall top and bottom.  
Anyway, you can rough test the curve sitting on the bed, leaning against it.  That will help you to refine it to the proper height without wasting any time.  After you have a good guess of your ideal shape, trace it to another scrap, and wrap it with a 9" strip, something you can lean against.  Refine until you have the perfect shape.  It is important to work it into a smooth, flowing curve free of sharp transitions.

Step 2: Cutting Ribs

To be fair, you may not get the same results using a jig saw, as I was able to get with a well-tuned band saw.  I'll just go over the basics and you can adapt to what you have.  First thing, trace your shape to a piece of paper or newsprint, and cut it out.  Thats your template.

Cut out cardboard rectangles 1/2" wider and longer than the final template.  Glue them together in a stack with (2) small blobs between each piece.  I Built ribs 3" on center, but you may want to alter this to 4 or 5" O.C. if cutting them is laborious.

Stack laid out in front of you, tape down the template carefully and trace.  Remove the template but keep it in case you need more ribs.  Cut it in one shot and pull the shapes apart.

Step 3: Assembling the Skeleton Frame

Start with strip of cardboard 12"Wx30"L

Drag lines across the width at 3, 4 or 5" intervals.  This is a guide for gluing down the ribs.

Lines drawn, divide this piece into (4) 3"Wx30"L strips.

These strips will be glued along top and bottom of the ribs.  Align them and tape down to a square table.  Glue down the outside ribs first.  It is important that these are square to the strips.  Apply a 3" long bead of hot glue, then place down on the ends of your upper and lower strip.  The rest of the ribs can be placed by eye on the construction lines that you drew.

Make a second skeleton frame with your remaining parts.

Step 4: Stretching a Skin

Now you have two skeleton frames, pieces in all the right places, but flimsy as hell.  Once you apply a carefully cut skin, they tighten up.  You will find that the alignment strips also serve as handy way to attach the skin.

The length of each skin should be 30", with the grain oriented along the length.  Figuring out the width is tricky.  Stretch a length of yarn around the curve and mark with a sharpie.  Starting with a 1" wide scrap, cut 1/8" wide grooves spaced the length of the yarn + 1/8".  Leave 3" tabs beyond the grooves.  Roll the strip around the edge of your table to soften it for a curve.  Test-fit by wrapping around the skeleton.  Once you get a test strip that fits tight around the curve, cut out the full-sized skins.

"break" a curve into the skins every inch.
I clamped a board across the table, square to the edge.  The board sufficed as a guide to keep the folds/breaks along the grain.  Place the skin against your guide board, hanging over the edge of the table.  Press a 30" board on the edge, and roll it over to snap a fold.  Once you get comfortable doing this, you can quickly slide the cardboard out another 1" and snap, slide and snap.

Dry-fit the skins to skeletons.  If they fit taught, you are ready to glue.

Apply a heavy glue bead to the curve edges,with yellow wood glue.  Glue will soak into the end grain, so you want to apply a second pass of glue beads 3 min later.

Place a skin concave side up.  Apply 6 evenly spaced hot glue blobs to the back side of one of the alignment rails.  Squeeze a 3" tab over these glue blobs until the glue cools.  Apply 6 evenly spaced glue blobs to the other alignment rail...roll the frame over the skin and wrap the 3" tab over these blobs, press and hold.

I will add a video of this.  At the time it seemed self explanatory, now it doesn't see so clear.

Tape the skin to the end ribs.  A quality seam at the end will greatly increase the longevity of your headboard.

Step 5: Joining the Two Sides

Spread some newsprint to protect the table.  Lay the two forms curve side up on the table, along the seam you'd like to create.  Turn one of the sides upright.  Lay a thick hot glue bead along the edge of one of the skins.  In one motion, lay it back on the table and press against the other side.  Wait 30 seconds.  Reinforce on joint with tape strips across , and along the seam.  Turn the headboard over and squirt glue between the ribs for good measure.

I haven't attached the headboard to anything, but if you wish, it can be hung on two screws.  Glue a small piece of thin plywood inside of the alignment rail and drill a 3/8" hole.  The little white line is a plywood edge.

Its worthwhile to learn how to build with this method.  You can apply it to any shape - chase lounges, giant sculpture, anything large extruded shape - have fun!  As with anything cardboard, you can finish with with primer and paint or wrap it with foam and cloth - spray mount or staple to the rails.