Introduction: Wearable Cardboard Caravan

Mobile living is more and more popular. Small dwellings capture our hearts, and though more and more people have found a path to their tiny homes, there are many appealing options that are still out of reach. I would love to build a caravan (and think I could), but looking into my future I suspect I never will. My only option is to exist as an analogy of a Romani vardo myself, or at least through the artifice of cardboard folding assume one as my identity.

Follow along to see how with a beer box, a few packing materials and glue, everywhere you go can be your new home.

Step 1: What You'll Need

There are only a few supplies to make a carboard caravan. You'll need a good bit of cardboard more than a beer box, but for box scavengers, this should be a very economical project.

1) Beer Box (12 pack; bottles)
2) Other Larger Box (with continuous panels around 15" square)
3) Good Knife or two (x-acto with #11 blades)
4) Craft glue
5) Pencil or other marking device
6) Ruler

And it would help you to have
7) Compass
8) Cutting mat
9) 3d 1-1/4" Bright Box Nails

The beer box will provide the essential structure, allowing us to attach the complex faces with simple seams. It also sets the essential size of the whole caravan, eliminating pesky numbers. Further, it can provide those of age more than an ample supply of a potion which will replace the doubt and worry lurking in the gaps of the mind with satisfaction and ingenuity.

You'll see I've armed myself with an X-acto knife as well as a formidable snap-blade knife. The x-acto is really the best knife for this project, No.11 blades are small enough to cut curves and small details into the cardboard. I'm making a plug for the massive snap-blade knife because in all of my carboard projects, the nearly 6" blade has been indispensable for making long and deep cuts. Drawing the blade in and out as you cut, to make a slow sawing motion, can help make smooth cuts even when your blades begin to dull.. but it is a luxury for this project.

My favorite glue for cardboard projects is Alene's Tacky Glue. They make a line of glues with varying degrees of "wet hold', obviating most of the need for clamping. The 3d box nails can be great for holding glue joints that need just a little more to hold while drying.

Step 2: Cut a Hole in the Box

The sides of the box with handles are 3 beers wide, so cut out the middle third of the box under the handle. This will be just enough to get the bottles out and it will make the door on the front of the caravan. The bottles and their contents will not have any direct use in this project per se, but I do hope to convey a general method of "winging it". Though we will use the ruler a couple times we can derive most of the sizes of things by tracing, and the features having a hand cut look will not detract from the charm of the outcome.

Now cut the head hole in the bottom of the box. Note that the strength of the box comes from the folds of the cardboard, so make the hole at least 3/4" from the edge. There is benefit in having slightly larger ledges in the front and back of the caravan; things placed there can help refine how it balances on your head as well as lending to the atmosphere (for instance a small speaker), but you will have to discover how large a hole is needed for your particular noggin.

Step 3: Constructing the Front and Back Panels

Some Notes: try to make your construction lines on the dirtier side of the cardboard piece you are making, then you can put the clean face out and conceal a lot of your work along the way. I have drawn my construction lines in sharpie so they were easily photographable, I would encourage you to use pencil so you can erase your lines later.

To construct the front panel, trace the face of the beer box with the door onto one of the smaller panels of your other box (tracing both the outside edge and the door hole). You may even be able to tell that my beer box isn't even square -- charming, and inconsequential; it is more important that your tracing match your box.

Make the ledge about 3" up from the bottom. I made my ledge bump out 1" at the bottom

The arc of the roof is centered at the bottom center of the door and intersects the top corners of the box tracing.

It is too large a curve for most compasses. Here I placed the hole of my ruler at the center of the door threshold and held it with one finger. With the other hand find the mark on the ruler that hits the top corner of the box, holding your pencil there you can push the ruler through the arc -- perhaps with a practice round you can make a satisfactory curve. Alternately you could use a string in place of the ruler; held by one finger and wrapped once around your pencil at the right length to hit the corner. It doesn't need to be all that accurate, and indeed there is wide variation in the shape of the rooves of different caravans. Have some courage in modifying the front profile to achieve distinction and character in your soon-to-be home!

Draw the arc a little past either top corner and mark the point on the curve that is 1-1/4" from the side of the beer box tracing and connect that with the ledge line. The extra 1/4" is enough to give the side a jaunty flare.

Finally, for greater field of view, I made cutouts where one would traditionally hang lanterns or such. Roughly centered between the door and the outside wall, they fall right at the outside edge of the beer box: optimal!

Trace the outside of your front panel to make the back panel - mind which side of the cardboard you will want to face out, particularly if your beer box is irregular. The back face gets a window: I made the width 1/3 the width of the beer box (as for the front door) and aligned it to the top of the beer box. The window should come down to a point above the ledge at either side - you can imagine a bed loft being under the window at the back.

Step 4: Constructing the Side Panels

Use the beer box again to trace the base width for your side panels. Use the front panel to scribe the heights for the portions labeled "lower wall" and the "upper wall" (you will see later I mistakenly made my upper wall a little too long). Space the upper wall apart from the lower wall by 1" to fold down for the ledge, and then extend the top another 3/4"-1" to fold and attach under the eave of the roof.

Place a window slightly forward of the middle of the upper wall - with it just a little forward, you will be able to catch environmetal cues out of the corners of your eyes when wearing the caravan. Vertically place the window so that it comes to the top of the upper wall, but doesn't come all the way down to the ledge.

Extend brackets for the eave 1" on the back, and 2" or more for the front porch.

The scrollwork on the front and back brackets of a traditional caravan was somewhere the craftsman making them could show their style. Of course the modus operandi of the Romani was to make these and other parts so elaborately ornate as to sway the aesthetic sense and win the hearts of whomever may be judging the desirability of their encampment. You may wish to call on such charms - you could potentially decorate your caravan well enough that people feel somewhat lucky to have you passed out in their living room, or well enough to convince doormen at high profile clubs of the quality of your patronage, or perhaps even enough to persuade officials to be amused by instances of civil disobedience.

Tight curves will take some artistry to cut out of the cardboard - you must spin the x-acto while you cut - so find your own balance of decoration and feasibility. But really express yourself, you could make them look like flowers, lightning bolts, or whatever silhouette most deeply signifies your inner character.

If the brackets stick out the same distance on the top and bottom of one side, you will enjoy the benefits of being able to set the caravan squarely on those faces - provided you don't make the outside points so slender they'll crush. But no cuts yet! More side panel features to construct...

Step 5: Side Panels: Starting the Wheels

These wheels won't turn, but the foldout design will let them have some "shock absorption" against your shoulders and things.

A feature that sticks out to me in traditional designs is the big back wheels with the smaller wheels in front (which allows for turning, which this cardboard caravan won't do either).

To have the bottoms of the wheels level, the axle of the small wheel has to be lower: note the first photograph.

We'll make the wheels fold out of the side panels by redrawing the circles centered on the point where they touch the ground line. The top of the wheel is now tangent to the center or axle of the sketch. We leave a strip of the cardboard between the spring point of our axle and the center of the wheel. There is a photo shown here of the wheels pre-folded to clarify what we are after with the cut lines. Don't fold your wheels until we make their details.

Let's finish our essential panels before getting to the fine detail. I've included an image where the bracket details aren't cut out yet: perhaps you graphic software types would use this fairly rectified image to capture the ogees, beads and corners I made.

Step 6: Side Panels: Score, Fold and Check Panel Fit

To fold down the ledge, score your folds for a tight fit at the corners. Carefully cut only the outside face of the cardboard, cutting only through one face, leaving corrugations and reverse side intact. If you have marked your fold on the side you will fold to, transfer your mark to the back to score.

When 'winging it', it is good to check how things fit before duplicating parts. I for one didn't correctly size my upper wall panels. I'll score it again for a correctly fitting eave and trim as necessary. You might try fitting the ledge fold before you make your eave fold.

Luckily I have just enough think-through-itiveness to have not cut my windows.

Step 7: Side Panels: Duplicate Panel

Everything hunkey-dorey with the one panel? Trace it on a new sheet to make the second side panel. Mind again that these panels have a direction, so one panel should have the clean face on one side; the other clean on the opposite side.

A pencil or marker can't help us much in transfering the inner details of the axle or the window. I simply use my x-acto to transfer the cuts: plunge the blade nice and perpendicular at either ends of the axle cuts to get the length and alignment accurate. But still refrain from cutting the wheel rounds loose until we have made their detail cuts - which I favor to draw and cut on each wheel, rather than try to trace little holes well.

Step 8: Side Panels: Wheel Detail

If you divide the wheel in quarters and find the midpoints of the quarters, you can make 8 nicely spaced spokes. The top spoke will be missing because the axle is in place of it, but I favored having a nice beefy connection rather than make a tapered axle that fit between spokes. There are likely plenty of ways to go about fashioning the wheels, but this strikes me as straightforward enough, and preserves plenty of the reference of wagon wheel. No matter what we do here, it will look like you are wearing cardboard on your head.

Its a good time to make some wheel rims to reinforce the wheel with the missing segment, and also serve as the second arm of the 'suspension'. Make their outside diameters match the wheels attached to the side panel. Leave a spoke connected at one side that spans the whole inner diameter of the rim. Set these pieces aside to be installed after the side panels have been glued onto the beer box.

Step 9: Glue on the Front and Back Panels

We can avoid overuse of numbers in making our roof panel by gluing the front and back panel onto the beer box. The front and back will make the beer box able to act somewhat like a rocking chair, if you will, and we will use it to mark the corners of the roof once this dries.

Depending on the wet hold of your glue and sharpness of your x-acto, this could be a fine time to cut the beer box to match the lanterns and rear window.

This is also a good time to cut some flaps to help it situate on your head. In a mirror, you can find the point where the top of the box hits your head when the beer box is sitting right and level - probably slightly to the back. Use that point to cut some flaps as shown. Not only will it allow the caravan to sit lower on your head, but these flaps will also attach to the roof above to improve overall integrity.

Step 10: Making the Roof Panel

Now that the front and back panels have dried to the beer box, flip the assemblage over and center it on the cardboard sheet to make the roof. Orient it on the sheet so that the front and back panels are perpendicular to the corrugations; the direction that allows the cardboard to curve more easily. Rock the beer box with walls to either side and mark each corner of the panels, and a couple points along where the 'rockers' run perhaps. Connecting the corner and side marks, now you have the unwrapped shape of the top of whatever box you have made so far: if the box isn't square, we can still make the eaves stick out evenly all the way around by making offsets from our traced shape.

Use one of your side panels to mark the width of the overhangs for the front and back of the roof, and to mark the eave on the sides of the roof.

Cut the shape out. Find a tube or other object to roll the panel around to give it the curve. The tube I had worked great, the roof conformed to the arcs on the walls without any adhesive even. If you don"t have any appropriate cylinders, just fold the cardboard slightly every few corrugations.

Step 11: Gluing on the Side Panels

The side panels will glue onto the main box only on the lower wall. It helps to have the lines at the back of the brackets showing how to align to the front and back panels. Press the lower wall all the way up into the notch for the ledge. When the lower wall dries, glue the ledge and upper wall to the front and back panels. With the wheels still flat, you can set the caravan on its side to hold the upper wall while drying.

Step 12: Gluing the Roof

To attach the roof, glue along the tops of the front and back panels and glue the eave folds of the side panels. Holding at the eaves, you can align the corners. Giving this a little extra clamp time in-hand at first is sometimes all that is required to hold it on. But I like to use a couple box nails at the corners of the wall. These would easily slide out over time, but if your nail goes obliquely through the corrugations of the front and back panel, it will hold admirably until the glue dries. This can be tricky to hit, but whatever: a couple poke marks.

You may even wish to use nails in this as a decorative element; me, I take them out when its dry.

It is now time to glue the flaps of the head notch. They should fold nicely against the roof above. Like mentioned, this will help integrate the structure of the caravan, and will prevent a little bit of sliding of the caravan on your head.

Step 13: Securing the Wheels

The suspension arm on the rim needs to be folded at the correct point to hold the wheel square. Pre-fold it and dry fit to make sure. Glue the rim on the wheel, and finally glue the suspension arm to the lower wall.

Step 14: Last Details

Find a suitable scrap for the porch floor. Orient it to show the corrugations at the front for style points. Glue that on.

Now we finally have the opportunity to finalize the side windows. Transfer your cuts on the upper walls in to the beer box, place the caravan on your head and see what you get. Hopefully better hearing and a small glimmer of what may be beside you.

In the end there are only a few details we have really captured, so applying shutters to the windows really gives the side panels depth. The shutters for the back windows would be like the side windows shown, but with a bar connecting the head as well as the sill.

Step 15: Complete!

Voila, you are a Romani vardo incarnate! Throw 'er over your noggin, exude grace and reside in dignity in whatever plot o' land encompasses you.

Enroll friends, circle the wagons and defy fears of isolation and lack of security with music, fires (at safe distances) and any Torpedos that may be left over from the making of your shelter.

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