Amazing Cardboard Shelf!




In this Instructable, I'll be showing you how to make a small, useful cardboard shelf. It'll probably cost you next to nothing if you have some cardboard lying around the house, but it will provide a sense of accomplishment and happiness. Let's begin!

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Step 1: Choose/Create Your Design

When making a cardboard shelf, the first thing to do is to design the shelf. This may require drawing up a few simple sketches, or even making a few rough drafts first. For me, the inspiration came from a design which I found on this site:

I thought this design would provide a challenge, while still maintaining an easy enough build. It also provides and interesting look and feel to the shelf.

Step 2: Gather Materials + Tools

The second step requires obtaining the following:

Cardboard! I used some I found on an old cardboard box lid, the kind with the removable lid. If you "use every part of the buffalo" you won't need too much cardboard.
(Like I said, this is a very "achievable" build)

Cutting mat
X-Acto Knife/Utility Knife
Elmers Glue and/or Hot Glue. When I built my shelf, I didn't think to use hot glue, and I got away with using Elmers Glue. However, looking back, I probably should have used a bit of hot glue as well.

Step 3: Start Cutting Cardboard!

Once I chose my design and gathered my materials, I began to cut my cardboard. First, we'll want to cut six to eight pieces which will provide the main structure. For me, I cut pieces with the following dimensions:

A total of 14 in. long
A width of 1 and 1/8 in.
An inner "V" length of 2.5 in.
A "V" angle of about 125 Degrees
(If you're having any trouble with the dimensions, see the photo tags below. Also, if that doesn't help, step 5 may clear things up.)

To conserve space on my small sheet of cardboard, I drew out, then cut, the pieces so that the outer edge of the V snugly contacted the inner edge of the next V . (In the photo below, picture the top piece and the middle piece fitting snugly together to conserve space.) This resulted in the movement of each piece over a few sixteenths of an inch each time, but nothing I couldn't handle.

Step 4: Cut the Squares!

Next, we are going to cut square holes in three places on each cardboard piece. These holes should be 3/8 in. by 3/8 in. and should be positioned near each end, then on the left of the V. Cut these three holes in the exact same spot on each piece, or it may offset your shelf.

Step 5: Cut More Cardboard!

Now we're going to cut eight rectangular pieces of cardboard. These will add the main structural shelf part. Once you have these pieces, they will be glued to the edges of the original pieces we cut in Step 3. (This gluing process will take place in a later step.)  You will need to cut out:

A1 and 1/8 in . X 3 in . piece
B . 11 and 1/2 in. X 3 in . piece
C . 4 and 1/2in . X 3 in . piece
D . Another 1 and 1/8 in . X 3 in . piece (same as A)
E . 1 and 3/4in . X 3 in . piece
F . 3 in . X 3 in . square piece
G . 3 in . X 3 in . square piece (same as F)
H . 8 and 3/4 in. X 3 in. piece

Above, I've listed the eight rectangular pieces, each with a letter accompanying them. These  letters correspond with the photo below.

Remember: Your shelf may be slightly different than mine, and it will most likely require you to trim the pieces down to fit your exact shelf size. However, if you are sticking to this Instructable and not altering or modifying the design at all, these dimensions will not need as much tweaking.

Step 6: Create the Pegs!

In this step, we are going to create three pegs. These pegs will provide key structure in the shelf. One peg will even double as a small hook on which to hang keys, ear-buds, etc.

To begin, you will need to cut out three pieces of cardboard for each peg. This means you will cut out a total of nine pieces for the three pegs. Use the dimensions found in the photos below.

Once you have cut out all nine pieces, you will assemble the pegs by gluing three pieces together for each peg. Assuming your cardboard is roughly 1/8 in. thick, you will have a square peg. See the photos below for help.

Remember: To create one peg, you will need three pieces of the same shape and size.

Step 7: Assemble the Shelf!

Now that you have all your pieces, shapes, and pegs cut out, all you need to do is assemble them! Here's how it works:

First, the six to eight original pieces of cardboard we cut out in Step 3 will be lined up on edge. Next, the pegs can be inserted into the pieces. Try to evenly space the sections made in Step 3 across the pegs. After this, the shelf should be coming together quite well. Next, glue the main rectangles in Step 5 in their appropriate places along the edges of the sections made in Step 3. If you need to visualize this, check out the photo on Step 5. It will show you where each rectangular piece will go. Remember that the pieces B and C will need to be creased where they enter the V .

Once you have completed this step, you are basically done! In Step 8 we'll cover up some seams (optional) and in Step 9 we'll hang it.

The photos below will help a lot, make sure you check them out.

Step 8: Cover Up the Seams! (Optional Step)

When I finished my shelf, I noticed some unsightly cracks between my structural pieces and the outer "shell" created by the rectangular pieces. To cover this crack up, I cut out a piece similar to the pieces in Step 3, but much skinnier and only inhabiting the top edge. (See photo tags)

Step 9: Hang Your Shelf! + Finish!

Hooray! You're finished! Now all you have to do is hang the shelf, and use it for whatever you need!

To hang my shelf, I used a highly sophisticated  method of epicness, by which I mean, "I have no former experience in hanging a shelf of any kind, and thus used a system of nailing around one dozen finishing nails (without large nail heads) to securely hold that puppy to the wall." So essentially what I did was to place a nail in every strategic place I could come up with, mostly including the corners of the shelf. This method turned out to be quite useful. In fact, the shelf felt as sturdy as any ordinary shelf would if it was held to the wall with only a few nails.

I hope this Instructable provided you with enough info to successfully make your own. This was my first Instructable, so it may have lacked the epic intelligence which can surely be found in any of the senior Instructable masters' how-tos... If you end up making a cardboard shelf, be sure to post a picture below in the comments.

If anyone sees any errors in this Instructable, be sure to point them out in the comments, be they grammatical or other, I want this Instructable to be the best it can, and your feed back helps. Also, if you don't understand a step or instruction, just ask in the comments, I may be able to help. Good luck!



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    88 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable and also the first one I completed! I kind of improvised with the hanging part which included nailing some leftover cardboard cutouts and then gluing them to the shelf itself. I know it would be a mess removing it from the wall, but oh well :)

    1 reply

    6 years ago

    Just a tip to anyone doing this: a great alternative to Elmer's glue or hot glue is spray adhesive. It easily forms strong, durable bonds. :)


    8 years ago on Step 8

    Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack. Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack. Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack. Notice the skinny piece of cardboard resting over the crack.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    One last question, do you think Command velcro picture hanging strips could hold the shelf, since I don't want to put holes in my wall? (I think they're supposed to hold at least 2 pounds, but I don't remember exactly)

    6 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Hmm... Well I bet they can hold a bit of weight, however, I think the shelf might fall since it is out from the wall more... That might not make sense because I don't really know how to put it...


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Okay, so velcro strips don't work... and I had put a piece of cardboard on the back of my shelf to make it level, but it wasn't stable, so I tore it off, meaning my shelf edges come out almost a full inch from the back of the shelf, and I can't trim them. I also can't use long nails or brackets because they would damage the wall. Can anybody think of a simple, cheap, easy way to hang this without damaging anything that actually works?


    You could use two wooden battens about 1" wide that reach the floor, attach your shelf to the battens and velcro the top of the battens to the wall. To make it look good paint the battens gloss black or white - hope this helps or gives you some other ideas.


    It's just a thin strip of wood approx 1/2" by 1 1/2" wide, the length will be determined by the height you want the shelf. Just another name for a small plank, on board ships they say "batten" down the hatches, which basically means cover any holes with small planks


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Phew! I finished my shelf on Saturday and it looks great! It's a little wonky, since I'm not too good with an X-acto knife, but it only took 2 Saturdays to make and it's very sturdy. I haven't hung it yet, and I'm still debating how I should do it, but I'm really excited to. My desktop computer is down and I'm on my laptop, so I can't post a picture, but as soon as I can, I will. Very great instructable and really well thought out. Thanks for the idea, and I hope to see more great ones in the future!

    1 reply

    8 years ago on Step 9

    would recommend using angle brackets to hang your shelf. These can be purchased from a hardware store, or, of course made from cardboard

    3 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, those probably would have been better, but the finishing nails worked well enough, plus I was getting impatient. haha


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 9

    You could also use a french cleat. It's 2 pieces of wood (or cardboard) that are cut at an angle on the long edge. One piece is attached to the wall and the other in the design of the shelf. It will allow the shelf to be moved slightly left and right for aesthetic positioning. If you attach one on the top and bottom edge, it may allow the shelf to hold more weight.

    I attached a diagram but a quick Google search will give you more info.

    Great job. I'm thinking of building one for next to my desk.