Cardboard Lumber

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How would you like an incredibly strong, cool, and cheap building material for making lightweight tables, chairs, shelves, or anything else you can think of. Reusing cardboard to make furniture has always been a good idea, but the results I've seem have been either incredibly complex, or shoddy looking.

By laminating sheets of cardboard together into a large block and cutting this up with a table, or circular saw, you can create cardboard lumber of any dimensions you want: 2x4s, 2x8s, 4x4s. If you alternate the grain of the corrugations you can create plywood. If you glue your lumber together end-to-end you can create strong honeycomb-like boards.

You will only need three things to create cardboard lumber:
1) A Saw
2) Lots of cardboard
3) Glue... lots of glue

Step 1: Types of Saws

Table Saw: The best saw you could possibly use to do this is a table saw. You can adjust a table saw's fence to help you cut perfectly uniform lumber out of your cardboard block. This allows you to easily mass-produce cardboard lumber. Because of a table saws fence, you should be able to cut lumber twice as thick as the max height of your blade by cutting once, and then flipping your cardboard block over and cutting through entirely.

Circular Saw: If you're really good at cutting straight lines and have no other option then I guess you could give it a try.

Hand Saw: Possible, but too labor intensive for me.

Band Saw: If your band saw is as powerful as a circular saw than go for it, this could open interesting options.

Chain Saw: Messy...

No Saw: Unfortunately for people without access to saws, this instructable is not for you. I know it looks cool and all, but it's just not gonna work out.

Step 2: How to Get Cardboard

Super Moral and Totally legal free cardboard:
Save up cardboard from boxes your family uses. You'll be surprised how fast it adds up.
Go around town and ask any businesses if they have any cardboard you could take. It will likely be already broken down for you.

Super moral and Mostly legal free cardboard:
If you're in a hurry, or just lazy, you can drive around the back of stores and look through their recycling dumpsters for cardboard. Be warned though that dumpster diving is a crime, but most people will be fine with you hauling away some of their trash.

Maybe legal and moral free plastic cardboard:
Those corrugated plastic advertising and campaign signs scattered around your neighborhood are considered litter/unclaimed property in *some* areas. Snatch a bunch of them up fast and you'll have an awesome start to rock solid, corrugated plastic lumber (Be sure to use glue designed for plastic though. Wheatpaste won't work.)

Most of my cardboard came from my school cafeteria and my family's recycle.

Step 3: Prepare the Cardboard

I will be making a large solid block of cardboard with all the corrugations pointed the same way. If you want to make classic plywood, alternate the corrugations throughout the block. The second way could be stronger, but I'm going to make it this way because it looks nicer.

You have to cut your cardboard so that each single layer lays flat, and is completely filled with cardboard. The look and strength of your lumber will all depend on how well you cut your cardboard layers up. It would be best to have all cardboard meet at hard, squared off corners.

To prepare your raw cardboard boxes, you have to cut all of them into flat rectangles, removing all tape and anything you can to make them just cardboard rectangles.

Step 4: Stack the Cardboard

Before you glue everything together, stack the cardboard in a neat pile. It's okay if there's a couple little gaps, we're just making sure we have enough. I wanted to make a 4'x4' square of cardboard the thickness of how deep my saw could cut.

Now is a good time to estimate the sq. ft. of cardboard and see how much you can build.

Step 5: Get Some Glue

You have a couple options here, and by a couple I mean exactly two:

Wheatpaste: At less than a buck a gallon, this is what I will be using. You can view my wheatpaste instructable here, or basically heat 1:4 part flour/water until it get's thick. Wheatpaste, when made properly and applied correctly will be pretty much as strong as the glue that holds the corrugations of the cardboard together (they use a starch glue, white flour is starch...). It's used by paper machers and also graffiti artists to post paper pictures to concrete walls and create a rock hard irremovable poster. I would recommend adding any bacteria deterrents you have (see instructable).

1:1 Wood Glue: You might be able to find a gallon of wood glue at your local hardware store for about $10 if you're lucky. This should be diluted with water 1:1 because we're covering such a large area, and only want a thin coat, and also to help the glue soak into the cardboard. This comes out to $5 per gallon. The advantages of this is it's much stronger, the corrugations will always rip before the wood glue seams, and is easier to make and apply (but not much). After doing this with wheatpaste, I would recommend this way, simply because the wheatpaste is not as sticky as it needs to be.

Note: You could also use Wallpaper paste I guess; it comes in a powder at the hardware store.

You will need a minimum 2 gallons of either to properly glue the amount of cardboard I am doing.

Step 6: Glue!

Lay our your cardboard on a flat surface and get your first layer ready. Apply a VERY large amount of glue to one section by POURING it on the surface and spreading it evenly. If you think you used too much, then you almost have enough glue on. Now apply glue to the piece to be put on for the second layer. Don't think of this as glueing cardboard together! Think of it as paper mache WITH cardboard! Lots of glue! Continue fitting cardboard together neatly and gluing it until you reached your last layer and you're out of cardboard.

My 4x8ish block was a little thin, so I cut it down the middle and doubled it up.

Step 7: Wait...

Clamp down your pile, or stack a bunch of things on top. I would wait at least a couple hours in the sun. Overnight if it's indoors.

Step 8: Cut!

I used a circular saw and a T-square to cut three even sides. I was pretty surprised with the firecracker-like sounds the cardboard made when i cut it.

Then I used a table saw to cut everything into 1.5" strips. I would highly recommend a partner to help you cut up the block. It's heavy and unwieldy.

Step 9: Honeycomb Plywood

Once you have your lumber, you can either use these individual pieces, or you can glue them, edge-to-edge and create a very, very strong block of cardboard suitable as a tabletop or seat. Because the corrugations are all vertical (as a tabletop) and not horizontal, it has much greater strength.

Step 10: Build!!!

Use your imagination! This is an entire new building material that you have to figure out how to use.
To further strengthen your projects, you can seal the whole thing in wheatpaste like i did in the previous step.

Ideas for using this stuff, suggest anything you want to add:
Scapile (my original inspiration for all of this)
A cardboard playhouse made by Piersg
a MASSIVE amount of completed woodwork projects (search with the "view more tags" link)
lots of lumber plan blueprints
Andy Lee coffee table
nice table design
cool sitting bench
another bench
and another
snap together table from instructables
Pano Chair

Please rate and comment...
But Note:
Can we stop talking about the environment guys? I wasen't really trying to make any point that this would help the environment anywhere in my instructable. If you have easy access to cardboard, flour and power tools, then you might be interested in making this. Go ahead, try it and tell us what happened. If you don't like this idea, then please suggest better alternatives. Please calm down the comments on your assumptions about how cardboard and wheatpaste effect the environment.

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222 Discussions

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Bjarke

Question 4 weeks ago

Hey man, thanks for the cool 'ible! Do you know if this lumber holds up in a CNC?

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rrrmanion

8 years ago on Step 9

hard as glass? technically, glass isn't hard, because in fact, glass is a liquid... though this may just be an expression, but i've never heard it.

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rrrmanionchello2k9

Reply 7 years ago on Step 9

glass is what's known as a super cooled liquid. if glass was a solid, it would be opaque.. apparently anyway..

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rrrmanionBob_of_Mars

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

well, some say it is, others that it isn't, I like the idea that it is because it's sound cool.

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XTLrrrmanion

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

Actually just because a number of people have made a mistake and believe something to be true, when it is not - doesn't make it a type of true.
Or in other words "Endless repetition of a lie - does not make it true"
Just as when people talk trash about you - it doesn't mean its true.

In this case Glass is a solid (when it cools). Many materials are transparent and the video from sixty-symbols (above) explains why.

Glass also has a very special property and its why its called Glass. Generally when materials cool and harden into solids they form regular atomic structures - like Crystals. In fact all metals do this and is why they are called metals. Glasses do not form regular crystal-like structures. Instead their structure is more random and locally connected. This is why it forms sharp edges and irregular shards when it is broken.

Try listening to this explanation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Fk3y_lPr6Q

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starfox365rrrmanion

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

Well, glass is CAPABLE of being a liquid. If it's melted down to extreme temperatures, it becomes like a gooey lava. I've seen glass blown before, and it's quite the site, seeing how pliable glass can be before suddenly becoming a solid to be reckoned with. :3

So, really, glass is a liquid. Until it becomes a solid. Things can change category, just as the 'liquid' form of water is water, and 'solid' is ice, and 'gas' form is mist/steam.
Many things have the range of becoming all three. :D

http://www.glassbirds.com/iittala-glassworks.html

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crowd9rrrmanion

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

Actually, diamonds are solid and transparent. Glass flows in cosmic time, inciting this age-old debate. For all intents and purposes, glass is a solid (unless you have a century-long slow motion camera), additionally, glass is definitely harder than other substances--hence, it's capability to cut those other substances.

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AtOurOwnPace

6 years ago on Introduction

I think this is the coolest 'able. A great resource for a good cardboard supply is your local bicycle shop. Bike boxes are big, thick and most shops have a lot of boxes laying around. They'll be very excited to give you the boxes if you volunteer to break down the boxes for them!

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Jagr816

3 years ago

Amazing idea, I look forward to using this concept in future projects.

a long, long time ago, somewhere about, when i just joined instructables i came across this one. I love the idea of this green project and you making a table out of cardboard. great instructable.

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Derek Scott Customs

4 years ago

I love this. I'm planning on turning a cargo van into a camper and was dreading the cost of all the lumber, not to mention the weight. With this it will be almost free and light! All I would have to have is lumber for main structural supports. How does it hold up over time?