I've enjoyed making homemade model rockets ever since I was a kid. I make almost every part of my rockets from scratch, including the paper tubes for the rocket bodies.
I often need to make homemade paper tubes for other projects as well, so I thought this deserved a proper write-up. Hopefully someone will find this information useful.
Note that these tubes will not be adequate for any firework-type application, if that's what you're looking for. There are plenty of tutorials online for making convolute (or parallel, non-spiral wound) paper tubes.
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Step 1: Materials
First, you will need some kraft paper. I bought a 36-inch wide roll at Home Depot a few years ago, and it will probably last me a few more. Sometimes I use thin painter's masking paper, but only as a final layer. You can get this at home improvement stores as well.
You will also need some water-soluble glue. I use Titebond (which is a basic woodworking glue), but you could use Elmer's or something similar.
Other basics you will need are a long ruler, cutting mat with rotary cutter or x-acto blade, paint brush, masking tape, and rags.
Most importantly, you will also need some kind of existing tube to use as a form. I generally use pieces of PVC or old cardboard tubes (like mailing tubes, carpet roll tubes, etc.), but I have also used steel pipe and other random cylindrical objects.
For whatever item you use as a form, it is crucial that it is true (meaning without any warps or bends). You can quickly test objects out by placing them on a flat surface and rolling them back and forth. If you see any light coming through along the bottom edge at any point, it means the tube is not true and you should use something else.
Step 2: Cut Paper Strips
The paper tubes are made by gluing up multiple layers of kraft paper onto the form. For smaller diameter tubes (2" and under), I usually use three or four layers, which produces a fairly lightweight, but reasonably solid tube. For larger diameter tubes (over 2") I use four or five layers. This has been sufficient for most applications I have needed.
For whatever diameter tube you are making, you need to cut strips of kraft paper that are appropriately sized for wrapping around the form. Too narrow, and your spirals will be really close together resulting in a shorter finished tube. Too wide, and you wont be able to wrap it very easily. Some quick trial and error will show you what width strip will work best for whatever size form you are using.
For the tube I am making in the photos here, I am using an 18" piece of 1 1/4" PVC pipe for the form. I have cut three strips of kraft paper that are 3" wide, and 36" long. This size strip works well for this size form.
Step 3: Wrap the First Layer
Do not use any glue on this step! You want this to slide off of the form when you're finished.
Wrap the first strip around the form in a spiral fashion, without overlapping any of the seams. Use a small piece of masking tape to fasten the kraft paper to the form at both ends.
Make especially sure that the paper is wrapped snugly and that all seams are butted together without any gaps or overlapping.
Step 4: Glue on Additional Layers
Now you will glue on additional layers of kraft paper.
The glue will need to be watered down. I mix one part water into about four parts glue. (If it helps at all, I've noticed that correctly watered-down glue has almost the exact consistency of store-bought eggnog, straight from the container.)
Brush a layer of glue onto a strip of kraft paper. There shouldn't be any puddles, and the entire strip should be completely and consistently covered.
Begin wrapping it onto the tube over the first layer of paper, making sure to cover the seam on the first layer. The seams on each additional layer should not fall directly over the seam from the layer beneath it. This is very important.
For each layer, you want to make sure the seams are butted nicely against each other, and that there is no overlapping. The glue will allow you a few seconds to reposition the paper as you begin to wrap it, but you do have to work quickly. Once you have the paper positioned well for the first wrap around the tube, you can continue wrapping and pressing the paper into place until you reach the other end of the tube.
As you wrap on a strip of glue-saturated paper, you will feel that it can be stretched and pulled a little. You want to put each layer on snugly without any bubbles or wrinkles, but if you pull it too tightly or with inconsistent pressure, the finished tube will warp as it dries. I've made my share of warped, useless tubes.
In between layers, you will want to use a wet rag to wipe up any glue off of your work surface.
Once each layer is in place, roll the tube on the table back and forth with your hands with substantial pressure to work the layers together to create a good bond.
Step 5: Trim the Ends
The ends of the tube will need to be trimmed before you can remove the paper tube from the form.
The best way I've found to do this is to wrap a regular sheet of paper tightly around the tube and use the edge as a guide to help you get a nice straight cut. Use an x-acto blade to cut through the layers of kraft paper, and peel off the trimmed end. There will be a little bit of glue on the form which you will want to wipe off.
Step 6: Let It Dry
Carefully remove the paper tube from the form. I like to stand mine up while they dry so there's no pressure on them horizontally.
I've tried speeding up the drying time by placing tubes in front of space heaters, but it has always led to warped tubes. So I recommend just letting them dry by themselves.
Once dry, I often paint on a layer of glue to seal up the paper, followed by a light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper.
To cut them to various lengths I prefer to use my chop saw (power miter saw). The edges need to be sanded lightly after each cut, but it is quick and accurate.
Step 7: Making Telescoping Paper Tube Sleeves
I often need to make telescoping tubes that slide nicely in and out of each other. For this, I have made special forms that produce tubes just a hair bigger than what come off of my plain tube forms.
A sleeve-making form needs to be built up by gluing layers of kraft paper directly a plain form. I glue onto the new form however many number of layers I use to make tubes on the original form, plus one. This generally means four layers, and this has worked out well to produce tubes just bigger than the ones that come off of the original forms.
Sometimes I already have an existing tube that I'm going to use for something, like a mailing tube, and I need to just make a sleeve that fits over it. In this case, I'll cut off a section of the tube to create a form, and glue on one layer of kraft paper. This new form will produce tubes that work as sleeves for the original tube.
There is a bit of shrinkage that occurs, so don't fret if tubes and sleeves don't fit at first. Let them dry fully, and if things still don't fit, you can either add another layer to the form and try again, or add an additional layer to the smaller tube so it fits better in the sleeve.
Step 8: Rocket Motor Mount Tubes
I also make smaller diameter paper tubes as sleeves to hold model rocket motors.
To help make these small paper tubes, I made a jig from a used rocket motor, a dowel and some duct tape. Photos 2 - 4 show how it works. If you have any questions about any of this, please ask.
That's it. Thanks for looking!
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