Prepping: Let’s Go “Cardboarding!”

I know what you’re thinking.

What do yah mean “cardboarding?  Never heard anything so stupid…”

I mean real, honest-to-God cardboarding.  Making useful from leftovers.

You see, if TSHTF, you will need to be able to improvise, adapt, and overcome.  This means having a handful of basic skills that get terribly overlooked on most (misnamed) prepping sites.  On these, there’s more emphasis on storing freeze=dried food than working through how you’re going to keep yourself together and, oh yeah, where’s the water coming from….but I digress…

If there’s one material that people overlook, it’s cardboard.  The world is awash in the stuff.  In fact, a couple of years back, annual production was running at 906-BILLION POUNDS PER YEAR.  (You do the math on 411-million metric tons, right?)  Almost a trillion pounds which pencils out to…um… almost 120 pounds per person, per year.

Some you see…boxes from the ‘Zon show up here almost every day; your place, too, I expect.  That’s just the visible cardboard.  Bet you don’t even think of things like those McSomething boxes for the kids, the drink cups, and in some places straws.  Plus all that packing for stuff you sell on eBay or drag home from Best Buy….and the canned goods in stores come in what –  before stockers work their overnight magic?

The Ure family is just like yours.  We get cardboard piling up all over the place – especially at this time of year when the forest fire prevention “Burn Bans” are on.  We need to keep Texas forests to keep making cardboard….

So, how do we turn our local portion of this mountain of waste cardboard into something useful?

Step 1:  Flatten and Store

This seems simple enough.  when you get a box, look for the corner where there is an overlap and glue joint.  Cut down this joint (on the seam if you can) and then remove the sticky-tape that is holding the box together.  As you’ll see in the pile above, most boxes – even though large – tend to be not all-that wide.  That’s because the stuff comes off machines at something approaching the speed of light…

Step 2:  Make a Bunch of “Quick Storage”

Don’t cut up everything.  For things like Old Man Labs, we have tons of small electronic components.  OMG, they are everywhere – multiply like damned rabbits.  Resistors, inductors, assorted solid state devices…terrible mess.

Every so often, when we binge-shop for things around here, Amazon boxes come in and I run them through the table saw, like so…

What you see above is a Lazy Man’s Special:  A cardboard box folded to a particular size and then trimmed up on the table saw.

This is fast, and OK, maybe dangerous if you’re an idiot, but our legal department says that’s your issue. See safety warning to follow.

I set the rip fence exactly to the width I want and zip, zip, zip, zip….done with the basic box cut-downs.

Pretty quick, I’m swimming in all these grand boxes and ready to sort out electronic components into my local-take on file-by-pile.

Step 3:  Size ‘Em to What You Need

See those two lower boxes above?  Those two guys are from one box:  Cut on the table saw.  You can figure out the cutting simple enough, but the idea is that you cut the whole box to the height desired, then cut it in half…and measure in from this splitting cut the height and bend it up.  With practice, you can make some great shop storage this way and except for your time, it’s almost free!

Step 4:  Graduate to the Finer Points of Box-Making

There are a lot of ’em.  Let’s talk cutting here:

On the saw cutting side:

  • Table saws are great – but if you use a general purpose contractor blade like I do (something in the 40-80 teeth per inch, carbide of course) you will get a ragged cut on some edges.  To avoid this, use a finer blade.
  • Cardboard dust is terrible to breath.  So, ante-up for the dust mask.  Save your lungs, though I can’t think just now what for….
  • If you followed our articles back when on putting in a giant, monster, mega-sized central shop vac, be sure to tune it on.
  • In humid weather (rainy days when warm) you will tend to get more ragged cuts.  Dry cardboard tears less… but you can pick off the fringy leftovers by hand.
  • FOLLOW COMMON SHOP PRACTICES ON SAW SAFETY: This means, among other things, using push-sticks and never getting your hands behind the blade where a kick-back can slam your fingers into the blade.  There are two conflicting shop axioms here:  The first is “No job is done without a little bloodshed.”  But, the second is “It’s poor form and workmanship to leave blood on work surfaces.”

Making Nicey-Nice Cuts

This is simple:  There’s the manual way…where you buy a couple of dozen cheap box cutters from Amazon.  They won’t last but a project or two each, but at the price, who cares?

The second way is to buy a power tool – which we like to do at every opportunity.  Amazon has the ultra-spiffy – but not free at $35-bucks) –WORX WX081L ZipSnip Cutting Tool.  You can get an hour of cutting out of this little guy on a single charge (YMMV).  If you cut at, oh, 10-feet per minute, that’d be 600 feet of cuts before charging again…and THAT is a hell of a lot of cutting.

Use a good metal straight-edge.  No cutting fingers.   Keep a handful of Sharpies around to mark cut lines.

Bend Me, Shape Me

About here, you may find yourself sliding into the hobby of “card boarding.”

It’s an inexpensive hobby and you can do some really remarkable things.

The next step once you can do a basic cut-down is to watching this video which you’ll find on Youtube by L.J. Kluskens:

Tools or Get-By’s?

OK, now comes a choice:  Do you want to do “presentation-level” cardboard?  The kind you could put a gift inside-of when done and people will “Love the box more than the gift in it?”

If so, you need to decide whether to spend the ($7.39)  VENCINK Genuine Bone Folder Crafts Scoring Folding Creasing Paper Crafting Scrapbooking Tool for DIY Handmade Leather Burnishing Bookbinding Cards and Paper Crafts (1 Bone Folder).

Around here, I simply found a large, old flat-head screwdriver and used that (on edge).  If I get too carried away, I may have to round off one side and make a sharp V on the other.  But, if you’re careful not to apply too much pressure, it will work fine.  If you’re completely hopeless, try small Phillips head screwdrivers…

How Far Can This Be Taken?

It’s unreal what can be done with cardboard.

Over here on Instructables, you can find how to build a useful small side-table.

For additional inspiration, head over to Pinterest where you can find their “27-best cardboard desks...”

Last, but not least,a in the event of the “real” SHTF scenario, you need to read the Quora article on how to waterproof cardboard.

Student in our “Graduate School of Excess” will be looking forward to that time ready to build a complete cardboard tiny house like this one.

Or not.

For now, it’s be a good thing just to finish sorting all the parts into my now massive collection of parts bins…free.

Write when you get rich,

22 thoughts on “Prepping: Let’s Go “Cardboarding!””

  1. In any serious SHTF situation, conservation of what supplies and materials one already has on hand becomes important. Resuppy may be difficult for an unpredictable time span. One needs to get all the mileage one can out of stuff.

    Reduce, re-use, put back excess, etc, etc. Most people are not very good at this. It’s a simple enough idea, but one needs to be conscious and teach oneself now so it’s second nature then.

  2. Well, having lived not that long ago in a part of my state where fast-growing trees are ‘farmed’ just for paper production, I have some thoughts on the matter.

    Acres of land dedicated to cottonwood production – interesting to see while growing – except when they blow ‘cotton’ – beyond irritating! The seeds and fluff get everywhere . . .

    Took a part-time job (in addition to my regular job twenty years ago) that used cardboard desks since it was of limited duration. I wanted to tell your readers about it since it wasn’t bad (at least what I was doing) and the pay was decent. But first using cardboard . . .

    It is ‘odd’ typing on a computer sitting on a desk that is flimsy enough to shift if you do – just saying . . . but worked fine for the limited span of the job.

    The job? Well it’s about time for the ten-year hiring of the U.S. census . . . depends on the job you are hired for – I wouldn’t be a census-taker – too dangerous – picking up the forms from the takers could be good – pay plus mileage – but I was one of the people who imputed forms and called via telephone to addresses where someone lived but never called back.

    Unlike some of my co-workers, I didn’t take it personally when they refused to answer.

  3. George
    My Resume states that I am a Shade Tree Mechanic among many other high level skills. As such I love cardboard for it’s slippery side when working under a vehicle. Vendors often print pictures on the outside of boxes. Put two pieces of box together painted sides touching and you have a poor mans floor crawler. Another use for a box is to cut out a corner section and use it as a tool to keep a drill bit straight in the X, Y & Z planes.
    So many uses for cardboard, so little time in life, sad!

    • With my heaps of the stuff, I now have a lifetime supply of disposable drilling jigs – great share thank you

  4. Cardboard takes a lot of space to store, even when flat. It needs to be kept dry, and can attract mice and rats. I’ve found that the best and highest use is as fire starters. Once you start a fire with paper, you can add cardboard to get a hot enough flame to catch the wood quickly. It can even make a fire on its own, but burns fast. I’d scrap cardboard but I don’t have enough and the fuel to get to the city isn’t worth the effort. It’s best to burn in place and clear out the clutter. Reuse is great if you can, but having worthless clutter that attracts vermin is more of a PIA than value added. Of course, YMMV, but this material has generally been most valuable in it’s original carton form for storing stuff, or just to burn and get fires started easily.

  5. You can take cardboard and lay it on the ground and wet it. Makes excellent mulch. Good for rebuilding poor soils. Or run it through a chipper shredder and compost it. Fungae that grow on this type of moistened mulch are really beneficial to bees.

    Back to Eden farming has some interesting insights into how wood chips and other “waste” can do miracles in gardens and fields.

  6. “I know what you’re thinking.
    “What do yah mean “cardboarding? Never heard anything so stupid…”
    I mean real, honest-to-God cardboarding. Making useful from leftovers.
    You see, if TSHTF, you will need to be able to improvise, adapt, and overcome.”

    God I love this post today… I helped build a house out of cardboard for a national show for cabinets.. it was beautiful it was sturdy.. when we were done you would think god it is as elegant as any mansion anywhere had all the new toys inside it.. phew.. I think back and it was easy up easy down.. for transporting.. the wall panels were a tongue and groove.. it was awesome..after the national shows.. we cut it up and squashed it everything in it to and put it in the landfill

    Now consider MDF building material.. similar to plywood except it is made with glue and … ground up cardboard or wood pulp…. then they slap a sheet of veneer over it and put the press to in hemp crete.. building panels are made by grinding up hemp ( super strong water resistant rot resistant insulating..) and clay and lime..

    you will love this site..

  7. I’m the self-styled “Queen of Cardboard.” I’ve made so many things from cardboard that I can’t even remember them all, but they include shelves and dividers. I keep a large stash in my motorhome for all kinds of oddball projects. And it does make great campfire material!

    Thanks for the tip on the scoring/folding tool. I’ll be sure to get one.

  8. George
    Acquire an appliance/trailer bubble level-(circular and sometimes given free with appliance==$4@ Canadian Tire) and double-sided tape it to back of drill. Cant miss if you can see what you are drilling and back of drill at the same time. Same goes attaching tube horizontal-type to side of drill.

  9. Fold some decent quality duct tape, (foil tape best) over that ragged box edge and it will hold up better over time.
    I made a very sturdy cardboard chair for a 1973 pre-architecture class. 1973 TAMU

  10. One of the places I used to work had a hydraulic cardboard compactor that made bales that weighed around a ton each. They sold these to a recycler back in the 80s for about $100 each if I remember correctly. I don’t know if you can still do this but it may be a source of income for a community if everyone pitches in. We’re always flattening and filling our trash bin with boxes and it’s hard to throw such durable stuff away.

  11. George
    If I remember right from my early days in pulp & paper engineering at RUST in Birmingham, you are looking at three grades in corrugated, the board, the corrugated material and the liner board.
    If you want a good corner do that math on the liner side and set a shallow cut with your knife, draw a line, figure how wide to cut either side, and cut out the liner. The fold i. The corrugated collapses in the cut, the outer board still has all its strength, and the liner that would bunch up in the cut is removed.

    Oh, and if you want to save coin don’t bend or cut any sheet metal without making a model out of cardboard.

  12. At home (the farm) I use cardboard, sliced to size with a utility knife, In my garden rows, covered with leaves as a mulch to control leaves and limit evaporation; it works and breaks down into nutrients for the plants.
    Commercially it is used to make roofing felt which is the base material for tar paper. about 15 years ago I designed a computer control system for a recycle paper machine to do this using what is now the GE-8000 system. Re-pulper, cleaning systems to remove the wire ties, staples, plastic, the various stages of consistency control, headbox, machine speeds, vacuum systems, boilers & steam systems, roll presses, dryers, takeup reel and various other sub-systems. We made a high grade of felt and operated for 5-6 days at a time without a sheet break. Unfortunately, a bad business decision by the owner led to shutdown and bankruptcy.
    The source of the cardboard were big box stores which were provided with compactors/tyers that produced the 1,000 – 1500 pound bales which were the feedstock.
    You’re right, cardboard has many uses.

  13. OMG! Parts Bins! You read my mind. That is exactly what I did to stack and file my little manila ‘coin envelopes’ I told you about for my small parts. Cardboard boxes cut down for single-wide or double-wide envelope files for parts. Except I cut them down with hand tools, not a power saw.

    We are fortunate to have an excellent county(island) wide recycling system at the waste transfer stations. They have recycle bins for cardboard, plastic, and one for scrap metal.

  14. Cardboard, bits of plywood, leftover lengths of 2X and 4X material and some Bondo will provide the backbone of a “plug” from which you can make fiberglass/composite (ie. Kevlar and Carbon Fiber) forms to lay up your own body parts, (for cars and motorcycles, although theres no reason that you couldn’t make your own prosthetics for that matter!).

    You can make custom enclosures for your radio gear, the imagination could go wild thinking of applications.

    Resin and hardener are exothermic when mixed, play with ratios and get a feel for the temp and humidity effects on cure times. Don’t get chemical burns if you can help it. Wear latex or whatever thin disposable gloves that they sell at the hardware store.

    Do try not to breathe the fumes. Well ventilated area and all that. Wear a mask when working with the fiber mat and when drilling sanding etc. Fibers will work their way into organs that will cause you to assume room temperature before you are anywhere near ready for that eventuality.

    Use foam and cardboard for ribbing between layers in larger pieces to provide rigidity and reduce flex. Figure out which size triangles will work for your application.

    Have fun, don’t do anything stupid. Words to live by.

Comments are closed.