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,