Cardboard Construction Tips

Corrugated cardboard is an inexpensive, plentiful material with great structural properties that make it perfect for many classroom construction projects. This post outlines a few techniques we have discovered while working. 

Cutting Cardboard

  • Method 1: Using scissors for thin cardboard works best. It is safe and most students are adept at using them.
  • Method 2: X-acto knives and metal rulers work great for small cuts or detail work with corrugated cardboard. Begin by drawing the shape with pen or pencil, then score it with the knife. The best technique is to use two to four cuts along the same line rather than using a single deep cut.
  • Method 3: A “Dan Chan” CANARY Corrugated Cardboard Cutter sold on Amazon works great for cutting thicker cardboard (double-ply). We use cutting mats and a metal ruler with this cutter.

Cardboard Adhesives

There are many adhesives that work great with cardboard; however, any “old glue” will NOT do. A few options work better than others.

  • Tape! We have used duct tape for many projects – UNTIL we discovered cardboard tape!  It is the same color as cardboard, can be colored or written on with crayons,
  • Tacky Glue! Tacky glue is a second option that works well with cardboard, especially when the project is painted. Tacky glue needs to be given time to dry while being supported, so it is not always convenient. Additionally, tacky glue does not work well for edge joints.
  • Hot Glue! A great adhesive for many cardboard projects. It is outstanding for filling in gaps and providing strong support. It is a superb edge joint adhesive when you use a thick stream of glue and press it together, then run the tip of the gun over both sides of the joint. Hot glue will stick to almost anything and can be used almost anywhere; however, do not use hot glue when the project is painted.

Cardboard Reinforcement

Sometimes cardboard bends in all the wrong places. Here are a few techniques that can be used to reinforce cardboard.

  • The easiest strategy is to take two sheets of cardboard and glue the faces together so the “grain” or direction of corrugation in the first piece is 90-degrees (perpendicular) to the second piece. This works great for thin, flimsy pieces.
  • Sometimes structural support is required (shelf or dowel rod support). In this case, an x-frame using cardboard strips works great (as seen on the cardboard attachment poster).
  • Cutting and gluing rectangular pieces in regular intervals can be used to space open frames that have to be aligned and stable.

Painting Cardboard

  • The best way to get colors to pop is to paint a white, beige, or light grey base coat before adding the selected color. A paper mache’ layer over the cardboard is another technique that works well.
  • You may notice that there are a variety of paints. Matte paint is usually thick and works fine without a base layer; however, glossy paints do much better with a base coat because they are watery. A glossy finish is better for a brand-new look while a matte finish is better for a weathered or earthy appearance.
  • Paintbrushes have different thicknesses and tips. For sharp lines, a medium-sized, flat nylon brush works best. This is called a chisel tip. Round brushes with pointed tips, which also work for detail – tiny brushes are useless. Use a large brush with a wide, flat head to cover a large area.

Visit the Kool Kat Science TPT Store for the Cardboard Construction slideshow with its step-by-step instructions showing attachment techniques founded on classic engineering principles. The ten techniques will enable your students to build stable and durable structures that showcase their creativity.


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