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Building Cardboard Furniture: Desk

Updated on August 2, 2012

Build a Cardboard Desk

If you're like me, you have a lot of free time and motivation to be creative, i.e. you are jobless or, to your friends, "self-employed." If this is the case, then you probably need furniture and would enjoy building it yourself, just as long as materials can be bought for next to nothing. Or you could just be really interested in crafts. Either way, cardboard is a great solution and, if used well, is just as strong as light wood. All you need is tape and ingenuity to put it together.



Packing Tape

Yardstick (metal)

Ruler (metal)


Masking Tape (optional)

Duct Tape (hard to say it, but also optional)

Structure and Design

As it turns out, different styles of desks have pretty widely varying dimensions. An average computer desk like the one I built may only be 48" wide, whereas some executive desks can be 84" wide. The width depends partially on whether you want drawers on both sides or just one side (if at all). Height is in the range of 20"-30". Mine is actually a bit taller at 32 1/2" because that size worked well with the cardboard I had available. Depth is 24"-42", corresponding to the width; thus my desk is only 24" deep. Any deeper and it would look funny and too square-shaped.

Once you have the overall dimensions worked out, you can start working more on the style of your desk and the structure that will end up supporting whatever you put on top. If you expect it to hold a printer, computer, or that marble horse statue you still aren't sure why you bought, there are a couple of structural concepts that are important to understand:

First, cardboard is much, much stronger on its side rather than flat. If you look at how the cardboard is made, it consists of two surfaces held apart by triangular ridges, which means it will fold easily along the direction of the ridges. All support pieces should be on their side to keep the whole thing from collapsing.

Second, there is some debate over whether the circle or the triangle is stronger, but since rounded shapes are so much harder to make, stick with triangles. If your desk is wobbly, add some diagonal braces and remember that this is cardboard so you can't depend on the strength of the material as much.

A note about drawers: drawers have to slide easily. My solution was to put narrow strips along the sides and bottoms, but this can be the most difficult part of the whole design. Be creative and stay positive.

Joining Pieces

Like I said, all you really need is tape and ingenuity. Packing tape works well; that's probably obvious. Masking tape can be used to hold pieces together while your experimenting with putting it all together, but isn't strong enough to hold forever. Regardless of whether it is masking or packing, tape won't be enough to hold everything, so this is where the ingenuity part comes in. Most of the strength should come from the cardboard itself. The best way to do this is to make the pieces interlock. Cut notches half the width of your supports into both pieces so that when they are locked together the tops are flush. Paneling can just be taped in, but the casework has to be locked together as much as possible. Soon, you will be well on your way to a solid desk.

Making Cuts

Measure twice, cut thrice. The safest way to cut cardboard is with a razor with a handle. Measure the size of your piece and draw lines for where the cuts will be. Make sure you have something underneath that you can cut on. Lay your metal yardstick or ruler on the left side (if you are right-handed) on top of the piece you will keep. You may have to turn the cardboard so that this works out. The ruler protects the piece you want to keep and guides the razor straight along the line you drew. For longer cuts, move your left hand down as you go to keep the ruler in place or else it might turn and you'll cut something by accident. We all know how valuable cardboard is, not to mention your finger or leg. Don't try to cut completely through at once. Run the razor along the cut at least three times or it will just tear and you won't get a clean cut. For notches, cardboard is usually ¼" thick.

Cardboard Management

You can find cardboard in recycling dumpsters, from items that get shipped to you, or from libraries in the form of donated boxes. Sometimes bike shops will give you bike boxes, which are huge and perfect for this kind of project. Depending on how much you can find, you will have to plan out which pieces to use for what part of your desk. Keep the largest, cleanest piece for the top and use common sense when selecting pieces for the rest. Don't cut up big pieces into thin strips for supports and don't try to compile several smaller pieces for a panel. You will have to work around holes, but scratches and dents can be turned inward so they aren't visible. Or you can keep defects on the outside to give your desk more character. You may decide to adjust the dimensions of your desk based on the size of your largest box to make cutting simpler or to keep the size within the size of the largest side of the box.

Show Me What You Build

There's plenty of potential here to make some amazing pieces of furniture-or anything else, really-out of cardboard, so show me what you come up with. Whether you want to brag about how hipster and earth-friendly you are with your recyclable materials or if you plan on painting it and passing it off as a regular piece of furniture, I would love to see it. Please post pictures or links below.

Now, time to make myself a chair . . .

I Built a ______

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    • Natashalh LM profile image

      Natashalh LM 5 years ago

      Set of drawers. But I didn't entirely construct them, myself, and they weren't nearly as sturdy as your desk! I love your suggestions - this is exactly the type of project I enjoy!

    • evrart profile image

      evrart 5 years ago

      Yep. Mine holds a printer, computer, books, and a lamp as well as a substantial amount of papers and things in the drawers. The tape will eventually wear out and will need to be replaced or you can glue it.

    • profile image

      beindustrial 5 years ago

      Very creative... I will definitely try this project...

      I will start small and try to build a side table....