Experiments with cardboard

I love cardboard. It’s one of those engineering miracles of the modern world that we use every day without really appreciating. Yes, paper is its own miracle, transforming a plant into a two-dimensional array of fibers, lightweight with great stress strength. But then take that and add some glue and a truss structure? Brilliant. I’ve loved building stuff with cardboard since I was a kid, so of course the first thing I thought of when I saw the Glowforge was “how can I use this to turn a plain piece of cardboard into an entirely different thing?”

(Also I’m really cheap and cardboard is free.)

I was curious how cardboard would flex if it was scored in two different directions, so I ran a diamond pattern on it. You can wrap it into a cone shape, okay… But then I discovered that if you flex it along the corrugation the diamonds pop up. Cool!


Next I wanted to try scoring both sides, so I made a pattern of vertical cuts every 5 mm, then made an outline with a 2.5 mm gap on the right so that when I flipped the cut piece over in its border I could run the scoring again and they’d be lined up in the middle of the scores on the opposite side. Result: eh, kinda interesting. It didn’t pull right open like I’d hoped, I had to flex open each score. And it seems like the scoring on the white side didn’t go as deep, was harder to open up?


Then I thought about wrapping a sheet of scored cardboard into a cylinder and what shapes you could make out of that. I made a sort of offset triangle design that moves along the length as it goes around the bend, and I expected it would be a cool screw kind of shape when I bent it around. What I completely missed is that the amount each bit extends out goes by the inverse of the number of segments. Lots of sections, and they don’t stick out.

It was wonderfully floppy, though! There’s also something deeply satisfying about taking something solid and changing it so it moves in a new and interesting way.

So, two things I want to try next. One, I can add a couple of scores to the back side, as in the second experiment, so that the thing can compress along the axis and spring outwards. Interesting? Won’t know 'til I try! Second, hmm, maybe we can do something with that short lift per segment. It only has to extend past the next one to be visible… :thinking: Third thing, out of two: this one didn’t look so great because I was folding it in my hand and the curve wasn’t even. It’ll be simple to add tabs to every other slat and a matching disc with slots to hold it in place.

(And one more thing to try, note to myself: go back to that second test and turn the middle of the scores into cuts, see if it’s as loose as #3 was.)

That’s it for now! Maybe some ideas here will take root somewhere else and bloom. I’ll update this topic if I can find the time to try out my next ideas. :slight_smile:


Wow. All of these are freaking sweet! Great job.


I really like how you think outside the box! (no pun intended)


Ooooo, love the diamond one. Save these things, and you can build a Museum Of Cardboard!


That was a super well written and informative write up. I don’t want to gush but honestly top work.

And absolutely yes, cardboard is awesome, I spend a lot of time making cardboard stuff with my kid and armour flex and joints are always creative opportunities! I can see your suggestions being used to make both a functional and good looking design. Thank you!


I love the first one with the diamonds. Great process of tests.


That’s some fantastic thinking! That first one almost looks like it would work as a fabric. (Over an armature you could build your own dragon.) :grinning::+1:


These are really cool. Please keep experimenting and sharing!!!

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Oh man those diamonds … sooooo pretty! Think Cuff Bracelet. WANT


The cylinder reminds me of a palm tree trunk… :palm_tree:


Diamonds are clearly taking the win … love all the texture!

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Love the effect of the scoring in the diamond pattern! Do you have the settings used? Wanting to try and use this to make truffula trees

Cardboard is quite a variable material - lots and lots of different kinds of cardboard. You would have the best results if you experimented on the cardboard you intend to use. We can only discuss settings for non Proofgrade materials in the Beyond the Manual section of the forum, but a quick search for cardboard settings turns up lots of answers.

Here is one such example: Settings for Cutting/Scoring Corrugated Cardboard