Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How To Make A Cardboard Car

. . .  or "Boy, Does It Feel Good To Be Wielding The Glue Gun Again".

We made a cardboard car yesterday. 

This is not the first cardboard car we've made. See our other cardboard automobiles here and here.

But those have long since been retired to the recycling bin. And Kate asked if we could make a new car, so we did.

We made sure to include a back trunk/boot compartment for Bunny,

whom, as you know, we'd rather die than leave out of adventures.

Thought I'd document the process here, like a tutorial. Now, you can make a basic cardboard car in less than an hour, but we wanted certain custom features in ours,

like a lit dashboard

and working headlamps

and a sidecar (except it's at the back) for a precocious sidekick

for the times when she isn't behind the wheel.

Our custom-designed car took an hour and a half to put together, including the time we wasted taking photos and posing for the tutorial. 

Here's what we started with - one large box for the main car and one small box for Bunny's compartment and paper plates (we used 8). We also dug out an old paper tube which we intended for a steering column, but plans changed along the way and we didn't use it after all.

Our tools: masking tape, ruler, craft knife/a good box cutter and a good pair of scissors.

Then we fired up the glue gun and got going!

First, we split the side seam of the box to turn it inside out so that the distracting print surface was on the inside.

Then we cut away some parts of the top flaps to make windows and a dashboard.

If your cardboard was fairly sturdy (ours wasn't), it would probably be sufficient to simply cut out the window and shape the front of the car by cutting away the trapezoidal portion as shown.

But weaker cardboard would benefit from a window cut and scored as shown,

and the flaps folded and glued to the WS to strengthen the window frame.

Let's digress a bit to answer a question I've often been asked about working with cardboard:  Do we score cardboard on the right side (or outside) or wrong side (or inside) of the fold? 

My answer is: it depends. There isn't a right or wrong way to do it - you pick the side that gives you the effect you want. 

Scoring On the Right Side
(Incidentally, if your flaps are too wide to be hidden behind the window frame when they are folded down, trim off some of their width - this is seen as that skinny rectangle in the middle of the window.)
So, suppose we score on the right side of the cardboard:

If we now fold the flap to the wrong side, the cardboard itself splits along the score line. However, this also means that the fold is a more complete one - the flap will more likely stay folded flat and not bounce back up.

Scoring On the Wrong Side
If we score on the wrong side and fold the flaps to the wrong side,

the cardboard on the right side does not split and looks smoother. The flap itself, however, does not stay flat as easily and tends to bounce back up.

But it's not anything a little hot glue couldn't fix.

Back to the car now - after cutting and folding the windows, we reassembled the box inside out by gluing its side seam and bottom flaps in place.

We turned the little box inside out in the same way and glued that to the back of the car.

If your box has deep enough walls, you can probably cut away the top flaps and shape windows into the walls themselves. Ours was a shallow box, so our top flaps became the windows and back, which needed to be made erect.

If you are in a hurry, just tape the outside edges with masking tape to hold the flaps up. We used scraps from the cut-out windows, folded a strip down the middle as shown, and glued that to the inside of the seam between two flaps.

Then we were ready for the paper plates and a little detail. Kate colored two plates red, and we glued them to the front of the car for headlamps. 

We also wrapped random restaurant menus from the recycling bin with kitchen foil 

to make an air intake vent and a license plate.

For the wheels, we glued black paper circles onto paper plates and attached them to the sides of the car. 

We used some of those Makedo connectors that slip through punched holes

and are very convenient for holding layers together,

 but you can glue your wheels on.

Kate decided that Bunny's compartment needed a roof in case it rained, so we found an old bamboo placemat that doubles as our sushi mat, and wedged it between the two boxes, to make an adjustable screen.

Then we worked on the dashboard. 
You can tape the edges of your dashboard to the sides of the car (see blue arrows)

but we scored ours

to fold it as shown. The narrow flap at the free edge was glued to the front wall of the car and the tented space 

allowed us to hide the wiring of the string of Ikea Strala lights we used.

Two of those lights became the headlamps

while the others became dashboard controls.

The battery compartment slips in and out of a cardboard sleeve glued to the inside of the car. 

We'll show you how to make two kinds of steering wheels. Both start the same way - with two paper plates glued together around their rims.

The steering wheel we ended up using just had a Makedo connector (which you can substitute with a bolt-and-nut or a long paper fastener) poked through its center

and fastened to the middle of the dashboard. This (rather than gluing it in place) allowed it to rotate freely.

The second method, which we voted against simply because the car was too small for it, had a steering column. We cut an "X" in the center of ONE of the paper plates, applied glue to the flaps of the "X" 

and shoved the short end (to which we also applied glue) of a paper tube through the X. The flaps stuck around the tube, holding it in place. The free end of the steering column would then have been poked, at an angle, through a hole in the dashboard.

One last option: if your kid wants (as Kate calls it) "bench seating", you could glue a shoebox in place. To support the lid of the shoebox, cut cardboard rolls (toilet rolls and paper towel rolls would work) to the same length as the height of the box, and glue them, standing up, inside the box before putting the lid on. The rolls will work like pillars to hold the lid up and prevent it from collapsing from the weight of the seated driver. 

We, however, didn't use the shoebox, because the car was already so small and so shallow.

Which Emily is demonstrating.

It was just right for Kate, though.

And Bunny (but of course).


  1. oh man, I will have to show this to my son. He made a cardboard car (I didn't help him) and it's so basic. . .

    on a different note, did you know today is World Nutella Day?!!! I saw it on The Kitchn:

    heee he - like you needed an extra excuse to eat Nutella.

  2. I never thought to reinforce corners, or to use toilet tube rolls as supports in a shoebox. Thank you for sharing your cardboard brilliance!

  3. So great, my 2 boys will love it too :-).
    Corina from germany

  4. As soon as I saw the boot, I knew it must be for Bunny! :)
    Now, I have a question: what kind of glue gun do you prefer/recommend? I have (brace yourself!) never owned or even used a glue gun. I like to have good quality tools, so if you can steer me in the right direction, I'd appreciate it!


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