Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Cardboard Mailbox

You would not believe how excited I am to share the next series of posts.

Because finally: a cardboard tutorial. Three, in fact.

Here is a sad truth: there isn't enough cardboard on the internet. There is a lot of fabric, which manifests as tote bags and elasticized skirts and burp cloths and quilts and birthday garlands. And there is a lot of paper, which manifests as pop-up cards and origami and coloring sheets and airplanes. And then there is no end to slime, which is on youtube and in craft stores and Target and, well, everywhere.

Cardboard, though, is not everywhere. 😠 But it should be. Because it's free, and because it's amazing. 

In 2011, as part of my mission to Spread The Word, I wrote a post on how to work with cardboard, which Family Fun magazine adapted into an article a year later. I was thrilled that more than just my blog readers would get to learn all about cardboard. Whoo!

But still a tiny drop in the ocean. Nanotiny. 

Early in the summer, a company commissioned me to create some cardboard projects for their press release. I don't get cardboard commissioned work nearly as much as fabric, so this was an absolute treat. I designed three projects: a mailbox, a carousel and three townhouse-inspired display boards to showcase their new line of holiday greeting cards. 

Most of the cardboard projects on this blog are left unembellished so my kids could decorate them. Occasionally, I did take the time to fancy up one or two of them, like this tiffin carrier, and this Barbie dollhouse, and I loved the outcomes so much that I've often wished I'd dressed up more of my other projects. 

For this commissioned work, I got to do just that. Over the next few posts, I'll be sharing photos, as well as some deconstruction processes, to show you what we can make with just cardboard, a Sharpie and some paint. Enjoy!

The first project is a cardboard mailbox. I don't have the dimensions of the individual pieces; instead:

  • if you have access to one of these mailboxes in or around your neighborhood, you can measure it, which was what I did to make mine, or
  • you can make up your own dimensions to create a customized mailbox. You'll see in this tutorial how each piece fits against other pieces, and be able to determine related dimensions that way.

I began with the base and ends of the mailbox. One end was the Door, which was a stand-alone piece. The other End was integrated with the Base, which had additional flaps on the other three sides for attaching the Door and remaining walls.

The attached End was scored and folded up.

The curved Top of the mailbox started as a rectangular piece of cardboard. One side was the length of the mailbox i.e. the length of the Base. The other side matched the curved top and two parallel sides of the Door. The flutes of the cardboard ran parallel to the length of the mailbox. You will see this in the next photo.

Here was how that rectangular piece of cardboard was shaped into an arch - the center region was folded parallel to the flutes while the rest was left unfolded to form the straight sides.

For the sake of clarity, let's call this shaped piece the Top of the mailbox.

Attaching this curved Top to the base: I first glued one long edge of the Base,

then rolled the curved cardboard Top over the edge of the End, gluing it in place gradually.

I then glued the remaining edge of the Top to the other long edge of the Base where they met.

The Door was then glued to the remaining flap, creating a hinge.

Next, I made the fastener. There were many possibilities for this - hook and loop tape, a magnet, a button, a store-bought hasp, or even just friction from a tightly-fitting door. I used a magnetic snap. I folded a 1" strip of cardboard into this shape to make a mount for one half of the snap. 

On the portion that touches the door (this will be clearer later), I installed one half of the snap.

right side                               wrong side

Here is that mount again, and you can see where the snap is. I used paper fasteners to attach the mount to the mailbox. The two triangles in the photo below will cover both sides of the triangular-shaped hole in the mount once the fasteners have been installed.

Here is the mount attached to the ceiling of the mailbox Top - first with glue, 

and then three paper fasteners. The triangular pieces of cardboard were glued on next, and you can see them (just barely) in the photo below and in later photos of the finished mailbox. The prongs of the paper fastener were later concealed under a strip of decorative trim.

Here is the handle of the mailbox.

attached to the Door with glue and more studs/paper fasteners,

On the inside of the door is the other half of the magnetic snap.

Here is the snap system in action. You can also see the strip of decorative trim around the opening of the mailbox. It serves two purposes - one, to conceal the prongs of the fastener attaching the mount and two, to reinforce the opening of the mailbox.

Here is the flag. I used one of the earlier-version Makedo connectors but you could just as well use a good paper fastener, or a short bolt and nut.

Here is the flag, with its edges taped (to cover the flutes) and then painted. Holes were punched into the bottom end of the flag 

and the corresponding installation point on the mailbox,

and put together. You might also have noticed that the edges of the Door were also taped. By "taping", I mean that narrow strips of kraft paper were cut and glued around the thickness of the Door, to cover the flutes. Cardboard flutes are beautiful, but there are times when I will choose to tape over them for a smooth finish, and for strength. The back (inside) of the Door has also been lined with the same kraft paper for a clean finish.

Some finished shots. Because this mailbox was designed to showcase holiday cards, I chose to preserve as much of the natural brown of the cardboard as I could, and so added only a little line art and paint.

This way, the cards are the main focus.

Check back soon for the other two projects!


  1. thanks for this tutorial. Looking forward to more with cardboard. We send so much cardboard to recycling at work that I keep thinking I should make something. I did fashion a holder for my husband's call switch to fit over his hospital bed. Worked well. I would love to do wood working but cardboard was right up my alley--within my capabilities and didn't require special tools!

  2. Have you seen 'froggy' on FB and Utube? She makes wonderful things with cardboardxx

    1. elbey: My Froggy Stuff? Yes! My girls watch her, and one daughter made one of her projects - the barbie bunk bed. So much fun.

  3. That magnet snap closure is brilliant! I'm so excited about this series, especially as we are moving hopefully next month and as a result I'll be buried in cardboard right as the holiday season ramps up.

  4. I love your cardboard projects!

  5. Pretty cool. We don't have that style of mailbox in Canada (at least not in the parts of Canada I've been to) but the US mailbox is pretty iconic.

  6. Bonjour j'adore l'idée pourrai-je avoir les dimensions ainsi que le patron svp.


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