Mad About Science: Cardboard science

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist

Your Amazon box may have a big smile plastered across the front of it, but that does little to ease your frustrations when trying to cram 50 of them into your waste bin. Surely there’s something you can do with the immense amount of cardboard delivered to your doorstep this holiday season.

There is: Science!

Solar oven

This one may be a little trickier to manage this time of year, but in case you’ve ever wanted to cook smores using an Amazon box and a bit of tinfoil, today is your lucky day.

This works best with a pizza box, but any box with an articulating lid will do. Cover the inside of the lid with tin foil and the bottom and interior of the box with black construction paper. Place some marshmallows on a plate inside and cover it with some translucent plastic wrap. Adjust the lid until you can see the concentrated sunlight pointing directly at your food, then secure the lid so it doesn’t move.

In about 30 minutes, you should have some perfectly roasted marshmallows that are great for smores. If this seems like a really long time to wait for a single smore, build more solar ovens! Experiment with different shapes and sizes and see if you can design a more efficient solar oven.

The sound of (cardboard) music

Fancy yourself a musician? You can convert that pile of Amazon boxes into a guitar, a violin, a harp or a lyre, if you’re feeling particularly magical.

Let’s start with a harp. Trace a triangular shape on a piece of paper, then trace a smaller one inside that shape. Cut this out and you’ve created your template, which you will use to trace onto a cardboard box. Cut the shape out of the cardboard, then rinse and repeat at least four times. 

Glue your cardboard pieces together to form the body of your harp, and put three to six screws along the top and a matching number below. Now string some rubber bands between the screws and voila! You are the proud owner of one of the oldest instruments produced by humankind.

If you plan on building something like a guitar or banjo, this process is very similar, though you may want to use something like a tissue box as the body. This hollowed out core produces a unique sound when the strings are plucked.

Try loosening or tightening the strings of your newfound instrument and see how the sound might change. Of course, you could also take a page from Pete Townshend’s book and send your axe to rock-and-roll heaven one swing at a time.

Terminator hands

Cardboard makes for a quick and inexpensive introduction to robotics. While it might be tempting to throw a cardboard box over your roomba and say you developed a car, what if I told you that you could create a robot arm with nothing but an armful of cardboard boxes, a few plastic tubes, some hot glue and thread?

Trace an outline of your hand to your forearm on a flat piece of cardboard, then cut it out. Make bends in the cardboard where the knuckles of your fingers would normally be. Glue the plastic tubes between each of the knuckles, so that there are three for each finger. 

Put your thread through the plastic tubes and run them to the wrist. Create a few small cardboard rings and wrap the base of the thread around them, and you’re done. Let the world quake beneath the awesome might of your two-foot extended grip!

If you really want to step up your robot game, find a way to connect those threads to motors governed by a microcontroller, like a Raspberry Pi, and program your new robot hand to perform all sorts of different tasks. 

This is a great first step into the world of robotics and shows how anyone can create a functioning robot on a shoestring budget.


Who wouldn’t relish the thought of dressing up as a knight or samurai? If the $30,000 price tag of a fine set of Milanese platemail is holding back your aspirations of slaying dragons and storming the castle, don’t fret. A pile of delivery boxes, a measuring tape and a box cutter can get you where you need to be.

The malleability of cardboard allows for a wide variety of skill levels to be employed when constructing a set of armor. Anyone can stuff their arm into a cardboard box, but it takes patience and perseverance to create a form-fitting set of armor that can be used to win a costume contest.

Creating a set of your own armor applies a number of skills that can be used in numerous other professions, from tailoring and mending to hobby crafting and even blacksmithing. Some of the most prestigious cosplayers make extensive use of cardboard when crafting armor for show.

You might be tempted to undergo an all-out brawl in a set of cardboard armor; I certainly wouldn’t advise it. Unless you’re brawling with cardboard swords, your armor isn’t going to stop any meaningful impacts.

Stay curious, 7B.

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