Custom Enclosures Made Of Paper

[Sivan Toledo] needed a enclosure for a unique sized electronic project, not finding what he needed in off the shelf solutions, he went to the next best thing, … Papier Mâché!

Using a mold made out of standard corrugated cardboard, he slowly built up layers made of magazine paper, and ordinary “white glue” diluted with water. After getting near the thickness wanted he switched over to typing / copy type paper for a nice clean outer surface. Ports were made in the usual fashion when dealing with soft or thin material, drill a smaller hole, going back with successively larger holes, and then follow up with an appropriate file, all while taking things slow along the way to prevent unwanted results. Finishing up with layers of paper carefully cut into strips to meet the circumferences / edges, along with the final outer surface to make it all even.

The end result is awesome as it stands, but we cant help but wonder what some sanding and paint would look like on a enclosure made like this, though any way you finish it, the idea comes down to custom enclosures that do not need special tools or materials to complete (on the cheap).

Thanks [Drone]

47 thoughts on “Custom Enclosures Made Of Paper

  1. Although I realize this isn’t the most durable kind of enclosure and that unless you used some kind of special paint it probably wouldn’t be very heat resistant but I really like this idea for making relatively quick and potentially sweet looking cases for projects.

  2. Cool idea. Take a look at some antique examples to see what is possible. Molding, painting, Lacquering… The sky is the limit. Great for projects that don’t generate much heat.

  3. Hack? Probably not.
    Awesome? Definitely. I often find myself wondering WTF to put my projects in, and I’m a terrible plastic worker and can’t cut holes for crap unless they’re round. This looks like a great solution.

    Really, to me, the point of Hack a Day is to show me tips, tricks, methods, and most importantly, knowledge — not necessarily a serious, insane hack every time.

  4. High marks for a creative and frugal approach to building an enclosure. However, I could never get comfortable with the idea of mixing potentially flammable materials with electricity/electronics.

  5. Good work!
    I share glagnar’s sentiments exactly, so I won’t repeat what he said.

    My only concern is: For projects where it would be an issue, how moisture-resistant will Papier Mache be?

  6. Also +1 to Glagnar, and I like this; economic, custom and no petroleum required. Even if you’ve got a plastic box that is perfect, you still have the embodied environmental cost of manufacturing and shipping and the waste plastic from cutting ports.

    @Glenn: Have you ever tried to light a log with a match? Doesn’t work very well. Wood is certainly flammable, but you have to have the right conditions for it to burn. Same here; how much spark (because plain old heat isn’t going to do it)your project could potentially generate has to be measured against the burn-surface. This is very safe at non-line voltages, especially if one were to take the extra step to coat the inside.

  7. The case can also possibly be recycled. Plastics cannot easily be recycled.

    About the waterproof/fireproof issue there are traditional chemicals like Borax that can be used for fireproofing paper-mache and polyurethane lacquer that can be used for waterproofing.

    If heat is really an issue, you can always just cut and sand in holes/slits into the case.

  8. I am with JohnBailey, a real interesting way to finish up a project. But rather than sand and paint why not learn the art of japanening? It was all the rage in the late 1800s. It provides a waterproofing barrier so long as the coating is maintained. It can also provide a high luster that rivals that of plastic cases.

  9. @JohnMC
    Exactly.. What better way to show off one’s Arduino Blinky LED than with an ornate Japanned box ;-)

    Seriously.. I’m inspired. I have a few projects in mind that would look great in a nice black lacquered box. And knocking up a simple wooden former should be easy enough.

  10. Really, to me, the point of Hack a Day is to show me tips, tricks, methods, and most importantly, knowledge — not necessarily a serious, insane hack every time.

    Need a case?
    1 Tip- Paper Mache
    2 Trick- Start with any paper, finish with plane paper for single colour finish
    3 Method-Newspaper/magazine PVA watered down. Cardboard mold etc
    4 Cut holes in the normal way, add additional holes for ventilation where needed.

    Cool, cheers.

  11. This is somewhat along the same lines my father used to build a custom console in his sports car years ago. He took some hardware store cloth (1cm wire mesh), bent it to shape, attached aluminium extrusion to hold his radios, and then coated it with strips of newspaper/fibreglass dipped in epoxy from a repair kit from the autoparts store. Custom console = 1 evenings time and about $10. I’m considering doing the same for mine.

  12. This is an excellent idea, especially for all those projects that won’t quite fit in an altoids tin. No more spending $20 on ill-fitting enclosures at radioshack for me.

    You could probably even add shielding with some tinfoil.

  13. I used this method a few years ago to make a gamepad prototype. After sanding, a few layers of paint and laquer it looked awesome. And it’s pretty strong if you insert a few strips of thin plastic.
    To make sure it closes, it’s best to build it as one piece and then cut it’s lid.

  14. @Alchemyguy, I’m a grey-haired IT guy who lives on a farm and heats with wood. I don’t think the components inside this enclosure necessarily pose a threat but over the years I have witnessed several serious occurrences whereby a PC and its peripherals get scorched from a lightning strike hitting a poorly grounded telephone utility’s line, combined with an equally poorly grounded home electrical system. Sure chances of this happening a remote, but isn’t that sort-of what an accident is? Call your insurance company and tell them you have a homemade electric/electronic device housed in a paper mache enclosure in your residence and see what they say. I’m recommending staying away from paper and wood-based enclosures for us DIYers.

  15. Call your insurance company and tell them you have a residence comprised primarily out of glue, wood, paper and other combustibles that is filled with 200 amps of power and a natural gas line as well as electronics made by the lowest bidder whose workers are paid $0.60 an hour to solder components together and see what they say. I’m recommending staying away from paper and wood-based houses for us DIYers.

    Fixed it.

  16. I’ve done something like this in the past, except that I made template shapes for a start (like you would cut out to fold into a box aka I designed the shape on computer, and printed it onto thick card. Did about 8 of these and cut them out. Then covered them in normal gluestick and layered them all together before passing the stack through an off the shelf pouch laminator. This made them into a nice thick heavy board. From there it was a fold into shape (needed a little scalpel along the fold lines at times because it was too thick) and glue into shape. Super Glue worked well on the seams there. Then it was well and truly heavy enough to run wet and dry along the edges, and paint up. Worked out quite well.

  17. A coat of polyurethane paint would make this enclosure as waterproof as necessary if it’s not a boating accessory.

    I’ve done some stuff with papier mache and papercrete but it would not have occurred to me to use PM for a small project enclosure. It’s a really excellent idea for such a one-off project, and no more dangerous than plastic itself.

  18. Encasing the paper mache in fiberglass would go a long way to mitigating the fire hazard. Coincidently, I was visiting Lady Ada’s site today ( where she says in part “Make sure you choose the right switch for the job or you may accidentally cause a small fire!”

    I think you missed my point when you say “Call your insurance company and tell them you have a residence comprised primarily out of glue, wood, paper and other combustibles that is filled with 200 amps of power and a natural gas line as well as electronics made by the lowest bidder whose workers are paid $0.60 an hour to solder components together and see what they say.” They expect you have all of these building materials, mechanical infrastructure and UL approved equipment. What you don’t want the fire inspector to find while looking through the ashes of your home is a partly burnt paper mache enclosure around your DIY hardware.

    P.S. If I sound like a volunteer fire fighter that has seen too many preventable fires, you’re right.

  19. This is a hack – you’ve just made a small project and need to put it in some sort of cheap box to avoid breaking it. Making a paper mâché box is definitely a hack.

    And I somehow don’t think small projects are going to set on fire. I don’t think they make an electric oven shield for the arduino yet.

    Can we have the modern word press comment system on here please? Threaded comments are good, and comment ratings would help bury the moronic comments so we didn’t have to see them all the time.

  20. @Piku, small electronics cant start a fire?

    We had a cheap ebay usb hub for one of our laptops… we could smell something burning and traced the smell into the dining room. The usb hub had popped and was burning through the table. Was most of the way through the leather cloth when we pulled it out of the laptop. What voltage are usb’s these days? 0.5 mA? it can happen

  21. Definitely a hack…using a material or item in a way not intended originally. A hack doesn’t need to involve electronics or high tech to be great. Sometimes the simplest things change the whole world. here we have a perfect example of a simple and elegant solution to a problem without resorting to expensive or high tech processes.

    I could only improve on this by substituting fiberglass resin for the glue in the final layers. I’ve used resin on hardboard after soaking and shaping it. You end up with a rock hard object after the resin soaks in and cures. Thin it with a bit of styrene and it soaks in really well. I never thought of paper mache with it, but it would be a logical next step.

  22. Forgive me if I am remembering things wrong but…Glenn isn’t the source of the fire almost always consumed by the fire? I build some pretty wicked hot running wifi devices that generate some pretty serious heat so I am not planning any pm enclosures but if your house goes up in smoke due to a home built electronic project I don’t think you will have too much legal trouble.

  23. @Hacksaw: That’s not necessarily true; metals may melt but they aren’t going to vaporize away. Epoxies, resins, circuitboards, etc are at least going to leave residue if not entire bits unless the heat of the fire is sustained and widespread. Forensic investigation can often tell where a fire originated, and if all that is left is mound of solder and circuit board residue, that’s a pretty good clue.

    I respect where Glenn is coming from, but it’s all about risk/reward and to some degree responsible use. If you’re clever enough to leave your Tx/Rx hooked up to an antenna during a storm, you kinda get what you deserve in that respect. Would I build a line-voltage transformer into this kind of case? No. But I think there are appropriate applications, and I’d say this is one of them.

    Also, telling your insurance company you’re up to just about anything that isn’t watching TV is going to get a frown from them, because there is inherent risk in just about any activity.

  24. Some folks here think this isn’t a hack. Wrong. Ever heard of JUNK MAIL? What an awesome way to turn a perfectly good tree into a complete waste? Using papier mache is a great way to recover that waste, even if only a little bit, into something useful.

    And, you’re largely funded by other people’s money — advertisers pay the bill for shipping you your building stock!

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