The Art Of Box Making


[Darcy] has a bit of a love affair with cardboard. What started out as a simple way to mail things cheaper by making custom sized boxes has turned into the full-blown art of box making.

He originally started by making the boxes by hand, but after he got suitably adept at it, he quickly refined his craft by adding in some technology. He now designs the boxes in SketchUp and then uses a home-made CNC router to cut and score the cardboard into even fancier styles. His blog has a whole slew of his cardboard box designs and it’s actually pretty cool to see what he’s come up with. He also has a bunch of tips for making your own, so if you’re one of those lucky hackers who can sell the things they make, it’s definitely worth a look! If you’re not selling anything perhaps a cardboard lamp shade is more for you?

To see a video example of one of his CNC cut boxes, stick around after the break. Now all he needs to do is design an automatic box folding machine!


35 thoughts on “The Art Of Box Making

  1. Professional “one-off” box making equipment uses a knife the rotates to face the direction of travel and also has a scoring head which look a bit like a small pizza cutter for putting scores where folds are needed. The cardboard sheet is held down by suction a bit like a hand hockey table but covered with a foam mat. Very complex designs can be made. This very impressive though.

    1. Depends mainly on the laser power, you just set a lower power to ‘score’ the cardboard. Can take some tweaking to get right.

      Other things to consider is to use the same power but travel at a higher speed to score vs cut. You can also pulse the laser to reduce it’s power (PWM etc). Adding air to blow on the cut keeps the fires to a minimum (usually happens when you cut too slowly).

    2. It works quite well, and the cuts are perfect. I’ve made a few attempts at scoring (partial cut) with limited success, mostly for two reasons: The first is due to differences in focused intensity due to astigmatism in the beam causing different cut widths (and depths) depending on the direction of cut. The second is also directionally dependent, but more due to the differences in thickness (well, layers) due to the corrugations of the cardboard (i.e. you don’t always get the same cut depth when cutting parallel to the corrugations, depending on position in the perpendicular direction).

      Results are promising, so I should spend some more time with it. ;)

      1. Hi! I experimented with a ball pint too! It actually works. :)

        Actually I think your idea of doing perforations instead of depth is better. You only have to set one power level then. Just one to get through the material. The way I’ve been doing it you need to set another level for the half cuts for every different kind of cardboard… So it’s twice as much work to set the levels…

        I wasn’t sure if it would bend as nicely thought.

        Now that you brought it up, I will try it. I might be at the laser this evening so will give it a whirl and report back.

        Thanks for the comment!

  2. I used to work for SAAB once upon a time packing parts. I was repeatedly amazed by the boxes as strange as that sounds. Most of them were custom designed for the part in question and in some cases had some pretty intricate folding patterns to get them together. I remember thinking about how much time that had to go into making those designs work.

    1. Yeah those things are really sexy. I think if I could buy the drag knife assembly I could add it to my machine. But it probably needs more cutting pressure and sharpening. Mine needs little cutting pressure so that simplifies clamping (no vacuum and so forth)…

  3. I worked at a box making plant, the prototyping of the boxes was made in cad then transferred to the cnc computer. once the type of board was selected the board was held in place by suction the blade which was double sided and was about the size of an x-acto blade and not very sharp. the machine when activated would vibrate the blade in a sawing motion. creases and folds where made by small rolling was one of the coolest jobs i ever had.

  4. Very impressive piece of kit you’ve put together there. My day job is making software for Esko-Graphics, a manufacturer of digital finishing tables, as they’re called. See one of our Kongsberg tables here:

    As others have pointed out, an oscillating knife is what’s usually used for cardboard like this. And the folding lines are put in with a crease wheel, which looks sort of like a blunt pizza cutter wheel. Commercial tables use suction to hold the cardboard in place, but then you need to put in literally thousand of holes in the table top and install a vacuum pump. I think your roller idea is inspired.

    Your method of scaling the boxes is very similar to how the commercial software does it, with a couple of parameters that scale the whole box to fit. I’ll say your whole setup has some pretty good thinking behind it!

  5. I constantly have to reuse or resize shipping cartons at work. Our main line of business is adhesives, both hot melt and cold glue. Hot melt is quick for setting up the boxes. Cold glue is less expensive but takes a little while longer. If you’re making a large run, cold glue is the way to go. If you need one NOW, hot melt is usually best. I noticed that the article shows him using a bottle of glue off-the-shelf. We sell cold glue to box makers in 5 gallon pails as well as specialty applicators (think of a nozzle that screws onto a standard glue bottle that can lay down 6 beads, or even rolls it out directly from the bottle like a miniature paint roller) for a fraction of the cost of going to the store.

    For closing flaps, hot melt is usually less expensive and faster. One small stripe is usually enough to hold things closed with a stronger bonds, and seals in a couple of seconds. Think of that strip of glue holding your cereal box flaps closed. It’s most likely hot melt because as it moves along the line, it needs to seal quickly. That strip of glue along the seam is most likely cold glue because it sits long enough to adhere and it’s cheap.

    1. Thanks for the note Josh…

      I buy glue by the gallon. For just fooling around I use that little bottle but I use a brush for bigger jobs. I’m up to my eyeballs in paper planes this week but I’m going to show more video and stuff as soon as I get through all that…

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