It is sometimes true that “necessity is the mother of invention.” This was the case for me when our family joined a new church start where funding for the work was relatively small. Though we had a space in our rented facility for a nursery, we relied on donations to give us things to put in it. Eventually, we had the wonderful problem of needing to have a shelf to put the donated toys on. It was at this point that I explored the possibility of turning some of our moving boxes into a small toy shelf.

I started by looking to see what kind of boxes I had on hand. I was delighted to find four lidded produce boxes and some strangely-shaped cardboard shipping stabilizers that had come with a large appliance. The produce boxes were wonderful to make into shelving because the lids gave them added strength and stability. These had a bonus for me in that the interiors of these boxes were smooth on all sides and the flaps had been glued together on the outside. Making sure that I had a sharp craft knife and a quantity of glue on hand, I went to work.

Because the flaps left a small gap between the inside box and the lid when they were pressed one inside the other, my first step was to fill the gap with cardboard. If I had been working with a box that had flaps and holes on the inside of the box, I would have cut extra cardboard to cover those things so that the inside of the box would have been smooth on all sides. As it was, I only had to cut small pieces to fit between the glued flaps on the outside of the box. I glued these in place. I used tacky glue, but white or wood glue will work.

Once the filler pieces had been glued in place, I spread glue on the inside of the lid and slid the reinforced box into the lid as shown in the photo. Then I used chip clips and books to put some weight on the box while the glued dried. Once all four boxes had dried, I spread glue on the top sides of two of the them and stacked the remaining two boxes on top of the glue. I further reinforced the join by using some duct tape along the back and side seams. I temporarily used some masking tape to hold the front edges together until the glue dried. After both “towers” were dry, I glued them to each other along the center “seam,” once again using duct tape along the top, bottom, and back to help keep the boxes together.

At this point, I turned my attention to the oddly-shaped stabilizer pieces that I had saved from a shipping carton. I began to cut strips out of the curved sides of these to form trim pieces that would cover the exposed corrugation along the front edges of the boxes. I just happened to have these stabilizers on hand, and they made a nicely reinforced edge all along the front of my shelf unit. If I had not had them, I would simply have cut more cardboard for the trim. Because I wanted to add more cardboard to the sides, top, and back of the shelf, I only glued the parts of the trim that were touching an inside surface of one of the boxes. Only if the trim piece was going to touch two inside surfaces did I glue it down completely. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of this step!

Back when I had glued the four boxes together and used duct tape to reinforce the joints, I knew that I was going to have to cover the taped seams in order to disguise the humble materials I had used to form the shelf. I did not have any boxes on hand large enough to do this, so I called a local furniture store to see if they had any sizable pieces of cardboard on hand. Fortunately, they had a refrigerator box that they were only too happy to let me cart off! Once I had the cardboard back home, it was only a matter of cutting it to the right size and gluing it in place to cover the unsightly taped seams. The only problem that I still had to work out was how to cover the corrugated edge along the top where the top piece met the sides. The front edges along the sides and top sections would be covered by the trim pieces and I could cut them in such a way as to keep their back corrugated edges to the wall, but the side seams would require something more to keep them hidden.

When I finally cut the top piece for the shelving unit, I purposefully cut it an inch longer than the length of the combined boxes. Then I removed a half-inch strip of one side of the paper and the corrugation underneath from both ends. This left a half-inch strip of the top paper on either end. (See the photo for clarification. This photo is also the only photo I have that shows how the trim pieces go over the outside panels.) Using my craft knife, I separated the corrugation from the paper on the outside top of the side panels freeing the paper for a depth of half an inch. This allowed for me to glue the top section down to the boxes, bend the extending half-inch strip of paper down and insert it under the top paper of the side. This covered all the exposed corrugated edges. When I was satisfied with how the edge looked, I glued it in place. I also glued the outside free edges of the trim pieces down over the sides, bottom, and top and let the whole thing dry.

The final step was to paint it. Because cardboard absorbs the paint, this took several coats, but the end result was well worth the effort. Just glancing at it, it does not immediately display that it is entirely constructed of cardboard, tape, and glue! The unit is very sturdy and has done an admirable job serving in our nursery. My next plan is to make some matching bins for it (out of cardboard, of course!), to house our loose toys and make clean-up a little easier.
Life on earth since Adam and Eve fell has been full of needs, and God has chosen to use willing servants to meet the needs of others. Many people are familiar with the story of the lad with five barley loaves and two small fish in John 6. The need was great. Over five thousand hungry people had followed Christ out to the side of a mountain, and this one boy seemed to be the only person with food. The resources sure seemed to be too slim to meet the need of the moment, but with God, a little goes a long way. Over five thousand were fed with one boy’s lunch! And what about the widow in 1 Kings 17 who was called upon to give the last of her meal and oil to feed the prophet Elijah instead of making it for herself and her son? Yet when she obeyed, God kept all three of them alive until He chose to send rain again. I was reminded by this project that we serve the same God that these people served. Though He is not restricted to using miraculous methods, when we give our slender twenty-first century resources to God, He can still use them to meet the needs of the circumstances that He sends us into–even if all that we have on hand are a few boxes, a roll of tape, and some glue!

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  1. Lene says:

    What a great idea!

  2. Pat says:

    Your work is truly a labor of love. It looks so professional and better than any store bought cardboard shelving.

  3. lolkin says:

    great stuff! but you should have made more photos, it’s very hard to follow the steps 😦 which glue are you using?

  4. lolkin says:

    also what paint have you used to paint it and how long did you leave to dry between coats? thanks!

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