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How To Make Jewelry Using Cardboard And Superglue

In a nutshell: here we're going to try to make jewelry and stuff by building it with cardboard and superglue, sanding it down, and then varnishing it to strengthen and waterproof it.

Step 1: Materials

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>>> cardboard (ideally illustration board and some folders)

i use illustration board for these because it's easily available here and it's very sturdy but easy to cut. in theory you can use chipboard too. the folders are for the details.

>>> cyanoacrylate superglue (like mighty bond)

>>> varnish

the one i used is labeled "plastic varnish" and is used for wood. the lightest tint that i can get is "natural" and it's yellowish but unless you lay it on thickly it wouldn't matter

>>> sandpaper of different grits

>>> craft cutter (and lots of spare blades!)

>>> acrylic paint

>>> tiny paintbrushes

>>> other things you might find useful:

white glue (like elmer's)
a big jar 
paperclips 
a nipper 
a sheet of carbon paper
a cutting board

>>> other things you might want to incorporate in the design, like:

glass pebbles
marbles
other beads
chains or cords
jump rings

Step 2: Design and planning

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for the design, you can go all out if you want to, but i would suggest simple designs first because the method we're using here has a lot of limitations and you can't really sculpt, carve or mold with this. you can't really put in too much detail too :( not to mention it's incredibly time-consuming. you can still do a lot with it though!

a good thing about this method is that it can be really accurate. if you're a stickler for measuring EVERYTHING (like me), then you might like this. the details that you also manage to pack in are really really sharp and clean

it's very easy to make really organic shapes too, because cardboard is very easy to sand and shape.

Step 3: Figuring the layers out

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you just have to think about how you're going to build your design with layers. like for example, let's make a flower with a protruding center, like a dome. if you can see here, i built the center with more layers than the rest, so it sticks out. so if you want some details of your design to protrude, just make those with more layers.

you can also incorporate layers that are stuck on vertically, like the cross i have here.

you can even make square beads with this if you incorporate a layer with a groove running through it, then sandwiching that layer.

for the ones i have here, they're a mixture of layers laid on flat and stuck on vertically (those are to create the "claws" that hold in the glass pebble.)

Step 4: Tracing

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after you've done your design, divide it into parts or sections. then, just figure out which sections would stick out and such, and carefully plan how many layers would go in each section. like this one, i labeled each section with the number of layers.

once you've got that figured out, make an actual-sized copy of your design and copy that on the illustration board. you can do this by tracing over the carbon paper with a ballpoint pen. copy it several times, depending on the most number of layers + 1 more layer as the base, where everything will be stuck to.

Step 5: Cutting

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this is the part where i get the most impatient :( so cut all the layers out, then cut them up into sections.

it's really hard to cut curves, but what you can do is you can cut in straight lines, then just cut the corners out until there are no corners left. you can do this with a nipper for the tiny corners. if the cutting is a little rough, it's ok because you can sand it all down later.

it's a lot of cutting so don't forget to change blades all the time, and use a cutting board to keep your blade sharp.

Step 6: Gluing the layers together to form the sections

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glue all the layers up with superglue. once the sections are formed, don't stick them to each other or to the base yet!

Step 7: Sanding the sections

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sand each section with low-grit sandpaper until you're happy with the shape. if the fibers of the paper start sticking out or the layers come apart, just dab some superglue on it and continue sanding. if the section is like, really tiny and just one layer thick though? you can leave it alone for now. those are gonna be kinda hard to handle.

Step 8: Gluing all the sections to the base

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make sure all of the sections fit with each other first. make corrections if necessary. then, start supergluing the sections to the base layer. start with the thinnest sections. remember those tiny, one-layer sections? glue them onto the base first AND THEN sand them. it's easier to handle and sand them that way. after that, proceed with the other sections.

dab glue on as many parts as you can to make sure that it doesn't come apart.

Step 9: Shape correction

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if there are some problems with the shape (say, you nicked a part of it with your cutter and now there's a dent, or if a part doesn't protrude as much as you want to or if there's a too-big gap between sections), you can cut a tiny, tiny piece of folder, superglue it onto the dent, then sand until the piece of folder is flush with the rest of the pendant.
i encircled the parts which used to have dents / aren't rounded enough but are now corrected. can you see the little rectangles of folder board?

Step 10: Sealing the cardboard with varnish

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after you've finished assembling all of the parts, douse the pendant in varnish. this step is to strengthen the cardboard before you continue sanding, and to make sure that every inch of it is waterproof. what i usually do here is that i first transfer the varnish to a big jar. then i take a paperclip, bend it to an L shape, hook the pendant on it and dip it in into the jar. that way the coat is even. it's fast too.
after you've dipped it, lay it on a sheet of plastic that you're not gonna use anymore, like an old plastic envelope. i usually lay it on this protractor that i have that is wildly inaccurate. let it dry. it usually takes about 24 hours for varnish to REALLY dry but for this step, you just have to wait until the varnish is solidified, which is about an hour.
after that, sand it with high-grit sandpaper and make it really smooth.

Step 11: Painting

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i use acrylic paints for this, and some nylon brushes. for the really tiny details, i use this old nylon brush that i have that i ruined by dipping the tip in some wet superglue -___-

i then cut away all of the affected hairs with a nail clipper and left about 7 hairs on the brush. i use this for microdetailing.

i usually prime the pendant with white paint before proceeding to make the colors really pop.

don't worry if the brush strokes are really visible and textured. it will even out after you varnish.


question: what if i wanted to do a little plaque with a pencil drawing on it? or i wanted to stick on something i printed out? or i wanted to do newsprint jewelry?

if you're using pencils or crayons to render your jewelry, you have to skip the last step we did. same goes if you wanted to incorporate printed paper in your design. before you let any sort of varnish or superglue touch your drawing or print, first seal it in with white glue. if you use superglue on it or dip it in varnish, it will turn grey and it will look eternally wet.

what you can do is seal in these porous parts with white glue first, then let it dry. white glue dries clear and protects those parts from the varnish. after it dries, then you can proceed with the varnish to waterproof it


question: what about pen drawings?

any drawing made with alcohol-based ink will bleed when it comes into contact with varnish or superglue. they are not friends. try to avoid using these. i haven't tried sealing a pen drawing with white glue first then varnishing it, but i think that may also not work since i did try it with a highlighter stroke and it still bled and discolored :( also, water-based ink will bleed with white glue.

Step 12: First layer of varnish and checking for corrections

Picture of First layer of varnish and checking for corrections

dip it in varnish once, lay it onto a piece of plastic (like the protractor in the previous step) then let it dry for a couple of hours.

usually, after this step, you'll see all of your mistakes in the paint job. make sure all of the things you want to correct are corrected. make sure you don't touch or handle the pendant with your fingers while you're painting!

Step 13: Last layer of varnish and final touches

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dip it in varnish again to seal everything in. i put on 2 layers of varnish after the correction step. don't make any more corrections after this! or worse, varnish it again. if you put paint on top of 2 or three layers of varnish then you varnish it again, the paint will just slip right off and it will dry with all your brush strokes in the wrong place. not a good look.
wait for it to dry, it'll be ready in 24 hours. don't touch it while it's drying! also, it's better to let it dry during a cool day because if it's too hot in the room there'll be bubbles all over your work and it looks horrendous.
after it dries, put in your metal jump rings, add in your glass whateverthefriggs, or if you made beads go ahead and thread them already. now it's ready to be used!