Paper Table


  • 1

    Here are some of the materials you can use

    • heavy book (such as a textbook)
    • masking tape
    • 1 sheet cardboard (about 8½ x 11 in. [22 x 28 cm]) 
    • 8 sheets newspaper
  • 2

    Prepare ahead of time

    • Have paper and a pencil ready to write down ideas and sketches as you design.
    • Look at the tables and chairs around you. Notice how they are constructed—the legs, leg supports, tops, etc.
  • 3

    Think about the challenge

    • How will you make flexible newspaper strong enough to support a lot of weight?
    • What shape table will you make your table? What shape will support the weight of the book? 
    • Will the table be stronger if the legs are taller or shorter? 
    • TIP: Using paper shapes such as tubes will increase the amount of weight the table can support and will distribute or divide a load. Engineers think carefully about load distribution whether they’re building tables, buildings, or bridges. 
    • TIP: Engineers give a lot of thought to the shapes they build with. Some shapes, such as squares, distribute the weight to different parts of a frame. Other shapes, such as triangles, spread the weight to nearly every part of the frame. 
  • 4

    Think about and write down ideas

    • How can you make a strong tube out of a piece of newspaper?
    • Will triangular or square leg supports help keep the table legs from twisting?
    • How level and big does the table’s top need to be to support the book’s weight?
    • How tall will you make your table?
    • TIP: If you make the newspaper into a tube shape, it will allow the load (the heavy book) to push on every part of the paper and not just one section of it. 
    • TIP: A table is more likely to become tippy as its height increases. If your table is very tall and reinforcing the legs doesn’t work, try reducing its height. 
    • TIP: When engineers solve a problem, they try different ideas, learn from mistakes, and try again. Study the problems and then redesign. If things don’t work out, it’s an opportunity—not a mistake!
  • 5

    Look at the materials

    • How will you roll the tubes tight enough?
    • What will you use to make the leg supports? How many? What shape?
    • How will you keep the tubes from unraveling?
    • TIP: Roll newspapers tight to make strong tubes. It takes more force, or impact or pressure, to crumple a paper when it is shaped as a tube. 
    • TIP: Certain arrangements of materials (like triangles) are stronger than others and can make the table stronger.
  • 6

    Roll the paper tubes

    • Lay the newspaper on the table. 
    • Start at a corner and roll a paper tube that is about the diameter of a straw.
    • TIP: To roll a tight tube, start at one corner and pinch the paper as you roll diagonally toward the other corner. 
    • TIP: The tighter the tubes are rolled, the stronger they will be. If your tubes are not tightly rolled, your table legs won’t be strong enough to hold the weight of the book.
  • 7

    Roll the paper tubes (continued)

    • Tape each tube closed after rolling it.
    • Roll seven more tubes.
    • TIP: If you want to test how stiff your rolled tube is, wave the tube around. If the tube crumbles or flops, you will need to roll it tighter.
  • 8

    Design and build the table

    • Decide on the height and shape of your table.
    • Fold a tube to the height you decide. Fold one tube for each leg. 
    • Tape the two sections of the folded tube together so the leg doesn’t unfold.
  • 9

    Design and build the table (continued)

    • Decide on the size and shape of your table’s top.
    • Attach the legs to the table’s top.
    • TIP: Stand the table up to be sure the legs are even. If your table legs are uneven, the table will wobble and it won’t be able to support the weight of the book.
    • TIP: Test how stable your table is without the addition of leg supports. Turn the table over, stand it up and wiggle it. Does it feel strong enough to hold a heavy book? 
  • 10

    Design and build the leg supports

    • Decide what shape you want to make your leg supports, or rods to strengthen the legs.
    • Decide how many leg supports you need.
    • Bend the supports into the shape you chose. Tape the ends together to keep the shape.
    • TIP: Triangles are particularly strong shapes because they spread the force to nearly every other part of a frame. Engineers often put materials together in triangular arrangements to increase their strength and stability. 
    • TIP: The more triangular supports in your table, the stronger and more stable your table will be.
  • 11

    Design and build the leg supports (continued)

    • Decide where and in what direction you will place the leg supports.
    • Attach the leg supports to the legs.
    • TIP: A table with a lot of triangular supports tends to be quite strong. A truss is a large, strong support beam built from boards or rods and arranged in a series of triangles. Engineers often use trusses in bridges, buildings, and towers. 
    • TIP: Change the direction of the leg supports until you find the position where all four legs are supporting the weight of the book.
  • 12

    Test the table’s strength and stability

    • Stand the table upright. Wiggle it to see if it feels stable.
    • Place a heavy book on top to see if it is strong enough to hold the weight.
    • TIP: If the tubes crumble when weight is applied, check that they are tightly rolled. Also, check for dents and creases that can weaken a tube. 
    • TIP: If the table wobbles make sure that it isn’t lopsided, that there are adequate supports, and that the tubes are undamaged. 
  • 13

    Did you know?

    • Paper Wonders
      Paper is used for a lot more than writing on. Check out these engineering structures made from paper. 
    • Cardboard Cathedral
      After a 2011 earthquake in New Zealand, engineers built a temporary church out of 98 massive cardboard tubes. The tubes are anchored on a foundation of shipping containers. The temporary church was designed to last for 50 years, or long enough for the community to build a permanent stone church. The town will dismantle and recycle the cardboard cathedral in the year 2063—if the people haven’t grown too attached to it!
    • Paper House
      In 1922, a mechanical engineer built a vacation home out of paper. He glued newspapers together to make one-inch-thick slabs and then used the slabs to make the walls. The paper was supposed to be the insulation for the walls. But it was never covered with clapboards. Today, more than 70 years later, it’s still standing!
    • Paper Battery
      Scientists in New York invented a battery that you can just throw away in the trash and it will decompose or decay—just like paper. That’s because it is made from paper. These paper batteries are smaller than a postage stamp but they can power a light bulb!  Engineers are still figuring out how to get them to work with all our gadgets.
  • 14

    Try this next!

    • Design a stronger table. Build a table that can hold two or more heavy books.
    • Make it taller. Build a table that can hold a heavy book 16 inches (41 cm) above the ground. 
    • Add some matching furniture. Build a chair out of newspaper.