Materials: sheet goods

Craft & Design
Materials: sheet goods

We all need materials to make things with, right? Well here is a basic list of a lot of the materials that might be good for making or crafting projects. This list is not intended to be a final list, but rather a starter list. Sources for purchasing these materials were intentionally left out, because I think that most everything on the list can be pulled out of the waste stream and reused. If you have to buy it, do so sparingly so you can save up for the things you might actually need to purchase. If you see something missing, just add it into the comments. You might even see a material on the list that you haven’t heard of or used before. Here it goes!

organic/pulp based
Tissue paper – Thin, not very structural, it can be taped or glued. It comes in lots of colors, and you can get it by saving up from all those bridal and baby showers you get invited to.
Newspaper – Every day another one shows up. Made of wood pulp and covered with ink, if you roll it, you can make tubes, or it could be folded or torn, or…
Printer paper – If you need a decent piece of paper, there is usually at least some of this stuff around. Maybe you have to go into the recycling bin looking for old memos, but there is more to be done with it than paper airplanes. You can also get designs that you print that have the fold marks right on them.
Magazine pages – The covers are heavier than the pages. Nice pictures, glossy paper.
File folders – Sometimes you can find them around with nice colors. The material is stiff, easily cut and can be taped, stapled or glued. Tab and slot designs work well.
Paperboard – Cereal boxes are a great source for this stiff, light cardboard. It seems like it is usually made of recycled paper and is gray or brown, short fibers.
Milk cartons – After you finish your cereal, save the milk carton, because you can make lots of great stuff with the water resistant cardboard that carried your cow juice.
Corrugated cardboard – Boxes, appliances, everything from amazon or ebay provide a ready supply.
Balsa – Light, soft and structural. Balsa gets used for lots of model making projects. Many model airplanes have been made of balsa, but the highest balsa adventure of all time has got to be Kon Tiki.

Report covers – Going to a conference? Bring back some nice clear stuff. It measures about 11″ x 17″ when a report cover is flattened out.
Plastic sheet – This comes in a variety of thicknesses. Cheap plastic dropcloths, and all the way up to thick black landscape plastic or more.
Plastic jugs – Milk, water or apple cider jugs can be cut with a utility knife.
Salad containers – Use these clear containers to form clear sections of your constructions.
House wrap – Usually made of polyethelyne fiber, it comes in rolls for providing a vapor barrier before the siding goes on your house, this cuts nicely with scissors or a utility knife.
Boat wrap – When your neighbor sets sail in the spring, grab some of the white plastic they used to cover the boat you had to look at all winter. It is neat stuff, and is designed to shrink under heat. Nice and heavy duty, you can actually make yourself a boat of it.
Coroplast – You might know of a store going out of business that has just splashed the news all over town with their “Going….Going….Gone….” signs. When they close the doors, what are they going to do with all those signs? Coroplast is great stuff, structured like cardboard, but weather resistant. It can be scored, cut with a knife, on the bandsaw or with other cutters. You can fasten it with zip ties or tape it, or fold it like a cardboard box. Lots of potential here.
Soda bottles – Cut the top and bottom, slit the side and you have a decent piece of plastic. Suitable for making safety glasses with.

Take out trays and meat trays – If you cut off the curved parts, there will be some nice flat parts to make things with. You could try a hovercraft, but there are other things to be done after you finish the leftovers.
Packing foam – Some things like picture frames come packed with sheets of white foam. Usually, the packed stuff is made of lots of little foam balls stuck together. It is kind of messy to work with, but has a decent R value, and is kind of rigid.
Foam core board – Cut it with a sharp utility knife, glue it on the edge, paint it, spray adhesive coverings on it, nice to make architectural models from. You can probably find it in leftovers from presentations and science fairs.
Sheet insulation – This stuff is really fascinating. It is sold in building supply stores as an insulation material. Scraps can probably be found near newly constructed buildings. It usually comes in pink or blue and a range of thicknesses. It can be glued with wood or white glue, screwed together, drill it, cut it by scoring with a utility knife, table saw, jigsaw, bandsaw or with a hot wire if you want a nice clean edge. This is a great starter material for CNC tools like the shopbot or mill. It gives very little resistance to the tools, allowing you to build the technique and process before going to more expensive and less abundant materials.

Aluminum foil – It’s in your kitchen, comes off your sandwich, conducts electricity, bends, folds and goes into the recycling bin when you are done.
Pie pan, turkey pan – Thicker and holds its’ shape better than foil, pans can be cut with scissors, and if you want to try your hand at boatbuilding, you can even make a press fit mold for the hull.
Aluminum can – This can be cut with scissors once you get it started by piercing a can with a utility knife. Now that those huge, overly caffienated drinks are all the rage, cans can be turned into nice decent sections of aluminum. Sometimes you can incorporate the graphics into your design.
Tin can – Harder to cut, you will want to use aviators’ snips to get this flat. It can be fastened with screws.
Flashing – Building suppliers sell flashing made of aluminum and copper. The copper is expensive, but really nice, and can be soldered. Aluminum comes in a zillion configurations, rolls, rectangles and more. You can also get larger sections of it as well, solid, or punched with holes and patterns.
Computer cases – Are you finally done with that 386? After you scrap out all the components, you will find some wonderful sheet steel. Usually the outside is beige, and the inside has a clear coat on it. 1/16 inch is pretty common. Fasten it with sheet metal screws or rivets. you can paint it or leave it beige. There is much to be done with steel.

So there is a semicomplete list of the materials you might want to be on the lookout for. What are your favorite materials to work with? Where do you get them? What is the best free source for materials? How much of these materials can you scrounge out of the recycling bucket? Post your suggestions in the comments and lets share the storage bin!

8 thoughts on “Materials: sheet goods

  1. squid says:

    X-ray film! I love it. Old x-rays are considered medical records and are supposed to be destroyed, however you can ask around and find some if you’re resourceful. Great material for cutting stencils! Also makes cool shades for lamps/ lighting projects. Find a nice frontal chest x-ray, Mount it in the front of a box with arm holes and some glow sticks inside and voila- an x-ray machine halloween costume.
    Other sheet materials I love-
    Glad press’n’seal wrap is great for masking and cutting friskets. It has some kind of high tech ‘adhesive’ that’s not glue and solvent based so it doesn’t leave shmutz on your project. It also cuts like butter with an x-acto knife.
    Wassau makes duct tape on a 12″ wide roll. Drool! So many uses your brain will smoke.
    Department stores use a material called gator board for signage. Its like foam core but much stiffer. It usually has advertisements printed on it but it takes a coat of kilz well enough. I’ve found 4’x4′ sheets in department store dumpsters.
    Pizza boxes are awesome. Not the corrugated cardboard but the paper board kind. They are called clay boxes. This grease resistant cardboard is great for making expedient gaskets in small engine repair. The boxes come in a variety of sizes and are great for organizing and storing flat stock (use fresh ones).
    A great source of coroplast is ‘snipe signs’. These are the small signs you see at intersections advetising realestate, small businesses, political candidates, etc. Apart from political campaign signs, these signs are illegal in many areas and are therefor fair game for recycling.

    1. Chris Connors says:

      @squid These are great ideas! I have never thought of xray film, but it sure sounds like fun. Do you have any photos or other material of projects made with xrays?

      The press n seal idea is great too. I bet it could be used like transfer tape for paper stencils as well.

      Pizza boxes are great! How many people just toss them at the end of the party? They could become the life of the party!

      Snipe Signs! I guess your take on the legality of the signs matches my dislike for them. Fair game, beautifying the neighborhood, cleaning up litter, citizen law enforcement all bring in robust materials.

      Thanks for your input!

  2. Eric says:

    Hey, overall, wonderful post and site.

    I just wanted to comment that you got the function of housewrap wrong. It is not a vapor barrier (or retarder). It is used as an air barriers as well as a liquid water barrier as a drainage layer for water getting behind the outer cladding of the house. It is formulated specifically to be vapor permeable so that the structure can dry to the outside via vapor diffusion through that layer.


    1. Chris Connors says:

      Good call. House wrap can be used for kites. It paints well with acrylic too.
      Thanks for your input.

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