Cardboard Challenge Tips Part 1: The Tools

Cardboard Challenge Tips Part 1: The Tools // Here are some of my favorite makerspace tools to support a cardboard challenge.

The Cardboard Challenge remains one of my all-time favorite makerspace activities.  I love how accessible it is to students.  How enthusiastic and creative they can be with such simple materials.  I’ll never forget one of my favorite makerspace moments – my students at Stewart were Skyping with another school that was looking to start a makerspace.  They asked my students what their favorite thing in our makerspace was.  The answer could have been robots, or circuits, or a 3D printer.  But their answer was: “Cardboard!  We have so much cardboard!  It’s awesome!”.

I’ve run cardboard challenges in my makerspaces for the last eight years, and I’ve picked up a few things along the way.  Running a successful cardboard challenge in your makerspace can be easier and more productive when you have the right tools ready for your students.  The tools are what I’ll focus on here in Part 1 of this two post series.  In Part 2, I’ll talk about how planning ahead for other aspects, such as storage, clean-up, extra constraints, etc, can also help to make things more fun and less stressful. 


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Cardboard Challenge Recommended Tools

Students using hot glue guns, canary safety cutter knife, and Worx Electric scissors
Students using hot glue guns, canary safety cutter knife, and Worx Electric scissors

Worx Zip Snip Cordless Electric Scissors

These are one of the more expensive items on my list, but they are SO worth it.  I like to have at least 4-5 available for students, but you can get by with less.  Since you can get these on Amazon, DonorsChoose can be a good option if the cost is an issue.  I will admit, these can look terrifying, especially if you’re working with younger students.  But I’ve used these and similar tools for the past eight years with 6th-8th graders, and I have yet to have anyone cut themselves with these.  And believe me, I’ve had some pretty reckless and impulsive students.  If you only buy one thing on this list, these should be what you get. 

Student using Canary Cardboard Scissors
Student using Canary Cardboard Scissors

Canary Cardboard Scissors

These are the other cutting tool that I always like to have available for students.  While the Worx scissors are great for straight cuts and quickly breaking down boxes, the Canary scissors are better for more precise work, especially if students are trying to cut circles or curves.  They too can look a little intimidating, but in my opinion they’re no more dangerous than regular scissors.


Canary Safety Cutter Knife

This tool has a higher cut risk than the previous two, but it’s super helpful if you’re trying to cut holes into boxes.


Surebonder Mini Hot Glue Guns + Sticks

Other brands of hot glue guns are fine, but these are my current favorites.  The mini size is easy for my 6th graders to handle.  They come with a built-in kickstand.  They’re dual temp, which means they can work for a variety of materials.  And most important to me, they have auto-shutoff.  After having a student forget to turn off a glue gun once and coming back to a pile of melted glue hours later, auto-shutoff is a must have feature for me.


Heavyduty Tabletop Packing Tape Dispenser

(Note: The one in my makerspace isn’t available anymore, but the one linked to is similar.)

I’ve had more student injuries with packing tape gun dispensers than with any other tool in my makerspace.  So a few years ago I switched to using a tabletop dispenser.  It’s a little less convenient, but we’ve had a lot fewer cuts on fingers since I switched.  Packing tape is great for quickly attaching large pieces of cardboard together.

Student using Worx scissors; cardboard project decorated with acrylic paint
Student using Worx scissors; cardboard project decorated with acrylic paint

Acrylic paints

Any brand can do fine.  Students love being able to paint and decorate their projects, so if you’re okay with a little more potential mess, having some paints on hand can be great for cardboard challenge.


MakeDo Discover Toolbox

I had an earlier Makedo Tool Kit, and it’s super helpful for any cardboard projects that move.  It can also be good for little ones to attach pieces together if you’re unable to allow for hot glue guns.  They have more tools on their site.


My previous posts on Cardboard Challenges:

What are your favorite tools to support a Cardboard Challenge?