Hundreds of Packing Peanuts – Report

Material Selection

When starting our “upcycling” assignment, I decided that it would be important for me to source materials that are truly being reused, rather than thrown away. Moreover, I set a goal that I didn’t want to purchase anything for this project (I thought it would be bending the theme of upcycling a bit). When I came across a couple of boxes of packing peanuts at work, I was drawn to this medium – especially when I learned that they were the corn starch type of packing peanut, that gets sticky with moisture. I imagine that they are designed to completely dissolve in water (for environmental reasons), but by only licking exposing particular areas to moisture, they stick together wonderfully with a completely natural bond! Now, to decide what to construct…

Project Ideation

Originally, I wanted to build something stupidly huge with the packing peanuts, to prove that with the right ingenuity and perseverance, ginormous structures can be made out of small pieces (a la toothpick towers or card houses). Looking at the number of packing peanuts that I actually had, however, helped me realize that I didn’t really have the ability to make something all that tall. When I turned to the internet for inspiration, I was grossly unimpressed:

Packing Peanut Art Research

Nevertheless I began experimenting with connecting pieces together and ended up making a jagged-y looking stick of packing peanuts. Having a bit of an overactive imagination, this piece reminded me of an antler of some sort. This is where the idea of making a mounted deer head trophy came into play – it would be tough enough to construct, with suspended antlers and nose, yet would be instantly recognizable. I did try to develop some other ideas, but this one stuck like a wet packing peanut (sorry).

Developing my Idea

Upon settling on a mounted deer head, I looked into if/why it would fit into some aesthetic. I determined that mounted animals in general have their own aesthetic, as they are an icon of certain ways of life and regions of the country. If you were asked to think of a mounted animal head, I imagine that most people would picture the elk or deer head (with large antlers) hanging in the lodge at your favorite ski resort or your uncle’s cool but kind of creepy cabin. It is probably showcased on a wooden plaque shaped sort of like a shield, and the creature’s head is at some characteristic angle, cut off at the neck. The fact that there exists such a unanimous image of these trophies convinced me that this project would certainly be exploring an aesthetic, if not poking a bit of fun at it.

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.10.13 PM

I think that the piece also lends a bit of commentary to the idea/aesthetic of additive manufacturing. 3D printing has become super popular in its many forms, and this is basically a similar process, with new layers being deposited one at a time, piece by piece. I used a sponge to wet each piece before adding it to the structure, which is only slightly less cool than laser sintering or extruding plastic.

Construction and Design Process

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Since I picked such an iconic thing to construct, there wasn’t a whole lot of design needing to be done. However, I did need to think about where to start the model, how to mount it, how to structure the insides, etc. I firmly believe in an iterative design process, and my group’s design cycle brainstorming created what I view as the widely-accepted design loop. In the context of this project, I jumped right in with gluing peanuts together (ideation), and started to shape them in a way to build up a base for my model (beginning to prototype).

I began by forming the neck portion, and once it was about 3-4 inches in diameter I fastened it to a cardboard base (turns out that the packing peanuts stick to cardboard too!). Piece by piece, I added bulk to fill in a neck shape and begin to form its head. This is where the testing/evaluation phase came in, as I constantly needed to look at how the model was coming together, and whether it looked like my goal. This helped me tweak the angle of the neck and bulk up the model appropriately, which is where I left my model overnight (below, right).

First stopping point

To my surprise, the model shrunk considerably overnight! The moisture leftover in the packing peanuts sunk further and further into each piece, essentially eating my model from the outside. While I was pretty disappointed that it lost so much volume, I was pleased that in the process it became super solid. I wasn’t remotely worried about the structure not being solid enough anymore, and actually felt better about being able to add more volume on top without compromising stability.

To prevent the shrinkage from happening again, I needed to better control the moisture content in each bond. Rather than using a wet sponge, I simply gave each piece a good lick to provide just enough spit moisture for a solid bond line. A whole lot of licking later, I had a head and neck completed and was ready for features: ears and antlers.

The ears I made from a few packing peanuts fastened together in a flat shape, which I then very carefully attached to the top of the head. These were pretty fragile for a few hours until it dried. The antlers I created by gluing peanuts on-end to make several short segments, which I then glued together and finally onto the top of the head between the ears. These were nerve-wracking because they didn’t dry very quick, and would flex at the bond areas. To keep them from collapsing or sagging overnight while they dried, I made supports (out of packing peanuts) to hold them up as the head was lying on the table.

Here is a time-lapse video of the construction process:

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Evaluation

I’m pretty pleased with my piece, while I do wish I could have made it bigger. After the shrinking and sagging, It became a bit difficult to add on more while keeping the shape appropriate, so I was a bit limited in that respect. Regardless, I’m satisfied that the model does look like its inspiration, and viewers can immediately tell not only what it is, but what it is made out of. That was my goal, and hopefully people will say “wow, he made that out of packing peanuts?” Especially with the shaped cardboard baseboard, I think it looks pretty accurate on a wall!

What’s next? I’m going to hang it in my living room, of course! I think I’ll need to make a packing peanut fireplace for it to hang over…

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44 Comments. Leave new

Great presentation Chip! did your tongue ever dry out? lol

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Anfal Abdulrahman
February 13, 2016 10:44 pm

you did a nice, artistic work. I think you are gifted honestly. Nice work; really looks like a dear head maybe it can use some coloring to add features.

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This turned out really well and I would never guess there were so many peanuts involved. In the future, you could get a better surface finish by spray painting it.

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This is great! It almost looks like a sculpture made of marshmallows. Maybe you could’ve added a wire frame or some sort of support inside the structure to stabilie it so you can make it bigger.

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This turned out really nice, surprisingly. Packing peanuts are super difficult to deal with, not even trying to build anything but just to pick up and move. Good on ya for taking them on as a medium.

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Liking the hunter aesthetic and think the packing peanuts are a great medium, easy to bond and looks quite clean despite the material. Surprised at the number of pieces needed, was thinking furniture out of the material may be an interesting idea.

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Really creative idea. I think it is challenging to create smooth angles with additive materials but you did an excellent job.

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Samantha Maierhofer
February 10, 2016 11:31 pm

Great idea for an upcycling project! Creative use of packing peanuts (never would have thought to use those as a building material) and the end product turned out well!

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Really creative idea, I never thought of using packing peanuts for art before. What do you think you’re next art piece will be?

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I love it! That came out a lot better than I thought it would look in the end, just with packing peanuts being..well..packing peanuts.

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Oh deer, so many penis jokes. Doe you have a plan to put a finish on it, or are you just gonna leave it buck naked?

I’m glad it didn’t lose its proportions when it shrunk. It really looks good from the front. One thing I will say is that it doesn’t look like much from the side. I’m not sure if there’s anyway to address its side profile.

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Nicholas Flood
February 10, 2016 8:13 pm

I think this is a very unique use for packing peanuts. This is a great example of upcycling. The cardboard “shield” works well, but I think you could have done something to make the shield more three-dimensional. Good job!

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Ashley Zimmerer
February 10, 2016 4:30 pm

This is really cool. I guess it wouldn’t be great in a humid environment, but it should be ok here. I like how it’s kind of rough looking, but still clearly a deer head. If you found some different colored peanuts, maybe you could make the shield out of packing peanuts too. It for sure looks a whole lot better than any of that stuff you found on the google image search.

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Is it possible to spray paint packing peanuts, or would the spray paint cause the packing peanuts to dissolve? I think it would be really interesting to paint the deer head itself (somewhat related to the question in class regarding surface finish).

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Really neat aesthetic reminds me of something Jim on the Office would make. Is there a way to paint or decorate it with eyes and what not?

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I really liked your presentation. I also enjoy that you have followed the exact stereotype of a mounted deer head. It was interesting to see how many packing peanuts it took to create such a design.

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Nice idea. I am impressed by the idea. It ended up being looking great. You might want to prepare it and doing subassemblies which I think this is what you did. Good job

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Interesting process– I never knew that packing peanuts could be bonded so easily.

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I like the overall look of the project. I agree, it would have looked really cool to be bigger but I didn’t realize how many peanuts went into this project.

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It’s really cool how strong the bonds are after they dry.

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Looks great. I have never thought of making stuff out of the packing peanuts. I heard before that they are eatable lol.

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Never knew packing peanuts were made out of corn starch. The peanuts definitely look like a deer, and not the male genital. My only suggestion is too not make a phallic item to hang on your wall. Also, have you thought about stroking and polishing the head to make it become more exciting.

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Sreyas Krishnan
February 10, 2016 12:26 pm

Lots of work put into this, great stuff! Do you think the peanuts would color/dye easily? Color would add an awesome new element to this piece.

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Jacob McCormick
February 10, 2016 12:26 pm

I think it looks really good! One thing you could do would be to replace the cardboard backing with a plywood backing to make it looks sturdier, more permanent, and more like the deer that actually get mounted.

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Funny presentation and interesting idea. I imagine you were parched during this project. This is certainly inspiration for some other uses of packing peanuts.

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Meridith Richter
February 10, 2016 12:26 pm

Hilarious – also the final product looks really great. A nice representation that fulfills that recycled-chic aesthetic.

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Peter Brunsgaard
February 10, 2016 12:26 pm

I would never have though to use packing peanuts to make a sculpture. That’s an incredibly creative way to upcycle.

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What is your next packing-peanut project going to be?? Based on this one, did you learn enough to make it again but larger/more accurate?

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Awesome, I didn’t know the packing peanuts were made of corn starch. I agree it would look better if it was larger.

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this turned out really well Chip! ps. I like your sense of humor. This will make for a great conversation starter.

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Joseph Yoshimura
February 10, 2016 12:26 pm

After looking at the examples that you showed us that were horrible, it is surprising how much like a deer this actually looks. It would have been pretty cool if you made the other design you were going for too.

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Packed with innuendos… Could be a fun to use this for water gun target practice.

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It is definitely recognizable as a stag head. If it was larger the individual peanuts would be less noticeable; better resolution.

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Gardner Nichols
February 10, 2016 12:26 pm

I like your project and your presentation was was funny, like you.

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Rachel Grosskrueger
February 10, 2016 12:25 pm

I love your design cycle and the process that led you to this design! Overall I really love your final product! Have you thought of spray painting it or adding color (in a way that wouldn’t dissolve the peanuts)?

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That looks very time intensive and a lot of work, good job. You applied a lot of detail when it was not necessary, I applaud you for that. Was it safe to lick the material since it would melt on your tongue.

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I really like this project and think its cool how you used such an innovative material. This is really cool and like how you knew so much about the material. Why did you choose a deer head for your project over anything else. It doesn’t seem to relate to the packing peanuts.

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Quirky project. To me, this has an aesthetic which says “bored in an office”, which I can empathize with.

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Pretty neat how it all worked out. I’m impressed that this was able to hold up so well. Did you consider painting it? I think that would give it the appearance of being more sturdy.

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Thomas Brunsgaard
February 10, 2016 12:23 pm

This is a really creative idea! I am surprised that they stick together well enough that the antlers can support themselves. I hope that licking the peanuts isn’t bad for your health (did they taste nasty?). Nice work.

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Christopher Coffman
February 10, 2016 12:22 pm

Interesting how the peanuts stick together and dissolve when put in water. Looks like they are sort of hard to work with, but it came out nicely.

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It looks great. It is really interesting to see those unique design. I might also use water on the antlers to make those design more recognizeable.

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I think this thing turned out great and is a great play on the mounted animal trophy aesthetic. I’m glad you made something of substantial size in comparison to most of those google search results. I might have tried to use more water on the antlers to allow a little better sculpting ability but they are definitely recognizable. This was a super cool project and I wish I had one for my living room. Haha.

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Kenzy O'neill
February 6, 2016 4:32 pm

It looks like this turned out great, Chip! I’m excited to see it in person. The aesthetic is great, it’s very recognizable as a mounted deer head as well as the fact that it’s made of only shipping materials. If I could add anything, I would say maybe you could make the wall mount more robust by adding tiered layers of cardboard. Nice job!

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