Upcycle Final Report: Reclaimed Treasure Chest

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure… chest.

I decided to create a treasure chest out of cardboard boxes laying around my house for my project. At the brainstorming phase of my design process, I had decided to focus on utilizing a single upcycled resource as an artistic and functional statement. I settled on cardboard (previously, I wanted to use reclaimed wood to make a totally different project, but I did not have the tools to work wood). At the beginning of this project, my roommates were in the process of throwing out a bunch of boxes and I thought, “why not make use of these?” I got my inspiration for a treasure chest not just because of the saying above but also because I needed a storage container for my bedroom that conforms to the room’s nerdy aesthetic. I originally thought to create the treasure chest with a steampunk aesthetic in mind like below.

Photo courtesy of Brent Epp. Found on Deviantart.

I decided against that aesthetic as it took me too much time trying to figure out how to create a mechanism with cardboard that works like above. Instead, I tried to focus more on realism: replicating what an old, wooden treasure chest might look like. I focused a bit on functionality as well: on how much the chest could store as well as how the trunk cover would operate.

Initial sketch (yikes).

Design process visual (initial pitch->brainstorm->question->prototype->learned->final iteration)

Next up was prototyping the project. I gathered about 4 boxes worth of cardboard (each box had about 6 sq. ft of usable cardboard but I prioritized lengthier pieces). I also gathered 2 rolls of duct tape and scissors.

This was my initial prototype. Luckily, I found a box that had a cover similar to a chest/trunk so I utilized that side as the side with the hatch. The rest of the chest was comprised of pieces of other boxes stuck together with duct tape at the sides. I spent a lot of time cutting up “planks” for the cover and figuring out a way to make the cover stay in the same shape. Below was my solution with lots of duct tape.

I used little rectangles of cardboard to stabilize the gaps between lengths of the plank. I then wrapped those with duct tape.

Although the initial prototype was functional and passable aesthetically, I wanted to go further with it. I wanted to make the entire chest look like it is made out of wood instead of cardboard.

For my final design, I tried to utilize the plank technique for more of the chest. I cut out the front and turned it into planks, with stabilizing planks on the inside taped perpendicular to those planks. While that worked well for the front, utilizing the same technique for the other sides was tricky as most of the chest assembly was attached to those other sides.

I also decided to use primer, spray paint, and acrylic paints to mimic the appearance of wood and wood grain on the exterior of the chest.

First side of the chest spray painted brown.

Sides of the box after the first coat of spray paint and primer were applied.

After that, I used varying shades of brown acrylic paint to create the appearance of wood grain on the chest.

My color palette (the silver is used for the latch on the front).

Close up of wood grain pattern.

I am pleased with the end result! Although the treasure chest, aesthetically, looks shoddier than I thought it would turn out, the ‘trashiness’ adds a certain charm to the chest that I hadn’t anticipated. I feel as if the chest had been ‘broken into’ almost.

Functionally, the chest does exactly what it’s supposed to do: open, close, and store things. And it does so without falling apart!

As for the future, I think I might toy around with adding some steampunk peripherals to the box: I was thinking of adding some sort of gear mechanism to the front that holds the chest closed.

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11 Comments. Leave new

  • Siddharth Nigam
    February 17, 2017 12:44 pm

    I like how you set constraints you put on yourself. It makes the process easier in my opinion.

  • Looks great, very reminiscent of cartoony pirate treasure chests, so if you move forward adding stuff to it I feel it fits that aesthetic better than some sort of Victorian steampunk style. Good job turning the cardboard into wood. I didn’t see any failed ideas or design flowchart, was this a pretty organic, go-with-whatever-works process? Do you feel if you had spent more design time you could have achieved more of your goals or been better prepared for setbacks? Ideas: Expand the silver paint to put fake rivets/nails and hinges on the lid and/or sides of the chest.

  • I really like the worn-out classic look of the treasure chest! Great job on the painting. I also like the that you went for the full size instead of a scaled sown version.

  • The metaphor for your project (“trash to treasure”) is awesome and whimsical. It is really interesting to see your iterative process with reflection on prototyping. The aesthetic for this project is really nice and inspired from the “old wooden” coloring. Hinges are probably the hardest thing to design from scratch. If you were to pursue this further, would you consider making a more durable hinge perhaps out of another material? Do you think your material will hold up well to whatever you put in it? Very innovative project!

  • Your presentation was very detailed. You described your design process very well, specifically all the manufacturing steps. The transformation of your treasure chest was very cool to see: I appreciate that you tried to mimic the grain of wood on your box with varied hues of browns. Aesthetically, that adds a lot to the treasure chest and makes it much more appealing.

  • Gautham Govindarajan
    February 17, 2017 12:34 pm

    The wood grain texture looks nice on your treasure chest. One man’s trash is certainly another man’s treasure.

  • A box made out of boxes… box inception? Its a pretty neat idea. I am glad you decided to paint it because the paint helped in look more like wood. You could laser cut the gears for the front side of it. What do you intend on using it for?

  • Alexandra Rivas
    February 17, 2017 12:34 pm

    “a fancy box made out of other boxes” is funny idea. Making something a better version of what it already is, is a clever idea.
    The execution of the wood grain painting was really good.
    Do you plan on using it? have you stored stuff inside of it?

  • Great organization of your presentation, it is very clear what all was involved in your project. I like the theme of “one man’s trash is another one’s treasure,” and was a creative idea to use this to make a treasure chest out of trash. The final product came out pretty neat and will be useful to store things in the future.

  • I like the saying one man’s trash is another mans treasure. Great that you were able to iterate on your project. Looks like wood grain! Can you put stuff in it? Good to know that cardboard is good for painting on. Fail early fail often! It is possible to over design.

  • It’s neat that you made a box from other boxes (box inception?). Painting a wood grain was a nice final touch.


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