Millwork organizer made from cardboard tubes. Cheapskate Handyman:

Light-Duty Overhead Storage
For Millwork

Quick Summary:

Discarded cardboard tubes were attached to strips of wood to make a quick and cheap light-duty storage unit for small pieces of wood.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 2-3 Time Taken: 30 minutes

By , Editor


Warning - Read This Disclaimer:

This article describes the construction of a potentially dangerous storage device, using waste products for something beyond their intended purposes. 

This is an unproven design and could cause bodily harm if any fasteners fail to hold. Any person that reproduces this design does so at their own risk.

This article is for entertainment value only. The following information should not be viewed as instructions.




We've been doing some roofing work lately and every time we finished a roll of Ice and Water Shield I couldn't help but think that the heavy cardboard tube in the center of the roll would make a really handy storage organizer. In fact, I've been collecting these tubes for a couple of years now.

I've been on an organizing kick lately, and I finally got around to cobbling these tubes together to concoct some sort of storage device. It actually worked. Of course, the best feature is... this project was virtually free. The tubes were waste products, and I had plenty of wood scraps available for the other parts.

A cardboard tube from a roll of Grace Ice and Water Shield. These tubes are 38 inches long and have an inside diameter of 5 inches. The cardboard is quite heavy, about 1/8" thick.

I don't know if other brands use tubes that are as heavy as the ones used by W.R. Grace.


The basic layout I wanted to accomplish. The two boards are pieces of 1x4 Douglas fir, which were once horizontal slats for a twin bed. Fir is good strong wood with straight grain and little tendency to warp.


I drilled a 1/2" hole about 7 inches from the end of each tube. The purpose of this hole is to let me drive a screw through the other side of the tube, into the wood slat.


It might be tempting to drive a screw like this...


... which results in this.

But... I have no confidence that this will hold the  tubes in place once I store some materials in them. I can just see the tubes falling on my head while I'm working in the shop someday.


So my solution was to create a small "load spreader" piece of wood. This is basically a large washer, with a curved side placed against the inside of the tube.

This is very important. Without some sort of load spreader or curved metal washer, I'm concerned that the cardboard will tear out when weight is applied to the tubes. And if these tubes ever get wet (if the roof leaks, for example) the cardboard is going to lose much of its strength. I have to take all reasonable precautions with any object mounted overhead. 

Making The Load Spreader Blocks:

I made this "load spreader" by ripping a small strip from the edge of a scrap of 5/4 x 6 radius edge deck board.

This could also be done with a hand saw or a circular saw (be careful, don't try to trim the edge from a short block, it leaves you nothing to hold onto).

The curved edge of deck boards gave me a pretty close fit to the inside of the tube.

I chopped these special strips into short sections and drilled a hole in the middle of each piece (otherwise the small piece of wood will split when a screw is driven through it).


I used a drill/driver with two bit-holder extensions so I could reach all the way through the tube and fasten the screw.


Note how the rounded piece of wood meets the inside of the tube. This should help transfer the weight to a larger area of cardboard, making the connection stronger than using a screw by itself.

I used 1¼" long Simpson Strong-Drive Screws, which have a wide head.

Note that these last few photos show the attachment being made near the end. This is for demonstration purposes only. On the actual project the screws were 7" in from the end. It's too dark in those tubes for pictures.

In a matter of minutes I was able to assemble this row of 6 tubes.

The red arrows point out the strips of wood that hold these tubes together.


I found that the easiest technique was to:

  • Start the screw in the pre-drilled hole in the "load spreader" block of wood.
  • Insert the wood block into the tube with my left hand.
  • Use my left hand to guide the screwdriver tip into the screw head.
  • Drive the screw with my right hand. 

This took a little practice because it's necessary to keep the drill perfectly aligned with the screw, and angling the drill is restricted by the cardboard tube.


A Second Row:

My original idea was to employ two layers of tubes, but when I realized the need to use the wood "load spreader" block, I saw that this piece of wood would lay on the bottom of the upper (first) row of tubes. This would interfere with putting millwork into the tubes.

My solution was to use some plumber's tape (perforated steel strap) to hold additional strips of lumber to the first row of tubes. The strap is screwed to the 1x4's with short sheet metal screws, #8 x ½".

One of the drawbacks to this approach is that the weight of the entire second row is supported by only two tubes in the first row. I'll need to ensure that the second row doesn't get too much weight applied to it.

Note how the 1x4's for the second row are not directly above the strips for the first row. If they were aligned, I wouldn't be able to get a drill into place to fasten the ends of the first row's boards to the ceiling.


Millwork organizer assembled from cardboard tubes and strips of wood. The second row assembled onto the second pair of wood strips.

This completes the fabrication of the millwork organizer.



It's very important that any heavy overhead object be securely fastened to solid wood framing. Redundant fasteners are a good idea.

Of course, there was no way I could actually lift this monster into place, hold it with one hand, and drive in some screws to attach it to the ceiling.

So I set it on top of a 7-foot step ladder, using a big block of wood for a spacer to bring it closer to the ceiling. From there I was able to install the rack by myself.


I drove a couple of 2½" cabinet screws through each end of both mounting boards. These screws were driven into the bottom chord of the roof trusses.

You can't see the trusses because I have kraft-faced insulation installed in the ceiling of my shop. But it was easy to feel through the paper facing to find the edges of the truss.


Under no circumstances would it be considered safe to mount an object as heavy as this (about 25 pounds when empty) to ceiling drywall using any sort of hollow-wall anchor. The only safe mounting method is to use wood screws, cabinet screws, or lag screws driven into the ceiling structure. Drywall screws and many types of deck screws are too brittle for this purpose. Nails are right out.

I built this organizer with the 1x4's spaced at 24" on center, so the strips of wood could be fastened directly below the roof trusses. In some buildings it may be necessary to first attach some 2x4 cleats to the ceiling (running perpendicular to the joists or trusses), and then attach the organizer to the cleats.

The finished product.


Loaded with millwork. These are all shorter pieces, 3' to 5' in length.


For an additional degree of security, I installed a long piece of plumber's tape under each end of the unit. These straps were screwed into the bottom of the truss. If a tube ever becomes loose, these straps should stop it from falling.


Finding These Tubes:

Not everybody does roofing work, so these tubes might not be readily available. However, Ice and Water Shield is widely used, and some of these products have heavy fiber tubes at the center.

I suppose the first place to inquire would be at a local roofing contractor. You might be able to visit a job site and pick up some tubes. Keep your eyes open for roofing jobs and ask the workers if they'll set the tubes aside for you. In some parts of the country the cost of waste hauling is getting expensive, and some builders and roofing contractors may be glad to get rid of some waste products for free.

There are several brands of ice and water shield on the market. I have primarily used Grace brand, so I don't know if other brands have center tubes that are quite as thick as these. The tubes Grace uses are about 1/8" thick. They are so sturdy I can stand on a tube and it won't crush.

Sonotubes could also be used. Sonotubes, or their generic equivalent, are heavy cardboard or fiber tubes used as forms for concrete footings. Sonotubes come in many diameters. I think the smallest I've seen is 6" or 8". Lumberyards and home centers normally stock these.


My Last Warning:

I recommend keeping an object like this out of the reach of children. Even older children might be tempted to hang from the open tubes. I suppose these could resemble gymnastics equipment. I've known a few teenagers that could not possibly walk past something like this without jumping up and hanging from it, just to prove something. If you have any people like that in or around your household, then don't build this.

Remember... if you build this and it comes crashing down on someone's head, it's your fault, not mine.



Tools Used:

  • Basic Carpentry Tools
  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Spade Drill Bit, ½"
  • Step Ladder
  • Table Saw (Optional)
  • Hand Saw


Materials Used:

  • Lumber, 1x4x4'
  • Simpson Strong-Drive Screws, 1¼"
  • Cabinet Screws
  • Plumbers Tape (Perforated Steel Strap)



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Written January 15, 2003