The Art of Cardstacking

We’ve all encountered the phrase a house of cards, which leads us to think of a weak, unstable structure. Usually, this notion is correct. However, those that make a hobby of Card Stacking can build surprisingly strong structures, amazing scale models, and mind-boggling domes and even arches. All this can be done without bending, cutting, taping, gluing, or otherwise modifying and attaching the cards.

For the past decade, I’ve been one of the few that take the hobby of card stacking to the extreme. While I don’t yet compare to the one person who has made a profession out of card stacking, I like to think of myself as an experienced amateur.

It all started with ‘villages’ my brother and I built as young children, which were groups of simple one-story card houses. At some point, I got the idea of adding a second floor. I can still recall finally accomplishing that small feat. I seriously underestimated the strength of the first floor, still under the typical impression that card houses are feeble structures always on the verge of imploding.

It was at a later point before I really mastered multi-story buildings and started making a hobby of it. At this point I had switched to using 3” x 5” index cards. I primarily focused on building towers, and by the time I was in high school I had produced buildings in the excess of 10 feet high, entirely constructed with plain index cards that were not attached by anything other than gravity.

A turning point came after I finally ordered Stacking the Deck, a book authored by the world’s only professional card stacker, Bryan Berg. While I had already developed many of the techniques he uses, Berg’s skill and accomplishments even surprised me. I set to work building many of the projects he discusses in the book, as well as venturing off with some of my own designs.

–Inside a Card House–

Before looking at the structure of well built card houses, let’s consider the materials. Playing cards are most commonly used, and that’s what Bryan Berg has been using for all of his world records. I have nothing against playing cards, but I don’t use them much- for one reason, they are pricey. My personal favorite is the business card; it’s smaller and allows me to add more detail in the same amount of space. I’ve been fortunate to obtain boxes of old business cards for free; otherwise, I would be stuck with index cards, which are flimsier but quite budget friendly.

To build a neat, strong house of cards you must master a very simple four-card cell. See the animation to the left for a demonstration. Once this is assembled you can add as many cards as necessary, put a roof on, and repeat. Building towers requires repetitive and consistent assembly of these ‘grids’ or ‘honeycombs’ as I sometimes call them.

One subtle but important thing I learned in Berg’s book is the careful attention that needs to be given to selecting a proper pattern for roofs on card house towers. Uneven roofing over many floors looks bad, and worse, handicaps your ability to build tall structures.

–What I’ve Built–

Thousands of words will not do the justice that pictures can. Without further adieu, then, here is a selected gallery of some of the things I’ve built (Click on images for larger views):

Bowling Pin: A 56 inch tall, 18 story index card house in the shape of a bowling pin. Yes, I later knocked it down with a real bowling ball.

Rainbow Dome: A giant rainbow-colored dome rests atop a couple of dozen posts- all made of index cards (and nothing else).

Sears Tower: Now called the Willis Tower, Chicago’s famous black skyscraper is replicated below as a 46 story (nearly 8 feet high) card house, made with a few thousand business cards.

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Florida: The picture says it all.

Lots of Weight: A full 30 volume set of encyclopedias, three bowling balls, and more. All that sits on a five story index card structure, pictured left. Once again, nothing but plain index cards make up the building. It imploded only after I placed 250 pounds on it. (Yes, I did stand on it, successfully)

My Tallest Tower: Below, my tallest card house ever- over 5,000 business cards, and 72 stories tall. That’s 12 feet, 1.5 inches. I had to stop building there- since there was only an inch of ceiling space left.

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Failure is common: Whether it’s just a few cards or an entire building, there’s always a problem here and there. You’ve just got to learn from it and move on. To the right is an arch I built, which was unable to stand on it’s own after I took out the supports. Previously, I was successful in building a slightly smaller arch. Arches are the hardest structure to build, in my experience.

Not Limited to Cards: You can apply similar principles to other materials and built some interesting structures. To the left are three pictures of Styrofoam cup-stacking, and a relatively expensive six story structure made of Federal Reserve Notes.

–Demolition–


Click here to see an image of the card house above.

Next to the building process, one of the most rewarding things is- surprisingly- taking down your card house. There are all sorts of creative ways to do it. Most recently I used foam bullets, but I’ve also used bowling balls, remote control vehicles, fans, or just my hands. In Stacking the Deck, Berg said it was possible to pull a string through a card house without knocking it down. That was hard to believe- and I was shocked that I was able to replicate that feat on my first attempt.

Demolition is also one of the best opportunities to learn about the building’s structure and improve on future work. More often than not, they can take quite a beating before actually collapsing.

–Thank You, Bryan Berg–


Stacking the Deck is an excellent book- for everyone. The pictures and descriptions alone are very enjoyable, whether or not you intend to build. And if you’d like to impress your friends- or just yourself, you will find the instructions easy to follow.

Thanks to Brian Berg for pioneering this unique hobby, and most of all, for showing me there’s virtually no limit with plain ol’ cards.

Since I ‘hit the ceiling’ with my 72 story business card tower, I’ve taken somewhat of a break- working on smaller projects here and there. I don’t know what the future holds, but given the opportunity, I intend to keep building bigger and better. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to take a shot at the world record. I’m nearly half way there…

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