Make your own columns for a wedding reception. We are using the cardboard tubes from our nearest carpet store, painting them white, and zip tying 3 of them together, then decorating with tulle and twinkle lights. The only cost is the tulle and lights.
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How do I make cheap columns? Has anyone ever made them out of PVC piping?
I've never made any columns out of PVC pipe, but I am sure it could be done. You might consider the paper rolls from inside carpet rolls (from a carpet stoor or carpet supplier) also. They are large (long and around) and heavy weight. I would imagine you could obtain some free from a carpet store or "home depot" type store, or surely they wouldn't charge you much for something they trash probably. Also cardboard (even paper) can be painted, believe it or not, whereas the PVC would be a bit trickier to paint, but if you used white and wanted white anyway, no painting at all.
Go to a building supply (like for a furniture shop) and ask for heavy cardboard cylinders. They come in different diameters, and are sold by the foot. Used primarily to be covered with "curved wood" like woodworker's tambour (also available at the same shop). You can build really beautiful columns with these materials, but they're on the expensive side.
You could also just use the heavy cardboard cylinders and add texture with common spackle or marbleize them using several different faux-painting techniques. Actually, we need a lot more information in order to give you an educated estimate of how and what you need or can do.
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Someone posted a suggestion about making columns from boxes awhile back. I can't find it now. I ordered boxes from Uline, but would love to see pictures of the finished product.