DIY Durable Lightweight Box?
May 14, 2013 5:10 PM   Subscribe

I need to build a durable lightweight rectangular box. Interior dimensions of about 36"x12"x6". What materials should I consider?

This box needs a lid that lifts away entirely, so no hinges. Also, the lid would ideally be deeper than the base of the box. So base + lid would be 6" but ideally the base of the box could actually be 3 inches.

What are the considerations for a lid that is deeper than the box it covers? What kind of latches should I look at for strength?

The purpose of this box is to permanently contain musical equipment.. and I would like to be able to carry it with backpack straps.

I know a little bit about woodworking but not enough to know how to build a box like this off the top of my head, or if it would be very heavy.

I looked for ready made boxes but they're very expensive and either way too big or way too small, this is a case where a larger box than necessary would be undesirable.

The box needs to be able to withstand bouncing around on my back and the general rigors of transportation through the streets of New York City. I plan to put a lot of foam in it to keep everything safe.

What materials should I even be looking at? Plywood? Sheet metal?
posted by TheKM to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could use Coroplast reinforced with wire rod edges and either mechanically fastened, glued, or heat-welded at the joints, like the USPS mail bins.

Size it to fit the instruments and your chosen type of pick & pluck diced foam insert and you'll have a customizable, lightweight but slightly flexible case.
posted by a halcyon day at 5:16 PM on May 14, 2013

It may be a big dyi project but carbon fiber meets both the light and strong requirements. Note the square tube on the banner, there may be something that can be re-purposed to get 80% there.
posted by sammyo at 5:32 PM on May 14, 2013

Response by poster: a halcyon day:
How rugged is the Coroplast? How.. do you even fasten something like that? It looks interesting.

This box needs to hold around $3K worth of business though, so whatever it's made out of the number one thing is that it mustn't ever suddenly fall apart while it's on my back.

Hrm, carbon fiber would be cool but I don't know anything about working with that. Is that hard or expensive to get into?
posted by TheKM at 5:39 PM on May 14, 2013

Plywood is going to be 7-10 lbs. Sheet metal would be better, but you're probably not going to teach yourself to work sheet metal just for this project. I would recommend asking a professional machinist. It's a simple enough design that he should be able to give you an estimate quickly.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:05 PM on May 14, 2013

$3K worth of stuff? Have you already looked into available music/equipment cases? If you can find one (in the size you need) made of rigid plastic and lined with foam, it will likely be lighter weight than something you could build yourself. You can also get them custom made.
posted by orme at 6:05 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding orme: I wouldn't feel comfortable with 3K of fragile anything on my back every day in something I'd home built to avoid the cost of a product that's been tested. But YMMV and if you're trying to save money, you could DIY something that will likely work— you just have to be much more diligent about inspecting it. What sort of weight are we talking about here?

The trouble with composites including carbon fiber is they take a lot of practice and pricey material to get the impregnation and layup right to the point where it's strong, and also the molds you have to make (whether you do positive/negative with clamps, or use a vacuum bag setup) are large, cumbersome, and can get expensive rapidly. Add to that the difficulty of reinforcing or co-molding the areas you need to add hinges, strap points, or latches and your project may be beyond your expertise if you've never worked with composites.

Coroplast is super rugged for its light weight, and also inexpensive. That's why the USPS makes those bins from it, and why you can buy a very light portfolio box for $10–20. The joints in those postal bins are made by fusing the layers together under heat and pressure, which you could do at home, or use a combination of solvent glue + mechanical fasteners to make strong, rigid joints.

I don't know exactly what your needs are— could you fit everything in a giant messenger backpack with a foam insert and a minimal rigid plate for protection?
posted by a halcyon day at 6:41 PM on May 14, 2013

Here's a video detailing how someone put their pedal board together, and married it to a thrift shop suitcase. Looks super easy and mighty durable. You might want to consider a more permanent arrangement than velcro on carpet though. You could probably use this as a basic template and just switch out the suitcase for something with shoulder straps, and the velcro for a more permanent mount (if you don't want to be re-arranging or swapping-out components).

There are a lot of musicians who have figured out solutions for themselves on how to do this sort of thing—my friend used to just screw everything to the bottom of an old skateboard. I'd recommend googling around for DIY "pedal board" or "pedal box" and seeing what others have come up with.
posted by carsonb at 7:32 PM on May 14, 2013

Some things you may want to consider:
•$3,000 worth of gear? If your woodworking skills are rusty, do you really want to trust $3k in gear to your woodworking abilities?
•Is it insurable in a DIY case? (Is this a factor?)
•Have you priced general or even ATA-rated cases from makers like Platt and Pelican vs. the cost of the tools and materials you'd need to produce an adequate product yourself?

I've built custom cases for synths and recording gear out of 3/16 plywood around a hardwood frame. To do it right (metal corner braces and bumpers, good latches and hinges, Tolex or carpeting to cover it, good foam padding) and to buy/rent the tools you might not have, it can all quickly add up to be more expensive than just buying an off-the-shelf or custom case from a reliable builder.

Not trying to discourage you from a DIY (because building things is awesome!) but make sure you do the math on building vs. buying before you make a decision, and make sure you're 100% comfortable with your abilities if you do choose DIY. For $3k in contents, I'd want to be damn sure I knew exactly what I was doing. :\
posted by xedrik at 8:13 PM on May 14, 2013

Response by poster: The weight of the equipment is only about 15 pounds. I'm leaning towards DIY because I really just want the perfect box and also because I might have spend all the money on the instruments.
posted by TheKM at 8:31 PM on May 14, 2013

Response by poster: •$3,000 worth of gear? If your woodworking skills are rusty, do you really want to trust $3k in gear to your woodworking abilities?
•Is it insurable in a DIY case? (Is this a factor?)
•Have you priced general or even ATA-rated cases from makers like Platt and Pelican vs. the cost of the tools and materials you'd need to produce an adequate product yourself?

Insurance isn't a factor.
I looked at Pelican and they had nothing in the size that I want. Their cases look like they'd be great for just transportation, but a case that's too is going to be bulky and annoying, and a case that doesn't have the length I need isn't going to work.

The intention is that I can lay the entire case on the the upper tier of a double tier keyboard stand, or directly on a single tier keyboard stand.. lift the lid, and begin using everything immediately. The reason I want the lid deeper than the base is so that I can put a light weight controller keyboard in on top of my synths, without having an undesirable lip around my synths.

I've been looking at ready made cases, I even considered modifying a bass case or other rectangular instrument case.. but the dimensions just don't seem to be there and aside from bass cases(which everyone seems to have one more of than they need) instrument cases are really expensive and the wrong size.

Since I'm not looking for just a storage/transportation case but actually a box that integrates my hardware into a single unit, ready for action, I figured that maybe I should go whole hog and try to build something that will meet all my requirements.

As I said above, the equipment is actually fairly light and if I wasn't trying to cheat and shove my controller in there, it's pretty small too.

I think I'm going to investigate the coroplast. I'll definitely talk with someone with more experience before I commit everything.
posted by TheKM at 10:42 PM on May 14, 2013

Look into Fiberglass. While it's not as sexy as carbon fiber, it's easy enough to work with, and can be made strong enough to be stepped/sat on.
posted by Sophont at 11:02 PM on May 14, 2013

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