Box me in.
September 22, 2007 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I want to know how to make my own boxes.

I often need to ship things, or store things, and rarely have the box I want. They can be made from matte board, cardboard, coriplast. All I know is that I suck at it. They come out sloppy and crooked. Yes, I measure. Are there any good books on this that focus on the structural aspect as opposed to putting pretty paper and gilt on an existing box? Also, is there a good resource for making simple SIMPLE wooden boxes using hand tools? What are your secrets?

For what it's worth, my vocational test in high school said I should be a cardboard box designer. Liars!
posted by mecran01 to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This may be pointing out the obvious, but wooden boxes for shipping = crates, and you get much better results googling "how to build crates".
posted by smackfu at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2007

Best answer: I am not a cardboard box maker, but I've had to buy them in bulk for specific projects. Here is what I would do.

Tools needed: Good, long t-square and pencil for marking (a metal t-square can help with creases.) A ruler, and maybe also a tape measure. Glue and tape as needed. Box cutter. Something long, and with a thin but sturdy edge for making the creases. And a carpenter's square (not the kind attached to a ruler, they may be called combination squares at your local hardware stores; we always called them speed squares) is good for making sure you have straight right angles when you cut.

Find a cardboard box you don't need and carefully dismantle it. There should be a seam somewhere where the box has been glued together to make the square tube shape. Once you've got it deconstructed, lay it out flat and notice how it's cut. Box manufacturers will make a cutting die in that shape and size to make that box. You're not going to, since it it expensive and time consuming. (Die charges are pretty hellacious)

Now you have an idea of what kind of shape you need to cut out. Of course, you'll have to vary this to match the size you need; a little practice will help you figure out what measurements correspond to what.

When you fold, you need to make a good crease before you fold. A long metal ruler, or anything long enough with a slim but sturdy edge will do the trick. What you're trying to do it break the fibers in the cardboard. Mark where you need the crease, and then use the edge of the ruler to push down into the material enough to make it.

Once you've got the shape cut and creased, THEN you're able to start folding. Fold the box into the square tube shape, and then tape or glue the overlap together. Then fold and tape as needed.

As far as small wooden boxes, I haven't built many of those; most of my wooden box making has involved making large shipping crates, involving power tools. But if you have a woodworkers' store in your area, they should be able to tell you anything you need to know to get started on something like this. Bonus: A lot of these stores are run by older guys, and they love to talk about this stuff, so if you get the right shop, you'll be able to learn a ton.
posted by azpenguin at 11:50 AM on September 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

I worked for a while as a shipping manager; we used to deal with awkwardly sized boxes for our software all the time. This was with cardboard, but cardboard is MUCH cheaper than wood for shipping.

In order to fit odd-sized shapes, we'd take a larger box than we needed, and use a carpet knife to cut it down- this is a hooked blade, with the inside curve sharpened. This gave you a sharp edge for slicing and a flat edge for creasing.

Basically, we'd extend the existing cuts farther down, and used a straightedge and the dull edge of the knife to create a new crease. HTH!
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:52 PM on September 22, 2007

The tool for making creases used to be called a "bone folder". I have no idea why I know this, and I'm sure they are plastic now. It looked like a collar stay on steroids, with a round end and a pointy end.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 12:55 PM on September 22, 2007

The Pepin Press, has a great series on how to make boxes...they are available from amazon too.
posted by extrabox at 12:59 PM on September 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help thus far!

bone folders
posted by mecran01 at 1:21 PM on September 22, 2007

Response by poster: Mr. McGroovy's box rivets.

These look interesting.
posted by mecran01 at 3:12 PM on September 22, 2007

An excellent adhesive for sealing the flaps to make the bottom is water glass / Sodium silicate pdf. I use it for other things but the instructions for boxes are printed on the bottle.
posted by hortense at 7:33 PM on September 22, 2007

For shipping, depending on the object, you don't really need to make a full box.
  1. Choose the largest direction of your object (x), and measure the distance around the object in the other two directions (y). For example, for an 8x2x2 box x=8 and y=8.
  2. Find a piece of corrugate that is 6" wider than x and 1-2" longer than y (14" x 10" for our example).
  3. Line up one of the long edges of your object with the 14" edge of the corrugate, in the middle (3" overhand on each side).
  4. Start rolling your object up in the corrugate. When you are done there should be a 1" overhanging flap.
  5. Glue the flap down with white glue, and hold it in place with elastics, or binder clips (remember, there is some overhand), or whatever, and let dry.
  6. Form pieces to plug the ends of the roll. For the example, they would be 2"x4", a 2"x2" centre, with 1" flaps on each side.
  7. Glue the flaps, and insert the plug into the end of the roll on each side.
The cross section will be something like this:
--------------  ] object [--------------
The key benefit, it can be dropped on either end with very little effect to your object. Problem, it can't take punctures well, because your object doesn't have any buffer from the corrugate. Another problem, a drop that just happens to impact along the long edge won't be absorbed by packaging, so something very brittle might not survive very well.

I developed this after looking at books mailed by Indigo (a large book seller in Canada). The technique is great for books because drops on corners, which would otherwise cause a lot of damage, are absorbed by the overhang. At the same time, drops along the long surfaces/edges wouldn't harm a book, so the lack of padding in that direction isn't an issue.
posted by Chuckles at 8:42 PM on September 22, 2007

Response by poster: The Pepin press stuff looks like a great source of templates and patterns, but I need just some basic mechanical assistance at this point. So far, using an improvised bone folder has made a big difference.
posted by mecran01 at 1:04 PM on September 25, 2007

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