One Way to Build a Crate

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I am not a cratengineer. So I am certain that the way you build crates is better than mine.

My method is the result of a few things:

  1. Observing how hundreds of shipments of books, machines and furniture have been damaged during my last three decades in publishing and furniture making (I have not experienced any damage with my crates, by the way).
  2. Asking my trucking company what I should do to ensure my shipments aren’t damaged.
  3. Using as little material as possible to add as little weight and cubic footage as possible.
  4. Setting a goal of building a crate in less than one hour.
  5. Spending $40 to $50 on materials on average.

My crates are made primarily from 5mm-thick sheets of underlayment, which I can buy for $13 to $16 a sheet. All the interior bracing is made from 1” x 1” pine strips that I rip down from 2x4s. And the skids are 4x4s, which I usually salvage from dumpsters in our neighborhood. The crates are assembled with No. 8 x 1-1/4” self-tapping construction screws. No pilot holes are necessary with these screws. The interior cardboard and bubble wrap are usually salvaged from dunnage that we receive here.

I’m going to do this in a lazy photo-essay style. Here we go.

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  • Measure the piece with care. I don’t skimp on time with this step. Take careful measurements of the depth, width and height of the piece. Then add 2-1/2” to all those measurements to create the size of the “shell” of your crate.
  • Create a cutting list. Again, you’ll get to the automatic, bang-that-crap out in a moment. Take care. I make a cutting list and even a quick plywood optimization sheet so I don’t get turned around when cutting down the plywood. After this, I cut the parts to size. Then I take the 2x4s (I used two in this case) and rip them into 1” x 1” bracing strips.

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  • Cut the bracing strips to length and screw them to the top and the bottom of your crate. Don’t measure. Put a strip up against the plywood, mark it and cut it. I use a bench hook and carcase saw. A chop saw is not faster here.

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  • Cut the skids to length and screw the bottom to the skids. Use lots of screws. Don’t skip the skids. A flat-bottomed crate is much more likely to get fatally forked by a forklift. Skids don’t add much expense, but they add a lot of insurance.

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  • Once I get the base made, I do a quick check to ensure my measurements are correct. I do these “reality checks” with every project – sometimes several times a day – in order to avoid errors. It helps.

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  • Install one of the side pieces. Here you can see how I use the top piece to prop up a side piece as I screw it in place.

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  • Then I start adding more interior bracing strips. Here you can see how I use spring clamps to holds the bracing strips in place while they are screwed down.

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  • Keep working around the base, adding side pieces until you have this sort of enclosure. The top and front should be open so you can add the bracing that immobilizes the object.

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  • Wrap the project in cardboard and bubble wrap where you plan to brace the project to the crate. I usually use three braces: One to restrain it from moving up, and two to restrain it from moving front to back. I haven’t found it necessary (so far) to worry about things moving left and right. The three braces keep things locked down.
  • The interior bracing is 1” x 1” pine. Place it against the cardboard and bubble wrap and press the brace in place. Trace its position on the wall of the crate. Shift the position of the brace and drill some pilot holes through the traced silhouette. Now put the brace in place and screw it down. Don’t get aggressive – you are screwing into end grain so it’s easy to split the brace.

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  • This is what it looks like before I screw the the top and front in place. Don’t forget to include contact information on the inside of the crate in case the label gets ripped off your crate.

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  • If I have any of my one-hour time limit left, I spray paint the Lost Art Press logo on the crate. Just for fun.

I hope this was helpful to someone out there.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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26 Responses to One Way to Build a Crate

  1. Steve C says:

    Great job on the shipping crate. Probably no better than we can do, so I’ll give you a pass. Lol

    Oh hey, been meaning to ask. Aldi’s has their stores stocked with chisels and files again.
    When oh when are you doing a chisel/file review??? 🙂

  2. Dave Louw says:

    Awesome, this was super useful!

  3. Terry West says:

    Your crates might become collector items! “Crates by Chris”

  4. twest1942 says:

    ” Crates by Chris ” new collector item from LAP

  5. Dave says:

    What a fun memory inspired by your post….Right out of high school I got a job at a cabinet shop. Back in the day it was common for kids like me to graduate with more hours of woodshed than hours of math (seriously). At any rate I was a bit humbled that my chief responsibility was crate maker. They would not let me within 10 foot of any of the cabinet work until I proved myself a competent crate maker. I quickly found out they wanted the crates to be dead square and look like and represent the quality of the contents inside. Even the spray painted logo had to be centered with paint evenly applied. As soon as I realized my ticket to working on anything else in the shop depended on how quickly I could produce a crate that looked way better than a crate- I set out to make them with the same passion I would make any other casework. I don’t remember how long they kept me on that job but I do remember the boss saying to me one day- “we need to move you inside- your wasting your talents on crates”.
    Based on my professional experience… your crate gets an A- (no paint overspray allowed on the next crate please)

    • Jamie says:

      Thank you for sharing your experience Dave. I once heard a painting contractor tell us he’d have his apprentices start off by painting the insides of closets until they can prove themselves. Your story is really a testament to where hard work and attention to detail will get you. Also found it pretty cool that Mr. Schwarz tries to recycle as much material as possible- I’ve got as new use for the pallets at work- crates!

  6. Robert Sfeir says:

    The logo is a bit “Raiders of the Lost Arc” feel. I dig it. Also when can we have this logo as a t-shirt?

  7. johncashman73 says:

    Drill some holes and make it look like their might be something live inside.

  8. nrhiller says:

    Excellent, though I feel a twinge of pain for the chair, which appears to be shackled. (I know, that’s the point. But still.)

  9. Andrew Brant says:

    I definitely appreciate it! I couldn’t take my home to really see how it was made and I really appreciate you taking the time to write this up. Thank you

  10. Chris Bame says:

    Great post! really liked the “Reality Checks” part.They become more important with age!!

  11. Danielo says:

    For what it’s worth, I shipped two chairs nested together from Miami to NYC via FedEx 3 Day Ground using a U-Haul Small Wardrobe Double Wall Box. The key element was lining the box with 2 inch thick styrofoam sheets. And the shipping was door to door, not shipped as freight. The chairs arrived in perfect condition.

  12. George L. says:

    What was the chair finished with? I’m guessing the chair is white oak and looks too warm to be a soap finish. Looks nice.

  13. Roland Stewart Chapman says:

    That chair looks beautiful

  14. Roland Stewart Chapman says:

    Where can I find plans to make that chair

  15. Len Meyer says:

    Chris, can you give some insight into your choices for shipping companies or methods? My luck with shipping small furniture pieces cross country in well Styrofoam padded custom heavy duty cardboard boxes has been poor with Fedex home delivery. They manage to drop things and smash corners and sides regularly.

    • Hi Len,

      I don’t use UPS or FedEx except for small items. In general, I use LTL common carriers. Usually I use YRC, but I have also used Old Dominion with good results. I have not had any good experience with Estes.

      Buying freight is like buying lumber. You need to learn the jargon, plus how each carrier works, to get a smooth result. You can save significant money by using LTL (in my experience) and (also in my experience) they are much less likely to destroy your shipment.

      I am certain there are other people who have more experience than me on this blog, however.

      Chris

  16. Rudye says:

    Hi Chris, can you be specific about the brand of screws you are using that don’t need pilot holes? Holes or not, I have a horrible time with screws and electric drills.

    • The brand we have here is Grip-Rite. The home center sells them. They have a Torx head and are self-tapping. I wouldn’t use them for cabinet construction (at least not without a pilot hole). But for crates (and decks) they are perfect.

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