DIY custom-fitted shipping boxes - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #1 of 2 Old 12-30-09, 02:02 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Ocean Springs, MS
Posts: 17
DIY custom-fitted shipping boxes

Build a custom-fitted shipping box.

So, you want to ship something electronic, and you don’t have the original box & packing. What can you do?
1) Get a generic box, and stuff the product in there with yards of bubble wrap.
2) Take it to the UPS or FedEx and pay them pack it for you.
3) Make your own custom box!
I’m going to give you my take on option #3.

This specific project came about because a friend of mine in San Antonio ('rather' on the Emotiva Audio forum) found a deal on some Mirage M3’s in Los Angeles, and contacted me to see if I could help acquire them. Being a sucker for vintage API products, I decided that I needed to help him out – because I was going to own yet another unnecessary pair of speakers if I didn’t!

Once I got the speakers (which were in very good shape), rather wondered, “How do we ship them with no boxes?” My answer was, “I’ll build some, no problem. I’ll get you an estimate for materials cost.” I’d done this sort of thing before, as a manufacturer’s representative and distributor. Sometimes, you end up with samples/demos with no boxes, and they need to ship safely to Timbuktu, so you work it out.

The sample product to be shipped: Mirage M3’s. These are tall, wide, bipolar tower speakers with an integral “foot” that extends forward and backward for stability. They’re 52.5" tall, 18.1" wide, and 8.3" deep – except for the foot, which adds about 1.75” of depth to the front and the back. The tops, sides, and foot are piano gloss black, and the front & back are covered by unusual grilles. They are unusual in that they are made of solid planks of particle board, with openings routed out for the drivers, rather than the more common minimal frames we see these days. They’re fully covered in grille cloth, but what’s important is that they can bear weight, which most grilles can’t.

Design considerations: They’re quite heavy, so they need to be snug in their boxes. If a heavy item can bounce around in the box, it’ll smash the packing material and become more vulnerable to damage. Keep it tight, so it can’t build up momentum sliding this way or that, and it’ll be much safer. On large items, the outside dimensions can be a factor in the freight cost, so that’s another reason to keep the box as compact as possible. However, they need to be protected! I am going to go with 2” thick Styrofoam to pad the speakers (except the foot, more on that later), and thick corrugated cardboard for the boxes. This is fine for FedEx or UPS shipping; for LTL (Less-than-TruckLoad) freight, they need to be marked “Do Not Stack” to keep a pallet of lumber or auto parts from getting stacked on top of them. The “feet” will be protected by 1” thick Styrofoam and some air space. This should make more sense as the build progresses.

Materials: Simple stuff, really.
5 pcs 1” x 48” x 96” Styrofoam insulation sheets from Home Depot ($9.63 each)
1 can 3M Super 77 spray adhesive from Home Depot ($9.99)
4 sheets 48” x 96” single-wall, 200 lb test, corrugated cardboard pads ($10 each from the local Uhaul store)
Masking tape (duct tape may rip the foam apart, masking is much less headache)
Packing tape

The Styrofoam is readily available in several sizes and thicknesses; I chose 1” because it was efficient for this project to use just one thickness in multiple layers. It ordinarily has a smooth plastic film front and back that is pretty kind to delicate finishes.

You can scavenge perfectly usable cardboard from any number of sources, but I needed big sheets to get this done properly. Flat cardboard sheets (from 4’ by 8’ to 3” by 5”) are usually sold as “corrugated pads” for industrial packing & shipping – Uline is a good source if you have time for shipping to you. I paid too much because I was in a hurry.

Electric knife (just like Thanksgiving! I got mine years ago for $10-15, used only for crafts)
Long straightedge (I used my 48” metal ruler, but anything can work)
Tape measure
Knife (preferably serrated, cuts foam better) or box cutter
Square (I used a big one for this project, but as long as you get your cuts & folds lined up at 90 degrees, that’s what matters)

Step 1: Design the necessary box and acquire the above materials & tools
Design the packing, then the box around it. Be sure your packing will overlap appropriately in corners & such, and that your box includes all the flaps and overlaps to fully enclose everything.
My layout includes lots of foam pieces longer than 48”. I am going to make 48” long pieces, and short add-ons of the same width that I will glue to them, to come up with the right size parts without wasting a bunch of foam. I make sure I assemble them with solid sections up against the butted together ones for strength.

Step 2: Measure, mark, and cut the foam
The electric knife is a big help here, but a sharp serrated knife will do. Saws will destroy the foam unless very fine. Blunt knives will tear and mangle the foam.

Step 3: Glue together foam pieces to form tops, bottoms, and sides
Masking tape will help keep pieces together while you work with them. The spray adhesive should sit for 20-30 seconds after you spray it on before you stick the parts together.

Step 4: Notch out your foam as necessary
Most gear has knobs, buttons, or connectors that stick out, and this is where you make sure that nothing is putting pressure on them directly. For the M3’s, the binding posts need some cutouts. For more complex shapes, you may want to start with thinner sheets of foam, making your cutouts layer by layer as you build up, and then glue.

Step 5: Measure, mark, and cut the cardboard
A sharp knife or razor will do nicely. Cut to the size you need, then cut slits so the flaps can fold.

Step 6: Pre-fold the cardboard
Use a straightedge to make sure your folds are crisp and straight, this will greatly ease assembly.

Step 7: Assemble the Styrofoam around the product, on top of the cardboard
This looks kind of like a sarcophagus. Use masking tape to hold it all in place. I made sure to mark the bottom clearly, since the plan is for the speaker to be unpacked from that end (open, fold back the flaps, stand upright, lift off the box the leave the speaker standing there on the Styrofoam base).

Step 8: Glue the box together
Make sure you double check the order of assembly {mine: 1) spray top and sides of Styrofoam with glue 2) spray inside of tops, sides, partial [the ones that will be overlapped] sides, & all the flaps at the top end 3) wait 30 seconds for the glue to cure 4) press partial sides into place against foam 5) press top partial flaps into place against foam 6) spray outside of partial sides & top partial flaps 7) wait 30 seconds 8) press sides into place against partial sides & foam 9) press top side flaps into place against top partial flaps & foam 10) spray outsides of top side flaps 11) wait 30 seconds 12) press top flaps into place against top side flaps & foam }! You want one end of the box to be fully glued shut, the other not. The sides where the cardboard halves overlap must be fully glued to make sure they stay together. You can see that I had “extra” partial flaps doing it this way; I cut them away at the bottom, but retained them and glued them in place at the top. I also glued the foam on the top and sides, but not the bottom or front and back. Be generous with the glue; I used more than a can (but these are big boxes, and I had another partial can on hand).

Step 9: Tape the flaps shut
I use overlapping bands of tape to be certain that it holds with this kind of weight. You may also want to tape up the side “seams”.

Step 10: Mark the boxes as necessary
In this case, that included marking the top, the correct end to open, and “Do Not Stack” (you can’t see that one because I forgot it until later). Note that these are perfectly safe to lay on their sides, tops, whatever – but it’s helpful to indicate the proper orientation.

I hope some of you find this useful!

P.S. The speakers arrived unscathed, and the boxes are still sturdy enough to ship again without a worry!
StereoPackRat is offline  
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post #2 of 2 Old 12-30-09, 02:33 PM
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Mike P.'s Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2007
Location: Chitek Lake, Sask.
Posts: 19,397
Re: DIY custom-fitted shipping boxes

Great post! I need to ship a vintage JVC PC-55 ghetto blaster, I now know how. Thanks!
Mike P. is offline  


boxes , custom-fitted , shipping

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