Introduction: The QuickSilver (Ammo Can Silverware Organizer)

About: Always looking for things to improve, repair, improvise, or modify. Studied mechanical engineering and physics at Stanford with a focus on robotics and international development. Some favorite topics are elec…
Over the last few years I've worked as a rafting guide, we've gone through at least two different silverware storage and organization systems.  The first was haphazard.  The second was organized but, despite some calling it "The Quicksilver," required an unacceptable amount of time and effort to retrieve silverware.  I sought a better solution.  A solution that required close to no time or effort.  This Instructable is about that search.  This project (finally) puts the quick in Quicksilver.

Having said all that, and even though this project is crafted from high-resolution components and seems final, I would still categorize it as a prototype.  There's a lot I learned throughout the creation that I would alter or replace in the next iteration.  I don't know when or if that next iteration will take place, but I wanted to share this stepping stone because it's still a neat way to store silverware for rafting trips.

The final product holds plenty of forks, knives, and spoons in a spring-loaded tray for easy access and also hides a cavity underneath to store can openers, corkscrews, and the like.  All contained in a 50 cal ammo can, the standard for miscellaneous rafting storage.

For this Instructable, I'm going to share the steps to make each individual part, and then have a final assembly at the end with good photos, at which point you can tighten all the nuts and bolts and lock washers down to their full tightness.

Step 1: Supplies & Tools


- 50 cal ammo can
- zinc plated punched steel angle
- punched flat steel bar
- 12 x 24 x .03" steel sheet
- bolts
- nuts
- washers
- lock washers
- rubber U-channel (McMaster)
- silver spray paint
- hinge
- machine screws
- silverware!
- springs (Serv-a-lite #11 conical)
- adhesive rubber feet/stoppers (to keep the springs from bending incorrectly)


- bandsaw
- wrench/screwdriver/pliers
- punch or drill/drill press
- sheet metal shear/angle shear

Step 2: Decide on Dimensions

The structure inside the ammo can has two usable cavities for storing stuff - the lower cavity (where I intend to store can openers, corkscrews, etc.) and the silverware tray (forks, knives, spoons).  The dimensions you pick for each will depend on how much stuff you need to hold in each section.  For example, perhaps you have lots of random stuff to store in the bottom cavity, like cutting knives, garlic presses, spatulas, channel locks, and so forth, and you only need a few forks/knives/spoons; in this case, you'd want to make the bottom cavity fairly large at the expense of the tray depth.  In my case, we sometimes need to bring 30+ forks on a trip and typically only have a can opener and a corkscrew underneath, so I made sure the tray was deep enough to hold the forks.  For this Instructable, since there are so many variables and different parts, I'm going to give a big picture description of the process and let you decide dimensions.

Keep in mind there is some depth taken up by miscellaneous parts inherent in the design - hinge, nuts, bolts, the tray itself, and so on.  Also remember that the depth you choose for the tray will influence the angle the dividers need to have so that the tray can open and be lifted to reach the bottom cavity.  Lots of random dimensioning to consider, and definitely not trivial - think about it and prototype with cardboard before you begin.  I did, and I still had to change a lot throughout the project, and I still have more to change!

My final dimensions were about 3" deep for the tray and 3.25" for the cavity, with the miscellaneous parts taking up about 1/2" of depth.

Step 3: Make Internal Frame

First, you need to cut the angle strips to the correct lengths - 4 legs and 2 cross bars.  Then you need a short piece of the flat punched bar to connect the rear two legs together to create a single structure.  The legs I cut were THISLONG long, and the cross bars were THISLONG long.  Give some thought to where you choose to cut the pieces, because you want the holes to line up in a way that's beneficial to the design; i.e. you'd rather have the angled bars resting on the legs, not just on the bolts holding them together.  You also want to make sure the top cross bars are symmetrical - that their holes mirror each other across the ammo can - for the hinge assembly and front strut.

Connect two legs to each cross bar.  Check the photo below of the end to see how I left some of the cross bars overhanging, mostly to give room to the bolt heads on the cross strut.

Then, drop the two assemblies into the ammo can and measure for the cross strut, which will be cut from the flat punched bar.  Keep in mind that you don't only have to measure how wide a piece you want to cut overall, but also where you want to cut so the holes line up!  Once you do this and attach it (see photos), you have the base frame almost complete.  

All you need now is to add the cross strut across the top in the front and the hinge assembly.  For the former, cut a piece of the flat punched bar (keeping the hole lineup in mind) or make your own with the steel sheet you have.  With the dimensions I used, I needed to do the latter because the holes didn't line up.  So I cut a piece 1" wide and long enough to reach across, punched a couple holes, and bolted them to the top bars.  

For the hinge assembly, see the photos to get an idea of the geometry I used.  I used a piece of the sheet steel, cut two holes for the hinge and four for the large bolts - two to hold it on to the frame, and two as dummy bolts to eventually attach the springs to.

Now that you have the frame and hinge assembly all done, let's move on to the tray.

Step 4: Make Tray Bottom

Grab the thin steel sheet and get ready to cut!  Also grab your hinge/hinge assembly, because that will help you decide where to punch the hole(s) and the overall dimensions of your tray.  For example, your tray can't be the full length of your ammo can simply because the hinge takes up some of that depth.  So make sure you factor that in when measuring the tray.

Decide dimensions, and cut a piece of the steel sheet to what you need.  To clean it up, make it look nice, and function best, I did the following:
  1. Cut the corners off, maybe 1/4" in on each corner (the inside corners of the ammo can are rounded, so you need to do this
  2. Use the punch to make a semi-circular indentation about 1" in diameter at the center of one end to make it easy to lift the tray
  3. Cut the corners off the semicircle just a bit so no one gets poked or cut while reaching around it
You're done for now - you'll need to punch or drill holes for the divider screws, but that's part of a later step.

Step 5: Make Tray Dividers

The dividers are the crux piece of the project, and in fact allow for the most creativity.  What I mean is that you need to have some profile on the dividers so that hands can comfortably reach between them and not get stuck or feel constrained without having the silverware cross the borders and mix and match.  So you could do the simple, angled design I went for for the profile, you could make a smoother, sinusoidal-style one, you could do a flame profile, whatever you want.

Whatever you choose, here's what I did.
  1. Cut a piece of the sheet steel to the length of the tray bottom and to the remaining height in the ammo can.
  2. Cut angles into the two pieces using a bandsaw or angle shear
One good tactic for making sure they're symmetrical is to cut one completely, then trace its outline on the other sheet, and cut along those lines.  Also, you'll be putting rubber U-channels over the edges so the rough finish a bandsaw leaves isn't anything to go crazy about.  

Let's finish the tray!

Step 6: Finish the Tray

At this point, you have the tray bottom, two dividers, 8 angle brackets, and some nuts and bolts.  The next step is to decide where you want the dividers placed to give the desired amount of space for each category of utensil.  Since the only category we take on trips in a 1:1 ratio with people is forks, that compartment needs to be largest for my use.

I found the following order to make sense:
  1. place one divider on bottom with brackets and mark where you need to punch the holes
  2. punch holes in one divider
  3. lay punched divider on top of second one, align edges, and mark where holes should be punched
  4. punch holes in second divider
  5. attach all the brackets to both dividers
  6. after deciding how wide you want each compartment to be, place the divider-bracket assemblies on the tray and mark where holes need to be punched
  7. punch holes in tray bottom
  8. line up tray bottom with hinge assembly attached to frame and mark where you need to punch hole(s) for hinge to connect to tray
  9. punch hole(s) for hinge
  10. attach dividers to tray bottom
And just like that, you have your (almost) finished tray assembly.

Step 7: Spray Paint

If you want the QuickSilver to live up to its name to the utmost, you need to spray paint it!  I also thought it would be a good idea to spray paint the tray and dividers to decrease the chance of corrosion, especially considering we might be tossing not-quite-dry silverware in there.

Grab the can, tray, and dividers, and head to a good place for spray painting, and get to it!

Step 8: Final Assembly

Follow the photos below and any process you've found to work for putting it all together and tightening all the nuts, bolts, washers, and whatnot.  The only difference from the photos is that I ended up going with 4 springs to really give the tray some springiness in holding up the utensils.

Have fun!

Step 9: For Next Time

Even though you could call this a finished product, I still see it as a prototype.  I learned a great deal from the building process and there would definitely be things I'd do differently if I were to build a 2.0 edition.  Among them:
  1. Make it lighter.  Focus more on total weight, eliminate unnecessary parts.  This design is fairly bulky, and I'd like to streamline it.
  2. Simpler.  Too many fasteners and different pieces to break, corrode, become misaligned, or get lost.
  3. Better spring system.  The springs worked out OK, but a better way of making the tray angle upward would be good.
  4. Linkage tray.  Instead of springs, perhaps I could make a fishing tackle-style linkage that lifts the tray out of the box and rests it on the outer rim of the ammo can.
  5. Lots of other things!  I'm sure as I get it out on the river this summer, I (and all my coworkers) will find improvements.  Maybe the 2nd edition will be a mid-summer release!