Introduction: Entomology Shipping Boxes

About: I like to make useful things with my laser and 3D printer. I share the best of them here and/or on my Etsy page.

These instructions and files are for sturdy plywood shipping boxes for pinned insect specimens. The boxes are designed to fit a Cornell tray size C, B, or A. Since the instructions are nearly identical for each size, I am only documenting the process for size C. It should be straightforward to assemble the other sizes using the size C directions. Each box has 42mm of vertical space for a specimen which should fit most pins, but not BioQuip #7. These files will work with wood that is 3mm or 1/8th inch thick. I recommend plywood for its strength and low cost.


  1. Laser cutter
  2. Calipers
  3. File
  4. 3mm/1/8th in. plywood (Most plywood has voids filled with glue that the laser can't cut. This plywood is laser-friendly)
  5. 220 grit sandpaper (higher grits optional)
  6. Thin Super Glue, (Thick Super Glue Optional)
  7. Boiled linseed oil (substitute with other oils or stains according to your preference)
  8. Wax for wood, cutting boards, etc. (this will allow the lid to slide smoothly)
  9. Wide Blue Painters' Tape
  10. Old gift card or other card you don't care about (to flatten the tape and ensure that it sticks)
  11. Rubber bands large enough to fit around the box you're making

Step 1: File Selection

The files come in .ai, .svg, .dxf, and .pdf file types. There are also files for each size of Cornell tray, and for wood thicknesses 2.8-3.2 mm.

  1. Download the .rar file that corresponds with the size of box you want to make. If you want to make multiple sizes, start with size C since it's the smallest and will waste less plywood if you make a mistake. Unzip the file with Winrar or similar.
  2. Measure the thickness of the plywood. As long as it is between 2.8 mm and 3.2 mm, it should work.
  3. Select the next largest file size. For example, if you measure the plywood as 2.84 mm, you should select the 2.9 mm files. It's better that the pieces fit together loosely than not at all, so always round up, not down.
  4. Figure out what file type is easiest to send to your laser. If you use the DXF file, be sure to import it with mm as the units.
  5. Now that you know the actual thickness of the plywood, the size of box you want, and the file type for your laser, select the corresponding files.

Step 2: Cutting

  1. Ensure that the kerf on your laser is properly accounted for in your laser control software. If it isn't, then your pieces will not fit properly. Helpful info on kerf
  2. Tape the top of your plywood and then use the gift card to flatten any wrinkles and ensure that the tape is well adhered to the surface. Flip it over and do the same for the bottom. This will keep char and smoke marks from disfiguring your pieces.
  3. Cut your pieces and remove them from the laser.

Step 3: Initial Assembly

  1. Remove the tape from each piece and lightly sand each side with 220 grit parallel to the grain to remove splinters.
  2. Assemble the pieces as shown in photos 3-8. Don't use any glue yet. If they are too tight to fit together, you either measured the thickness of the plywood incorrectly, or more likely, overcompensated for the kerf. If they are too loose, you might have measured the thickness incorrectly or undercompensated for the kerf. Make adjustments and try again.
  3. Put two rubber bands around the box to keep the pieces in place. Set aside the four remaining pieces for now. They will make the lid later.

Step 4: Gluing and Final Assembly

  1. Drip thin super glue sparingly along the bottom seams of the box from the inside. Still on the inside, put a drop in the middle of each seam between vertical sides. Take care not to let the glue seep through to the rubber bands on the other side.
  2. After a minute, remove the rubber bands and apply glue liberally along all of the interior seams of the box as shown in photos 1 and 2.
  3. Continue to add glue anywhere two pieces meet, such as the tabs on the outside of the box or anywhere else that feels loose.
  4. Attach the thin piece as shown in photo 3. Make sure it is aligned properly. The largest remaining piece will have to slide under it later. Once it is aligned, glue it thoroughly in place. Repeat this step for the other thin piece on the opposite side.
  5. Wait at least a minute for the glue to fully dry. Then see if the largest remaining piece will slide under the two thin pieces you just added. If it doesn't, sand it down with the 220 grit on the sides or top, depending on which dimension isn't fitting. Don't worry yet if it's too loose. That can be fixed later.
  6. Slide the piece 3/4 of the way into the box as shown in photo 7.
  7. Put the piece with an oval hole on top of the flat piece that is partially sticking out of the box as shown in photo 8. If it doesn't fit, sand down the edges until it does. Glue it in place via the inside of the oval and the edge that sticks out as shown in photos 9 and 10. Be careful not to drip glue onto the rest of the box.
  8. After a minute, remove the lid from the box and finish gluing along all the edges as shown in photo 11.
  9. After another minute, check that the lid fits. You should be able to pull it out without too much difficulty, but it should not fall out on its own even if the box is shaken violently. If it's too tight, sand down the bottom of the lid and/or use a file to sand down the inside of the box where the lid is binding. See photo 11. Keep in mind that the wax you will add next will make the lid easier to open, so don't sand too much. If the lid is too loose, build up a layer of super glue at the rightmost edge of the bottom of the lid where it rests above the side of the box. Do one layer at a time and check if it fits better only after the glue is fully dried. This works better with the thick super glue than the thin. See the last photo.

Step 5: Sanding

  1. Sand all the sharp edges and corners down with 220 grit.
  2. Sand all the sides of the box parallel to the grain with 220 grit.
  3. Continue sanding with higher grits (Optional)

Step 6: Oil, Wax, and Add Tray

  1. Apply boiled linseed oil (or stain or other oil according to your preference), to the outside surfaces of the box and lid.
  2. Apply wax to the contact points on the lid so that it slides smoothly without binding. If it's still too hard to slide it in and out, wipe off the wax and sand down the contact points further.
  3. Insert a size C Cornell tray, but don't glue it in place. It should fit tightly enough that it won't come out on its own, but you can still pry it out if it gets dirty and needs to be replaced.
  4. Add specimens!