Introduction: Making an "English Fit" Pistol Case Out of a Cigar Box

I was recently given an empty cigar box, and was looking around for something to store in it when I thought of the BB pistol  I use for target practice in the garage.  I had recently purchased a laser sight and red dot sight for it, and needed some secure place to store all the parts to keep them from getting lost or damaged.  The cigar box looked like it was about the right size, and deep enough I could add a removable tray to hold additional items.

I have made custom fitted inserts for carrying cases before (see here for examples) using laminated cardboard to make a block, and cutting out an outline of the contents.  In those cases, there was a lot more space, but with the pistol and two sights in the cigar case, there wasn't much space left over; cutting a solid block of cardboard would leave little left behind, and would probably be too flimsy.  I decided to stick with the cardboard, which is free and easy to work with, but use more of an "English fit", or partitioned style.  This would let me build up the shapes, rather than cutting them out, and as long as the partitions are supported at each end, would produce a sturdy insert.

Tools required:
razor knife
cutting board
sharp scissors
hot glue gun

empty cigar box or similar container of a suitable size
felt (the thick stuff sold by the yard, not the thin stuff sold in small sheets; you want the fabric to be able to stretch)
corrugated cardboard
hot glue
spray glue

Ribbon to use as handles
Tissue or other paper to cover exposed cardboard
Elastic band, needle and thread to make hold-down straps

Step 1: Deciding on the Layout

First, try arranging the items in various ways, until you manage to get them spaced evenly in the middle, with a small amount of space (at least one thickness of cardboard) along the outside and between each item.  Think about how the partitions will flow between the items; curves are acceptable, just remember you need to have each end of each partition anchored to something to provide strength.  You don't need to fit tightly around every surface of each item, but you do need to provide a fairly tight fit along enough points to securely hold the items in place. 

If the items don't lay flat, that's OK, because you can build up underneath the shallow portions to raise them up so the item sits level.

Step 2: Buiding the Base

Now we build the base of our insert, which in this case is just an open topped box that fits down securely into the cigar box.  This made by measuring strips of the desired thickness (1.5" in this case) to form four sides, then cutting out a rectangle that will fit inside them.  The edges are tacked together using hot glue, and once the fit is verified, a bead of hot glue along each inside edge provides a secure joint.  Note the vertical orientation of the corrugations; that will be important later when we start cutting the partitions.

Once the box is made, the items can be placed inside and traced to provide a guide to use when we start to add the partitions.  You'll need to keep the items handy while you add the partitions, so you can keep checking the fit as you go.

Step 3: Adding the Partitions

The first step is to add height where needed to level the items.  In this case, I needed one layer of cardboard to level the laser sight, and two layers to level the dot sight.  You can use simple rectangles, like I did here, or cut out a more complex shape if desired.

Now we start to cut and add the partitions.  The partitions do not need to be as high as the sides, and in fact it is easier to cover the partitions if they are lower.  They do need to come about halfway up the sides of the items to provide a secure hold, so keep that in mind when you choose the height.  I chose one inch, since that is how wide my ruler is, and that allowed me to use the ruler as a cutting guide to get straight, consistent partitions.

Whenever you join two partitions at an angle, make sure to use a fillet of hot glue to provide strength.

Step 4: Finish Up Partitions

Keep adding the partitions, making sure to get a good, solid glue joint along each edge and use fillets where possible for additional stiffness.  To make a curved partition, make a slit along each corrugation on the outside of the curve.  This will allow the cardboard to be bent into curves with a fairly small radius.  Doubling up on the partitions will make them stronger, especially when they are curved, since the extra layer makes up for the stiffness lost when cutting the outer surface of the curve.

In this case, the back of the grip left a fairly large open area.  Rather than try to fill this with cardboard (which was done by the laser sight) a couple of pieces of cardboard were put at the widest area of the curve to provide strength, and the void was filled with paper.  The paper was crumpled up and stuffed firmly into each section.

Leave a small amount of space around each item, since we are going to be covering this with felt.  The felt will provide padding and take up the extra space, and will hide the cardboard and leave you with an attractive surface.

Step 5: Add Felt

Now cut a piece of felt at least a few inches larger than the outside of the box.  Starting at one corner (I started in the upper left) slide an item into place, and hold it down while you stretch the felt into shape.  Keep going, and item at a time, pressing down and stretching the felt, until you get the felt down into the partitions, and passing over the edge with a minimum of wrinkles.  Since we fit the insert tightly into the cigar box, we're not going to wrap the felt around the outside, but instead glue it down to the top edge with a bead of hot glue, and trim it along the edge.  A few wrinkles are OK, they can be glued down with a dot of hot glue and trimmed off even.

After you have the felt fitted, carefully flip everything over and pull the cardboard up off the felt.  Spray the felt and cardboard with spray glue, and then quickly slide the cardboard back in place, and flip everything over.  You'll need to work the felt back down into the partitions quickly, while the glue is still tacky.  Work from the middle out, smoothing out the wrinkles and pushing the felt down onto the tops and sides of the partitions to get a smooth surface.

When the felt is as smooth as you can get it, use the hot glue gun to run a bead along the outer top of the insert, a few inches at a time.  Press the felt firmly down onto the glue.  If you have a wrinkle along the edge, just pinch it flat and glue down the sides.

Once the glue has set around the outside, get a good sharp pair of scissors, and cut the felt as close to the edge as possible, all the way around.  Put a bit of glue inside each wrinkle, and push it down along the edge, then use a razor knife to trim any felt and/or glue that goes past the edge.

When you're done, the insert should fit snugly into the cigar box.  A loop of ribbon wrapped around the insert and sticking up on the sides will allow you to slide it out if needed, though that is optional on the bottom layer.

Step 6: Making the Shelf

The shelf is made much like we started the bottom layer, only this time we leave a little extra space so the shelf will slide in and out
easily.  Like the bottom insert, the sides are assembled first, and then the bottom panel is placed inside.  Since the laser sight and red dot sight sit up above the edges of the bottom, I placed the shelf sides into place on top of the bottom, with all items present, then carefully set the shelf's bottom into place, and glued it in.  This placed the bottom part of the way up the sides, and left a space to glue in a rectangle of felt for padding.

Since the sides are visible, I covered the shelf in a layer of green tissue paper, using spray glue and smoothing the wrinkles flat and trimming the excess.  The picture shows the bottom side, which has loops of ribbon hot-glued in place, with the felt glued on afterwards to cover the ends.  The top of the shelf is also lined with felt.

Step 7: Add Elastic Strip for Holding Assorted Items in Place

Since the contents of the shelf may change, adding partitions could be problematic.  One way to maximize the amount of storage and still providing some security against shifting is to provide one or more elastic straps under which items may be secured.  Cut the elastic slightly shorter than the desired length, so it will lay flat and provide some tension even for thin items.  In this case, I used a wide band (because I had that size handy) and placed it across the middle, so it would hold the CO2 cartridges and the container of BBs.  A row of stitches across the middle gives me two sections in which to place items, and provides a more secure hold than a single span of elastic would.  A more flexible approach might use three or four thin strips of elastic, evenly spaced, with a couple of rows of stitches at, say, the 1/4 and 1/2 points across, to securely hold items of varying size.

It's fairly easy to stitch through the cardboard with a normal needle and thread.  I would recommend having fabric on each side of the cardboard when sewing through it, to prevent the thread from cutting through the cardboard and coming loose.  Be careful to keep the needle perpendicular to the surface when you push it in, because even a few degrees of angle will result in a noticeable deviation from the line when the needle exits the far side.

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