Introduction: Need to Ship Something Safely? How to Build a Custom Crate...for Less Than $100.
You've probably already contacted a crating company, and are astounded how much it costs to have something crated for shipping. Its way more cost effective and really not that difficult to make your own crate... which is key if you will need to reuse the crate, as it can be easily assembled and dis-assembled. The materials are relatively cheap and accessible. If you have some basic building skills, know how to use a cordless drill, and have access to a chop saw and table saw, its definitely worth it to just do it yourself... keep reading and good luck!
Step 1: Materials and Tools
You can buy all these things at Home Depot or Lowes...
- 2x4s (note, the actual dimension is 1.5" x 3.5")
- 1 4x4 (actual 3.5" x 3.5")
- 1/2" OSB or similar inexpensive plywood product (not MDF or Particle board - they won't hold up in wet weather). I paid less than $20 for a full sheet (48" x 96") of OSB.
- 1/2" Foam insulator sheet (I like the lavender stuff, but the white/aluminum stuff works okay too).
- 2 Cordless drills (an impact driver for driving screws and a regular drill for pre-drilling holes)
- Countersink drill bit
- Screws (I like two sizes, some at 2.5" length and some at 1 1/4" length)
- Chop Saw (for cutting 2x4s to length)
- Table Saw or Panel Saw (for cutting down sheet good)
** Optional - Bandsaw (for ripping 2x4s in half along their length)
The amount of materials you need will depend on the size of your crate.
(For reference, my crate ended up being 40" x 46" x 26" high, and I used two sheets each of OSB and Foam, and probably four 8 foot 2x4s).
For smaller crates that are lightweight and won't be fork-lifed, a 2x4 frame is probably overkill. You can reinforce the corners with strips of OSB or scrap plywood instead.
Step 2: The Plan
Before you cut anything - figure out exactly how big your crate needs to be. The diagram I drew has variable dimensions (X x Y x Z) because these measurements depend on the object you are crating. Start by measuring the overall dimensions of the thing you are shipping, and make sure you account for the 1/2" thick foam on all sides.
I suggest you make a cut list of parts with dimension of all parts (top, bottom, sides A/C, B/D). There will probably be some adjustments to measurements as you go, but it helps to have a list - see the example included in the drawing above. Note that the sides are paired - A and C are the same size and flush to one edge of the base. Sides B and D are longer so they overlap and screw into sides A and C. All sides screw through the 2x4 frame into the pallet base with the 2.5" screws along the bottom edge.
To save some weight and to avoid over-building, I recommend ripping down the 2x4 in half (that is making two 1.75" wide instead of using a full 3.5" width) to make the frames for the sides. It will still be plenty strong for a crate. A bandsaw is the easiest and safest way to do this, or a table saw works too. Once you figure out all the measurements, you can cut the parts to length as you go.
Step 3: The Pallet Base
If you think your crate will be heavy and/or large, you should definitely start with a pallet base so that it can be fork-lifed or pallet jacked. There are two ways to do this. Build the box and attach it to a stock pallet (shown in the illustration.) Or, I prefer to build the risers as part of the base (using a 4x4 on end as the riser). Make sure the spacing is at least 3.5" off the ground! (Note the dimensions of a pallet jack for reference).
The dimensions of the base match the dimensions of the sculpture, adding 1/2" perimeter to allow space for foam on all sides. The base will need to be fully framed with 2x4's to make sure it can support the weight all the way around. Cut your 4x4 pallet risers (2) to length with a chop saw. Use the longer screws* to attach the pallet risers from the top to the OSB base after it is cut to size. I ripped some 2x4's in half (from 3.5" wide to 1.75" wide) to frame out the two other edges of OSB). These were similarly attached from above with the shorter screws.
Cut the foam to the same size to line the base. I used a couple of the shorter screws to hold the foam in place. Put the object you are crating in place be able to cut and fit the sides in the next step.
* TIP: always pre-drill! Use the countersink bit from the tools list so the screw heads don't stick out.
Step 4: The Sides - A/C
The thing to remember is that the four sides will not all be the same length - A/C will be shorter (y) and B/D will be longer (x) - shown in the plans in Step 2. The length for A/C (x) is the same as the base - the longer sides need to overlap the shorter side so you have something to screw them into. I find it easier to make the shorter sides first (shown in the third photo). The sides are made similarly to the base - a panel of OSB with a 2x4 frame.
Also remember that there will be another piece of 1/2" of foam on top, so the side height needs to account for that extra 1/2" layer. The sides will screw into the base for assembly - add about 2" total to figure out the final height of the sides (1/2" extra on the top, 1.5" extra at the base). The foam liner is cut smaller than the wood side dimensions. It needs to be the exact same height as the crated object, attached 1/2" down from the top and 1/2" in from both edges. Attach with short screws to hold in place just like the base.
Step 5: The Sides - B/D
Once sides A/C are attached, you can easily measure how long sides B/D need to be, accounting for the overlap for assembly. This should roughly be dimension y plus 3.5". The foam panel for B/D is still the same height as the crated object, set 1/2" down from the top, but is shorter - measure the inside distance from A/C to get the exact fit.
For assembly, I find it helpful to clamp the sides together (shown in the first photo) to make drilling and driving your screws easier. Circle the screws that need to be removed for easy dis-assembly.
Step 6: The Top and Final Assembly
To finish up, cut your foam insert to fit the top. It should be inset and flush with the sides once in place. Last step is to cut the wood top to size - make it the exact same size as the box. It should be pre-drilled and screwed with the shorter (1 1/4") screws. And you're done.
** note there are several different crates shown in the photos. There are obviously a number of methods and materials you can use to make a crate like this, and your skills will get better with each crate you make - so take liberties and do what works best for you and your project! Feedback and suggestions are welcome.
Step 7: Tips on Dealing With Shipping
Now you have a crate... so how do you ship it? Find a shipping company that ships freight. Your shipment is probably "LTL" which means "Less than Truckload." There are big companies that ship internationally and smaller ones too. You can google search or get a recommendation from someone that ships a lot. It helps to set up an account with a company as they sometime offer a discount. But the best advice is do your research and get multiple quotes.
GET A QUOTE
You'll need all the following info to be able to get a quote from most companies:
- Overall dimensions of crate in inches (h x l x w)
- Estimated weight (lbs.)
- Contents (i.e. furniture)
- Insurance value
- Pick-up and delivery addresses (business or residential)
- Fork lift of lift-gate (truck with a lift-gate costs extra)
- Your contact info and contact info for consignee (shipping to)
Most quotes are only good for 30 days, so you'll need to schedule a pick-up date before it expires. Some companies will provide a Bill of Lading (BOL) and shipping labels automatically, some don't. Have payment and a copy of the BOL ready (usually a check will do) for the driver, and make sure the crate is clearly labeled with addresses and contact info. Good luck!