Introduction: Plywood Mailboxes for Apartment Building
This is how I built a set of mailboxes for the apartment building I live in.
The house is located in Tallinn and is built in 1920-s or even earlier for renting out the tiny flats.
I have no information about the original mailboxes of this house. But apartment buildings from that era usually have wooden mailboxes located just inside from the front door. The ones I have seen have sides made of wood and doors of plywood (thickness about 6mm max). They always have holes in the doors to easily tell if there is something inside. And the old ones are much smaller than contemporary mailboxes, but the sizes vary (maybe randomly, maybe they got bigger in 1930-s).
Based on my blurry memories about the mailboxes in other houses I have visited and one set I could check out right before I started building (1930-s, see pictures) I came up with a simple construction made entirely of thicker plywood. It does not have all the details the old one has. And it's visibly bigger according to the postal service recommendations of today. But I guess the style is recognizable and suits much better with the historical house than a commercially available sheet metal boxes would.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- For cutting the plywood I used an electrical jigsaw along with a long straight edge and clamps to hold the straight edge. Of course other saw can be used.
- Drill and drill bits - for screw holes and for the holes in the mailbox doors and for the lock slots. Screwdriver bits.
- I used a hanheld sander too because the plywood was not super high quality.
- Safety gear for power tools - glasses.
- Screwdrivers, couple of small clamps, hacksaw, file, sandpaper, tape measure, pencil and other common tools.
- I used some tools (angle grinder and chisel for example) because the materials and hardware were not as perfect fitting as they could have been.
- Plywood - this set needed about 1.5 sheets of 1525x1525mm size 8mm thick plywood.
- Hinges - they were narrow enouch to just cover the edge of the plywood. But because they were long they had to be cut in appropriate length with hacksaw.
- Locks - the locks I got for affordable price were meant for sheet metal doors and it took some hacking to fit them in plywood.
- Screws - some to attach a layer of plywood to edge of the other plywood piece (16mm) and some very short (8mm) to attach a hinge or 2mm plexiglass to plywood so that the screw does not protrude from the other side. I did not find short enough screws for that so I made them shorter with angle grinder.
- Wood glue.
- Plexiglass (acrylic) for the labels.
- Wood finish.
Step 2: Cutting the Main (box) Pieces
I made the inner walls/floor so that they all go full length and have a slot the in the places where they overlap with the other direction piece. That might have not been the greatest idea, because I was not able to make them precise enough - the openings for the doors ended up uneven. Possibly it would be easier to adjust if for example the floor was one piece and walls in separate pieces.
It also might be a good idea to put the box together first and cut the doors only after checking the measurements. I messed around a bit to get the pre cut pieces to fit. So cut the back, sides and inner walls and floors first, and postpone cutting the doors til the rest is assembled.
My measurements (thickness of material is 8mm):
Back side: 128.5 x 79.8 cm
Top and bottom: 2 pieces 130.1 x 7.8 cm
Middle floor: 128.5 x 7.0 cm
Sides: 2 pieces 79.8 x 7.8 cm
Inner walls: 4 pieces 79.8 x 7.0 cm
Doors: 10 pieces 25.0 x 35.0 cm (actually the final width after adjusting might have not been 25.0 but smaller ...)
Step 3: Assembling the Box
I started with marking the inner walls and floor position to the backside of the back piece and drilling screw holes there. Then I had dad help me and we put them together with glue and screws.
Next the sides were also attached one by one with glue and screws.
(Sounds simple now ... I remember it taking a few hours :) )
Step 4: Cutting an Drilling the Doors
Now would be a good time to measure the outcome and cut the doors (I adjusted them because they were cut already :S )
I used 14mm flat drill bit for making the see through holes in the doors. Though if the final location of the mailboxes is relativesly dim slightly bigger holes can be a good choice - then you can put your finger through one and feel if there is anything inside. Or make just the center hole bigger like the old example had.
Step 5: Label Plates
About in this phase I also cut 2mm thick acrylic to size and used a cardboard template for marking and drilled the screw holes in the doors. The device I used for cutting acrylic was again too dangerous contraption to be advertised here, but you can sure come up with something more reasonable.
Step 6: Fitting Locks
The locks have notches that keep it from turning in it's place. First I drilled two small holes in the locations of the notches. Then I drilled the 18mm hole to fit the lock itself. And because of the shape and the fact the the lock can't be taken apart I had to make a slanted side for the hole - then the lock could be put through the hole. I used a method too dangerous to describe here to do that. But a router would be the right tool.
Because the locks I had were meant for sheet metal I had to take additional steps to fit them into plywood.
They had a fork shaped and bowed piece that was meant to go into grooves on the sides of the lock casing to keep the lock from falling out and stay flat to the door. The casing was hardly as deep as the thickness of plywood. So I did 3 things.
- I used hacksaw to make additional grooves to the sides of the lock casing as fas back as possible.
- I hammered the bow shaped fork thingy flat.
- I removed one layer of wood from the area where the lock will be fitted because the casing was still too short even with the new grooves.
Step 7: Attaching the Hinges
Because the store did not have short enough screws for attaching the hinge to the side of the 8mm plywood without the ends protruding on the other side I had to make short screws. For that I screwed a bunch of them through a scrap piece of plywood and cut off the excess on the other side with an angle grinder.
I attached the hinges to the sides of the doors first. Then I made a helper that held the unattached door flush in it's position while the casing was lying on it's back.
I put a piece of cardboard as a spacer to the bottom edge of the door and marked one end of the hinge.Then I flipped the door over to its open position and placed a spacer under the hinge side. Then marked the screw holes and drilled them.
Later on I used tightening and loosening of the hinge screws to adjust the door's horizontal levelness to some extent.
Step 8: Other Small Details
To keep thin and flexy (like one sheet of paper) things from falling out from the mailbox through the tiny clearance under the door and to keep the door from closing too deep I glued a piece of plywood to the floor just behind the door.
The other sides of the locks also neede to be installed.
It might not be very visible on the pictures but the final product has a semi-opaque white oil based finish.
The labels are just thick paper under the acrylic covers.
Step 9: Done
So now they are in use :)