Introduction: The Flat Pack Beer Caddy

About: I build drums, make costumes, work on house projects/repairs, dabble in Genealogy, eat tacos, and work a real job for money.

It's been about two years since I made The Wooden 6-Pack, but it has one major flaw ... three if you listen to the critics who say 3/4" stock was too thick and it would be too heavy. To them I say, "make your own and lift some weights." The very real problem is this ... it holds "standard/tall" bottles, but not the "wider/shorter" bottles.

I can't say that I really need a caddy for these types of bottles ... let alone a second caddy in general. In fact, if you ask this guy I recently met, whom called himself a Dr. .... I don't need any beer in general. I'm not sure where he is getting this information because it seemed his only job was to refer "specialists." He did NOT send me to a Brewmaster ... the one person I'd say is a specialist in this field!

Anyway ... I'm making this new beer caddy and of course it can't be a straightforward design ... that would be way to easy. On no ... I decided it needed to come apart so that it would take less storage space, but since I didn't want the parts getting lost, they needed to interlock in some fashion. Even better ... the handle would have a built-in twist lock mechanism.

Over-complicated, brain puzzle, problem solving woodworking in 3 .. 2 .. 1

Step 1: Design and Fabrication of the Template

I wasn't sure how big the caddy would need to be, so I started by determining the diameter of the bottles, which is a tad under 2 5/8". Next hurdle was determining spacing and positioning of 6 bottles, which would dictate the overall length and width.

My Design Process [Refer to picture 1 in this section]
1. Starting with 1/4" graph paper, I drew centered vertical and horizontal lines.
2. With a mini-compass set to a radius of 1 5/16" (2 5/8" diameter) and found a point on the horizontal line where I could draw a circle ... with some space between it an the center line. I lucked out .. you can see the circle fits pretty comfortable with a 3" x 3" square.
3. Using this information, I drew out the grid work for six 3" x 3" squares.
4. Since my construction method would have panels inset within grooves, I added 1/4" to each side. This gave me final dimensions of 6 1/2" x 9 1/2".
Note: These dimensions can easily be altered to accommodate any bottle size.

I don't have a 2 5/8" forstner bit and I didn't want to buy one for a one off project, so I had to make a template so I could cut consistent holes using a router and pattern bit.

Making The Template
1. Cut a piece of 1/2" plywood to 6 1/2" x 9 1/2".
2. Draw the centered vertical and horizontal lines.
3. The centers of all 6 circles can now be found by making marks 1 3/4" in from the edges
4. The remaining two holes fall on the vertical line ... 3 1/4" in from the edge. This will be for the posts, which will make sense later.

Drilling out the template
1. Mark the center points with an awl.
2. Drill out the holes using the drill press and a 2" forstner bit. I drill most of the way through from one side (just enough for the point to pierce through), but finish the hole from the opposite side to eliminate blow out.
3. Using a rabbeting bit and bearing set, enlarge the diameter of the hole to 2 5/8". Notice I have the bit height set to remove half of the board thickness, which leaves enough 2" diameter material for the bearing to register against, yet enough for the last step. [Picture #4]
4. Switch the bearing to the largest size, which transforms the rabbeting bit into a pattern bit (or use a separate pattern bit if you desire). The bearing will now ride against the 2 5/8" diameter, while the cutter removes the remaining material.
5. Drill the post holes using a 3/4" forstner bit.

Step 2: Cutting the Panels

Template is done ... time to start building the actual thing and that starts with cutting out the flat stock for the panels.

The bottom panel is a lamination of 1/2" plywood and 3/16" hardboard.

The top panel is a single layer of 3/16" hardboard. Solid wood would look better than hardboard, but I was concerned with warping and frailty once it was full of holes. I also thought about 1/8" plywood, but the core was ugly and a lot of it will be showing. Plexi would be another cool options, but I figured I'd get a lot of chip out from the drill bits.

All three panels are cut to 6 1/2" x 9 1/2" using the table saw.

Step 3: Fabricating the Panels

The plywood panel and one of the hardboard panels get the six 2 5/8" holes .. for the bottles. I taped these two panels and the template together using packing tape (it's easy and doesn't leave residue like the carpet tape I have been using for templates).

I removed the bulk of the material with a 2" forstner bit. The remaining material was removing using a pattern bit on the router table. The bearing rides against the edges of the 1/2" plywood template.

Before removing the tape, I marked the centers of the post holes on the hardboard using a 3/4" forstner bit and a few light taps with a rubber mallet. Once the pieces were separated, I used the template to mark the same center locations on the plywood.

There are more holes to drill, but this is the best time to laminate the plywood panel to the still intact hardboard panel. Spread some glue, add some clamps, and give it time to cure. You could drill the holes first, but then you'll have glue squeeze out in holes you can't clean up and more alignment issues than necessary ... trust me, I tried it on the prototype.

Once the glue is dry, it's back to drilling.

The post holes on the solitary hardboard panel are drilled out using a 1/2" forstner bit.

The post holes on the plywood/hardboard laminated panel are drilled out using two different diameters.
1. With the pIywood side facing up, start with a 3/4" forstner bit. I lowered the bit until it just touches the top of my sacrificial table, locked the depth stop, and drilled the hole.
2. Flip the panel over so the hardboard is facing up and switch to a 1" forstner bit. The point of the 3/4" bit should've made a small hole, which will auto center the 1" bit. Drill this hole just deep enough to remove the hardboard, but not dig into the plywood.

Step 4: Cutting Box Sides With Continuous Grain

I did some quick and dirty math to figure out how long of a board I needed for the sides ... and then added some length in case I screwed up.

Dirty Math
Long Sides: 9 1/2" + 1" (two mitered ends in 1/2" thick stock) = 10 1/2"
Short Sides: 6 1/2" + 1" (two mitered ends in 1/2" thick stock) = 7 1/2"
(10 1/2" x 2) + (7 1/2" x 2) = 21" + 15" = 36" (a bit less considering inset grooves really)
36" + three 1/8" blade kerfs = 36 3/8" minimum.
I went with 38"

There are several steps to cutting the sides, but they go fast.

1. Cut the 1/2" x 4" poplar board to the 38" length and then rip it to a width of 2 3/4" using the table saw.
2. Set the blade height to 1/4", set the fence to 1/4", and rip a groove into the face of the board on each side.
3. Nudge the fence out 1/8" (to 3/8") and run the board again to widen the grooves. This should be enough for the hardboard to just fit into the boards ... if not, nudge a bit more and recut.
4. At this point, one groove is done, but the other needs to be wide enough for the plywood panel ... so keep moving the fence and making passes until you meet that goal. No need to get greedy ... take light passes towards the end, so you don't end up with gaps and/or a loose panel. [Picture #4]

The last step is to cut the box sides to size with miters. I couldn't cut the 2 3/4" sides using my miter sled, because the blade doesn't raise high enough, so I used my 45 degree tilt small parts crosscut sled. Also, I make things harder on myself because I like the look of continuous grain wrapping around my boxes. In a perfect world, I would have a sled with two flip down stop blocks for interlaced repeatability (future sleds will have this), but I devised a method using the fence and a spacer block.

Sharing my measurements won't help, unless you have this exact same saw with the exact same fence (Ridgid TS2400LS), but I can share my method. I used the fence and a scrap block that was 1 1/2" thick. I set my fence, place the block against the fence, then my work piece against the block. Once I had the work piece secure, I'd remove the block and make my cut. It's the same principle as using the miter gauge on a table saw ... you don't want to ride the work piece against the fence and end up with binding and possible kickback.

Now if you do happen to have this exact same table saw, my long side setting was 10 5/16" and my short side setting was 7 5/16".

Cutting The Sides (I started with a short side)
I have a left tilt saw
1. Cut the initial miter on one end of the board with the grooves facing up. That puts the grooves on the inside of the box. [Picture #5 is actually the last piece cut, but it'll show you orientation]
2. Flip the board so the grooves are down, set the stop block to the short side measurement and make the cut. This is Side #1.
3. Flip the board back over so the grooves are up and cut a fresh miter. If you don't do this, your miter is backwards.
4. Flip the board so the grooves are down, set the stop block to the long side measurement and make the cut. This is Side #2.
5. Flip the board back over so the grooves are up and cut a fresh miter.
6. Flip the board so the grooves are down, set the stop block to the short side measurement and make the cut. This is Side #3.
7. Flip the board back over so the grooves are up and cut a fresh miter.
8. Flip the board so the grooves are down, set the stop block to the long side measurement and make the cut. This is Side #4.

Step 5: Drilling the Box Sides

Before gluing the panels and sides into a box, I needed to drill a series of holes in the long sides, which will accommodate the posts when in the flat pack configuration. This could be done after the box is assembled, but it's more difficult (trust me ... I went that route on the prototype).

As with the panels, the post holes are 3" apart on center, so I first found the center point on each board. Once I had that, I marked a line 1 1/2" to the right and left of the center. Lastly, I had to determine the center point for the holes, which are different diameters, so it requires some planning. 3/4" is the largest diameter which needs to pass through the box, so that dictates placement.
Drill too low = risk of revealing the bottom panel on the inside of the hole.
Drill too high = you won't have enough material to separate the box without your blade kerf either being too close to the holes, or too close to the top panel.
It was tight! I'd probably go with 3" tall sides if I were to revisit this project.

My holes ended up approx 1 1/2" from the bottom. [I'll verify this and update later today]

I had a favorite long side because I liked the look of the grain pattern, so I chose that as the "top of the box" when in it's flat pack configuration. This side gets 1/2" holes all the way through.
1. Lower the 1/2" bit until it just touches the top of my sacrificial table, lock the depth stop, and drill the hole.
2. Flip the board over and finish drilling out the holes from the opposite side.

The second long side gets two different hole diameters.
1. The outside face gets a 1" hole just deep enough for a fender washer and screw head to be below the surface. If they are proud, the box won't sit flush when set down, and the screw head could be a scratching hazard.
2. Switch to a 3/4" bit, lower it until it just touches the top of my sacrificial table, lock the depth stop, and drill the hole.
3. Flip the board over and finish drilling out the holes from the opposite side.

Step 6: Box Glue Up

Time for glue up ... finally.

After ensuring all my parts were in the correct linear order, I laid them flat and connected them to each other with packing tape. It's surprising now much easier this makes the glue up process. You can basically wrap the sides around the panels ... and the tape also acts as clamps.

Another tape tip ... take the time to mask the inside corners with a good quality tape. You'll be amazed how well this works when it comes to glue squeeze out. Instead of trying to wipe up the squeeze out or remove dried glue with a scraper or chisel ... just remove the tape.

I added glue to the mitered corners and then a small amount of glue inside the grooves ... not too much because I don't want squeeze out. By the time I was done with the grooves, the end grain of the miter cuts had absorbed most of the glue, so I hit them again.

I set the panels into the grooves of a long side and then just wrapped the other sides around them. The tape would've been enough, but I added a strap clamp because I have them. I wasn't sure if I was getting any bow in the long sides, so I added two F clamps with light pressure just in case.

Step 7: Miter Splines

If you've seen my past projects, then you know my affinity for miter splines ... both for strength, as well as visual appeal. My shop built sled is modeled after the Eagle America design. I just adjust the fence on the sled for the desired spline placement and then run all four corners.

I keep thin strips/cut offs from previous projects specifically for use as spline stock. When I need it, I just run it through the drum sander until I get the perfect fit. I use the bandsaw to cut out a pile of triangles, slather them with glue, press them into all the corner cuts, and give it time to dry.

Most of the excess spline material is cut off using the bandsaw and then the oscillating belt sander. I don't press my luck with the belt sander (any more) ... I get really close to the sides, but not so I'm actually sanding the sides. To sand the splines flush with the sides, I use the orbital sander.

Step 8: Box Separation

To separate the lid from the box, I used the table saw. I set my blade height a bit above 1/2" and set my fence to the desired distance. I didn't want to cut to close to the hole and leave that material too thin, because that would just result in a weak edge and a future break. At the same time, I didn't want to the top section to be waffer thin and possibly cut into and expose the hardboard panel.

Making the cuts is pretty simple. My one tip would be to use shims/spacers for the third and forth cut. This will keep the box from pinching the blade during the cut, which could possibly kickback and/or cause other injury.

1. Pick a side to be first and make your cut.
2. Make the second cut on the opposing side.
3. Use some stock the same thickness of your blade kerf to temporarily fill these cuts. Leftover stock from the spines is perfect.
4. Make the third cut.
5. Use some more kerf stock to eliminate any flex in the box.
6. Carefully make your last cut.

I ended up with a very small amount of tooling marks, so I removed them with an extremely light pass through the drum sander.

Step 9: The Posts

With the box construction complete, it's time to move on to the handle assembly. In reality, I worked on this puzzle during any glue up periods with the box, but separating the tasks is easier to follow when it comes to a write up.

The first components are the two vertical supports or posts as I'm calling them. They graduate in size in order to provide positive stops for the different levels of the caddy when assembled.

The bottom portion is a 3 1/2" length of 3/4" diameter poplar dowel. The top portion is a 6 1/2" length of 1/2" diameter poplar dowel.
Note: These lengths can easily be altered to accommodate any bottle size.

Holes need to be drilled into the ends of the 3/4" dowel and I needed a way to keep it perfectly in line with the drill bit. I did try just holding the dowel with my free hand, but it just didn't work The simple solution was to clamp a scrap board to the drill press table, drill a 3/4" hole into that board, stick the section of dowel into that hole ... then drill the dowel. This method effectively holds the dowel in line and perfectly centered.

One end of the dowel gets a 1/2" hole ... about 1/2" deep, which is for the 1/2: dowel. The other end gets a 3/16" hole, which will be for a screw in a later step. As long as you don't move the board or table, you can drill multiple dowels and not have to worry about alignment. If you do move the board or table, just lower your 3/4" bit down into the hole and re-tighten the clamps.

The 1/2" dowel gets secured into the 3/4 dowel with wood glue.

Step 10: The Handle: Center Section Layout

It took a few trial and error prototypes to determine the necessary length for the center section of the handle. I knew the distance between the post centers was 3", but I wasn't sure how much space was necessary for the planned locking mechanism ... it turned out that 1 7/8" worked nicely.

3" post to post + 1 7/8" on each side = 3" + 3 3/4" = 6 3/4"

The handle is made from a 1" dowel and I cut it to length using a small parts cross cut sled on the table saw.

I've added my diagram/sketch how this handle works as a jpeg to this step.

Post Hole Locations
I ran a line down the length of the dowel so I'd be able to drill both post holes on the same tangent. I did this by holding the dowel flat on my work table, elevating a pencil a bit, and running the line. Next I found the center of this line (3 3/8") and then made a mark 1 1/2" to the left and right of that location.

Slot Locations
I wanted to mark two more tangents, 90 degrees to the left and right of the first ... or close enough for my eye at least. I laid the dowel in a V block with the first line facing down and used one of my DIY gauges to elevate my pencil, so I could strike the line.
Now that I had these left and right lines, I needed to make two more marks at the left edge of each side ... one at 1/2" and one at 7/8". [Pictures #9 & #10]

Dowel Center
I used my dowel center finder to mark center on both ends of the dowel.

Step 11: The Handle: Center Section Drilling

Hole drilling time ... should be easy right? Wrong. The scrap wood, self-centering trick wasn't going to work because the 1" dowels were a a hair over 1" ... and therefore wouldn't fit into the 1" hole made by the forstner bit. My solution was to rip the board in half at the table saw, clamp the dowel into this holding jig, center the bit, clamp this mess to the table, and then drill the holes. [Picture #1]

End Holes
Each end gets a 5/8" hole to the depth of 1 7/16".

Post Holes
I used a V block to keep the dowel in the desired orientation and not rolling around. I used a scrap as a consistent spacing reference from the fence. If I had to guess, these holes are around 3/4" deep. [Picture #3]

The slots are drilled out with a 1/4" forstner bit. I started by drilling shallow holes to decide if my plan was going to work. It looks alright, but I foresaw blowout, so I place a scrap section of 5/8" dowel into the hole as backing material.
1. I drilled the holes at my 1/2" and 7/8" marks.
2. I then drilled a hole in the center of these two in order to remove more material.
3. I drilled one last hole to the side of the 7/8" location. I chose the side towards the post holes ... so the locking action would happen with a clockwise rotation. This will make sense soon.

I cleaned up/shaped these slots with a small chisel and rat tail file.

Captive Pin Hole
The last hole to be drilled is a 3/16" hole in the center of the 5/8" end hole ... into the 1/2" post hole. Instead of messing with my clamping gig, I just used a power drill. [Pictures #8 & #9]

Note: I started with the end hole because I wasn't sure if the holding jig would work and didn't want to waste time on the slots first, just in case it didn't. Due to the blow out I experience (even with the backing dowel), my recommendation would be to drill the slots first .. then the end holes. I'm not sure this will be any better, but it's worth a shot.
1. Drill the slot holes
2. Drilling the post holes.
3. Drilling the 5/8" end holes.
4. Change the bit to 3/16" (don't touch the clamping jig) and drill a hole connecting the end hole with the post hole.

Step 12: The Handle: End Caps and Captive Pin

The next parts to make for the handle are the end caps, which contain the locking mechanism. For these I'm using 1" dowel, 5/8" dowel, 1/4" dowel, and 3/16" steel rod.

1. Cut two 1" dowel to a length of 1". Mark the center on one end of these dowels and drill a 5/8" hole about 1/2" deep.
2. Cut two sections of 5/8" dowel to around 2 1/4" in length.
3. The 5/8" dowel gets glued into the 1" dowel and let it dry.
4. Most likely, the 5/8 dowel will be longer than necessary. I used the small parts cross cut sled to sneak up on the cut until I got a flush fit. [Picture #4 & #5]
5. Drill a 3/16" hole into the end of the 5/8" dowel .. around 1/2" deep.
6. Cut a 3/16" steel rod to an approx. length of 1" and glue it into this hole. I used epoxy, but gorilla glue would work.

Note: You might be able to use a wooden dowel for this, but I have a jar full of these from a past project that used them as adjustable shelf support pegs.

Step 13: Handle: Twist Lock Mechanism

When possible, I like to use actual parts to mark other parts. A good example of this is the retention hole that gets drilled into the top of the posts. Trying to calculate how far down the handle actually sits on the posts, measuring/marking the posts, and drilling an accurately placed hole, would be very time consuming ... and I'd mess it up.

The easier solution is to put the handle on the posts and then use the previously 3/16" hole drilled in in the handle as a guide to mark the posts. I drilled just enough to mark the location on the posts and then removed the handle. I only wanted to drill halfway through the posts, I put a tape flag on the drill put for use as a visual depth stop.

The last piece of the handle is the pin for the twist lock mechanism, which is a section of 1/4" dowel glued into the 5/8" section of the end caps - while assembled ... that part is very important.

1. Insert the end caps into the main handle body. If you like a specific orientation for grain pattern, this is the time to line it up.
2. Wrap tape around the dowel where the two parts meet. This is so they don't rotate/move during drilling.
3. Use the locked position of the slot as a guide to drill a 1/4" hole with a forstner bit. I drilled approximately halfway into the 5/8" dowel.
4. Cut a short section of 1/4" dowel (around 1" is good), put a bit of wood glue on one end, and insert it into the 1/4" hole you just drilled ... then let it dry.
Note: You don't want any glue squeeze out during this step ... that would keep the mechanism from moving, which is bad.
5. Once dry, trim off the excess 1/4" dowel. I used the bandsaw.
6. Sand the peg flush to the curvature of the 1" dowel handle. I used the oscillating belt sander, which worked great and also leveled out any inconsistencies between the handle body and endcaps, so that they looked and felt like one cohesive piece.

Hopefully, it now makes sense how these parts interlock and function.

Pictures #6, #7 & #8 show my prototype both disassembled and assembled.
Pictures #9, #10, & #11 show how the handle interlocks with the posts.

Step 14: Lid Connection

Connecting the lid to the box in it's flat pack configuration could easily be done using a section of 1/4" dowel as a peg in each corner, but I chose to use dominos because they worked so well on my Traveler Shut The Box Games. I also find that I'm oddly entertained by using the tool in ways for which it wasn't really meant.

I set the depth to around 1/4", which places the domino in the center of the sides. For the lid/top, I used a depth setting of 20. For the box/bottom, I used a setting of 15. The tool has built in, spring loaded stops, which I used to ensure all the slots were cut the same distance in from the edge at every location.

I chose to glue the dominos into the lid portion, but that's personal preference. In order to keep them in the correct alignment while the glue dried, I just assembled the box (wipe up any squeeze out first). The dominos are too long at this point, so it bottoms out, but that's ok. Once the glue was dry, I trimmed the dominos a bit shorter using the table saw. You could use a bandsaw or sander, my OCD new the table saw would cut them all to a consistent length. I did lightly chamfer the edges of the dominos by hand with sandpaper, so that they would slide into the slots easier when assembled.

Step 15: Acetone Transfer

If I had had enough foresight, I could've used my plastic stencil and spray painted my name on the bottom panel prior to assembling the box ... but I didn't.

Another easy solution is using a toner transfer. I printed my name as a mirror image, got it aligned where I wanted it, and held in place with tape on one edge. After that, it's just a matter of using a paper towel or rag with some acetone on it and making a few passes over the image. Quick and easy.

Step 16: Oiling and Waxing

With all holes on this project, a spray finish would've been a nightmare ... and I was worried about shellac building up too much and making the tolerances too tight.

I went with my tried and true 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits wipe on finish, topped with a coat of paste wax, and then buffed.

With the finish complete, the 1" fender washer gets attached to the bottom of the posts with a small, pan head screw. I used stainless steel because I had them.

Step 17: Assembly

Transforming the caddy from one configuration to the other is manual, but I personally like that aspect of the project ... it's a simple puzzle.

Caddy Configuration
1. Insert the posts up through the bottom holes. The 1" fender washer will bottom out once it hits the plywood.
2. Insert the lid down onto the 1/2" posts. It will bottom out once it hits the transition to the 3/4" dowel.
3. Rotate the posts so that the 1/4" holes at the top are facing out towards the small sides.
4. Lower the handle onto the posts ... with the end caps extended out, so that he locking pin isn't engaged.
5. Push both end caps in towards the center. This advances the 3/16" steel rods into the hole on the post.
6. Twist the end caps into their locked position. This keeps them from backing out and therefore ruining your day with broken glass and lost beer.

Flat Pack/Storage/Lunchbox Looking Configuration
1. Insert the posts through the large set of holes on the side of the box. The 1" fender washer will bottom out once it his the 5/8" portion of this hole.
2. Connect the lid to the box by inserting the lid dominos into the box slots. It's a really good friction fit.
3. Lower the handle onto the posts ... with the end caps extended out, so that he locking pin isn't engaged.
5. Push both end caps in towards the center. This advances the 3/16" steel rods into the hole on the post.
6. Twist the end caps into their locked position.

Step 18: Glamour Shots

It's done ... finally! Now you can transport your beer (if you didn't drink it all during finishing and assembly) in over-engineered luxury. Impress your friends as they mock you for being an idiot because the beer came in an already convenient flat packing caddy at the time of purchase ... it's called a cardboard box.

Step 19: The Build Video

Flat Pack Contest

Second Prize in the
Flat Pack Contest