Milk crates. Classic dorm-room, bachelor-pad, record-crating readymade storage. The logic is unassailable: modular, stackable, sturdy, and cheap.
But can they be elevated, aesthetically and practically? I've tried before, and came up with a quick wall-mounted solution. Recently, I came into a trove of crates while demo-ing out an old building at work. I wanted to come up with a piece of free-standing milk crate furniture that didn't look cheap.
The Milk Crate Credenza is light, strong, and handsome enough, reveling in rugged simplicity. A beautiful wood top contrasts with the cold, clean plastic while tying the crates together structurally. Made with little more than a drill and zip-ties, it took about two hours to put together.
Milk crates are not free for the taking from behind stores. Those stores, or the dairy companies, pay for the crates, and when they go missing, it hits the bottom line. Be respectful. Ask. Shop owners may part with a few lightly damaged ones. New crates are available all over the internet, at dozens of sites. Thrift stores, record shops, and dumpsters are other solid sources. If it is not directly behind an establishment that sells or uses milk, then it is probably abandoned to the world and available to take. Check out Milkcrate Digest for more info on legally acquiring crates.
And, if you folks enjoy the piece, please throw a vote my way in the Furniture Contest! Furniture is all I post here at 'structables, and I'd love a little love to keep 'em coming!
You will need these materials:
3-5 milk crates
1 piece of 1" x 12" material, about 4' long, or plywood, etc.
Wood finish of your choice
You will need these tools:
Angle grinder, Dremel, or hacksaw
Circular saw or table saw
Wire nippers or scissors
Step 1: Toppin'
The credenza doesn't need a top, strictly speaking, but it helps unify the crates, prevent sagging, and provides a smooth top instead of the waffle-like surface of the plastic. If you can't find any wood, or don't care about the waffle effect, just skip to the next step.
Start with a 1" x 12", a piece of plywood, or several smaller planks that can be knit together. Use a circular saw or table saw to cut it to 11" wide, which is the height of a crate. Cut a few small strips (approx. 3/4" x 3/4" x 10"), and screw and glue them to the bottom of the top piece of wood, spaced to land in the center of each crate (approx. 13" on center). Cut it to length. If using less than four crates, adjust accordingly.
Drill three 1/4" horizontal holes through each strip, about 2" in from each end and in the center. These will serve as mounting holes for threading through the zip-ties. The main purpose of these strips is to provide a blind fastening system for the zip-ties -- a way to attached to the top to the crates without the zip-ties having to puncture the top. The top could be "sewn" directly to the crates by drilling holes through it, but then the zip-ties show. Visually, the spacer strips also create a reveal between the crates and the top, a nice shadow line that articulates each piece.
The strips could also be used to attach several narrower boards together, to create a top out of smaller scraps.
Sand and apply a finish of your choice. I used a blend of boiled linseed oil, polyurethane, and thinner, followed with paste wax.
Step 2: Cratin'
Wash your crates. A hose works okay, but it's better if you have a basin or sink big enough to for the whole crate. Dunk each crate in hot soapy water and agitate, then rotate until all sides are clean. Rinse in clean cold water.
The legs of the credenza are also made out of crates. I found that an angle grinder with a metal-cutting blade sliced through the plastic like butter, but a Dremel or a hacksaw would work equally well. I aimed for an eventual height of about 18", so the credenza could act as a bench when removing or putting on my shoes. Cut your legs as high or low as you like; mine were about 5".
Cut a crate as shown, severing a side and about 4" of the bottom. Since the crates in the credenza are turned sideways, and they are not perfect cubes, the legs will then have to contract about two inches to match the width of the eventual piece. Slice down the middle, cut away the gridding, then slide together, "sewing" in place with zip-ties. Trim the zip-tie excess with wire nippers.
Step 3: Final Assembly
Secure the crates together with spring clamps, aligning them with the side of a table or other straight edge so that they are co-planar. Drill through each at the front and back, then "sew" the zip-ties through, pulling them tight with pliers and cutting off the excess with nippers.
Secure the feet in the same way, so that they are centered on the joint between the first and second crate and the third and fourth crate. The end crates will cantilever out.
Attach the top by fishing zip-ties through the gridding and the horizontal holes in the strips on the bottom of the top piece.
Put in your house and enjoy.