Tabbed, or "finger-jointed" boxes are one of the most versatile things you can make with a laser cutter - the possibilities really are endless. However, getting the right box for your requirements is not always easy and often entails lots of post-generation modification, plus how do you choose which tool to use? Are better ones available?
There are a bunch of commercial tools that can be used to create laser cut box plans, but I'm not going to cover them here. I'm pretty passionate about laser cutters and in this Instructable I'm going to show you some free and (mostly) easy tools to create boxes of all shapes and sizes. Above are photos of some of the useful things I've created with modifications to simple box designs (I'm planning on writing short Instructables for each soon).
Full disclosure: I am the maintainer of a tiny bit of Open Source called Tabbed Box Maker (pretty original, huh?) which is a plugin for Inkscape, forked from the original Tabbed Box Maker by Elliot White - http://www.twot.eu/111000/111000.html. I believe my plugin is the most advanced laser cut box generator for Inkscape, and I'd be absolutely ecstatic if you used it, but I'm also very keen to hear what else is out there and I'd like to keep this Instructable as a master reference for all things box-generator related. So if you know of something I've missed, ping me in the comments below and I'll add it to the list!
Here's a list of all box makers I'm aware of, and a comparison of each:
- My Tabbed Box Maker - Comprehensive and easy to use box generator with lots of features:
- Adjustable kerf
- "Hairline" line thickness adjustment for Epilog lasers
- Ability to cut 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2-faced "boxes"
- Ability to quickly configure slotted internal divisions, both X and Y
- Includes a Schroff case generator (Thanks to John Slee)
- (new) Internal divisions can now either be keyed into the box sides or removable
- As above with fewer features, another virtually identical fork is here.
- Adjustable kerf
- The ability to create "press-fit" tabs, either slightly rounded or trapezoidal
- Configurable number of tabs for each edge
- Can create a tight 0-kerf plan to use minimal material (but joints will be loose)
- Elliptical box maker
- Fantastic plugin for making beautiful elliptical boxes
Web-based generators (NO additional software installation required)
- Makercase - basic boxes only
- ConnectionLab - basic boxes only
- MakeABox.io - basic boxes only
- Jerome Leary's box generator - a fairly well-featured box generator that includes some interesting options, including a frame, box dividers (one direction only), and truss style supports for lightweight boxes.
- Festi Boxes.py web interface - a web interface for the Boxes.py library below. Lots of different parameterised box types available (thanks @ffesti for the tip!)
- Joinery - (Instructable here) is a very cool looking online tool for taking regular un-jointed SVG designs and applying joints of all kinds to edges - not just straight edges or box panels, and not just finger joints: it can also make suitable joints for laser cut fabric, cardboard and paper! NOTE: This tool is designed for adding joints to existing non-jointed plans and shapes, not for building plans from scratch.
Scripting languages (for the more adventurous)
- Box-O-Tron, a T-Slot box script for Python
- Parametric box modeller for OpenSCAD
- Festi Boxes.py, an amazing set of scripts that allows you to do some very advanced parametric designs for both basic boxes right through to virtually ready-to-use products, including:
- Boxes in various shapes and with various lids
- Boxes using flex cuts with rounded corners and living hinges
- Type trays with and without outer walls and floors
- Book covers with flex spine
- Magazine files, and more...
Shortly I'll be posting another Instructable with further instructions and pictures on how to install and use my box plugin, and examples of the sorts of boxes it can create. Follow me to be notified when it's published!