Ultimate Wooden Crate

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How do you organize and carry a number of items and then use the same carrier to display those items? Paper bags can work, but can be pretty weak and definitely aren't show-worthy. Cardboard boxes work well enough, until they get wet or you overload them and once again, not much for the eyes. Milk crates are great if you happen to have a slew of them to use, but they are relatively small and not the most attractive thing. You could also go to your local craft store and order some nice wooden crates with 3/8" thick slats and 3/4" wooden sides with handles. These work well overall and look nice but over time the thin slats will break, come detached, or loose.

So what do we do? That's easy enough, build the ultimate wooden crate! These beasts are used by my wife to carry all of her goods to the markets she attends. Mostly she uses them for her breads, which are loaded up in her bakery and then stacked in the truck. The depth of the crates was purposefully designed to fit the breads in them vertically so that there would be enough room between the top of crate and the end of the loaf of bread to stack another crate directly on top. The crates are designed so that, when empty, they can be stacked with a third crate sandwiched between them to help conserve space. They are made entirely of 3/4" eastern white pine bought at a local mill (to make five of them cost only $50). They are simply glued and nailed together and are truly indestructible. The crates are also used to carry both pottery and woodworking to the markets and have easily been loaded with fifty pounds of material with no problem (I am certain you could double that no problem... but then again, what are you bringing to a market that is that heavy?).

They are easy to build and are a great project for the beginning woodworker... that's why I wanted to post it here to instructables. I had my youngest brother helping me out in the shop because he expressed some interest in using woodworking machinery and this project includes the use of router, bandsaw, miter saw, table saw, air compressor, nail gun, orbital sander, and measuring tools such as squares, tape measures, and rulers. A perfect project for the budding woodworker!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Components of the crate:

(6) 3/4" x 3-1/2" x 24" eastern white pine - these are the side slats

(6) 3/4" x 3-1/2" x 14" eastern white pine - these are the end slats

(4) 3/4" x 1-5/8" x 12" eastern white pine - these are the support slats

*Note: I purchased 3-1/2" wide pine (1x4) but you could use any other variant that you like

(1) 1/4" x 15" x 21" birch or pine plywood - the bottom

Hardware and other materials:

Wood glue

1-1/4" brad or finish nails

2" brad or finish nails

1" staples or 3/4" roofing nails

Tools needed (with alternatives in parenthesis):

Router with 1/4" quarter round bit (you can use sand paper to round the sides and corners too)

Chop saw or miter saw (you can also use a miter box and back saw)

Table saw (you can use a handsaw and a steady hand or a jigsaw, bandsaw, or alternatively a circular saw)

Bandsaw (you can use a jig saw or coping saw)

Air compressor and brad/finish nailer and stapler (you can use just a plain old hammer and nail too)

Step 2: Bulk Routing of the Side and End Slats

The easiest way to route everything is by routing the full length of the 8' pine boards on all four corners. This let's you knock out a lot of the work really quickly (and safely of course). I used a router table that I built into my table saw with a 1/4" rounding bit. You could use a router without the table or alternatively some sandpaper to round over the edges. The purpose of rounding over the edges is to protect the wood from splintering and damage during use. It also gives the entire crate a pleasant appearance.

Step 3: Chop Them to Size

We used a sliding compound miter saw to cut all of the slats to dimension. We also made five new crates during this session... that is why there are so many pieces in the picture. If you are making one crate you will need to cut your six slats at 24" long and the other six end slats at 14" long.

Step 4: Support Slats

We used a table saw to rip the support slats that go along the corners of the end and side slats. We ripped the support slats from the 3-1/2" stock creating two 1-5/8" wide strips at 12" long. You will need four of these pieces for each crate you build. Once again route the sides of these pieces using the rounding bit.

Step 5: Routing the End Grain

Pine is a beautiful wood to work with since it is so forgiving, this makes it a great wood for beginners to work with. Routing the end grain of pine, just as any wood, can be tricky since it has a tendency to splinter. Pine definitely splinters less but it is still important to back up the board to prevent tear out and to keep your fingers safe. We used a scrap piece of plywood with a piece of 3/4" pine screwed to it as our backer, pushing the slats slowly and carefully across the spinning router bit. This backer board will double as a gauge later down the road.

Rout all the ends of your boards and stack them up in a nice neat pile... it just makes you smile.

Step 6: Cut Out the Handle Arches in Your End Slats

You will need two end slats to have a handle arch cut out of them for each crate you make. I made a quick template using the bandsaw since I make a lot of these crates. I used a large compass to make the arch on the template and then cut it out on the bandsaw. I then traced the arch on to one end slat. Due to my bandsaws capacity I can easily cut a bunch of handles out at once. This is easily done by taping together however many pieces you want to cut at once using painter's tape. We used a oscillating spindle sander to sand the arches but you could do so just as easily with a sheet of 150 grit sand paper in your hand. Finally, we rounded over the edges of the arch using the router bit.

Step 7: Build the End Pieces to the Crate First

To keep the spacing uniform between the slats we used scrap 3/4" pine pieces as shown in the pictures. We clamped down a straight piece of plywood to butt the ends of the slats up to so that everything is nice and lined up. Put some glue down on the end slats where the support slats will go and then use 1-1/4" brad or finish nails to hold it all together.

Step 8: Attach Side Slats to Your End Slat Assembly

This part is only a bit cumbersome but really isn't too difficult if you take your time. Make sure you keep everything oriented correctly with your support slats facing outward and that you use a flat surface for this part of the assembly. You will use two end slat assemblies to hold up your side slats. Apply glue to both the end grain of your end slats and along the support piece (see picture one). With your other end slat assembly standing up place a side slat (24" long) on the end of your end slat assembly getting everything lined up neatly. Check it for square and then use a nail gun or hammer and nail to put a 2" finish nail or brad nail through the side slat and into the end slat assembly. Apply glue to the other end slat assembly and do the same thing once again making sure that the side slat is square to the end slat assembly. Once you are certain everything is squared up use three more nails at each end (two into the end grain of the side slat assembly and two into the support piece).

We then used that same backer board with the 3/4" pine handle as our gauge to make sure the boards were the proper spacing from each other (see the second picture). Place your next side slat and follow the same steps above (you probably won't need to use the square at this point but it doesn't hurt to check for square.

Once you are done with that side, flip the entire thing over and attach the other side's slats. Check the assembly for square and adjust as necessary before nailing the slats into place. All we need now is a bottom!

Step 9: Make Your Bottom

The final step here is to create your bottom for the crate. Although 1/4" plywood seems pretty thin and floppy it is extremely rigid and strong when adhered to the bottom of a box. We used both glue and 1" staples to adhere the plywood bottom to the crate.

Using the table saw cut your bottom so that it fits the bottom of your crate leaving at least 1/8" around the edge at each side. Sand the plywood and make sure the edges are not going to splinter at all on you. Apply a bead of glue around the entire edge of the bottom of the crate and place your plywood bottom on top. Use 1" staples or alternatively 3/4" roofing nails to adhere the bottom to the crate spaced out at about every 4".

And that's it. These crates take a very short period of time to manufacture. In fact with the two of us working all five only took about 2 hours from lumber to finished product. You can, of course, paint them, stain them, wood burn them, etc... to your liking. They are extraordinarily robust and you can even sit on them with no problems at all. Simplicity, utility, appearance, and overall ease of assembly... I think these things hit the mark and I hope you try your hand at making them. Please do not hesitate at all to ask any questions and happy building!

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    10 Discussions

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    JIMO12

    Tip 2 months ago

    I make similar crates to hold homebrew. I have found that by installing the support slats 1-1/2" lower then the bottom (hence 1-/2" lower at the top) it makes them nice and stackable.
    They lock together with out sliding around.

    1 reply
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    ctstarkdesignsJIMO12

    Reply 2 months ago

    I really like this idea and might find a way to incorporate it into future crates I will be making. Thanks for sharing!

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    allangee

    2 months ago

    When I make crates, I run a rabbet around the inside bottom, about a 1/4" up, and inset the plywood bottom in the groove, gluing it in place. Once the glue dries the bottom is never going to fall out and the entire crate is more rigid. I also prefer to put my slats against each other, instead of gaps between them, but that's just a matter of practical storage versus decorative aesthetic. Nice Instructable!

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    ctstarkdesignsallangee

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you! I like the idea of using a rabbet to retain the plywood and did think of that but originally decided against it so that The plywood underside could take the brunt of the abuse instead of the pine when my wife slides these into and out of the truck (we have a truck liner and it kind of acts like sandpaper). I bet with the rabbet you could hold an insane amount of weight in them and they would look really sharp too. Thanks for sharing!

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    SylvanB

    2 months ago

    Very nice! Been toying with a similar design and yours looks great!

    One thing I've been considering and I would like to know your thoughts... What about positioning the support slats about 1/2in low on the sides? This would create legs that protrude a little (1/4in or so) below the bottom, and offset them below the top of the slats (about 1/2in) to receive the legs of a crate stacked on top. I think this would help the stack interlock a bit, and sit a bit better than a flat bottom on imperfect surfaces.

    1 reply
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    ctstarkdesignsSylvanB

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you! I love that idea of positioning the support slats to go lower to act as short legs that interlock into the next crate. I was also thinking you could set up a similar system so that you could stack the crates in multiple orientations and they would lock together to form a solid display unit. They definitely have some mass to them and when loaded down they will have a lot of inertia, so I don't picture them sliding around, but it might allow some unique configurations. If you decide to build them please post your take on it, I would love to see how they turn out.
    Chris

    Nice, that would look classy especially if you were to use a contrasting wood. You could also use countersunk screws and a plug cutter like this. I have had a lot of success using these plug cutters.