Upcycled Component Organiser




About: BongoDrummer is co-founder of Flowering Elbow. He loves to learn about, share, invent, and make things, particularly from waste materials. Check out his youtube channel: www.youtube.com/floweringelbow

This is a project in which we make a safe and handy storage organiser for medium to small electronic components.

These were our requirements: first, we wanted it to be mobile, so we could take it to places like the Maker Faire, as well as back and forth from home to the Flowering Elbow workshop. Second, it had to be effective and easy to use - while it needed to do a good job of keeping things safe and dust free, we needed easy access to its contents (no rifling through multiple compartments looking for this or that component). Third, it would be nice if it could be quickly mounted on the wall at the shop, to keep it in place, out of harms way and easy to access. Fourth, in line with the Flowering Elbow ethos,we wanted it to be made almost exclusively from re or upcycled material. Here’s what we came up with and how you could make one too.

Step 1: Materials & Tools Overview

This project tweaks the classic zip-tied disk box, and uses it as a removable drawer. A signifying handle (an electronic component that will act as both a handle and an indicator of the contents) is added to the front. And a folding ply box is used to house a bunch of individual disk drawers.

For the disk drawers you need:
Lots of old floppy disks. One drawer requires 5 disks and 12 zip ties (2.5mm x 100mm). So to make this particular size of store, which houses 16 drawers, you need 80 floppies and 192 zip ties (though we also experimented with old wire wrapped tight and soldered in place instead of zip ties - it works but takes much longer) . Of course it is quite possible to scale the project and make as many drawers as suits your needs. This was something of a prototype, but I can easily envision large wall sized stores, and modular stores that fit together.  

For the folding ply box you need:
Some plywood. We gratefully received a load of off cuts of 12mm shuttering ply form a local ‘sure chill’ cooling company, who use it for overseas packing crates. Shuttering ply is not the best quality ply in world (in fact in its raw form it’s pretty awful), but it’s cheap or free if you can find off cuts, and there is a lot you can do to improve it, not least a bit of sanding.
One 10” wide 8’ long board will do for both halves of the folding box.

The dividers are scraps of 5mm thick ply - long bits that are 115mm (or 4 ½”) wide is what you want.            

  • Clamps: The more the better!
  • Table saw and all the safety equipment that goes with it - dust extractor, goggles, ear defenders, etc...
  • Side cutters or sharp scissors
  • Marking knife
  • Measuring tools
  • Drill and 3mm bit (or you can try a quality punch)
  • Sander random orbit power sander recommended
  • Finger jointing jig easy to make yourself if you have a few scraps of ply - fits nicely onto a shop make cross-cut sled

Step 2: Preparing the Disks

First decide on the look. Floppy disks come in various guises. For this project we want the old 3 ¼” ones. Most of the ones you find will have sticky labels attached. It’s up to you how fussy you get at this point. We didn’t want any labels on the front faces of the disk drawers, and there are a few tricks to getting them off easily. Firstly try a hair drier (or very carefully and briefly, a heat gun) to heat the label area, this softens the glue and if all goes well the label will peel off without a hitch. Any stubborn remaining glue can usually be removed with white spirit and some cotton wool.
Drilling the Holes

To make holes for the zip tie fixings we need to drill two 3mm holes in each disk. For the four disks that make up the sides of the drawer, there are some convenient little holes already in the disk that just need punching through (see photo - arrows mark positions to drill holes).

In the photo the black disk on the right is one of the four drawer sides, whereas the white one is a bottom panel. The bottom of the drawer needs the holes in a slightly different place, so for every 4 you drill like the black, drill one like the white (obviously you can choose whatever colours you like). Notice that occasionally, as is the case with the white one, the square hole is not present so that needs drilling too.
With a scrap of wood underneath drill the holes with a 3mm drill bit.

Step 3: Putting the Drawers Together

Floppies are not quite as wide as they are tall. This means that they need orienting a certain way to make a seamless box.
Start by creating a loose string from the four side disks, as in the first photo.

Decide which side of the disk you want facing outwards (we like the label out and the circular metal bit in), and thread them so that the square business part of the zip tie will end up on the inside of the drawer- it will catch on the housing if you have it outside. Then join the two ends of your string of disks, and tighten away. Be sure to pay attention to the way the edges butt against each other.

Once you have tightened the four corners up you are ready to put on the bottom. Again it helps to keep the zip ties loose until they are all in place, then tighten away. Notice the orientation of the bottom disk.
Once that’s done use a pair of side cutters or sharp scissors to snip off the zip tie ends.

Step 4: Make Lots of Them!

After you have made a few it doesn't require super amounts of concentration, so you can chat away as you go. Get together and make some boxes.

The last disk drawer process is to add handles to the drawer fronts. For the disk drawer to fit in its slot in the storage cabinet, the front and back need to be the narrower edges. Make sure the handle goes on one of the disk’s edges. We used old electrical components to signify the intended contents of the disk. The method of fixing the handle will obviously vary depending on the component you're trying to fix on. For some, like the resistor, two small holes are drilled, the legs threaded through and soldered together on the inside. For other components a small dab of 2 part epoxy does the trick.

Step 5: Creating the Store Box - Overview

After making a bunch of floppy disk drawers now we need the folding cabinet. There are many different ways this could be made, including from solid wood. This box is ply though, so lets take advantage of some of the features of ply in it’s design. Because the grain direction in the layers (or plys) of plywood are oriented perpendicular to each other, plywood is strong in all directions. For this reason we can make finger joints along all edges of a board if we want to - something you could never do with solid wood. For that reason and because they are very strong (and they look cool!) we used finger joints on the outer frame of the box.

We used the table saw to cut the ply down to the right sized pieces, but I won't actually cover the ins and outs of table saw use here (there are whole books on that subject). I’ll just share a few project specific table saw tips here. The table saw is one of the more dangerous tools in the woodshop, so please stay safe: you need to know quite a lot about table saw use to do this so enlist knowledgeable help if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.

Step 6: Dimensions and Cutting List

From an off-cut strip of ply just over 250mm wide we can make both sides of our cabinet. See diagram above (keep in mind that if you were actually cutting this you would need to allow for the width of the saw blade).

Pieces to make the outer (both halves) in 12mm shuttering ply:
x2 Back 455mm x 225mm
x4 Sides 455mm x 125mm
x4 Top & bottom 225mm x 135mm

In the second picture you can see one side of the cabinet cut and laid out ready. The long edges are mitred together, and locked in place by the top piece which is finger jointed on three edges. The bottom is just stuck in there (it only carries the weight of the lower two disk drawers so should be strong enough).

Step 7: The Joints

To make the finger joints I just used the 3.2mm wide saw blade (not a wide dado blade), and a homemade jig. See here for a tablesaw finger jointing tutorial: http://www.shopnotes.com/files/issues/110/fast-and-easy-finger-joints.pdf As it happens the 3.2mm cut is approximately the same width as a single layer in the ply, which gives quite an interesting pattern when the box is assembled.

Do plenty of dry test fitting, and remember to cut approximately 4mm deep channels to house the dividers before gluing up.
Take your time with these joints and do a test on a scrap piece to check the jig settings. If you can, use a stop block to cut pieces to length, to keep lengths absolutely consistent.

Step 8: Dividers

Measure and mark up the boards and joints to be cut against pieces you have already cut rather than relying on the numbers (and use a pre made disk drawer as a check). This is especially important when we come to cut the inside dividers. In fact, its a good idea to cut the dividers to final dimension only after gluing up the outer box. That way we can mark against the finished outer the exact length needed for each bit.

Similarly when we come to cut half way through the dividers, so they fit together, mark them in situ, with a marking knife (or blade of some kind).

Step 9: Glue Up

When you are happy, make some clamp art.

Remember that as soon as you put glue on the finger joints they will swell slightly making it hard to adjust them. To avoid the problem, practice dry first for a quick assembly.

You can simply bang the dividers home with a protective scrap of wood and mallet.

Step 10: Tidy Up the Ply

When the glue is set de-clamp, and examine your handy work. Do the disk drawers fit? I’m sure they do, so now’s a good opportunity to clean up the appearance of the box.

Shuttering ply usually has a very rough outer surface so a light sanding with a random orbit sander can do wonders. You can also go ahead and sand those nice finger joints flush, and if you like, give them a bit of curve. It’s rare, ok lets face it, unheard of, for people to talk about the beauty of shuttering ply, but we really like the pattern this techniques leaves.

To preserve the origins we left the original FSC stamp on there…

Step 11: Add the Hinge

I would recommend using a full length piano hinge to join the halves of the cabinet. We had part of one left over from dismantling a very old marine plotter that we found washed ashore one day, so we used that even though it wasn’t full length. To make fitting the hinge easier, clamp both halves together in perfect alignment, then screw it on.

Observant among you will notice the extra strip of wood we added- this just protects the hinge from damage by stopping the opening half from ‘over opening’.

Step 12: Wall Mount

For the wall mounting cleat there are a number of options (try googling “french cleat”). I used a keyhole router bit to rout a groove almost the full depth of the back panel. A number of screws in the wall fit into the routed slots. If I were to do it again I think I would use more of a traditional french cleat system: the keyhole slots work, but it’s a little more fiddly to put on wall (taking off is easy, but lining up all the starting holes with the screwheads when putting it up is tricky).

Step 13: Add a Cleat/Latch

So we had a spring cleat thing left over from our crazy experimental wood stove project, so we used that to secure the two halves together when its in 'safe mode'.

Little catches like this are only a few ponds for a bunch, and they always come in handy for projects like this...


Step 14: Use

Go ahead and stow your precious bits n bobs!
The final step: if you make one take a photo or five and e-mail us, or post on the Flowering Elbow facebook page, I would love to see your creations, especially how you do or don’t change and adapt the design. I want to see a wall sized storage unit ;)



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    31 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Nice! That's a pretty clever re-use!


    5 years ago

    I guess my link didn't work. Here's my creation! http://i11.photobucket.com/albums/a172/Jake4x/456D99E4-6DE6-4820-9D6B-0C95E845444B.jpg

    1 reply

    5 years ago

    Love it! Finally, something to use those old discs for!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I have a bunch of empty CD "jewel cases"  (I use thin sleeves for storing my CDs), and am wondering if the zip-tie technique you use would work for those, too... Bigger drawers might be useful for a lot of things. Could use clear ones for the front panels, allowing you to see the contents... I had been giving my "empties" to a music publisher for re-use, but if they're cracked they can't be used for packaging new CDs...

    The box-making instructions are very clear, and you get a very nice result from your cheap wood!

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting idea, give it a try maybe. I remember cd cases being quite brittle though so take care...


    5 years ago on Step 12

    To help make it easier to put on the wall, a few thin strips of wood mounted to the wall along the bottom and sides would give a starting point for the alignment. You then just have to move the box up until the screws line up, then lower it down on the keyholes.

    Beautiful project, it looks quite nice on the wall.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 12

    Thanks! Good suggestion that. A french cleat would have been the way to go (I think - though twisting when opening may be an issue) but I may as well make the best of the bodge ;)


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This guy got it all : genius (or almost), ideas, materials, tools, a workshop, and … two beautiful women !
    On the top of that he tells it all to us poor morons !…

    Oh well !… That's how Darwin wrote his book I suppose.

    Congrat's !… Very nice idea.
    If you put your case on wheels with an extension handle it will make a perfect moveable organizer.

    Thanks for posting !

    1 reply

    Chuckle.... I can't think of anything witty and pc to say that talks to the first part of your comment (I guess that falsifies most of it)...

    Nice idea the wheels though! I can imagine a large rolling toolbox style one...


    5 years ago on Introduction

    After asking all your friends for the disks they haven't tossed, and checking all the 'used stuff' stores and garage sales... You can still find them online. I got over 10 pages of hits when I did a search for 'free 3 1/2" floppy disks'. Admittedly they weren't free, but some were very inexpensive. Amazon has some. Ebay has a lot of 36 used disks for 40 cents right now. They also have new boxes for anywhere from 99 cents to $25.00. Good luck.

    You can, but that would defiantly take away a lot of the charm. Some people like the disks to be bank and label-less, but my favourite disk-draws are the ones that remind me of good time, playing Settlers1 on the Amega, and MS-DOS install disks ...


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Here's a tip I learned a million years ago in a shop class for making boxes.
    Instead of making two halves of the box, make the full box at once and then cut it in half when you're done.
    The only thing you have to do is add enough extra width to account for the saw kerf cut (usually 1/8").
    It's way easier to build and when you're done, the two halves actually FIT together.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Nice tip, thanks! I actually thought I might try that on the next ones I make. The only downside it that the panels become a touch more cumbersome to handle during the finger jointing operations. .


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I like this in concept, but the idea that we're too good to call it what it is; the whole "upcycle" word...it's just people that are too proud to say they're recycling junk for a new purpose.

    Let's just call a spade a spade, shall we?