One of the tests of a competent woodworker is the ability to make a simple, sturdy box to order. Just this afternoon, my wife was cleaning and reorganizing, and she asked me to make her a crates to help her organize some storage space. I took some measurements and set right to work. An hour later, I handed her a crate all ready to use. I’ve built several crates like this, and here’s how I do it:
Step 1: Rip Your Slats
The crate is built entirely from 1 1/2″ wide slats that I ripped out of a 2X4 on my bandsaw. (You could just as easily use a table saw or radial arm saw.) Because these are small crates, I ripped the 2X4 into strips roughly 1/2″ wide. You may wish to use thicker strips, especially for a larger crate.
Be sure to use stock without large knots, which would get in the way. Lots of tiny knots are fine, but it pays to be picky.
Step 2: Build the Ends
When cutting your stock to length, the first step is to determine the size of the interior width and height. Mine will be 6″ wide and 4″ tall on the inside, so I need four pieces of each length: that is, four uprights and four horizontal pieces. (For a larger crate, you might want six horizontal pieces instead of just four.) It’s hard to plane very short pieces. So first I cut a 24″ piece for the horizontals and 16″ piece for the uprights, roughly planed each one with a jack plane, and then cut the short pieces out of each one.
These eight pieces will become the two ends, which I will assemble first.
I set the uprights on top of the horizontal pieces and nail them together like so:
Be sure that the end grain does not protrude past the long grain on any of the pieces, or you will have trouble later. Nail these pieces together very securely, either by using 2-3 nails in each corner, or by using long nails that will poke through the backside and be clenched, which is what I’ve done here. Be sure the nails are not too close to the outside ends, as you will soon be putting even more nails into these pieces.
Step 3: Add the Sides and Bottom
With the end pieces assembled, it is time to cut the sides to length, plane them smooth, and attach them. Now that you know the exact thickness of the end assemblies, you can measure your inside dimension, add the thickness of both end assemblies, and cut the sides to precise length.
Nail the sides to the end assemblies, making sure that the vertical members are on the outside and the horizontal members are on the inside. On each end put in two nails, at least one of which should be driven into the long grain of the upright. Don’t drive both of them into end grain, or the sides will eventually pull out.
To avoid splitting the ends, you may want to drill pilot holes for the nails. With care, you can also toenail the nail so that it penetrates both boards, increasing the strength of the whole assembly. Just be careful where you place your nails, as you don’t want to hit any of the nails that you’ve already driven into the end assemblies.
With the sides assembled, you can now determine how many boards you will need for the bottom. In this case, I want three slats.
Notice that you will not cut all the slats to the same length. The ones that go on each side can be the same length as the sides, but the one that goes in the middle can be cut shorter.
The way you nail on the bottoms depends very much on how you plan to use the crate. If the crate will need to carry weight, then you should put a couple nails into each end, being sure to penetrate the long grain of the end assemblies. But in this case, the crate will be slid in and out of a shelf, so the bottom needs only a single nail in each end. You should take the time to set these nails below the surface of the wood. Otherwise, if the wood shrinks, the nail heads will stick out and scratch up any surface that the crate slides across.
With the bottom on, the crate is complete. At this point, you might wish to ease the corners with a handplane or sandpaper. You could also apply stain and/or a finish, or even paint the crate. In my case, I’ll just let regular use age the crate naturally.
Step 4: Fill It Up.
So how exactly are we going to use this crate anyway?
It’s going to hold extra condiments in the kitchen cupboard, like this.
And here the crate is at home, where it will live for many years to come (hopefully).
This design is not my own but a very old one that I’ve seen on many old crates. The basic design is adaptable to a wide range of shapes and sizes.