Storage Karabitsu

No More "Tucker Totes"

Five white storage karabitsu

July 2007

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Please believe me when I tell you that I did not intend to make five karabitsu. I was going to make three identical ones, but that became four, so we'd have a larger one to store the propane stove. The "fourth" was actually built second, and it came out a little small for its intended use, so I had to try again. I built the fifth at the same time as the second and third. The fifth (which is the second fourth) came out OK. Whew.

Anyway, these karabitsu are intended mostly as general storage containers for us to take up to Pennsic where we camp with a Japanese themed group. We, like many people, make heavy use of "tucker totes" (plastic storage containers) for outdoor storage at Pennsic. Plastic totes are great; they're cheap, waterproof, and lightweight, but they were looking increasingly ridiculous next to our nice canvas medieval pavillion. Having made a couple of Karabitsu (1, 2) before, I knew they were handy and reasonably simple to make. They seemed like a good replacement for our totes.

The only down side is that with the legs, the karabitsu don't pack into the car as easily as plastic totes. I solved this problem by having the legs be removable on the karabitsu that I'm keeping. Bolts run through the legs from the outside and connect to "T-Nuts" in the body of the chest, so the legs can be attached or detached from outside the karabitsu without unpacking it.


My box bodies are constructed entirely of exterior-grade 5.2 mm Lauan plywood. You should be able to find this a a large chain hardware supermarket like the Home Despot or Lowe's. This plywood is about 3/16 of an inch thick, and has been treated to resist moisture. The lids are edged in 1x3 pine board, which is actually about 0.75"x2.75". Since I used such thin plywood, the box bodies are framed internally in pine 1x1. If you don't have a pile of scrap wood, I recommend buying 1x4 for the lid edges, and trimming the extra 3/4" off to make 1x1 framing. Get a couple extra feet of 1x4 so you can turn that into 1x1 as well.

The legs on my boxes are made from 2x4. Each leg needs at least 13 inches of 2x4 (more if you're making a taller box). If your karabitsu will have the detachable legs, you will need 5/16" by 1" hex head bolts, 5/16" by 3/8" tee nuts, and 5/16" flat washers in sufficient quantity (two each per leg).

If you're making a six-leg karabitsu, and want to make the ring hardware, buy a couple of chrome rings in the chain section (I used 1" rings) (I could only find these at Lowe's), and some screw eyes with eyes that fit them (I used 3/16" screw eyes) (if you can find them, you might want eye bolts instead) in the hardware section. Also buy the largest fender washers you can find that have holes that fit the threaded portion of your eye hardware.

You're also going to need plenty of sand paper (I get away with some 120 and some 220 grit. If you're going for super-smooth and glossy, add some 320 or maybe even higher.) a reasonable amount of wood filler (aka "wood putty"), probably about 75 wire brads, (3/4" is probably best.) a quart of exterior sealer or primer, (I used a Glidden all purpose primer mixed with an insulating additive.) a quart of exterior paint (I use Rustoleum gloss enamel paint), at least one all purpose paint brush (I use those cheap China bristle brushes. They only last one project, but I can make them last the whole project.)

For tools, if you want to do this my way, you're going to need a table saw, miter saw, band saw, drill press, nail gun, finishing sander, drill/driver, jig saw, nail set, and hammer. If you don't have all those fancy tools, you can probably get away with just having a circular saw and a hammer, but you'd better know what you're doing.

A note about the insulating additive in the primer: The primer I used on the white karabitsu had an insulating compound mixed into it which supposedly reduces heat absorption in the sun by about 20%! Some friends of mine turned me on to the stuff. They used it to repaint a brick pantry on the back of their house (canned goods were freezing in the winter) and they told me it worked great.

It's just a very fine ceramic powder (supposedly, the grains are hollow micro spheres) that you mix into any paint. It adds a slight texture like fine sand paper that is still visible even after a couple of coats of plain paint, so it's not perfect, but it's not too bad. I mixed it into the primer coats on the karabitsu for both the inside and outside, so technically there were four coats insulating the boxes. Even sitting out in the sun they never got steamy hot inside the way the plastic totes did.

If you do a web search for "insulating paint additive", you should be able to find a number of different companies selling it. I bought from where it costs $12 to $15 for enough to add to a gallon of paint. You can probably find it cheaper if you hunt around.

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