Wooden Storage "Crates"

Custom media storage, for cheap

A wooden CD storage crate full of CD sleeves

Various completion dates

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Back in the 1980's, there was a company that had a line of media storage accessories that looked like wooden crates, but were custom sized for cassette tapes and records. They weren't the most glamorous things, but they were affordable and not made of plastic. This company appears to be long gone, unfortunately.

I've had requiements for media storage recently, and most of what I see in stores is overpriced and doesn't really meet my requirements. I've had to come up with my own creative solutions in the past, but those have failed to keep up with my needs.

Anyway, now that I have some experience with woodworking, it should be easy enough to ape what the crate company used to do, maybe even making something a little nicer.

I'm getting pretty good at it now. I can knock together some utlitarian storage in very little time. Something nicer takes extra time, but mostly for the sanding and the finishing. If I start with nicer stock it takes even less time to make something I'm not afraid to leave out where people can see it.

So far I've made:


Some nice CD sleeve crates

These are about 11 inches long on the outside, the same depth as an IKEA "Billy" bookshelf. I stained them with a light cherry stain and finished them with a couple of coats of semi-gloss spray polyurethane. Each one can hold about 100 CDs if you pack them in. Were I still using jewel boxes, each would only hold about two dozen CDs.


A mediocre box for vinyl 45's

This is a solid-sided and solid-bottomed box. I made it a full box because I wanted it to be nicer, but the finish came out poorly. It sits on top of the stereo cabinet.


A long miniDV tape crate

This was my first miniDV crate, made long to match the CD boxes above. I decided not to do any finishing, since it's just bulk storage. I did mess up one thing: the side rails are high enough off the bottom that if a tape is laying down in the crate, it can slide out. This version only held about fourteen tapes.


Several short miniDV tape crates

After my library of tapes outgrew that long box, I made a few shorter boxes. These fixed the problem of the first version by having wider rails. I also used thinner plywood, so the boxes can sit closer together, and used a staple gun to speed construction. They're only 8.5 inches long, so they fit into letter trays. Each one holds ten tapes.


Some short CD sleeve crates

We needed a few more crates to hold my burgeoning collection and to be able to have CDs in a couple of other rooms from where the nice two are, so I made some shorter ones. These use unfinished cedar strips (that were left over from a closet) for the sides. The boxes are 8.5" long.


A dozen crates for hire

Out of the blue I got email from somebody asking if I could make him nine custom crates. He wanted simple unfinished crates, but they had to be 11 inches long to match some he already had. I was able to speed up the process by making cuts through multiple layers of wood and using flat molding for the rails. He was happy enough with the crates to order three more!


Another CD Crate, quick and dirty

I was finally starting to run out of room in my existing CD crates, so I made one more CD crate. This one and he next use 1" wide lattice moudling as rails instead of the 1 3/8" stuff I have been using. It's a little cheaper, though I worry about its long-term durability. After this, I'm going to have to figure something else out, because I don't have any more room for crates.


CD Crate with plywood ends

My Jewel Box Box, of computer-related CDs was finally getting full, so I made this crate to hold all those. I just used 3/8" plywood for the ends, which actually worked better than I expected. this marks the end of the Jewel Box Box era.


Two short CD crates with plywood ends

Sharon wanted one more short crate, so I gave her mine and made a couple more for myself. These are going to live in a drawer, so I just used more 3/8" plywood for the ends. They're a little short vertically, as well as being only 9" long.


Crates for sewing patterns

Our old method of storing sewing patterns in shoeboxes just wasn't working any more, so I made five of these crates. They also use 1" wide lattice moudling as rails. The ends are 6.5" wide and 7" tall, which is probably a little larger than they need to be, but sometimes these envelopes are a little oversized anyway.


Crate for large sewing patterns

Speakling of oversized envelopes, some patterns come in huge 9"x12" envelopes or big zip-baggies. This crate is so large I had to do three rails per side, and ran out of the thinner stuff, necessitating one wide rail per side. The ends are 9.5" wide and 11" tall.


Thirteen Book Crates

I needed to empty my bookshelves so that the room I use as my office could be repainted. I used this opportunity to make 13 crates perfectly sized for holding paperback books. These might come in handy in the future. Each crate is 2 feet long and has an extra rail along the bottom to help with the weight. The rails are all ripped from scrap 2x4.


A DVD Crate

I also needed to store the small number of DVDs I keep upstairs (you may notice that most of these are martial arts movies), so I made a DVD crate to match the book crates. This crate holds about 32 DVDs in standard storage boxes.


I usually use some kind of solid wood for the ends of the box. Typically, I get away with using scraps from something else. Most of my boxes use "laminated pine" lumber, but you could use board scraps or craft wood for slightly higher quality.
I've used all kinds of things for the rails. Mostly, I used quarter-inch lauan plywood. Sometimes I use eighth-inch plywood from the craft store. You could also use molding, or craft basswood. Like I said, the short CD sleeve boxes were cedar closet lining.
Nails are OK, but if you're using solid wood, pre-drill pilot holes to prevent the wood from splitting. If you're not worried about looks, break out the staple gun and staple it together.
I recommend doing the finishing first. If you decide you want the crates to look nice and be finished, finish the parts with stain and a couple of thin coats of spray polyurethane. It's easier to finish flat pieces than an assembled crate. I like spray polyurethane for small projects because there's no brush cleaning, and it dries quickly.
If the crates are going to be placed on any piece of furniture, I recommend some kind of feet to prevent the nails from scratching. This can be as simple as those dots of self-adhesive felt.

The Process

  1. Start by cutting the crate ends. For the CD sleeves, I made my ends 5"x5", which is a little shorter than the sleeves, but that makes the index tabs stick out so it's easier to leaf through them. For the miniDV tape crates, I made the ends the same size as a tape case. Well, actually a little (0.0625") larger for some sliding room. Cut two ends per crate. If your crate is going to be very long, you might actually want to put an "end" in the middle as a divider for more stability.
  2. Then cut the rails. The rails usually need to be at least an inch to an inch and a half wide. For most crates you're just making rails, not *sides* as you would with a solid box, so the exact width is unimportant. If you're using craft wood, molding, or something like those, the width is already determined for you.

    Determine the length based on how long you wish the crate to be. Ten tapes, eleven inches, the depth of a shelf, all make excellent lengths. Don't forget to include the thickness of the ends in your calculations. All rails will be cut to this length.

    Cut at least three rails per crate. Depending on the size of the crate and rails, you may need more rails. For some of the CD crates I used six rails, but for others only three. Obviously, the width of the rails played a big part in this.
  3. Do the finishing. Like I said, if you're doing any finishing it's best to apply at least one coat of finish to the pieces while they're still flat. In my experience, assembled pieces are mordifficult to finish.
  4. Assemble the crate. For informal crates, you can just use a staple gun to tack the rails onto the ends. I recommend multiple staples at each point. If you're using nails, you might want to pre-drill the rails so that they don't split when you drive the nails in. With nails, one or two nails at each point is usually sufficient.
  5. Attach the feet. I usually just use self-adhesive felt squares, so after the finish is all dry and the crate is all put together I just stick on the padding. For informal crates I mostly just skip it.
  6. Fill with stuff. Oops, time to make another crate.

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