Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Beer Crate

Over the holidays, I set out to build some more permanent storage cases for my homebrew beer.  I had just been using whatever cardboard beer boxes I could get my hands on.  Now that I'm getting more into homebrewing I thought it would be nice to put my woodworking skills to good use.

The finished beer crate
Design decisions:
  • Be easily stackable (up to 3 or 4 high)
  • Some sort of locking/registration mechanism so when they're stacked they stay stacked
  • Separators between bottles so the bottles don't knock together when moved
  • Sturdy!
  • Some method of identifying what beer is in a given case
  • Hold at least 12 bottles (24 seems like too much)
  • Tall enough to hold any normal 12 ounce beer bottle
  • Handles for ease of carrying
I started by measuring a cardboard beer box to get some general size guidelines.  I also measured the tallest 12 ounce beer bottle I could find to see what the height needed to be.

Based on the measurements I designed the beer crate in Sketchup (as usual).  I decided to use 3/4 inch pine boards for the sides and end pieces and 1/8 inch hardboard for the bottom and the separator pieces.  There are two interesting features: The first is that I plan on applying chalkboard paint to the sides of the crate so I can write info on the batch in chalk.  The second interesting feature is a trick I learned from woodgears.ca.  The idea is to use marbles to "lock two flat surfaces together in a removable fashion.  The idea is to drill two hols on the two surfaces just wide enough and deep enough to fit a marble.  The marble then sits above the surface of the top edge end piece and fits into a matching hole on the bottom of the end piece.  In this way the crates can be stacked without worrying about them slipping.  Since the marble is spherical it's easier to line up than a cylindrical peg.

The beer crate design in Sketchup
The construction details are not that interesting since they are just standard woodworking techniques.  The sides, ends, bottom, and separator pieces were cut to size from pine boards and hardboard sheets.  A slot was cut into the sides and end pieces to fit the bottom piece similar to the way drawer bottoms are traditionally made.  

The hand holds were cut in the end pieces with a forstner bit and a jigsaw, and sanded smooth using an oscillating spindle sander.  The recesses for the marbles were drilled using a drill press and a template I made  to make sure the holes line up properly.
Slots were cut halfway through the separator pieces so that they would fit together.  To make these cuts I used my table saw and just stacked up several separators at a time and pushed them into the saw blade until the blade hit a pencil mark half way through the separator.  There are cleaner ways to make this cut but since the cut is not visible after the seperators are assembled, I wasn't too concerned with cosmetics.  If you'd like to see how these separators work just take a look at a carboard 12 pack box and they go together the same way; they're just made of hardboard instead of cardboard.

I just used a butt joint to connect the side and end pieces.  I put 1.25" wood screws into countersunk pilot holes to hold it.

I first sanded all the pine pieces mainly to get rid of machine marks.

I used two coats of clear gloss wipe-on polyurethane to seal the side and end pieces.  I didn't put any stain on the wood because I like the look of unstained pine.  I left the outside face of the side pieces unsealed since I wanted to apply the chalkboard paint there.

For the chalkboard surfaces, I first primed with some white latex paint that I had lying around.  After that had dried I sanded lightly and applied one thick coat of black Rustoleum chalkboard paint using a foam brush.  After it had dried it didn't seem to need a second coat so I left it at that.

Future Improvements
This was the first project that didn't require me to make some adjustments to the design during construction.  I credit using Sketchup and doing careful measurements before I started.

Now that I've finished the prototype I need to make 8 or 9 more to hold all of my homebrew beer.  I'm really looking forward to doing some "assembly line" style woodworking.  It seems like 90% of the time in woodworking is spent setting up for each cut, so making 10 of something doesn't take 10x more time than making 1.  I usually only make 1 of a project so it will be fun to make many more.

Even though this project went well I have some concerns and improvements for the future:
  1. I might want to use some nicer wood like oak in the future.  Then again the pine looks pretty good and has the additional advantage of being cheap.
  2. The butt joint isn't that pretty; using dovetails or finger joints would look better.
  3. I'm a little worried that the placement of the marbles may be a little too precise and I might have trouble getting things to line up when I have multiple beer crates.  I can probably get around this by only using two marbles placed above each handle instead of the current 4 marble design.  Also I could make a jig to align the pieces when I drill the pilot holes for the screws.  The jig would ensure that I get the distance between the end pieces exactly the same every time.

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