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Build a crate for your artwork

A while ago I joined an art platform that very clearly stipulated the need to ship paintings wrapped in acid-free paper, layers of bubble wrap, with corner edges, and must be shipped in a crate (a timber crate, not a cardboard box, which I'd used previously). As I was new to the platform, and not entirely sure I would be successful in selling my art through them, I ticked "agree" and put the idea of crate building down to a problem for future me... Within a week, I had landed my first sale!

Oh boy.. now what!?

I immediately made several frantic trips to the office supplies and the hardware stores looking for any of the materials which I did not already own. I then had to work out how on earth I was going to build my very first crate.

This blog will hopefully go some way to easing that very stressful learning curve when you need to ship a large item in a crate.

To begin at the end, here is the finished product.

To make a crate like this you will need a few materials and tools. I use the following:

3 X sheets of MDF board - 0.6cm x 120cm x 90cm

3 X lengths of timber frame - 2cm x 107cm x 4.5cm (UPDATE: since writing this blog, I have changed the width of these timber frame pieces to 2cm x 107cm x 9cm)

1 X leather handle

4 X connecting brackets

Framers tape

PVA glue

2 X (or more) G-clamps

About 10 nails (3-4cm)

About 18 timber screws (3-4cm)

Saw and hacksaw

Electric jigsaw (or circular saw)



Let's get started.

The painting for which I am building the crate is 120cm x 90cm. As the MDF panels are exactly the same size as my painting, I won't be able to use them as is. For these larger paintings, I need to join two pieces of the MDF board that have been cut to size.

I need to allow additional space for the timber frame, and packaging (bubble wrap, etc). Calculating all of those elements means my MDF sheets need to be 130cm x 100cm.

Step 1: Prepare the base

Lay down the first two sheets of MDF, and mark out the dimensions for the crate. Cut to size.

Step 2: Stitch the base

Join the two cut pieces of MDF, and ensure that the joined sheets are the required 130cm x 100cm dimensions. Tape these two pieces together with framers tape (or thick masking tape). Ensure that the join is taped on both sides and that the tape wraps around from the front to the back of the sheets. The framer's tape is not a strong structural element, so you need to be careful if moving it prior to attaching the timber frame.

Step 3: Attach the frame

Measure and cut your frame timber to fit the outer edges of your MDF sheets. Use PVA glue to stick the framing timber to the base MDF sheet. Use G-clamps to hold the frame in place until the glue dries.

Step 4: Attach the frame to the base

Once the glue is dry, remove the clamps. Turn the base of the crate over carefully, and nail the MDF sheet to the frame. Once the frame has been nailed to the MDF sheet, turn it back over and attach a connecting bracket to each of the inner corner joins. This adds an extra level of structural support to the base component of the crate.

Step 5: Attach the handle

As this crate will be quite large, it is handy to attach a handle so that it can be lifted and moved around as needed during transit. I use leather strap handles as they are flexible and do not protrude from the crate, so there is a low risk of them breaking or damaging any other items in the cargo.

Drill holes on the top of the frame structure, and attach the handle.

Step 6: Make the lid

Place your third MDF sheet and the offcut from your second sheet onto the workbench and place the base over the top. Align the edges, and mark the edge lines that you will need to cut. Cut the MDF sheets to size, and join them together with your framer's tape.

Step 7: Prepare the artwork

Place your painting into the base of the crate. Make sure you have carefully wrapped and prepared the painting for its journey. Lately, I've replaced plastic bubble wrap with a paper alternative. Reducing the amount of plastic is important. I also make sure that any cavity space between the painting and the crate is filled, so it reduces any movement of the painting while inside the crate.

Don't forget to place any paperwork, such as receipts, certificate of authenticity, thank you notes, etc. NOW! The next step involves attaching the lid to your crate and I once made the mistake of sealing it up before adding the paperwork.

Step 8: Sealing the crate

By now, the base is complete, the artwork is wrapped and positioned inside the crate, and the lid is ready to be screwed onto the base. Carefully lay the lid on top of the base. I drill small holes to help guide the screws. I place the screws evenly around the crate, ensuring screws go into the outer edge of each corner (again for structural support). Other screws are placed evenly along the edges so that no gaps are left open.

Your crate is now complete and ready for shipping.

Once the crate is complete, you will need to attach the postage address details. I also attach Fragile notices on both sides of the crate and write Lid and Base on the crate so that the recipient knows how to open it.

The crate building process is quite time consuming but after a bit of trial and error I have now got it down to a couple of hours, including drying time for the glue.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experience with building your own crate. Please leave a comment below.

Why not also subscribe to my website for more useful advice - I promise I won't bombard you with any spam.


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