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Shipping Solutions for Booksellers

How to Build Your Own Boxes

by Craig Stark

#135, 1 June 2009

I recently sold a copy of my favorite dictionary:

Some of you may recognize this as Webster's Second New International Dictionary - at over 600,000 entries the largest English language dictionary ever produced, not to mention the heaviest. In recent decades it has become, ironically, collectible for its more prescriptive content, which differed radically from Webster's Third, first published in 1963.

Webster's Second has never been reprinted, so all existing copies of it are at least 47 years old. Given that it weighs nearly 17 pounds, it's an understatement to say that the joints/hinges on these books are typically subjected to serious stress over time. Therefore, when shipping one, one must be especially attentive to safe packaging, the two most critical factors being protecting the extremities against bumping and freezing the text block in place to prevent damage to the binding.

Now, there are several approaches you could take, but in situations like this I'm forever looking for something that gets the job done cheaply and quickly - and preferably with an additional factor of safety built in. In this case, I looked no further than building a custom box with a corrugated pad.

Corrugated pads are similar in construction to the cardboard used to make most boxes - double-skinned with a fluted core - but, since they're designed for separating and supporting layers of often very heavy products on skids, are far more crush-resistant. Also, when folded along the grain of the flute, they produce an exceptionally strong edge. Cost? For this project, about $.70, and it took me about five minutes to build the box.

I started with a piece cut to 15" x 48". The dictionary was about 12" from head to tail, so this left me 1 " on each end to insert the end caps. Much less than this, and there really isn't enough gluing surface; much more, and you start wasting materials.

200 lb. test corrugated pads can be purchased at, for example, Uline in sizes ranging from 15" x 15" to 48" x 96". For purposes of packaging books, 24" x 48" pieces seem to work well for most applications. In this particular case, the 48" length allowed me to fully wrap the book and have a full panel left over for gluing, but of course a smaller book would require considerably less.

To build the box, first measure the width of the book (from spine to fore edge, allowing for any bubble wrap, etc., that will be subsequently wrapped around it), mark the pad on each edge, and, using some sort of straight-edged implement, make your first fold. It's important to use a straight-edge because this material doesn't always cooperate by folding uniformly along a flute.

Next I measured the thickness of the book and, after marking the pad, made a second fold and so on until I ended up with this:

I folded the remaining panel at the corner, then glued it to the first panel by running a bead of hot glue around the perimeter:

Next I cut a piece for the first end cap. This should measure the exact width of the box interior and be least 3" longer than the opening (to allow for the 1 " recess on each end). (By the way, cutting these is readily accomplished with a flat blade paper trimmer.)

Once the cap was cut to size, I folded each end 1 " in and glued the flaps to the cap to the box interior, being careful to line up the edges. I also ran beads of glue along the open joints of the cap to both completely seal the opening against the elements and add additional strength:

At this point I inserted the book into the box and cut a second end cap to width, this time allowing more than 3" in length for the opening so as to custom fit it exactly. This can be accomplished by making the folds in place:

The second end cap was glued, and here is the resulting box:

Even if empty, this box is so strong it can be stood on without crushing it - far stronger than a conventional box - and the dictionary is absolutely frozen in place. If you're concerned about the box being opened for postal inspection, you can affix an "Open Here for Inspection" label or something similar along the leading edge of the final panel. Since only the perimeters are glued, the panel can be pulled off readily, the contents inspected, and reattached with, say, tape without disturbing the end caps.

This method is also very useful for packaging book lots with minimal or no voids. Also, and scraps, besides being useful for cutting end caps, make excellent stiffeners for mailing ephemera, booklets and other flexible items, especially so if you cut two pieces to the same size with the fluting oriented perpendicular to each other.

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