With my small storage problem solved, now it was time to come up with a storage solution for medium-sized objects. The simplest thing would be for me to go to Ikea to buy a bunch of bins and boxes, and something to hold them all, but I decided to make something instead. Time is money, and right now I lack both of those currencies. I'd need to come up with something I could quicly whack together in an afternoon or two and without spending any bread.
For the design process, there's two easy ways to start: Option #1 is to look at the objects you need to store, then design a storage system around them. Option #2 is to look at what materials you have on hand and figure out what's possible to build with them. I took a cursory look through all the medium-sized crap I need to store: Computer cables, plumbing fixtures, electric motors, sewing machine belts, special light bulbs for the photography studio I run, blah blah blah, and quickly concluded it would be impossible or too time-consuming to design a system around this random pile of crap. So I'd go for Option #2 and build it out of garbage if I needed to.
I started poking around in the photography studio where I'd built the banquettes mentioned in an earlier post. I've been using the banquettes to store wood cut-offs, and had tons of those on hand in odd sizes. Typically too small to be useful and too big to throw away.
Another thing I had plenty of were these cardboard boxes that the seamless background paper comes in. Every few shoots I have to order more seamless, and breaking these boxes down for recycling is kind of a pain, so they really start to pile up.
The boxes are roughly four inches square in cross-section and an unwieldy nine feet long.
I grabbed one then pulled out some wood scraps and put them next to each other to see if anything jumped out at me.
One thing I noticed is all of the wood cut-offs were wider than the cardboard box.
Then the solution became obvious: I should make a matrix, replicating the simple design of the Stack-On storage drawers by cutting the cardboard boxes down to make drawers and using the cut-offs as the vertical supports. I had two sheets of 3/8" plywood, roughly 48" by 32", left over from a shoot, that I figured I could use to make the horizontal pieces.
Next I realized I was committing a design no-no: I'd forgotten to consider context. Where was this storage item going to go in the first place? That would determine how big it could be. Back in my apartment, I cleared out some junk and found a useable dead space above a makeshift half-height closet I'd built:
The gas meter hangs down on one side but most of the space is useable, about four feet of width to play with. This is where the thing should go.
The four feet of width coincided nicely with the longer 48" sides of the thin plywood. If I cut those down to 48" by 16", I could get four shelves out of them.
Next I hit the CAD to do some quick calculations, drawing up the grid to see how many box-drawers I could fit:
Leaving a smidgen of extra space between boxes for clearance, and using the 3/4"-thick wood cutoffs as verticals, I could get a grid of 4 boxes by 9 boxes, with some extra space on the side that wouldn't quite fit two boxes side-by-side. I wanted to maximize the usage of space so I'd find something else to shove into that weird leftover side space later, as well as the extra seven inches of clearance I had above the grid.
It was a simple matter to find 20 cut-offs at least 16" long, then I ripped them down to consistent heights, just taller than the boxes. Next I cut the "shelves" out of the thin plywood and simply nailed them to the verticals. So that I wouldn't have to waste time marking where to place the verticals and nails, I cut two precisely-measured spacer bars that I temporarily clamped between the verticals, front and back, while nailing. This made the job quick.
When I had all four "levels" done, I stacked them and used pocket screws to hold them together:
Those pocket screws on the outside are the only thing holding all of the levels together. I reasoned that that would be all I'd need for joinery, as the object would not be undergoing any shearing forces, so gravity would do most of the work.
Then I threw the whole thing up on the shelf.
Because the overall structure is only joined together at the sides, it was overly difficult to pick it up without breaking it, a miscalculation on my part. I got it up there okay but scraped an arm up on one of the sharp corners. Live and learn. I always forget to consider the installation part.
As you can see, I used some of the ugliest and most mismatched cut-offs I had, as I figured those pieces would be largely invisible and I was happy to save the prettier ones for a project where they might be seen.
Then I turned my attention to the boxes. I calculated how long each drawer should be (more on that later). I cut one long side off of each nine-foot box, then cut it crosswise into several pieces. With each piece I'd left room for three flaps at each end that I could fold inwards to provide the faces. I used a clamp to hold one end shut while I used a single piece of packing tape to hold the other end together. Then I just turned it around and taped the other end.
Worked like a charm, and the boxes were surprisingly sturdy, despite what they say on the side.
Then it came time to populate the boxes. With the amount of stuff I have, not a problem.
Since the boxes aren't clear like the Stack-On drawers, I'd need labels. Post-Its fit perfectly and are easy to swap around.
For the odd space on the left side, I made a double-width drawer. I did this by slicing a nine-foot box along just one seam, rather than removing an entire plane, before cutting it to length. I was worried this double-width drawer would be weak since it had a crease running down the middle of the bottom, lengthwise, but it proved to be as surprisingly sturdy as the single-width boxes.
Then it came time to load the structure up. I found two Amazon boxes that were the perfect width so I cut the height down to make some triple-width drawers that you see on the far right.
I thought I'd have to cut little notches in the face of each box as a finger-pull, but luckily there's just enough space between each to get a finger in there to pull it out.
Earlier I mentioned calculating the length of each drawer. I wanted the drawers to jut out of the grid structure, so I could easily grab one and pull it out if I needed to carry it over to a project; but I didn't want each drawer to be so long as to take up the entire depth of the available space, as I wanted a little "ledge" I could rest a box on, in case I wanted to quickly rummage through it with both hands and put it back.
Lastly I found some larger cardboard boxes and cut them to the appropriate height, to store larger items in that dead space up top.
The overall effect is not pretty, but it matches the rest of the space. Aesthetically speaking my apartment is a disaster area, but one thing I can say is that everything in here is highly functional. It's now easy for me to quickly find what I need without digging through deep bins, and more importantly, I went from 0-60 in a matter of hours and didn't spend a dime on new materials. Building something out of scrap brings a peculiar kind of satisfaction, similar to the anal joy you feel at having seventeen pennies in your pocket and hearing the cashier say "That comes out to $XX.17."
I still haven't figured out what to do with that dead space behind the gas meter, but I'll save that for when I have more time.