Thursday, 26 February 2015

DIY Project: Making a Solander Box

Apparently, if you keep doing something at least 5 times it becomes a habit (one of those lame madeup philosophies by my husband). This means, after I've published this post I'm done for the rest of the year as a blogger, right?! :P Just kidding, I actually enjoy posting, I just tend to procrastinate more.

This project was on my mind since late last year as I wanted to buy a nice presentation box for our wedding album, which had been sitting in a plastic bag vertically since we got it. Naturally, the cover became slightly bent... so I decided to get a box for it. Due to my anal retentiveness, it was just impossible to buy the perfect box without spending a lot of money for a custom made one. A lot of places I found only do wholesale, while this Etsy store provides bespoke and personalised boxes, the choices are very limited.

Since I'm pretty good with making things, (lol no shame!), I decided to do it myself and make exactly what I want in the box. With the help of youtube and some particularly helpful videos but this professional bookbinder, I embarked upon the journey of box making... 

First of all, I'd like to make my own differentiation between the Solander and the Clamshell boxes. According to wiki, the only difference is in the language used, i.e. British vs American. Apologies but I HAVE to sidetrack for one thing here, because the reference for that wiki page was taken from my friend's father, Australian historian Edward Duyker. Graham and I are still amazed by his personal library, and his collection of historical artefacts and geological samples!

Back to boxes, from what I've seen across the internet, most (with some exceptions of course) of the Solander boxes have three fixed side sections on both the top and bottom trays. While most of the Clamshell boxes on the market have only fixed sides on the bottom tray and a flexible lip for closure. Since the Society of American Archivist glossary has defined both boxes with three fixed sides on both base and lid, I truly don't understand when, where and how this "sideless-lid box" came about. I imagine the box without fixed sides on box trays is probably less sturdy and light-fast for archival purposes. I also realised that I put too much information regarding my post subjects, but I hope this can help you make some educated decisions if you ever want to buy or make a box yourself. Anyway, I'm calling it a Solander box to honour the person who invented it!

FINALLY, a photo-guided tour of this box-making process. If you've watched all six of Sage's videos and followed his instructions, without coming up with some smart-arsed alternatives like I did, then you'll probably be fine. Since I hadn't completely thought through my ideas, what you'll read about instead is a bunch of stuff ups I made and I how fixed them. :P
*In reality, I write all this crap and then upload the photos and add some final touch ups. The photo processing part is extremely brain numbing, so I had some Carpenters playing in the background to help the mood a little. You know, imagining little birds singing in the garden outside the kitchen window, but they're really taunting the cats that are stalking their every move on the inside. So close, yet so far, damn you birds!!

Part 1: Making of the Bottom and Top three sided Trays. 

This was where all things went wrong because of my little self-justified idea (backed up by husband) to replace the starting material with MDF Wood (3 mm thickness). So here is a list of advices for How Not To Fuck Up!

No.1: DO NOT USE WOOD!!! Unless you have power tools.
Just stick with cardboard, bookbinding board to be precise. Other than being more sturdy and durable, it's really not workable unless you have power tools! I was able to get help from some generous friends who pretty much did most of the cutting and sanding for me, otherwise I would've given up a while ago.

This is what happens when you don't have power tools:
Despite your effort of making precise drawings for cutting, that hand saw you bought just for this purpose will just lay all that effort to waste in the form of the teeth marks of a wild rabid dog! You then have to mask that inexperience of using a hand tool with copious sanding and some sort of terminal lung disease from inhaling all the saw dust that the wind just blew into your face! All this can be solved in less than a minute on a fucking table saw! Hell Yes to power tools! I was raging so hard during this part of the process, and promised myself I'll never work with wood again, unless I get my own power tools one day... 
Not all tools are present here, if you haven't chosen to use wood then you wouldn't need a saw!!

No. 2: DO NOT USE WOOD GLUEIf you have ignored my first warning...
Wood glue is just your regular PVA craft glue but higher quality, which is still completely useless if you're trying to stick three long and thin pieces of wood together while trying to retain structural rigidity! Fuck that and go straight to the hardcore 2 part epoxy that sets in 5 minutes! It creates strong permanent bonds in no time and requires minimal clamping. Don't get the 90 second ones as it'll just solidify as you apply it onto the wood, while the 2 hr ones are no different to the wood glue. I'd rather go for the over kill than waiting around hoping the wood glue has dried over 24 hours and find out that it breaks as soon as your cats inevitably sit in the cat trap you've painstaking crafted.

Most of this really came from working with wood and the bad cutting job from the hand saw. The bottom tray was cut by hand and the top by the table saw, but the fit was just too tight for the covering fabric I bought. Lucky I made everything a little bigger so that I could sand the crap out of the bottom (inner) tray to give it more room for the fabric. This was also done with the help of my friend's table mounted belt sander! It also fixes the remnant glue marks and that imperfect gluing job you did. Mistakes are okay, if you can fix them. If you can't, then you're just fucked and should start from scratch and try not repeat them again! Of course, there is no room for fuck ups when it comes to important things, I certainly hope that making a box is not THAT important to you...
The top tray is supposed to be 5 mm lager than the bottom tray on all 3 sides. Think it looks ok? Think again!
When you fit them together, BAMMM! You've screwed up somewhere, somehow...
Okay, no more swearing from here on! Angry kitty is gone, happy kitty is back! =^_^=

Part 2: Covering the Trays and the Cover with Fabric.

The cover is made from three separated pieces of card board (slightly larger than the trays after they've been covered) held together with the fabric, so that when glued onto the trays it creates a flexible drop-down spine. My local Eckersley's store didn't have the bookbinding board in stock, so I bought the core boxboard instead. Since I'm sticking it onto wood, rigidity is not an issue here. If you're using it for making the trays, please don't use boxboard as it will bend when you apply glue onto it. Anyway, just make sure you leave enough room between the pieces or it won't fold over properly. Yes, this is another one of my minor boo-boos, but it was easily fixed by cutting a little off the edges of each piece of board.

Here's another little trick I came up with for this project and future fabric-covering related projects. The most common fabric of choice for bookbinders and box makers is Buckram. I personally find this extremely boring and hard to find in our crappy local fabric stores (namely Lincraft). Another alternative to this to find some nice fabric and iron on some adhesive backing to make any fabric suitable for gluing. OR, you can just buy some nice curtain material and your work is done. This is probably the only thing I did right for this project! 

The bottom tray was left unlined, since I was going to add a padded layer to it anyway. And again, leave some bloody room for mistakes! Can you also see the gentle curvature of the bent boxboard?
And some illustrated guide for covering and wrapping around the corners of thick pieces of boards. Or you can just watch the youtube videos...
The fabric I bought for the cover was quite thick and stiff and nicely textured, it is off-white with a soft satin sheen, which is perfect for a wedding album box. I used a thinner plain fabric for lining the inside. The great thing with curtain fabric is that they don't shrink when you apply the glue, or need to be pre-washed for the iron-on backing. However, you'll need to press the thicker fabric to the wood for at least 30 minutes with some weights to ensure proper bonding. Yes, you can use wood glue for everything here, no need for fabric glue, which is for gluing two porous surfaces together.
There's a trick to wrapping around corners and that, but due to my inexperience, my corners turned out to be a little bit ugly. Other than that and the whole process being time consuming (mostly waiting for things to dry), it went pretty smoothly. 

Part 3: Assembly & Final Product.

The most important thing is to have some even heavy weights for pressing. Due to the size of my box (11" x 14"), it was really hard to even find books that will fit into the box properly. Since the boards were slightly bent from the wet glue, you really have to press hard around the edges and apply extra glue in the gaps. We managed to finally glue everything together with the help of my husband's collections of somewhat useless nerdy things (mostly MTG cards).
Magic cards are actually the major contributor to the overall weight, and Lego by volume. At least I know that my box can withstand some heavy squashing!
The final touches are the extra spine board that fits within the gap of the two trays for extra light-fastness, and the padded minky fleece lining for the bottom tray. Most commercial boxes don't have either or both of these extras, hence justifying the DIY business. The lining is the only part where you'll need fabric glue and some double-sided tape, at least no excessive pressing is needed! :)
Soft and fluffy just like my cats! <3 
Dun dun dun "drum roll", here are some obligatory photos of the finished product. I'm pretty satisfied with the final product, regardless of the tedious making process and some minor imperfections, and that the texture of the cover makes it hard to open and close the box. I means seriously, when is friction ever a good thing?! Also it's for storage, so unless some troll friends of ours request to look at our wedding album every time they come over, it's not really a problem. :P

Hope you had more fun reading about the mishaps of my box making adventure than I did making this pretty and useful piece of crap! I'm proud of it, but it was really a pain in the arse, and it was ALL MY FAULT! Sigh...~_~"

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