Build Your Own Inexpensive Transport Equipment Cases

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Basic tools and carpentry techniques can save you a lot of cash when protecting your valuable hardware! Like a lot of video producers on a budget I’m always looking for ways to save cash while moving forward with the realistic hardware needs of various projects. The recent purchase of a pair of vintage Colortran 2K Fresnel lights nudged me to seek some type of protective storage and transport case option that wasn’t insanely priced. These are big fixtures and they call for big cases.

These cases are NOT, however, designed for shipping or as checked baggage because they probably wouldn’t hold up to the abuse dished out by airline baggage-handling gorillas. For transport and storage they work great.

I’m a far better carpenter than a metal or plastics/composites fabricator so wood is my material of choice for such projects. These cases use materials and hardware that’s readily available from your local home-improvement store. For lighter weight I’d use 1/4-inch plywood but I chose 1/2-inch plywood for this job due to its extra strength. If it has a flat top, is portable, it’s higher than ground level and it’s on set, it’s going to be sat on, stood on, used as a lunch break table, camera support unit, impromptu workbench surface and so on. Extra strength is a plus.

Based on the fixture dimensions, plus allowing a couple extra inches on each interior side for foam padding, the cases would need to be about 19 inches tall, 18 inches wide and 17 inches deep (front to back) exterior dimensions. To keep the box height reasonable I planned these so the light mounting yoke would be removed and stored separately inside the case, otherwise, it would have added several inches to the height to leave them installed. It only takes a few moments to mount the yokes on set so that was a compromise I could live with.

You don’t need elaborate plans for this kind of job. I started with a sketch on a notepad  that was mainly done to help me make efficient use of the plywood sheet.

diy-equipment-case-1-plans

This job boils down to building plywood boxes. No special tools are required. If you don’t have a large table saw, for example, you can use smaller hand saws and an impromptu rip fence to do the job and keep the edges straight.

diy-equipment-case-2-plywood

Inexpensive corner clamps  save a lot of grief and fumbling with parts by holding the panels at a 90-degree angle and in proper alignment during assembly. A small pneumatic 18-gauge nailer made fast work of joining the panels but a hammer and some brads would work as well. I used Elmer’s Glue-All Max, a moisture-activated glue, because it’s completely waterproof when cured and that’s important for a case that will likely be exposed to the weather now and then.

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I added a small strip of 1/2-inch plywood inside the box near the top as a reinforcing backer for mounting screws where the piano hinge was to be positioned in back and up front where the latches would be mounted.

diy-equipment-case-4-Reinforcement

For the benefit of those with less derriere padding I recessed the top handles by cutting 5 by 5-inch holes in the lid and fastening a larger piece of 3/4-inch plywood inside the lid for mounting the handle hardware. In truth, this was also done so the cases could be stacked without wobbling.

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To ensure the top was a good fit, each box was fully assembled first, then the top was cut off by running the box through a table saw with the rip fence set at 2-1/2 inches. I made sure no fastening nails were installed where the cut would later be made.

After sanding the exteriors and lid-mating surfaces I gave each box three coats of semi-gloss exterior-grade urethane varnish. This should provide adequate protection against the occasional rainy dousing. These boxes are tall enough that standing near the edge could cause the box to flip and topple, so as a CYA step I cut out stencils and added the “Do not stand” lettering and illustration atop each box with black spray paint. Now it’s a matter of seeing how many under-50 types understand what the triangle on the seated figure illustration means.

diy-equipment-case-6- Stencils

A piano hinge mounted out back – yes, it looks offside, but I centered the mounting screws, not the offset hinge dimension caused by cutting a 30-inch hinge in two pieces – and standard furniture hasps up front provide the essential hardware. Another pair of large trunk handles were mounted to each side for ease of handling.

diy-equipment-case-7- Piano_Hinge

To keep the lid from flopping too far back I attached a 12-inch piece of small-gauge hardware store chain and screwed it to the inside of the base and the lid. Self-adhesive grey foam weatherstripping provides a fine dust- and moisture-resistant seal when the lid is clamped down.

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I purchased an inexpensive can of spray-on truck bedliner material, Dupli-Color Truck Bed Coating, #TR250, from NAPA auto parts and added a protective coat to the box undersides and 3 inches up the sides. This material goes on thick, is really tough and provides great protection against rough ground surfaces, moisture and the like.

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I scrounged scraps of foam from my hardware boxes and a fabric store and used medium-density for the base and sides (Green) and higher-density (dark grey) for the front and back protection. Weldwood Contact Cement secured the foam nicely in place.

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The dark grey foam was positioned to clear the barndoor mounting tabs up front and the focus handle out back. The backside foam was also sized so the fixture mounting yoke would slip snugly over the foam strips.

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The completed products do a good job of taking care of their Colortran contents. The folded barndoors store on top of the lights and are held in place when the lids close down.

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This type of container is pretty easy to build, can be completely customized to fit any hardware and they don’t cost an arm and a leg. They work great for me and this same process could answer some of your equipment storage needs as well.

About The Author:

Jeff Johnston is a career automotive journalist, based in Eugene, Oregon. He is the host and associate producer for Rollin’ On TV, a broadcast cable channel show about RVs and the RV lifestyle. He also works as a gaffer and grip on indie features and short films and he’s getting far too much experience with the whole one-man-band shooting thing.

  • http://martybugs.net/blog Martin Pot

    That’s a pretty awesome build!

  • BuckCash

    Very nice. However, “inexpensive” is a relative term and, having some familiarity with DIY builds and costs of base materials, I’m VERY interested to know what the actual cost to make a box like this is, including ALL the materials used, right down to the spray on bedliner coating.

    • Jeff Johnston

      Hi, I didn’t keep an exact running tally but I believe the cost was about $148 for both boxes, or less than $75 per box. I didn’t use furniture-grade plywood but I also didn’t use junk. Compared to the cost of, say, Pelican cases or the like, I’d say that qualifies as inexpensive.