Applebox sets

4 May

Appleboxes were a revolutionary thing for me when I first encountered them. Just blocks, basically–blocks with handles, industry-standard sizes, and any number of applications. If you’re familiar with film sets at all, you know of appleboxes, and you’ve probably sat on one or two in your time. More than once have I wanted a few around the apartment for various projects–a footstool, a place to let something dry, whatever you need done.

For "Swing-X" in summer of 2013, I built two sets for the production. Saved us a great deal of money, and we used them every day.

For “Swing-X” in summer of 2013, I built two sets for the production. Saved us a great deal of money, and we used them every day.

A normal applebox set (like the one from Filmtools) will cost you around $150 with shipping. Now, they look very nice, and are made by cabinet makers, which gives them precision corners and dimensions. However, if you’re willing to sacrifice perhaps a little precision, you can make your own appleboxes that will be solid additions to your kit. The cool part about the plans I have is that, if you so choose, you can make as many as four full sets of boxes for around $130.

Shooting "Swing-X" with said appleboxes in play.

Shooting “Swing-X” with said appleboxes in play.

Final note before starting: the plans I have are a little different construction, with a unique sort-of asymmetrical way of being put together. If you don’t want to do it exactly the way I have, there will be another set of plans available that have standard cuts on them, and you can use those dimensions instead.

– 2x 3/8″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood
– 1x 3/4″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood
– 1x 1/2″ x 4′ x 8′ plywood*
– Liquid Nails
– Brads (I used 1-1/4″, but 1″ would work better)

– Table saw (or something you can cut long, straight lines with)
– Drill***
– Hole saw (1-1/4″ and 1″)
– Jigsaw
– Brad nailer
– 12″ Clamps (optional)
– 90-deg. corner clamp (optional)
– Router**
– Minwax for finish (optional)

* – the 1/2″ plywood is for pancakes, which are technically 1″ thick. However, you will have some extras from the 3/8″ plywood, and again, if you don’t mind a lack of precision or exactness, having those pieces of wood will be plenty.

** – if you’ve used a router before, then I suggest having an edge of 1/8″ to 1/4″ on your top/bottom pieces, and using a flush cut bit to give it a nice finish. If you’ve never used a router before…maybe don’t worry about it.
*** – the drill is for cutting holes in the sides and center, but if you’re making the full lot here, you will have problems with your drill overheating. If you have an area outside, and can use something heavy duty like a big hammer drill, it will make things much easier.

For this plan, we are using 3/4″ plywood for the walls, and 3/8″ plywood for the tops and bottoms. Pine plywood will suffice, but don’t be alarmed when you can’t find it in these dimensions. Most stores will carry 23/32″ and 15/32″ instead of 3/4″ and 1/2″ (respectively), but in my experience the boards vary enough that the nominal width is close enough. You could use 1/2″ for the side walls, but I think the 3/4″ adds much-needed heft. These are heavier than standard boxes, but…well, beef up.


3-4 cuts asymmetric

Full cuts stepped

Full hole marks

Half cuts stepped

2x 2-4-38 cuts (this is an alternate set of cuts that lets you use 2′ x 4′ x 3/4″ pieces for two sets)

3/4″ cuts symmetric (these are if you don’t want the asymmetric design in this plan–the only difference is the middle pieces are boxed in by the long sides)

3/8″ rips** (this is also the plan for the 1/2″ rips for pancakes, but take 1/4″ away, so you’ll have two long 20″ rips, and then several 12″ rips)

1. Ripping the plywood
The first step is to make some large, long cuts that run the length of the plywood. This is going to be easiest with a table saw, but you could also use a circular saw with a guide.
The 3/4″ plywood needs four large rips, and then a series of smaller ones.


Go ahead and glue the pancakes together. I clamped mine all together in one big stack. The Liquid Nails should be enough to hold them together. As I mentioned earlier, using 1/2″ plywood to get a perfect 1″ thick pancake is optional–you’ll have some leftovers from the 3/8″, and you can either leave them seperate or glue two together to make pancakes. On Swing-X I just left the 3/8″ pieces alone, and used them as is a lot–just having little pieces of wood for whatever was a nice thing. Update: the Liquid Nails will NOT be enough, after a few uses. You might have to get some 3/4″ screws or nails to keep ’em together.

2. Mark and cut your holes.
Tedious, but it’s gotta be done. The holes for the middle piece are absolutely optional, but if you want to run a stinger or anything through the applebox, you’ll be better off making at least one.

The inside piece is between the left side and dotted line on the right.

The inside piece is between the left side and dotted line on the right.

Use a 1-1/4″ hole-saw or spade bit at each center mark, and then use a jigsaw to cut straight across. You could use bigger if you want to, but it will look enormous on the half boxes.



The quarter boxes will need a 1″ hole cut, but it would be easier to wait ’til they’re already put together. They will not need holes on the center wall of the box. Watch where you’re nailing on the quarters–don’t put a nail right through where you want to drill! If you’re using a router, specifically the round-over bit, wait to drill that hole until after you’ve routed–otherwise you get these funky divots when you route.

3. Put it all together!
Arguably the most simple part, but probably not going to be a walk in the park.
I put Liquid Nails everywhere I join wood–it may lengthen the amount of time I spend working with the boxes, but once it locks in, it’s solid and not budging without a massive shift in temperature or inervention from the Almighty.

A model of the full box construction with the cuts--notice the overlap on one side.

A model of the full box construction with the cuts–notice the overlap on one side.

Keep an eye on your alignment, if you've already cut your holes, so that the short side is butted up against the long side (bottom of picture.)

Keep an eye on your alignment, if you’ve already cut your holes, so that the short side is butted up against the long side (bottom of picture.)

The asymmetry if this design means you need to keep an eye on your handle placement. If you’re forward thinking, make sure that the pretty sides are all looking out. Here’s where you can use the clamps if you want, but I found it time consuming–it was easier for me to just squeeze it together and nail, letting the glue fill the gap.

When you are ready to put the tops and bottoms on, pick one corner and get it aligned. Keep the adjacent sides flush while nailing by moving the board around–you’ll spread some glue, but that’s okay. This will give you an overlap on the other two sides, but we’ll take care of that in the next step.

4. Finish it!
At this point, you’re done enough–after the glue dries, things are probably good to go.


But! If you’re like me, you don’t want your work to look subpar. (Personally, I don’t see anything about “DIY” that means it has to look DIY.) The best thing to do, through the whole process, is keep an eye on any nasty knots or breaks in the wood, and make sure these are put on the inside, and don’t necessarily write on the wood in Sharpie [like I did] if you can’t hide it.

First thing is to take a flush-cut router bit and run along the top and bottom sides. This will take care of any overlap. Next, switch out to a round-over bit, and run along every side that’s exposed. (On Swing-X, when I had time, I did this to all of the handles too, front and back, but it’s not completely necessary.)

If you’re feelin’ frisky, go get some stainable wood filler and fill in any brad holes and big gaps in the seams. Then, once it’s dry, go over everything with some medium grit sandpaper, especially the areas you just cut with a router.

Finally, take your Minwax and stain the suckers. Obviously, follow the recommended warnings on the material (i.e., DON’T DO THIS INSIDE YOUR LIVING ROOM) and make sure you keep things clean and clear. Use the brush to take care of any drops along the top or bottom. If you need a place to dry them, you can always run some rope through the handles and hang ’em from a tree or post or C-stand. Or, you can use an Origami shelf, like the one I’ve been using for my camera cart.


This is a cherry stain, which I picked up on clearance at Home Depot. In the future, I’ll probably try and get some kind of “golden” or even a much darker stain.

The bottom two shelves are the end result of this DIY. The top shelves are sets of nesting appleboxes, which I have in a different post.


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