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Component store part open

We recently attended the Mach Mini Maker Faire, and took along our upcycled mobile component store/ organizer. It got quite a bit of attention: reactions varying from delighted chuckling, to quiet nods and “I’m going to have a go at making one when I get home” noises.

Closed and mobile

This is the write up of that project, in which we make a safe and handy storage organiser for medium to small electronic components. These were our requirements: first, we wanted it to be mobile, so we could take it to places like the Maker Faire, as well as back and forth from home to the Flowering Elbow workshop. Second, it had to be effective and easy to use – while it needed to do a good job of keeping things safe and dust free, we needed easy access to its contents (no rifling through multiple compartments looking for this or that component). Third, it would be nice if it could be quickly mounted on the wall at the shop, to keep it in place, out of harm’s way and easy to access. Fourth, in line with the Flowering Elbow ethos, we wanted it to be made almost exclusively from re or upcycled material. Here’s what we came up.

Steps

Step #1: Overview of Materials and Design

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  • This project tweaks the classic zip-tied disk box, and uses it as a removable drawer. A signifying handle (an electronic component that will act as both a handle and an indicator of the contents) is added to the front. A folding ply box is used to house a bunch of individual disk drawers.
  • For the disk drawers you need: Lots of old floppy disks. One drawer requires 5 disks and 12 zip ties (2.5mm x 100mm). So to make this store which houses 16 drawers, you need 80 floppies 192 zip ties (though we also experimented with old wire wrapped tight and soldered in place instead of zip ties - it works but takes much longer) . Of course it is quite possible to scale the project and make as many drawers as suits your needs. This was something of a prototype, but I can easily envision large wall sized stores, and modular stores that fit together.
  • For the folding ply box you need: Some plywood. We gratefully received a load of off cuts of 12mm thick shuttering ply form a local ‘sure chill’ cooling company, who use it for overseas packing crates. Shuttering ply is not the best quality ply in world (in fact in its raw form it’s pretty awful), but it’s cheap or free if you can find off cuts, and there is a lot you can do to improve it, not least a bit of sanding. One 250mm (~10”) wide 2.4m (~8’) long board will do for both halves of the folding box. The dividers are scraps of 5mm thick ply - long bits that are 115mm (or 4 ½”) wide is what you want.

Step #2: Preparing the Disks

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  • First decide on the look. Floppy disks come in various guises. For this project we want the old 3 ¼” ones. Most of the ones you find will have sticky labels attached. It’s up to you how fussy you get at this point. We didn’t want any labels on the front faces of the disk drawers, and there are a few tricks to getting them off easily. Firstly try a hair drier (or very carefully and briefly, a heat gun) to heat the label area, this softens the glue and if all goes well the label will peel off without a hitch. Any stubborn remaining glue can usually be removed with white spirit and some cotton wool.
  • Now drill the required holes. To make holes for the zip tie fixings we need to drill two 3mm holes in each disk. For the four disks that make up the sides of the drawer, there are some convenient little holes already in the disk that just need punching through (see photo - arrows mark positions to drill holes).
  • In the photo the black disk on the right is one of the four drawer sides, whereas the white one is a bottom panel. The bottom of the drawer needs the holes in a slightly different place, so for every 4 you drill like the black, drill one like the white (obviously you can choose whatever colours you like). Notice that occasionally, as is the case with the white one, the square hole is not present so that needs drilling too.
  • With a scrap of wood underneath drill the holes with a 3mm drill bit.

Step #3: Putting the Drawers Together

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  • Floppies are not quite as wide as they are tall. This means that they need orienting a certain way to make a seamless box.
  • Start by creating a loose string from the four side disks, as in the first photo.
  • Decide which side of the disk you want facing outwards (we like the label out and the circular metal bit in), and thread them so that the square business part of the zip tie will end up on the inside of the drawer- it will catch on the housing if you have it outside. Then join the two ends of your string of disks, and tighten away. Be sure to pay attention to the way the edges butt against each other.
  • Once you have tightened the four corners up you are ready to put on the bottom. Again it helps to keep the zip ties loose until they are all in place, then tighten away. Notice the orientation of the bottom disk.
  • Once that’s done use a pair of side cutters or sharp scissors to snip off the zip tie ends.

Step #4: Make Lots of Them!

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  • After you have made a few it doesn't require super amounts of concentration, so you can chat away as you go. Get together and make some boxes.
  • The last disk drawer process is to add handles to the drawer fronts. For the disk drawer to fit in its slot in the storage cabinet, the front and back need to be the narrower edges. Make sure the handle goes on one of the disk’s edges. We used old electrical components to signify the intended contents of the disk. The method of fixing the handle will obviously vary depending on the component you're trying to fix on. For some, like the resistor, two small holes are drilled, the legs threaded through and soldered together on the inside. For other components a small dab of 2 part epoxy does the trick.

Step #5: Creating the Store Box - Overview

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  • After making a bunch of floppy disk drawers now we need the folding cabinet. There are many different ways this could be made, including from solid wood. This box is ply though, so lets take advantage of some of the features of ply in it’s design. Because the grain direction in the layers (or plys) of plywood are oriented perpendicular to each other, plywood is strong in all directions. For this reason we can make finger joints along all edges of a board if we want to - something you could never do with solid wood. For that reason and because they are very strong (and they look cool!) we used finger joints on the outer frame of the box.
  • We used the table saw to cut the ply down to the right sized pieces, but I won't actually cover the ins and outs of table saw use here (there are whole books on that subject). I’ll just share a few project specific table saw tips here. The table saw is one of the more dangerous tools in the woodshop, so please stay safe: you need to know quite a lot about table saw use to do this so enlist knowledgeable help if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.

Step #6: Dimensions and cutting list

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  • From an off-cut strip of ply just over 250mm wide we can make both sides of our cabinet. See diagram above (keep in mind that if you were actually cutting this you would need to allow for the width of the saw blade).
  • Pieces to make the outer (both halves) in 12mm shuttering ply
  • x2 Back 455mm x 225mm
  • x4 Sides 455mm x 125mm
  • x4 Top & bottom 225mm x 135mm
  • In the second picture you can see one side of the cabinet cut and laid out ready. The long edges are mitred together, and locked in place by the top piece which is finger jointed on three edges. The bottom is just stuck in there (it only carries the weight of the lower two disk drawers so should be strong enough).

Step #7: The Joints

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  • To make the finger joints I just used the 3.2mm wide saw blade (not a wide dado blade), and a homemade jig. See here for a tablesaw finger jointing tutorial: http://www.shopnotes.com/files/issues/110/fast-and-easy-finger-joints.pdf As it happens the 3.2mm cut is approximately the same width as a single layer in the ply, which gives quite an interesting pattern when the box is assembled.
  • Do plenty of dry test fitting, and remember to cut approximately 4mm deep channels to house the dividers before gluing up.
  • Take your time with these joints and do a test on a scrap piece to check the jig settings. If you can, use a stop block to cut pieces to length, to keep lengths absolutely consistent.

Step #8: Dividers

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  • Measure and mark up the boards and joints to be cut against pieces you have already cut rather than relying on the numbers (and use a pre made disk drawer as a check). This is especially important when we come to cut the inside dividers. In fact, its a good idea to cut the dividers to final dimension only after gluing up the outer box. That way we can mark against the finished outer the exact length needed for each bit.
  • Similarly when we come to cut half way through the dividers, so they fit together, mark them in situ, with a marking knife (or blade of some kind).

Step #9: Glue Up

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  • When you are happy, make some clamp art.
  • Remember that as soon as you put glue on the finger joints they will swell slightly making it hard to adjust them. To avoid the problem, practice dry first for a quick assembly.
  • You can simply bang the dividers home with a protective scrap of wood and mallet.

Step #10: Tidy up The Ply

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  • When the glue is set de-clamp, and examine your handy work. Do the disk drawers fit? I’m sure they do, so now’s a good opportunity to clean up the appearance of the box.
  • Shuttering ply usually has a very rough outer surface so a light sanding with a random orbit sander can do wonders.
  • You can also go ahead and sand those nice finger joints flush, and if you like, give them a bit of curve. It’s rare, ok lets face it, unheard of, for people to talk about the beauty of shuttering ply, but we really like the pattern this techniques leaves.
  • To preserve the origins we left the original FSC stamp on there…

Step #11: Add the Hinge

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  • I would recommend using a full length piano hinge to join the halves of the cabinet. We had part of one left over from dismantling a very old marine plotter that we found washed ashore one day, so we used that even though it wasn’t full length.
  • To make fitting the hinge easier, clamp both halves together in perfect alignment, then screw it on.
  • Observant among you will notice the extra strip of wood we added- this just protects the hinge from damage by stopping the opening half from ‘over opening’.

Step #12: Wall Mount

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For the wall mounting cleat there are a number of options (try googling “french cleat”). I used a keyhole router bit to rout a groove almost the full depth of the back panel. A number of screws in the wall fit into the routed slots. If I were to do it again I think I would use more of a traditional french cleat system: the keyhole slots work, but it’s a little more fiddly to put on wall (taking off is easy, but lining up all the starting holes with the screwheads when putting it up is tricky).

Step #13: Use

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  • Go ahead and stow your precious bits n bobs!
  • The final step: if you make one take a photo or five and e-mail us, or post on the Flowering Elbow facebook page, we would love to see your creations, especially how you do or don’t change and adapt the design.

Bongodrummer

AKA Stephen John Saville, is co-founder of Flowering Elbow - a social enterprise based in Wales that promotes sustainable making, hacking, inventing, and learning.


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