For more on microcontrollers and wearables, check out Make: Volume 43.  Don't have this issue? Get it in the Maker Shed.
For more projects and tutorials, check out Make: Volume 43.
Don’t have this issue? Get it in the Maker Shed.

I fuss a lot about how to organize tools and parts so that people can easily find and use them. This is a constant challenge in my day-to-day business as much as it is at my local hackspace. What I’ve figured out so far is that everything has to have a dedicated home address that’s very visible and easy to access. “Picking bins” hit a sweet spot that meet a lot of needs.

They’re stackable; they’re open in the front; they’ve got room for a label on the front; there’s no lid to lose; it’s hard to put them on a shelf the wrong way; they can be made without glue, tape, or fancy tools; they can be made from recycled materials; and you can see what’s inside without opening anything.


Inspired by Uline picking bins and Rahulbotics’ online box generator, I created Build-a-Bin, a web page that generates the plans for you to make similar bins in your favorite sizes.

Project Steps

Design your bins.

Here’s a sketch of a basic bin. For your bins, you need to decide the bin height, width, and depth, plus the height and depth of the opening.

If your workspace is like mine you might want to design a variety of bin sizes that can stack on each other.

Input your bin dimensions

Go to the Build-a-Bin web page at and input your bin’s dimensions, along with the thickness of the material you’ll be cutting.

On-screen, Build-a-Bin will automatically draw a diagram of your bin to match your input dimensions. Black lines show where to cut, blue lines show where to fold.

NOTE: Build-a-Bin does not currently do ANY checking for sane input values. It is possible to create nonsense designs. Use at your own risk.

Write down your dimensions! You might want to make more of the same size later.

Save the DXF file to your computer.

Build-a-Bin also generates a drawing file in the DXF format, which can be read by most laser cutter software. (You can also print the DXF drawing to make templates for hand cutting.) You’ll need to save this DXF file to your computer.

Build-a-Bin doesn’t yet export the file automatically, so here’s how you do it: just copy all the text from the DXF File window, save it as a plain text file on your computer, then change the file extension from .txt to .dxf and you’re good to go.

Cut your bins.

Send the DXF file to your laser cutter and cut out as many bins as you like.

If you don’t have access to a laser cutter, you can open the DXF file in Inkscape and print it out, then use it as a template to cut your bins by hand.

Super magical origami time!

Cut along the black lines, crease and fold on the blue lines.

Slot the back of the box together first, then the top, then the lip on the front, bending the T tabs to fit through their matching holes.

Voila! Label the front and stack on your shelf. Enjoy life.

Now make more.

Corrugated cardboard is ideal for these bins; cheap and recyclable. You can also use bristleboard or heavy paper cardstock.

We also had good results cutting Coroplast corrugated plastic. It’s a little harder to fold but it’s tough and durable and it looks great.

Tweet a picture of your bin and tag it #buildabin.


Special thanks to Evan Jones and Brian Melani for helping to improve the Build-a-Bin script.