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A give box is one of the simplest and best examples of a community exchange. Anyone can put in anything they want (provided it fits in the box), and anyone can take out anything they want. You can be a giver or a getter, or both, anytime.

Give boxes seem to have origins in Europe, and at least one organization in the United States has formalized the idea to encourage free exchanges of food to help neighbors in need. But regardless of where a give box is planted, if it gets used, you can be sure it’s helping someone out.

This version of a give box was adapted from several existing box designs and features an intentionally open interior to accommodate a wide variety of items. One side has two removable shelves; these are optional, and you can add more, if desired. The other side is wide open — a free space for standing up tall items or stacking others. It’s even tall enough for hanging up adult-size shirts or jackets.

The roof, side windows, and door all let in natural light so passersby can easily get a hint of what’s inside at a glance. The roofing is made from a single panel of clear polycarbonate  twin-wall glazing, the same material that’s used for the walls and roofs of greenhouses. You can buy it by the sheet at most home centers and some garden stores, and it cuts and drills much like acrylic glazing (which is what the windows and door front are made of, naturally). If you prefer not to have a clear roof, simply use a piece of plywood and cover it with any standard roofing material you like.

Materials

  • Plywood, ¾”, 4’×8′ sheet
  • Molding, pine quarter-round, ¾”×¾”×56″
  • Acrylic glazing, clear, 1/8″×30″×30″
  • Lumber, pine, 2×2 (nominal), 29″ length
  • Twin-wall polycarbonate glazing, 6mm, 22″×27″ 
  • Polycarbonate U-channel for 6mm twin-wall glazing, 55″ length 
  • Wood glue, waterproof
  • Finish nails, 1¼” (12)
  • Screws, pan-head, ¾” (8) for wood or MDF
  • Screws, wood, 1¾” (54)
  • Screws, wood grip, with neoprene washers #10×1½” (6) aka hex washer head roofing screws 
  • Hinges, exterior offset (“institutional”) (2) for ¾” doorframe, with screws
  • Door handle or pull (optional)
  • Caulk, clear silicone
  • Exterior wood finish or paint

Tools

  • Eye and ear protection
  • Work gloves
  • Circular saw (optional)
  • Jigsaw with wood blade and fine-tooth blade
  • Straightedge
  • Drill-driver
  • Drill bits: 3/8″, ¼”, 3/16″, 1/8″
  • Pilot-countersink bit
  • Screwdriver bit
  • ¼” nut driver bit
  • Framing square
  • Pencil compass
  • Screwdriver (optional)
  • ¼” manual nut driver (optional)
  • Caulking gun

First Cuts

Cut the side, back, and front panels and the door to size using a circular saw or jigsaw. Bevel the top edges of the front and back panels at 14 degrees to follow the roof slope. To mark these angled cuts on the side panels, measure down 4¾” from the top rear corner and make a mark along the back edge of the panel. 

Cut the shelf divider and shelves to size.

Cutting List

PART | DIMENSIONS | QTY | MATERIAL

A – Side panel ¾”×13½”×32″ (2) Plywood
B – Back panel ¾”×24″× 27¼” (1) Plywood 
C – Front panel ¾”×24″×32¼” (1) Plywood
D – Door ¾”×20″×29″ (1) Plywood
E – Shelf divider ¾”×13½”×31¼” (1) Plywood
F – Base ¾”×13½”×22 ½” (1) Plywood
G – Shelf ¾”×10¾”×13⅜” (2) Plywood
H – Shelf support ¾”×¾”×13½” (4) Quarter-round molding
I – Window glazing ⅛”×10″×10″ (2) Acrylic glazing
J – Hinge cleat 1½”×1½”×29″ (1) Pine
K – Door glazing ⅛”×16″×25″ (1) Acrylic glazing
L – Roofing 6mm×22″×27″ (1) Polycarbonate twin-wall glazing
M – U-channel 11/16″×27″ (2) Polycarbonate U–channel

Door and Front-Panel Cutouts

The door and the front panel each get a rectangular cutout made with a jigsaw. Make these cuts carefully, using a straightedge guide if desired, so the lines are nice and straight. You’ll use the cutout material for the base of the box and the shelves.

Draw a 19″×28″ rectangle on the backside of the front panel. Center the rectangle so it is 2″ from each side edge and 2″ from the top and bottom edges. Drill a ⅜”-diameter starter hole at each corner of the rectangle. Then use the jigsaw to cut between these starter holes to complete the cutout.

Figure A

Repeat the same process to complete the door cutout, marking a rectangle that is 15″×24″, centered so it is 2½” from each of the four edges (Figure A).

Cut the box base to size using the plywood cutout from the front panel. Cut the shelves to size using the cutout material from the door.

Cut the Side Windows

Mark a vertical centerline on the inside face of each side panel, about 7″ from the top edge. Measure up 22½” from the bottom edge of the panel and make a cross mark on the vertical centerline. This marks the centerpoint of the window cutout.

Figure B

Draw an 8½”-diameter circle around the centerpoint using a pencil compass (Figure B). Drill a ⅜” starter hole inside the marked circle and complete the cutout with a jigsaw.

Install the Shelf Supports

Figure C

The shelves can go on either side of the box. You can also position the shelves at any height you like. Cut the shelf supports to length from quarter-round molding using a jigsaw. Drill three pilot holes through each shelf support; fasten each with 1¼” finish nails and wood glue applied to one of the flat faces (Figure C). 

Add the Window Glazing

Cut the windows to size using a jigsaw with a fine-tooth metal- or plastic-cutting blade. Drill a 3/16″ hole at each corner, 1½” from the side and top/bottom edges. The holes should be slightly larger than the threaded portion of the ¾” pan-head screws.

Figure D

Remove the protective plastic from one face of each glazing piece and place the uncovered face over the window hole in the side panel. Fasten the glazing to the panel with pan-head screws (Figure D). Don’t overtighten, as it might crack the glazing.

Assemble the Box

Mark layout lines for the shelf divider onto the inside faces of the front and back panels.

Apply glue to both side edges of the base. Fit the side panels over the base so they are flush with the base at the front and rear. Fasten through each side and into the base with three 1¾” wood screws. Repeat with the rear edges of the side panels and the base. 

Make three evenly spaced marks (from top to bottom) on the backside of the back panel, 12″ from either side edge. Apply glue to the rear edge of the shelf divider. Place the divider on the base and against the back panel, aligning the divider between its layout marks on the back panel. Drive three 1¾” screws through the back panel and into the divider, placing a screw at each of your marks on the back panel.

Figure E

Glue the front edges of the side panels and base. Apply a line of glue between the marks on the inside face of the front panel. Fit the front panel over the box so all pieces are flush on the outside and top, and the divider is in between its layout marks (Figure E). Fasten the front panel with four 1¾” screws into the side panels and base. Also drive two screws into the divider through the panel, about 1″ each from the top or bottom of the front panel.

Add the Hinge Cleat

Cut the hinge cleat to length and glue to the inside of the front panel so it is flush with the edge of the door opening. Fasten with three 1¾” screws.

Prepare the Roofing

Cut the polycarbonate roofing to size using a jigsaw with the same blade used for the acrylic glazing. (You can also use a circular saw with a hollow-ground panel blade with 10 to 12 teeth per inch.) Note that the lines in the panel will run parallel to the sides of the box when the roofing
is installed.

Cut the two pieces of polycarbonate U-channel to length with a jigsaw. Fit pieces of U-channel over the front and rear edges of the roofing panel so they’re flush at both sides. The U-channel keeps bugs, rain, and snow out of the hollow cells of the roofing material.

Drill three ⅛” holes through the bottom U-channel, aligning each hole with one of the hollow cells in the roofing. These are weep holes that will allow condensation to drain from the cells.

Install the Roofing

Set the roofing panel on the assembled box so it overhangs about 4″ at the front of the box and equally at both sides. Drill a ¼” pilot hole through the roofing near each corner of the box, about 1½” from the front and rear faces. The holes are slightly larger than the screw shank to provide room for expansion of the plastic roofing.

Be careful to drill just through the roofing and no more than about ⅛” into the plywood; if you drill too deep, the screws won’t hold. Also make sure the holes go through the hollow part of a cell and not into a cell wall.

Drill two more pilot holes over the shelf divider, about 1½” from the front and rear of the box.

Figure F

Fasten the roofing to the side panels and shelf divider with six #10×1½” wood grip screws driven through the pilot holes. Drive the screws so they are snug to the panel and the neoprene washer under the screw head is slightly compressed (Figure F). Be careful not to drive too far, which can crack the panel. (You might want to use a ¼” manual nut driver here for better control.)

Add the Door Glazing

Cut the door glazing to size using a jigsaw, as with the window glazing. Mark and drill three pilot holes along each edge of the glazing, ¼” from the outside edge. Place one hole about 1½” from each corner and one hole centered in between.

Figure G

Center the glazing over the door so it overlaps the door cutout by ½” on all sides (Figure G). Fasten the glazing to the door with twelve ¾” pan-head screws, again being careful not to overtighten the screws so you don’t crack the acrylic glazing.

Hang the Door

Mount the door hinges to the backside of the door using the provided screws. 

Figure H

Mount the door to the front panel, screwing into the side edge of the door cutout with 1¾” wood screws (Figure H). The door should overlap the cutout equally at the top and bottom.

Finish the Project

Remove the door from the box, then remove the hinges and the door glazing and window glazing. Keep the hardware in a safe place for re-installation later.

Apply an exterior finish to the outside of the box and to all surfaces of the door. If you’d like to paint your project, you can create the appearance of a seamless box by covering the plywood edges with auto body filler before painting.

After the finish has fully cured, reinstall the door glazing, then mount the door hinges and hang the door. Install a door handle or pull, as desired. Add the shelves by setting them on the shelf supports.

Figure I

Finally, seal around the window and door cutouts with a fine bead of clear silicone caulk (Figure I). Let the caulk cure overnight before installing or using the box.

(Optional) Light It Up

The urge to dive into some gripping literature can occur any time of day or night. Help your neighbors find just the right title with this simple solar-light mod for your Little Free Library, as devised by Kim and Bill Anderson from Waterloo, Ontario.

  1. Remove the lawn post from a narrow-cylinder solar lawn lamp or solar rope light.
  2. Using a hole-saw with the same diameter as the shaft on the solar panel, drill a hole near the interior roofline of your box.
  3. Insert the lamp with a ring of silicone sealant so that the solar array remains exposed to outside light. Align the lamp or lights inside.

Happy reading!

Reprinted from the book Little Free Libraries & Tiny Sheds: 12 Miniature Structures You Can Build. You can find this book (and register your own library or give box build) at littlefreelibrary.org.