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Design Tips


IMPORTANT NOTE: * Parts & Materials Appearance May Vary At Times From Photos Due To Variance & Availability In Raw Materials. Also, Parts Substitutions Will Automatically Be Carried Out On Our End Due To Stock Availability (In Lieu Of Backorders) To Fulfill & Ship Your Order Complete. Any Substitutions Will Be Of Equal or Better Capability, And Be Of Comparable Dimensional Proportion & Functionality As The Original Part Ordered. WE DO NOT RECOMMEND THAT YOU PRE-DRILL OR PRE-CUT ANY HOLES, FITTINGS, OR FIXTURES UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR PARTS IN HAND IN ORDER TO PREVENT ANY MISALIGNMENT, SIZING, OR DESIGN ISSUES. We Will Contact You In the Event Where A Stock Issue Cannot Be Reasonably Substituted To Discuss Options.

If your project requires that you set up tooling, equipment, or other pre-production activities that will take place BEFORE receiving your parts, please contact us ahead of time so that we can ensure that you will receive dimensionally-guaranteed parts to match your pre-production preparations.

When deciding on case design and style, there are several things that you should take into consideration such as:


We carry all of the parts that we have in stock and none of the parts that we don't have in stock.

Your case design must be based on the dimensions and availability of parts, which should be confirmed available with us prior to setting a case design in stone if you feel that you need specific restrictions on dimensions and tolerances. However, case design should never be so restrictive as to preclude a part substitution with any dimension of 1/4" or less. One can not design a case and THEN search for parts that must fit restrictive dimensions and tolerances.


What will you be doing with your case? How will it be transported? What will be inside? How many road cases were transported via 16 foot U-haul trucks in states who's names begin with the letter "N" in 2006?

These are just a few considerations that you may want to think about before you design and build a case. Will you be transporting it around in your car or van yourself, or will it be forklifted and tossed around in the back of a tractor trailer by other folks? Will there be a drum set inside, or sensitive items such as laptop computers or video/photography equipment? The intended application will also play a big part in most of the following considerations below.


How big should the case be inside compared to the contents? Should you utilize multiple compartments? Should you leave extra room inside? What size case would best transport an eight-month old female African Water Buffalo wearing work boots?

There are also many other decisions that you will have to make when designing your case. These decisions will vary with each individual item that you will build a case for. Of course, your case dimension will depend on what you will put inside. However, depending on what will be inside, you may, or may not, end up lining the case with foam. Regardless, whether you use foam or not, you will need to be sure to allow enough space for the contents. This may seem like a given, but not true.

If you have an item that is 25" wide x 30" high x 18" deep, there may be more to consider than simply designing your interior to be 25 x 30 x 18. People can overlook the simplest of things. That item might have handles on it that are not removable and stick out an inch or two. Or there may be small feet on the bottom that will add an inch or two. There are a variety of factors such as these that could pose a terrible surprise to you when you finish your case and try to fit the item inside of it. Be sure to account for every detail of the item(s) that you are building the case for.


What thickness of plywood should you use, 1/4", 3/8" or 1/2"? How many square inches of plywood was used to build the Sycamore Mall in Iowa City, Iowa?

This is mostly a matter of personal taste in many situations. Many people would rather opt for overkill than to skimp, and there is nothing wrong with that. Then, there are folks who want the lightest-weight cases possible, especially if they will be moving them around by themselves the majority of the time.

ONE NOTE REGARDING WOOD THICKNESS IF YOU PLAN TO PURCHASE YOUR OWN WOOD AND LAMINATE IT YOURSELF WITH OUR ABS PLASTIC SHEET: 1/4" plywood at stores such as Lowe's or Home Depot will usually be listed as such. However, with 3/8" and 1/2" you may see them listed a bit differently. They may not be listed as 3/8" & 1/2". You may see 3/8" listed as 11/32" or 9mm. You may see 1/2" listed as 15/32" or 12mm.

All of our extrusion channels are actually milled to slightly larger dimensions than exact 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" to accommodate laminates to plywood. If you are laminating our ABS to your own locally-purchased plywood, just be sure you are getting the actual thickness dimension that you need, and not some "close" version. We don't usually see this with 1/4" plywood, but some large lumber retailers, whose names we won't mention - Home Depot & Lowe's - are famous for this regarding 3/8" and 1/2". They find great deals in China in metric dimensions, and sometimes their supposed 3/8" and 1/2" plywoods are a metirc variation that can sometimes actually be a tiny bit larger than 3/8" and 1/2" . . . enough to make the laminated wood too large for the extrusion channels. Our advice? ALWAYS take a tape measurer to be sure what you are getting.

Not to mention that a plywood sheet could end up in the wrong pile for various reasons, so please keep all of this this in mind as you shop for plywood.

On the cost side of things, the thicker the plywood, generally the more expensive your parts & materials order will be. Why? Well, the thicker the plywood, the more it costs and the more it weighs, which means more cost for shipping. This then affects the double angle and tongue & groove aluminum extrusions you will have to select. The thicker the plywood, the larger the extrusions will have to be. Thus, more aluminum material is required, which costs more and translates into more weight, which costs more for shipping. The individual price differences on the parts and materials are not that significant, however, when you consider all aspects (especially if you are building numerous cases) the cost factor will be quite noticeable. Now, HOW noticeable is up to your budget (see our Cost Savings Tips section for more information on this topic).

Regardless of your final decision, there are basically two main factors when deciding on acceptable plywood thickness: case weight and overall dimension (length + width + height). Here are our recommendations:

NOTE: Please keep in mind that for maximum performance and protection, we recommend 3/8" or 1/2" walls. 1/4" walls are fine for the "self-mover" in a car or van, but if you are shipping items, putting them on a plane or ship, letting roadies toss them around, etc., such cases require more case integrity.

- 1/4" plywood walls:
No more than 130 pounds &  no more than 120 inches

- 3/8" plywood walls:
No more than 250 pounds &  no more than 150 inches

- 1/2" plywood walls:
No more than 400 pounds &  no more than 180 inches (for standard construction)
(additional reinforcement may be utilized for creating larger cases).

If you should need help or recommendations for a case larger than the specifications listed here, contact us for more information.

As far as the actual type of wood to use . . . we have received a lot of questions over the years as to what type of plywwood is "better." Better for what purpose would be the better way of saying it. There are a wide range of plywoods suited to an even wider variety of end purposes. Wood types and grades can be complex and theire uses can vary among builders. There is also a lot of misinformation, opinion and rumor out there regarding plywoods. So, we are going to keep it simple regarding our purposes in the road case industry.

The first thing that we can tell you is that the type/grade of plywood for making road cases is much less of an issue than plywood used in other avenues of building and manufacturing. The most important factor regarding this is that the wood is not exposed. Once the plywood is fitted with an exterior laminate, placed into the extrusion framework, glued & riveted, and then finished off with corners & corner braces, the wood pretty much becomes a secondary feature. That's not to say it is okay to use unfinished wood, particle board, OSB, etc. in place of a decent plywood. However, you don't need to spend money on woods like Birch, ACX, etc. You also don't need hardwoods (other than for your caster boards). A Lauan, pine or fir sanded on both sides will work just fine for 90% of case needs. Birch is better for cases that wll be used under the most extreme physical conditions, including repeated high moisture or humidity environments.

Having said all of this . . . a basic standard sanded plywood is the most affordable option, and perfect for the majority of your case needs. If you feel that you need to ratchet things up a bit, then a birch is the ticket.


What type of foam is best? What thickness of foam should you use? How many stacked sheets of one-inch thick foam would it take to climb to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, Canada?

It's not what type of foam is best, it is what's the best type of foam for the job. There are many different styles and colors of foam. Some are very soft, some very hard, some grey, some white, some pink, some are anti-static, some that look like egg cartons, etc. However, the two most common types of foam utilized in case building are as follows:

Polyurethane Foam (aka Ester Foam) - If you need softer, yet firm, cushioning to protect items, then this one is the ticket. Ester foam is an open cell flexible type of foam. It is dense and very durable, yet flexible and cushiony. It is commonly seen in a dark charcoal grey color, but may come in other colors as well. It is well suited for almost all applications.  It is found in a variety of thicknesses, however, the most common thicknesses for cases are 1/2", 1", and 2". These three thicknesses may then be combined to create greater thickness in areas if required. It also comes in a convoluted (egg carton) design, which is great for an application when you want the foam to cradle an item without creating an undue amount of pressure.

Polyethylene (aka Plank Foam or Etha Foam) - If you need maximum support, especially for underneath heavier items, then this works the best. Plank Foam is a closed cell type of foam. It is not very flexible and is very dense, having an almost plastic-like texture. It is extremely durable. It is commonly seen in a black color, but may come in other colors as well. It is best suited for applications involving heavier items that would normally damage Ester Foam simply due to an items weight. It is also great for creating support points in conjunction with Ester Foam. The most common thicknesses for cases are 1/2", 1", and 2". These may then be combined to create greater thickness in areas if required.

Foam thickness selection is mostly personal preference, but will be dependent on how much protective isolation you desire for the contents of the case. 1" thickness is very common, especially for lining the inside of the outer panels. Interior compartments may often be lined with 1/2" thickness. The important thing to keep in mind regarding foam thickness is to BE SURE and account for it when you design the interior dimensions and panel cut sizes for the plywood.


Will you be moving your cases around by yourself? At what point should you utilize casters on a case? What means of transport will you use for your cases - your car, transport truck, a team of Western Siberian Pack Mules?

If you will be moving your cases around mostly by yourself, then it might be best to go with 2 or 3 smaller cases than one large one. The rule of thumb for casters would be any case that can't be picked up and carried comfortably by one person. If your cases will be moved around by crew members, forklifts, or large trucks, then larger cases with casters will work fine.


How many feet of extrusions will you require? Should you order exactly what you need or some extra? Can I melt down my extrusion waste pieces to make a jousting lance?

We sell our standard extrusions in 6.5 ft. sticks, which allows for less waste regarding what you may need to purchase for your project (our heavy duty extrusions are available in 12 ft. sticks, however they must be shipped via freight at that length, so we suggest taking advantage of our cutting options to qualify them for ground shipping). Either way, it would be almost impossible to purchase the exact footage that you require. There will always be a little excess left over. Our design guides recommend allowing for a little extra anyway, in case of any cutting or measuring errors, or modifications to your design during your building process. We recommend purchasing an extra foot for every 10 feet of extrusion that you need.

Also keep in mind that depending on your case(s) dimensions, the way in which you end up cutting your extrusion may require an extra stick in order to allow for all of your pieces. You want to be sure that you have enough of any extrusion, so that you can actually cut ALL of the individual pieces that you require, without any of the "waste" accounting for your required footage.

This is why we recommend in our DVD and the accompanying manual that you actually draw out your cut sheets to properly lay out all of your required cuts. If you simply add up all of the dimensions to determine the amount of extrusions that you will need, and just order that amount, then you could run into a situation where you run short of extrusion without actually having to use two or more pieces of extrusion "waste" for one section of the case, which you do NOT want to happen. In other words, you will most likely have a little bit of waste from each stick after cutting the maximum amount of pieces that you can get from each stick, in order to get all of your pieces required to do the job.

Having said that, if you purchase one of the extrusion Quik-Paks that gets you as close to what you need, you can then then go to the extrusions "a la carte" section and add how ever many individual sticks you might need. Or you can just purchase as many individual sticks as you need to accommodate your total footage (with a little bit of excess, which we recommend as stated earlier).


Should you use heavy-duty or lighter-duty parts? Is recessed hardware better than surface mount? Do pop rivets make good corn cob holders?

The decision as to what style of parts and hardware to use will depend on your intended application. For cases that will be hand-carried, or transported under fairly careful conditions, then you might want to think about using surface-mount  latches and handles, along with lighter-duty parts, such as flat sided corners as opposed to large steel ball corners.

However, if cases will be required for tight fits during transport and storage, or will tend to receive a fair amount of physical abuse, then recessed parts and hardware would better suit those conditions. Your selection of parts and hardware will not only play a part in their individual cost, but the cost to have them shipped to you as well. It may not be that drastic of a difference, but every little bit adds up over an entire order.

Recessed vs Surface-mount Hardware

The overall price difference between using recessed hardware and surface-mount hardware is really minimal. Just to give you a ballpark idea of the difference, an order for a standard hinged-lid case would have a cost difference of only about $8.00 - $16.00, so we always suggest recessed. Also recessed hardware for smaller cases will also be smaller in size, thus a bit cheaper than the larger recessed parts that you may see at our online store. So, choosing surface-mount hardware should only be a consideration if you have strict weight requirements, but not cost.


We carry a small select inventory of the basic parts in black finish. However, we don't do black anodizing or powder coating on extrusions or the rest of the parts in our inventory. This is because there is very little need for it in the road case industry, as it is merely cosmetic, and does not withstand the rigors of the intended purpose of road cases. There are basically 3 main companies in the world that manufacture extrusions for the road case industry (our partner being one of them), and none of them provide black extrusions unless it would be a special order from a case company in very large quantities, as it is an after-market process performed by a third party. We know you have seen cases out there with black hardware/extrusions from certain companies. Such cases are fine if you will be handling your cases yourself under low-impact conditions. However, under normal transit conditions we can tell you that while they look cool when new, they end up looking like crap after a good amount of use from scratching, and that is why they are not that popular. Unless you plan on taking extra care with the handling of them for personal use, we don't recommend spending the extra money on having hardware/extrusions plated/anodized. We have had customers that have taken our extrusions to a local plating company in their area and had nice work performed on them, but it isn't cheap.