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PLEASE READ ON FOR SAVINGS & DESIGN TIPS!
Welcome to the penny-pincher, save-a-buck tip center... Hey, it's okay, we are the SAME WAY here at DIY. It's all about saving dollars and we couldn't agree more! Sure, we are in business to make money, what business isn't? We could try and sell you only the items that made us the most money, but we aren't greedy. We want you as a customer. We want you to be able to afford to build your own cases. We want to help you find a way to get what you need within YOUR budget. That's why we included this helpful information for you. If you have a cost-savings question that you don't see covered here, send us an inquiry and we'll see what we can do to help!
BEFORE YOU READ ON...
There are basically two categories of road/flight cases. Bona fide heavy-duty cases from reputable case companies, and cheap flimsy crap that look like road/flight cases. Do your homework and you'll see that this is true. Get quotes from legit case companies. Search the web for "bargain" cases. You will see the disparity in pricing. Stay away from the crap, then price out your parts and materials with us and see how much you can save compared to buying legit road/flight cases.
Also, please keep in mind that if you are researching cases on the Internet, you will run across some very inexpensive cases. REMEMBER the old saying, you get what you pay for. This is so true in the flight case industry. I have seen guitar pedal cases for $79.95 that would cost $229.00 from a legit case manufacturer. Please understand that there are a lot of cheap knock-off brand cases floating around out there. You have to be careful, as they look nice in photos, but are actually inferior quality and some are just plain crap. Some of these "companies" don't even actually sell the cases that they present in their photos, but a cheaper version. When comparing your savings, you have to compare apples to apples. You will be building your cases with the EXACT same parts that 75% of case manufacturers use, and not cheaper substitutes. Also, the more complex the case, the more the savings, as it is the labor costs that kill when buying from a manufacturer, not the parts and materials.
IMPORTANT NOTE: When comparing prices on case parts in your quest to save money, be sure that you are comparing similar parts. Is the material the same gauge? Are there the same amount of mounting holes? Are there offsets? Are there any other special features that set one item apart from another?
For example, there is a reason that one Large Ball Corner has a different cost than another. Large Ball Corners with offsets for extrusions cost more, but they serve a valuable purpose. If you see a Large Ball Corner somewhere for $0.90 - $1.25, but it does not have offsets for extrusions, or is a lighter gauge material, then you can not compare it to one with with offsets, that is made of thicker steel that costs $1.50. So, be informed and choose wisely.
IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS AS TO ANY OF OUR PRICES COMPARED TO PRICES YOU SEE SOMEWHERE ELSE, JUST ASK US!
FIRST THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
1. The first thing to remember is that legitimate road cases are very expensive to purchase.
NOTE: If you have shopped around you know that you will find inexpensively priced cases on the web that LOOK just like bona fide flight cases. They will have the aluminum trim, shiny steel corners and other hardware. And some of these might work for you under gentle circumstances, such as moving gear in your car under the best of conditions. But this is for sure... almost all of the cheaply priced "flight cases" or "road cases" that you find at outlets like Musician's Friend, eBay Stores, etc., are just that... CHEAP. They will never hold up over time nor protect your expensive gear under rugged conditions. Pedal board "flight cases" for $69.95, or Fender Twin "road cases" for $179.99 will be nothing but an absolute disappointment to you once you see and feel how flimsy they are.
2. Parts, materials, and shipping when buying stuff to build your own isn't that cheap either, but it is MUCH cheaper than ordering a case from a manufacturer, or even buying stock size cases from retailers. Don't be fooled by the listed prices - YOU WILL PAY SHIPPING FEES for cases that you buy, and they aren't cheap in many instances.
A smaller stock size case with a large retailer like Musician's Friend may ship for free or as cheap as $20. However, get to stock cases that are larger, or have casters, and you are looking at anywhere from $70 - $130 in shipping during checkout. It's the same thing when ordering from case manufacturers. With us you can build your cases cheaper, they are CUSTOM to your gear, and shipping in most instances will be cheaper due to being able to ship parts in smaller boxes that do not require special handling/charges.
- 44"W x 26"H x 22"D trunk-style case, similar to the one seen in our video, with three compartments, foam lining, all recessed parts, heavy-duty hardware, and casters may run you approximately $600-$850 depending on the manufacturer, PLUS $70-$130 shipping. Beware of some lower prices that you will see as many times those cases do not come with all of the options/hardware that you may see in the photos - such heavier-duty parts may actually be upgrade items. Also remember that you get what you pay for - budget doesn't usually = QUALITY - unless of course you do it yourself !
- The same case as above, only building yourself, will run you approximately $200-$300 for parts and materials depending on your selections (cheaper if you follow our cost saving tip below referencing local wood), plus approximately $35-$65 depending on shipping options (cheaper if you follow our cost saving tip below and use local wood).
ARE THOSE SAVINGS STILL A LITTLE TOO EXPENSIVE FOR YOUR TASTE?
You can still cut down on the expense, and here are some tips on how!
1. Purchase your plywood sheets locally. Cut your panels, then simply paint them the color of your choice, followed by 2-3 coats of a strong high gloss polyurethane or polycrylic finish. You will be amazed how well this will hold up for years to come, and you can easily touch up nicks and scratches over time. This one tip cuts your overall purchase cost by 20%-30% and your shipping costs by 50%-60%, as the plywood laminate sheets are the single most expensive component in the process, due to their properties, weight, and bulky dimensions. Other than missing the exterior plastic sheeting, your cases will look and perform exactly the same!
ONE NOTE REGARDING WOOD THICKNESS IF YOU PLAN TO PURCHASE YOUR OWN WOOD AND LAMINATE IT YOURSELF WITH OUR ABS PLASTIC SHEET OR YOUR OWN FINISH 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-10mm. You may see 1/2" listed as 15/32" or 12mm-13mm. Please keep this in mind as you shop for plywood.
2. Scale down on the wall thickness of your case. The cost for parts and extrusions will increase somewhat with thicker wall dimensions. Using 1/4" plywood instead of 1/2" can save 15%-20% for the hardware and extrusions. HOWEVER, remember that cases with larger overall dimensions will not perform as well with wall thicknesses that are too thin. See our recommendations section to be safe.
3. Select parts that are not quite as heavy duty. Example: use a standard flat corner instead of a ball corner, use 2-rivet corner braces instead of 6-rivet, use surface-mount spring-loaded handles and latches instead of recessed, etc. These type of options can save another 10%-20%, not only in parts cost but shipping as well due to less weight.
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.
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?
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?
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.
WALL THICKNESS & WOOD TYPE
What thickness of plywood should you use, 1/4", 3/8" or 1/2"?
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, like 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 metric 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 measure 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.
All of our extrusions are milled for proper size to work properly with ABS applied to the three wood thicknesses utilized in the case industry (1/4", 3/8" & 1/2"). As explained in the product details for our ABS products, they are .040" thick.
Sometimes case panels fitting into extrusion channels can be affected by several factors. The plus/minus factor regarding thickness in the world's lumber industry, moisture in the wood, humidity, temperature, etc. Even in our custom case shop, sometimes panels slide right in with ease (with even a tiny bit of room to spare at times), and sometimes they have to be tapped (or smacked) in with a mallet. You will experience similar things in the course of case building.
Regarding utilizing the extrusions with just wood, and no ABS (such as staining, painting, or using graphics wraps on the wood), there may be a little more "play" in the extrusion channel than you care for, but this is affected by the same factors that I mentioned above, how thick the paint is, how thick the stain/urethane topcoat is, etc. If there is too much play, then this can easily be overcome by shimming the interior side of the extrusion channel to take up unwanted slack (by inserting washers, thin pieces of flat stock aluminum from Home Depot, Lowe's, etc.
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 plywood 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 their 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 will 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.
FOAM THICKNESS & FOAM TYPE
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 videos 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.
PARTS & HARDWARE SELECTION
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
NOTE REGARDING INTEREST IN BLACK HARDWARE:
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.
If you still have questions, or need help, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org