Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Crate Expectations

Building a Crate
For Shipping a Painting

Well, it's not like waving goodbye to your kid on a school bus on his first day of Kindergarten... but it's close. If I can avoid putting a 32 x 40 painting in the hands of a courier again for the rest of my life, I will likely have fewer gray hairs. Not that I don't trust FedEx — after all, both of my sons work for that fine company — but my anxiety over shipping hit me before I even got the painting started, which, as it turned out, was a good thing. Rule #1: If you are shipping out an unframed painting, build the crate after you have stretched your canvas, but before you start painting. You don't want sawdust in the paint.
Unlike most of the things I have learned in my life I did not learn this the hard way. I am delighted to tell you I actually thought of this in advance.
As I contemplated what this shipping crate should look and function like, I decided to head over to Home Depot to look at wood. This was not a tough decision. For me, thinking about being inside a Home Depot takes about as much forethought as Michael Moore gives to going into a Krispy Kreme. I'm there. I picked out my wood, did a little measuring and then sat down and did some figuring on a scrap of paper which a guy in the Windows Department gave me. With those figures in mind, I grabbed a sheet of 1/8" luan mahogany (door skin) and headed over to the cutting area and had the fellow cut two panels to size so I could then go home and build this box. I then glued and nailed these spacers around the bottom-inside of it, to keep the painting off the bottom skin, and away from the sides. I added FedEx-friendly handles to one side, encouraging them to carry it with those, and to stand it up on edge when not carrying it. Then I made some cleats to hold the painting down to the spacers, and away from the "lid-skin." These were all pre-drilled and marked with numbers so I could re-assemble the crate on shipping day without making new saw-dust that might fall on the painting surface. I carefully set the 32" x 40" portrait inside and onto the spacers. I then screwed on all the cleats (10 of them) which I had previously attached when the canvas was unpainted (bare), and which I had numbered and marked with a line on the cleat and the frame, so that I could easily align them again with their individual holes. With the painting so firmly held in place by the cleats that it actually added strength to the crate, I dropped the top skin into the pre-dadoed reveal on the top, and screwed about 50 wide-head screws on to hold the top skin into the groove, adding corners made from scrap 1/8" "skin" for extra strength and durability. I added a "strap" of scrap luan for added strength across the middle, and duct-taped the edges down so it wouldn't catch on anything in shipping. I then drove it to FedEx — where I got a compliment on my crate from a customer. I need to give credit to Morgan Weistling, a fantastic painter and dearest of friends, who advised me when I called asking for suggestions. His advice: make it as light as you can to encourage them to carry it, not fork-lift it and add handles to suggest the same. He also advised me to use FedEx, as he has had the best handling and treatment from them, out of all the major carriers. I will not sleep for 2 days.
Click here to watch a little movie of a 3D fly-through of my crate. Made with Google Sketch-up. A free modeling program for Mac or PC! The blue, translucent rectangles represent the as-yet unattached bottom and lid, which would later be dropped into place.
Update It arrived safely 2 days later, and, according to my client, looked like it had been handled gently all the way from CA to KS. Whew! And they loved the painting. In my accompanying letter to them, asking them to consider it for two weeks before asking for changes, if any, my client responded:
David, Sorry, I would like to tell you to do this or that to the picture... Impossible, it looks absolutely perfect right now! The three things I was hoping to get... you got. 1. It is a damn good work of art. 2. It looks just like her. 3. You actually "caught" her. The mannerisms, etc.
That totally makes my day.


Susan Borgas said...

David thanks so much for sharing how you built your crate. My husband is very impressed and when the need arises for one to be built for me to transport a painting, he will be back checking this post out ;-)

Joan DaGradi Studio said...

Thanks for the terrific info on crate building. I've built a few, never with cleats. Great idea....should cut down on the bubble wrap. Building crates is not one of my favorite things- but you've given such a great description, that I'm almost looking forward to the next one. Mucho thanks for the pictures!

Joan DaGradi Studio said...

Congrats on the portrait, too. It's a beauty.
It's a rare moment when the client immediately loves it, too.
Great work!

Katherine Muschick Schneider said...

Your crate design will be useful in my studio - I have a client who has waited 5 months to pick up a painting cause they didn't want to have it "manhandled"/damaged by a transport carrier.I think a crate this well built would reduce my client's concern in the future. I agree with you that Fedex is the best choice for artwork transport.) Your 3-D movie clip using Google sketch-up is very impressive.
K M Schneider

Unknown said...

been wondering how to make a crates
got to sent a painting to the EU now I know how. I got to find one who will ship it by boat. I hear in the planes it will freeze a oil painting and that not good. Will break down the oil in a few years.

Anonymous said...

David, Thanks for the tips. I will use it to ship my 24" x 36" canvas board painting without frame.
Thanks to Google search engines too!

trol said...

That was just so helpful!!

I ve been sweating literally on how to pack a painting I need to send, thank you so much!

Excellent job indeed!

Again, thank u so much! :)