If you’re an average prepper, you no doubt have enough mason jars to sink a small yacht if they were all filled with pickles and tomato sauce and snuck aboard. And if you’ve done a lot of canning, you’ve probably thought there has to be a better way to manage all the jars than those cardboard boxes they come in. I’ve found that homemade wooden crates work great for me and may work for you as well.
What I really like about these crates is that you can store empties in them as well as full jars, then stack the crates so you can use valuable shelf space for other things.
If you don’t have a woodshop or a table saw, fear not, you can probably find someone who will cut these pieces out for you for a small fee, then you can nail them together at home. While these are easy to make with my Grizzly cabinetmaker’s table saw and a drill press, they can also be made with a hand drill and the $95 reconditioned portable table saw I bought at Home Depot a few years back.
I make four kinds of crates: half-pint, pint, quart, and half-gallon (the moonshine crate). For this tutorial, I’ll walk you through the process of making a crate for a dozen quart-sized jars. At the end of the article, the dimensions will be listed so you can construct all 6 types and sizes of crates. I’ll show you how to make handles in the ends for easy carrying, but if you lack the tools, or have to hire someone to cut these out for you, and/or you’re trying to keep this on the tightest budget possible, you can get by without handles. (See the top center crate in the lede photo.)
Equipment & Material Needs
The tools you’ll need are a table saw, drill press (or hand drill), and a hammer. If you want the optional handles in the ends, you’ll also need a hole saw (or spade-bit), jig saw, and a router (preferably table mounted) or coarse sandpaper.
For materials, you’ll need 4d (“four penny”) nails, wood glue, and lumber. Each crate consists of two components: slats, which are cut from 2 x 6 boards, and ends, which are made from either 1 x 4’s (pints), 1 x 6’s (quarts), or 1 x 10’s (half-gallons). I use 2 x 6 x 8’s for the slats because they’ve worked out to be the cheapest per slat and easiest to work with, but any kind of “2 by” will work.
Ball/Kerr Jars vs Generics
If you have both Ball/Kerr/Anchor Hocking jars (B/K) as well as generics then you’ll need to make a decision on crate size before you begin. Most generics are slightly larger than B/K jars so you’ll need a larger crate. In their proper crates, both B/K and generics have just the slightest amount of wiggle room, about ¼” at the edges of the crate. That leaves just enough room to slip strips of corrugated cardboard between the jars to provide a tight, rattle-free crate for your home-canned products in earthquake country. If you own both generic jars and B/K, you can either build both kinds of crates or use a one-size-fits-all approach. The downside to the one-size-fits-all is when the crate is filled entirely with B/K jars instead of generics, is that you’ll have more slop room as shown in Photo 2, a big disadvantage when the ground starts shaking.
Building a Crate
To make a Ball/Kerr quart-jar crate, you’ll need 16⅝” long slats so begin by cutting pieces of 2 x 6 “slab” to that length. Each quart crate uses 12 slats, and you’ll average 12 slats per 2 x 6 slab, so plan on one slab per crate plus one or two extras for fudge factors. Some slats are unusable due to knots, etc.
Next, cut two pieces of 1 x 6 into 11¼” lengths. Once you’ve cut the 2 x 6’s and 1 x 6’s to length, you’ll want to make some jigs to produce the crate slats and handles.
Since you’ll be making a bunch of crates, start by making a couple of jigs. Jigs are devices that greatly speed up repetitive work and in some cases, provide greater safety by keeping your hands away from the saw blade. The three jigs needed are: a slat-making jig, a hole-drilling jig, and a handle-marking jig.
Building and Using the Slat-making Jig
The first jig will be used to slice the 2 x 6 slabs into ¼” thick slats. The table saw fence will be set at ¼” from the blade and since it would be tedious and dangerous pushing all the slats through with a thin push stick, this jig is essential for speed and safety.
The jig will look something like the one in Photo 3 and the exact dimensions are not important. This one was made from scraps of 1 x 4. Occasionally you might forget to have the saw blade set at the correct height and will ruin the jig so while making this jig, make a few extras for backups. If you attach the handle with screws instead of glue, you can at least reuse the handle.
The hole in the jig handle is optional. The handle (A) sticks up so you have something to push down and forward on. A heel (B) is glued to the base of the jig and hooks the 2 x 6 to push it into the blade of the table saw. The back (C, and Photo 4) is a replaceable pair of plates whose function is to hold the slat after it separates from the 2 x 6 slab and push it through the last few inches until it clears the blade. The backplates are made of scrap ¼” plywood, doubled up and attached with small 3d brads.
Photo 4 shows the jig after it has cut the first slat, forming a shallow groove along the length of the jig and forming the finger which pushes the slats past the saw blade. The slats will be ¼” thick so adjust the fence of the table saw as shown in Photo 5.
While adjusting the saw blade height, it’s important to have a 2 x 6 slab next to the blade as shown in Photo 6. The height of the blade should just barely clear the top of 2 x 6 by ⅛”. The very first time you use the slat-making jig, the blade will cut into the jig ⅛” deep. That won’t be a problem since the jig base is ¾” thick. It’s also going to cut a slit in the back plate leaving a delicate finger hanging down. There will be very little supporting that finger so double up on the back plates and be careful how you lay it down when not in use.
The next three photos show the jig in position for cutting slats (Photo 7), what it looks like as a slat is being sliced off (Photo 8), and finally, the slat, slab, and jig after a slat has been cut off (Photo 9).
After your jig is constructed, the fence is ¼” away from the blade, and the blade is set to ⅛” above the height of the slab, fire up the table saw and begin slicing slats off your 2 x 6 x 16⅝” slab. Stop at 14 or 15 slat pieces, just to have enough and a few extras for the first crate.
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)