This blog post was recently featured on ManMadeDIY written by our friend and fellow Ohioan Chris, an excellent blog about living life hands-on and focusing on quality items that will last. It’s a perspective we share here at Eleanor’s.
Have you ever stumbled across an old wooden crate at your local flea market and wondered “what can I do with that”? Here’s one option – turn it into a unique and functional accessory for your around-the-town cycling.
What you’ll need: A vintage crate, nylon brushes, an old T-shirt, wood glue, finishing nails and other joining hardware, a natural wood sealing oil or polyurethane, 2 mending plates, 4 bolts and 4 lock nuts.
The first step in the process is likely the most fun. Finding a suitable crate. The first place we look are flea markets, and summer in New England means a flea market somewhere nearly every weekend within a 2 hour drive New York. Our favorites are old beverage crates because they usually have an attractive and recognizable print on the side, and were built to hold a decent amount of weight.
When selecting an older box, look for dry-rot, water logging, evidence that a few termites or ants made it their lunch in the past, or other obvious signs of structural weakening of the wood. Upcycling can fix a number of defects, but you’ll be in better shape if you’re starting with good strong wood.
We recommend using only nylon bushes and dry cloths for cleaning the surface of the crate. Anything harsher, either chemicals or a wire brush, should be used sparingly. Whatever you choose to use, make sure it evaporates quickly and completely. You really want to avoid getting the wood wet since most of these old crates are incredibly dry and will soak up any liquid like a sponge.
The next step for us is to seal the box, both for aesthetics and for weather proofing. At Eleanor’s, we use our own concoction of all natural organic oils that harden in the wood and create a natural barrier to the elements. If you’re going to be sealing a single crate, grab a can of Formby’s Danish or Tung oil. It’s premixed with thinner and does the trick. Polyurethane will do something similar, but the end result is a bit ‘glossier’ than we like. This is not a job for Wesson – most natural oils will go rancid with time, and will never truly bond with the wood.
Grab you’re old T-shirt or another soft, clean rag with minimal nap that you never plan on using again. Ball it up so it looks sorta like a lump of pizza dough, and get it good and wet with your oil/thinner mixture. Generously apply the oil to the surface of the crate. Pro tip: Blott when you get close to designs. Most of the designs are just surface stamping, and wiping will smudge the ink.
The crate will darken. Depending on the state of the wood, it may darken a lot. You can always run a little test on the inside of the box if you’re concerned about the final look. If oil is going to darken the wood too much, try a polyurethane weatherproofing mix.
Let the crate dry for at least 24 to 48 hours. Repeat the sealing process until oils no longer absorb into the wood and being to pool on the surface. Wipe off any excess oil, unless you like the shiny look. We end up with anywhere between 2 and 6 coats.
Once dry and sealed, you’re ready to attach the finished product to your bike. We use a standard metal rear-rack assembly available on our site or at most bike shops. Attach the rear rack to the bike according to instructions.
Grab the mending plates, bolts and nuts that you picked up at your local hardware store or Home Depot. Place the oiled crate on the newly installed rack and drill four holes aligned with the holes in the mending plates. The easiest way to do this is to mark the position of the plates with the crate on the rack, then remove and flip it over, laying the mending plate on underside of the crate to mark the hole position. Most mending plates have uneven hole positions, so use the plate as your template.
You’re almost done. All that’s left is to tighten down the mending plates. It’s important that you tighten the nuts the same way you’d tighten lug nuts on a car. Use a round-robbin process so you get an even, snug fit.
There you have it. A hip, one-of-a-kind porter crate for your bicycle.
If you’re not interested in going to all the trouble yourself, but like the look, have a look at the vintage upcycled bicycle crates available at Eleanor’s. We ship anywhere in the US. Likewise, if you do make your own bicycle crate, we’d love to see the final results. Send us a picture to email@example.com, and we’ll post it to this blog (if that’s ok with you).