Quick and Easy Method to Make Archival Boxes
(Don’t worry, these are very forgiving)
This guide is written to help those needing to make custom sized archival boxes. All of the measurements are provided in cm for ease of calculation.
I will be using two types of materials to do this:
- Acid-free fluted board/corrugated board
- Archival file folder
Acid-free fluted board/corrugated board
This is known as acid-free fluted board or corrugated board and can be purchased from archival material suppliers. It comes in a variety of thicknesses and ‘flutes’.
Before you order, decide the following:
- Flute type
- Size and quantity of sheets
Deciding the flute type
The most common types of flute used in archives are “E” and “B”. I recommend ordering the thicker “B” type if you have heavy or bulky objects as it will be slightly stronger. It is also a good universal size for a variety of collections. If you are unsure about which type is right for you, talk to the archival supplier.
Deciding on the size and quantity
I recommend you do an overall survey of your collection to determine what needs custom sized boxes. These could be objects that are oversize/large format or that are small and fragile. I also recommend choosing a sheet size based on the largest object you are making the box for. You want to avoid having to bridge or join two pieces together. Try to calculate the size boxes you would need in total to come up with the quantity needed. Don’t forget to account for some space around the object and for the lids too!
I have two objects that I want to make custom boxes for. The dimensions of the boxes should be (taking into account for space around the object:
Object 1: 10cm long x 10cm wide x 5cm high
Object 2: 14cm long x 24 cm wide x 7cm high
I am using the “B” flute type of board. The largest sheet for the box I would need is 38cm x 28cm. The largest sheet for the lid I would need is 34.6cm x 24.6cm. See below for making a template to determine this. Archival suppliers sell a variety of sheet sizes. You could order two separate sheets or one large one depending on what is most cost-effective. If your collection to be boxed is small enough, you may consider making a list of the total sheet sizes needed or you can do an estimate based on the largest one (also considering that you will have off cuts left over). Off cuts can be really useful for making dividers, trays, smaller boxes or reinforcing areas. It is always good to have a few pieces around.
Archival file folders
This idea was given to me by Dr. Claire Alix when we were thinking of lightweight boxes that could be made for an archaeological collection. This can be a cost-effective way of making custom boxes for small items or lightweight items. In order to prevent waste and facilitate reusing the boxes. I recommend you use one of the templates rather than create a custom size of your own. These generally come in one size.
You will need:
- Ruler with cm
- Tape measure with cm
- Box knife (clean and with new blade)
- Acid-free board or archival file folders
- Binder clips of varying sizes
- Adhesive brushes (I like to use the smallest sized ‘chip’ brushes sold by home improvement stores, but you can use any paint brush)
- Paper adhesives (pH neutral), check with your supplier if you are not sure
- Closable empty jar to decant the glue into so you don’t have to keep opening and closing the original container)
- Pencil with clean eraser
- Expendable cardboard (see tips)
- T-square (if available)
To Make an Acid-Free Fluted/Corrugated Board Box
Calculate how large your box needs to be:
- Determine length, width and height.
- Alwaysmake the tray before making the lid as your measurements may vary once it is cut, folded and glued.
- Do not make a box using the museum board that has a shorter height than 3cm, these will not hold the edges.
- If your length or width will be over 70cm but not very high, you will need to cut longer flaps to provide more strength to the sides. The template should allow for the flap to be adhered to the longest side of the box (see Type B box template example below, the flaps turn a different way than Type A which is uniform). Make sure to account for this.
- Be sure to leave enough height above the object so that if the box is stacked, it will not sag and touch the object.
- Always be sure to use the same measuring instrument for these measurements as they will slightly differ. Don’t use a tape measure and a ruler, use one or the other in a specific operation. For pieces that are too large for the ruler, I use the tape measure, but to draw the internal heights I use the ruler. The ruler will be more accurate so use that for smaller measurements.
- If you have awkward shaped excess board (‘tails’) on the main board you are cutting from, cut these off so that you can start with a fresh piece of board for the next box. These will just annoy you. Keep any decent size off cuts to use as dividers or supports.
There are two components to the box: tray and lid. Make the tray first!
- Measure the object.
- Add 2-5cm (or more depending on the shape of the object) to your measurements to determine the interior box dimensions. To make the lid, measure the furthest distance of the length and width of the box. Add at least 3 cm to ensure the lid doesn’t fit too tightly. The height of the lid should be 1 cm shorter than the height of the tray, unless it is a very tall box in which is should be about ½ to ¾ of the height.
- Calculate the size of the sheet that you will need to cut. For example, if you want a box 30 cm long x 10cm wide x 5cm tall, then you will need a sheet that is 30cm long and 20cm wide. See template examples below (right-click to save to your computer).
4. Measure out the sheet from the larger board by using a tape measure, rule or T-square. Try to be as consistent and straight as possible. The manufacturers edges will be quite straight but aren’t perfect.
5. Cut the board using a clean and sharp box cutter knife.
6. Using the ‘inside’ of the board (the side with the lines on it, nicer surface out), make your template for cutting using a pencil. Measure from the edge of your board once it is cut, be sure to be as accurate as possible to get as straight of a cut as possible; however, the board material is fairly forgiving for small discrepancies.
7. Cut through the board completely where you need separation on your template.
8. Retract the blade and using the blunt side of the box cutter (or use a bone or teflon folder), follow your template to create a groove in the paper board. This will help the board fold along the line that you want. Try not to cut into the paper as this will weaken the fold.
9. Fold along all of your lines, being sure that the sides pull inwards as far as possible.
10. Using the appropriate adhesive, apply with a paint brush. You do not need a lot of glue, only enough to provide a thin layer. If you have too much it will leak out of the edges and stick to your binder clips. Be sure not to get any dust or dirt on your paint brush or in the glue as this will keep the paper from sticking. You just need to apply the adhesive to the flaps.
11. Place binder clips on the flaps and sides to secure.
After you have glued all four sides, be sure to close the glue container and wrap your brush in plastic wrap. This will keep the glue wet if you are doing multiple boxes. Clean your brush every night after use and allow to air dry. Just water should clean the bristles.
For large boxes, you may want to place heavy objects along the flaps so that the bottoms of the flap are pressed up against the sides of the box walls. Whatever you use, be sure the weight is clean so you don’t dirty the inside of your box.
The pH neutral adhesive should be allowed to dry for at least an hour under pressure.
Be sure to write in pencil the object number, the material type/object and any other desired information on the lower corner the box and edge that will be visible on the shelf. If the box is for one object, place a color printed image of the artifact on the lid to allow viewers to quickly determine what the object is. This will reduce the amount of times the box has to be opened.
If you are having trouble getting the lid to fit, try very gently pressing the sides of the tray inwards (after it has dried thoroughly!!!). This should draw the edges in slightly.
- Look at ‘ready-made’ boxes to see how they are constructed.
- If you are using the box cutter, be sure to place clean but expendable cardboard down on your cutting surface so as not to damage the table underneath. You may even consider double layering it.
- When handling the museum board, it is important not to bend it or allow it to fold. This weakens the board.
To Make an Archival File Folder Box:
For this project, we used US legal sized archival file folders from University Products (https://www.universityproducts.com/perma-dur-reinforced-file-folders.html) with a 1” lip.
Templates are provided here. As suggested above, you may want to use these uniform sized templates rather than create custom sizes. These templates make three sizes: 11cmx9cm, 13cmx9cm, and 19cmx16cm.
- Cut the file folder in half along the crease where it folds.
- Follow the template for the size you are making.
- Follow the gluing protocol for the corrugated board. Use an archival adhesive and hold the flaps in place with binder clips or clothes pins.