Building an Air Pistol Box

I’m sure many air gun collectors have a number of air pistols. Some may have their original boxes but I’m sure many, like me, have a number of pistols without their original boxes. Perhaps some have no box at all. Many either buy replica boxes, such as those available for the Webley air pistols, or keep them in generic plastic foam lined pistol cases. Either option isn’t cheap. Especially so if you have a fair number of pistols. The plastic foam lined cases are very big when compared to the pistol it will contain. Even if it will hold two pistols. They are intended to be used for transportation and are generally larger to offer improved protection over a cardboard box.

If you only have a few air pistols, the foam lined case is a good option. But as your collection grows, storage space can become a limiting factor. After all, not everyone is blessed with a dedicated gun room!

So I set myself a goal to find an alternative method of storage with the following requirements in mind…

  1. Size: the box must be as small as possible whilst still offering the pistol reasonable protection from damage whilst stored. The box is not intended to be used for transportation.
  2. Cost: the cost must be cheaper than commercially available reproduction boxes.
  3. Appearance: ideally it should look professional. Plain cardboard just won’t do for those special items. Also the box is not intended to be a replica of an original box.
  4. Strength: the boxes should be capable of being stacked. Perhaps ten high with their contents. Or, perhaps stacked on their side in a vertical position similar to books on a bookshelf. Thus the contents would need to be held in place so they don’t slide about. The intention is to make maximum use of available space whilst protecting the contents of the box and without the box losing its shape.
  5. Lid: ideally the lid should be fully removable. Boxes with built-in lids that “tuck” into the sides of box are prone to wear and tear if you are in and out of your boxes as much as I am. Whereas a separate, lift-off lid does not suffer any duress whilst the box is opened or closed.

On and off I spent quite a while trying to find the right box for the job. I even considered making boxes from scratch. But eventually, I stumbled across what I thought could be the perfect off-the-shelf box. The box comes flat packed with folds pre-creased ready for self assembly. It has a separate lid and no glue or staples are required which was a bonus. The box is also lined with the same material as there is on the outside. So no unsightly plain cardboard! Also, the box is almost the same size as the original Webley Premier box. Perfect!

Flat-pack, self-assembly box candidate.

 

So far it’s the right size, easy to assemble, a good colour, requires no glue or staples and is internally lined. Oh, and it has a removable lid. That’s three out of five requirements covered.

Pre-folding the box with a bone creaser/folder.

You don’t need a degree in origami to put this box together. [Though he did need some help from the missus. Ed.] The supplier has a video guide on their website if you do need help. But it really is quite straight forward. The first thing to do is to pre-fold each crease. You can do this by hand to begin with. But to get a good fold it is best to run over the fold with a “creaser” or “folder”. You could use the round edge of a table knife handle. Or, you could buy a proper creaser. The best ones to buy are made of bone and are available from eBay – search for “bone creaser”.

Almost there… but needs some reinforcement.

When I first assembled one of these boxes, it soon became apparent that the bottom of the box didn’t have enough strength as it flexed a lot under the weight of an air pistol. But all was not lost. I decided to reinforce the base with some black mount board. This is a thick white cardboard sandwiched in black and is normally used to make frames for photographs.

The glue station.

Reinforcing the base begins with gluing the inner flap to the base of the box. I used white PVA glue thinned down with water to a milky solution. A tip I learned whilst researching box making is to apply the glue using a small paint roller. This gives an even coating. Not too much and not too little which prevents glue leaking out around the edges when the card is pressed together. Another tip is to use a roll of wallpaper backing paper as a sheet to protect your worktop. After each application of glue, tear off the soiled sheet and pull a new piece out ready for the next session.

The box assembled, with lid and reinforced with black mount board.

That’s the strength taken care of. It’s not a strong as an original Webley box but it will probably do the job. Now to take care of the other part of requirement 4 – preventing the contents from sliding about.

Many years ago I bought a flight case for my wife’s keyboard so she could safely transport it to gigs and practice sessions. I was so impressed with it that I used similar cases to build storage boxes for a telescope and its accessories. The cases were supplied with closed-cell black foam. This foam is dense, but not overly so. It holds its shape and doesn’t compress like the foam you find in normal pistol or camera cases. Best of all, it cuts really well using a band or scrollsaw. Like a hot knife through butter and doesn’t squash or bind on the blade.

Plastazote LD18 Flightcase Foam

The plan was to use this foam to make an insert which would fit the box and the pistol snugly. This would add more strength to the box and stop the pistol from sliding about. Thus preventing damage to both the box and the pistol.

The foam, Plastazote LD18 which is museum approved acid and ammonia free, comes in sheets of 1000mm x 500mm and various thicknesses from 10mm up to 100mm. Unlike many suppliers, Flightcase Warehouse ships the foam without folding or rolling it up. This is very important. If the foam is shipped either rolled up or folded, the area around the crease or the curve renders it useless. It needs to be flat. You can buy higher or lower density foam. But I have found that this is just right. The “goldilocks” foam… not too soft, not too firm. Cuts easily and looks good.

A wide-blade bandsaw for making external straight cuts.

I selected 15mm thickness foam. I could have used a foam that would be as deep as the box. But then the pistol would be recessed and the cut edge of the foam would be visible all around the pistol. Typically pistols are about 30mm deep, so 15mm thick foam would hold the pistol nicely as well as show it off well with the lid removed.

The first step is to cut the foam into smaller rectangles to fit inside the box. I place masking tape on the foam in approximately the place where the cut will take place and then measure and mark with a set square and marker pen. But, most importantly, check the foam is square otherwise the foam isn’t going to fit in the box once it’s cut to size. Luckily, all the foam I have had from this supplier has always been square.

Cut to size. Ready for the next step.

It’s easier to cut a long strip off from the large sheet of the correct length or width of the box internal dimensions. Then measure and cut this strip again to make inserts for a number of boxes in one go. For external, long and straight cuts I use a benchtop bandsaw. The wide blade fitted to this type of bandsaw helps to keep the cut straight. You could use a guide although I find I can make good straight cuts without one using this saw. I find that the masking tape also protects the foam from being marked by the saw or other tools during the measuring and cutting process. Once cut to fit inside the box, I cover one side with masking tape, align the pistol and draw around it carefully with a fine marker pen.

Ready for marking out.
Marked out, ready for the scrollsaw.

To cut the internal shape out, I use a benchtop hobby scrollsaw. These have a thin removable blade. This allows you to fit the blade inside the shape to be cut out. To do this, drill a hole within the shape, remove the blade from the saw and then feed it through the hole and reattach it to the saw. The thin blade allows you to cut curves and corners with ease.

Scrollsaw with removable blade.

I use a medium to high speed which seems to help cut easily but also leaves a smooth edge to the cut. Straight lines are still easy to cut free-hand with the marker pen line as a guide. Curves are the hardest. The trick is to keep turning the foam more than you push it through the saw. With tight corners it is often best to attack from both ends. Sometimes it helps to turn the saw off, reposition and start again. Above all, take your time. If necessary, practice on some off-cuts.

When finished, remove the blade, take the foam out and carefully remove the masking tape. You should have a one-piece, finely cut pistol shape with parallel edges without having to cut through the outer edge of the foam.

Finely cut, one-piece foam pistol insert.

Finally, place the foam insert inside the box and fit the pistol. If you have marked it out closely, it should fit snugly without any gaps. If you find the foam is pulled out of the box when you remove the pistol, you could attach the foam to the bottom of the box using double sided tape to hold it in place. You could also line the bottom of the box with some black felt or baize to add a further finishing touch. But be careful. If you make the base too thick, you could raise the highest part of the pistol above the lip of the box and you won’t be able to stack other boxes on top.

 

Pistol in a box… a snug fit!

That’s the box done. Four out of five requirements met so far… size, appearance, strength and lid. But it needs something else. If I had just one pistol this would do. But I have a number of them. Much as though I’d jump at the opportunity to open every box each time I want a specific pistol, it’s not really practical. The box needs a label.

All labelled up.

I found that the perfect label for this box are video cassette labels. Yes, you can still buy them! I used Avery L7674 laser VCR labels with sixteen to a sheet of A4. You can download a template for Microsoft Word from Avery and produce a professional label for your box.

That leaves one more requirement… cost.

The box was sourced from www.bagnboxman.co.uk and costs £2.93 per box plus delivery of £3.96. I ordered ten boxes to make the postage charge worth while. There is a price break of £2.34 per box if you order between 50 and 249 boxes. Thus the cost per box including delivery for ten boxes worked out to be £3.32.

The foam sheet costs £12.99 plus delivery charge of £8.40. I calculated that I could make about 12 inserts from one sheet. So that’s about £1.78 per box.

The labels cost £15.92 plus delivery from Amazon for 400 labels. This works out to be about 4 pence per label.

The black mount board can be purchased from HobbyCraft and costs £5 for an A1 sheet. You could squeeze about 12 reinforcement boards from one sheet of mount board. That’s about 42 pence per box.

I am not considering the cost of saws, knives, cutting boards or the glue and roller in the pricing as these are items I have had for years and use regularly for various projects.

Total cost? If I have my sums correct it works out to be about £5.56 per box. I think that satisfies the last requirement.

Whilst this box is a perfect fit for many Webley air pistols, it could also be used for various other sized or smaller items. However, for larger items, it would appear the manufacturer does not make a larger and still low height box of the same material. This is a pity as it would be nice to use the same style box throughout an entire collection. Thus the hunt it still ongoing for the right box for the rest of the collection. If necessary, I will have to build my own box from scratch. This is not beyond my wit and there are plenty of good guides on the internet that have inspired me such as this one, Making a Prototype Box Part 1 of 5, by Sage Reynolds.

All in all, job done!

Until next time, happy shooting!

Jimmie Dee

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