Need cheap and plentiful project boxes? Hit up your local hardware store

open_hardware_project_boxes

One thing that really makes a project complete is the way in which you package your final product. Some people are fine with a piece of protoboard with wires sticking out in every direction, and truth be told, so are we – depending on the application.

[Daniel] over at archive.org was seeking out enclosures to wrap up some humidity and temperature monitors he was working on. He suddenly realized that electrical junction boxes were cheap, widely available, and perfectly suited for the job. He hauled off to the hardware store and bought a few different boxes, then spent some time cleaning them up a bit before putting them into service.

While he couldn’t put the PVC-based plastic lids into his laser cutter, he did grab some birch plywood at the store, which fit his needs nicely. A few minutes in the cutter and a few coats of paint later, he had some great looking covers for his project boxes. He added a piece of ply to the inside of the metal enclosures to protect his components, and when everything was finished, he was quite pleased with the results.

Let’s say you don’t happen to have a laser cutter on hand. Plastic boxes would do fine in most scenarios, but if you absolutely required a metal enclosure, a few coats of Plastidip on all interior surfaces would keep your electronics safe as well.

Now, no one is calling the use of junction boxes for electronics projects revolutionary by any means. It’s just one of those items you can blindly pass by in the hardware store countless times without giving them a second glance, until someone happens to point out that they would make a perfect enclosure. That’s something we can appreciate.

If you’re interested in putting some of your own together, [Daniel] has made his laser cutter templates available online.

Comments

  1. Kaj says:

    Junction boxes and PVC pipes/fittings – both real handy for building different types of enclosures!

  2. zuul says:

    i made an arduino enclosure with an oldwork gangbox
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Dirt-Cheap-Arduino-Enclosure/

    the best thing about hardware store boxes is that they’re cheap
    some of them have a lot of holes and are odd shaped though

  3. Tomasito says:

    Here in Argentina those boxes are really crappy made, it’s a shame. But i’ve used some PVC “junction boxes” that are both very cheap and durables, and come in many many sizes.
    http://www.sumelnet.com/images/caja-estanca-817.gif

    The small ones cost less than $1 each.

    PS: There are boxes like the one used here, but made of plastic (might come in handy for electronics).

  4. Well, as Iam addicted to those, I have plenty of those Peppermint boxes … They also perform very fine and they also perform fine with RF circuitry! This addiction is really cool :o)

    http://frupic.frubar.net/shots/20911.jpg

    Iam sorry for the bad image, but there is no good light situation here and Iam not able to capture this better :(

  5. joesugar says:

    I’ve used the junction boxes but my favorite was the plastic VHS tape boxes. Drilled and stacked easily, and had a reasonable amount of room if the board wasn’t too tall.

  6. macona says:

    Sorry, but I think j-boxes look amateurish and crappy in general.

    • junkhacker says:

      hobbyists doing things that look amateurish? the horror. seriously, anything that keeps the project from looking like a pile of wires and parts is looking LESS amateurish.

    • The Timmy says:

      I can understand where you’re coming from on that. especially when it comes to “professionally manufactured” equipment in the industry or anywhere a more formal clean-cut look is important.

      but for the amateur and all around house-hold hacker, I think these are great. especially if you’re mounting your project into a wall. their (somewhat) standard sizes and shapes also help when using them as modular components.

      home made hacks can fall into two main categories: looks good, works. these are obviously for the latter. unless it’s for a hack going into an art installation or mounted at a Chipotlé restaurant.

    • orly_owl says:

      Oh really? Is that your general sentiment or did you actually visit the site and look at the boxes?

      If they are mounted in wall, they look great.

      If they are spraypainted black to match the front, they would look just fine unless you checked them out from right up close.

      I think the knock outs are a nice added bonus for wire routing, just make sure to give them a once over with a file!

    • Flood_of_SYNs says:

      I think the j-box looks LESS amateurish as opposed to a circuit board with a rat nest of wires and it protects it from damage and debris.

      I am planning to build a mpguino and some other AVR based circuits for my truck, and j-boxes would make a nice cheap enclosure.

  7. Josh says:

    At least it isnt stupid altoids tins…

  8. Bob says:

    Yup. Oldie but goodie. My first DIY stompbox was in one of the metal 4×4 boxes. Very durable ans works well as long as you remember to isolate all your connections from the box. My favorite junk to project box was a old Black and Decker angle grinder case. It had a durable hinges, a snap clasp, and a handle. All the buttons and toggles mounted clean on the front and the components fit nicely inside and even had enough room for a big 110v magnetic relay and double 110v outlet flush mounted into the side.

  9. Addidis says:

    why kill trees for insulation ? There are a few ways to deal with solder nipples brushing the metal box, (solder nipples?! clearly im drinking) Double sided foam tape is a favorite of mine since it is dramatically less expensive then the hardware to mount the board to the box, but if you got 20$ for nuts and bolts, just drill a hole and mount it with hardware.

  10. Abbott says:

    Holy crap… I would have never thought to use these! The other benefit to them is for installations where you acually have some of the wiring run through conduit. I’m sure there’s some nit-picky bits of the NEC about having high and low voltage systems in the same place, but hey, for those who can skate by that, this is great!

    • Trav says:

      I don’t think the NEC has a problem with low voltage mounted in conduit, you just can’t mix the two. ie low voltage and high voltage in the same box/conduit. Here at work, the Fire alarm system is all ran in conduit, and the J-boxes are painted red.

      BTW, I like the plastic boxes with clear plexiglass for the cover. You can use the slits where the cable goes through for wiring, and seal it up with hot glue.

      Also, on the metal boxes, tapping the knockouts slightly would give ventilation vents. also the box usable as a heatsink where plastic boxes would require and additional one.

  11. ferm says:

    not a terrible idea, sturdy….boxy BUT if you have a laser cutter, why not just make a laser cut box?

    • Otacon2k says:

      The sheetmetal those boxes are made of won’t easily cut on a hobby-level lasercutter…
      And I think they look much sturdier than a homebuilt, lasercut plastic box (and are most probably cheaper, too).
      Great “project” by the way!

  12. William Hightower says:

    Perfectly reasonable solution. Don’t just look at the these small junction boxes. On a number of occasions have used enclosure from the electrical aisle. I used a small cheap 4 breaker enclosure once for one project. Just gut the box and if you are covering up the front anyway nobody will know it was a breaker box. Another time I gutted a 3R outside box and painted it match the tan brick on my office and used it to hold a siren and strobe. It would have taken a while to bust that case with a baseball bat. Wish I had pictures of it. It came out great. So I highly recommend checking out the electrical aisle. Your next case might just be something on clearance. And be sure to stop by the spray paint isle there are some great finishes there. And always remember to see past what it is and see what it could be.

  13. jiboo says:

    this a good post they got this depression comein down on us

  14. Haku says:

    To me the word Altoids sounds like some sort of medical problem you have to go see the doctor to get a prescription for, “my altoids are really playing up today…”

    I like the general purpose screw-on lid abs boxes that are available virually everywhere, non-descript boxes that can easily be drilled, glued etc. for many projects.

  15. Hackerspacer says:

    Plastidip. Ugh. That stuff is so nasty. Full of solvents and plasticizers and other extremely unfriendly compounds.

  16. Fili says:

    If you don’t like the size of the junction box, go over the food department. You’ll find there lots of food boxes all kinds of sizes. I even found a tall & thin one that I used for electrolysis.
    http://img.diytrade.com/cdimg/828129/7437313/0/1227167032/Plastic_food_container_food_container_plastic_box_criper_plastic_product.jpg

  17. stib says:

    The local supermarket sells these “Systema Klipit” food storage boxes.t They’re promoed as being airtight – I don’t know about that, but they’re certainly quite water resistant. The plasti is thick enough that you can mount switches and knobs etc in it, and the clip-on lid beats screwing the case closed only to find the thing doesn’t work any more. You can also see through them so you know when your circuit is on fire.

  18. David Moisan says:

    When I’ve needed to run a serial connection a long distance (from a GPS module), I’ve used single-bay plastic electrical boxes and Cat 5 jacks. Network cable is very useable for many things besides Ethernet.

    Food containers: Mini M&M tubes are excellent for wiring in-line jacks, adapters, baluns, isolated audio, etc., etc.

  19. Tyler says:

    I would highly suggest real electronics enclosures from Bud or Hammond Manufacturing (and yes, you can actually order things online from something other than Sparkfun — like, oh, Mouser, Digikey, or Arrow–ha!) but they are a bit expensive. Aluminum is a far superior enclosure material, however, as it is far more machinable.

  20. Stevie says:

    I’ve looked at these before for similar uses. But I’ve always found them to have cracks or the bits already popped out etc.

  21. The Phantom says:

    For insulating the inside and outside of these boxes, spray-on truck bed liner. A little goes a long way, and you can brush or roll it. Nice tough finish, no fuss.

    For those who want something special, box and pan brakes are cheap. Make your own, adds to the fun and you get exactly what you want every time. Waterproof when welded or caulked.

    http://www.busybeetools.com/products/SHEET-METAL-MACHINE-12IN.-3-IN-1.html

    Harbor Freight is probably cheaper. Enjoy!

  22. Brix says:

    Great idea! Now I just crave a laser cutter even more…

  23. Wiregeek says:

    Brilliant!

    I’d never considered this, but it’s a wonderful idea. Even if nothing else, you can use the substrate of the j-box to fasten exterior ‘cladding’ panels to, to make a sturdy box of whatever materials and look you desire.

    liquid nails, some honey oak veneer, and bam!

  24. aeiah says:

    im just finishing up an openwrt wifi stream receiver project (based off mightyohm’s wifi radio). im using a 4mm thick clear acrylic stationary box that im going to paint on the inside. very clean looking finish. since its clear to start with, you can fix any LED or LCD components to the inside prior to painting, eliminating the need to cut tidy holes.

  25. Dan Fruzzetti says:

    In my locale these are no less expensive than equivalently sized project boxes — maybe $5 for the metal box and $2 for the cover.

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