Need Cheap And Plentiful Project Boxes? Hit Up Your Local Hardware Store


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 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.

35 thoughts on “Need Cheap And Plentiful Project Boxes? Hit Up Your Local Hardware Store

  1. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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!

    4. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

    1. 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.

    1. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    Harbor Freight is probably cheaper. Enjoy!

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. Walmart’s camping and fishing departments have a bunch of waterproof plastic boxes, but they can get a little pricey. Food storage containers work well, but hot glue doesn’t stick to them for long. Also I would recommend using Tupperware or Rubbermaid type containers, the “disposable” Glad-ware or Zip-loc containers are to flimsy for mounting switches and such. There is a decent selection at Dollar Tree stores here in the USA that are just a buck. Also thrift stores and army/navy surplus stores are a great place to find your next project enclosure. I have a variable output ac / dc power supply that I built years ago in an antique wooden bread box from a thrift store. Happy hunting!

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