Shipping A CRT: Lessons Learned

Old CRT computer enthusiast [x86VileR] recently tracked down an IBM 5153 monitor for which he had been searching several years. Unfortunately shipping a heavy glass CRT isn’t easy. In fact, it took [VileR] three tries to get a functioning monitor delivered intact and working. The first one seemed reasonably protected in its packaging, but arrived so banged up that the CRT had become dislodged inside the monitor and the neck broke off! The second attempt was packaged even better, and he was sure it would arrive problem-free. Alas, it too arrived all banged up and broken.

This one clearly had superior packaging, so I find it difficult to account for this truly stupendous level of damage. The most promising theory is that several people jumped on it simultaneously, just before the delivery truck ran it over. As my friend put it, it would’ve arrived in better shape if he had just smashed it himself before boxing it up.

Double-boxing appears to be the answer, although it might result in a box too large to ship depending on your courier’s rules. Short of building custom wooden crates, do you have any packing tips for shipping heavy and fragile items? Thanks to [J.R. Dahlman] for sending us the tip.

75 thoughts on “Shipping A CRT: Lessons Learned

  1. Everyone who collects old computing equipment has at least one sad story like this. And it always happens to something that you got a super deal on and is irreplaceable.

    After a few heartbreaking experiences, I’ve told senders of high-value (at least to me) things that it they have ANY doubts about their packaging, to give it to a place like a UPS store for packaging and I’ll pay the additional cost.

    1. UPS stores wing it, they have no idea about any special requirements, like opening it up and checking cards are secure and heatsink isn’t going to turn into a slide hammer. No adding packing inside if needed. They err on the side of overpacking, so you’ll end up with a box maybe 6 to 8″ bigger all round, which will cost you a fortune in volumetric weight charges. I’d suggest rather that if you have any doubts that vendor is able to ensure adequate packaging, that you don’t buy from them, the UPS solution is as much a crap shoot.

      1. I’ve had issue with UPS. Sent an original Macintosh (the 128k one) via UPS. I used local UPS store to pack it and ship it. It arrived smashed. Contacted UPS, they said nope to insurance, that store is not one of ours, the liability is on whoever packed it. When I contacted UPS store, they said they are 100% owned by UPS and they should cover insurance.

        Had to sue them in small claim court to get my $800 back.

    2. lol yea they will throw one layer of the thinnest bubble wrap known to man on top and call it a day. Want a protip … how did they ship them BITD? in about an inch of ridged foam stuffed in a stapled box about 5mm too small.

      movement inside is the enemy for anything shipped

      1. Yeah, this. I always kept my CRT boxes so that I could repack when I moved. A 21″ CRT box was HUGE, because of the form-fitting rigid foam inserts. Bubblewrap doesn’t even begin to help with something like this.

    3. I tried having the UPS store ship a $2k HP signal generator. I told them to bubble wrap it, put it in expanding foam, then double box it. They dumped it bad styrofoam peanuts and tossed it on the truck. It arrived in pieces.

      Glad I took pictures before I left it with them and insured it for the full value.

      Zero stars. Would not use again.

      1. At least you got styrofoam. Actually – at least you got packing!

        I bought a blinkenlights PDP-11 off US eBay and had it shipped to Australia. Total weight about 25kg.
        It arrived with just a single layer of cardboard wrapped and taped around it, I kid you not.
        If there is any moral to my story it would be ‘never just assume the seller will properly pack an item for shipment’. Which is unfortunately exactly what I did.
        Thankfully there was not too much damage.

  2. Yes. I have had this problem in the military. They shipped CRT’s with the neck up, flat screen supported by 3 inches of soft foam that would compress well. The sides and top would also have 3 inches of foam. The foam would deform by 50% or more and then restore to the upright position. They also had a force indicator to alert you of damage. https://www.shockwatch.com.au/safety-technology-in-technology-freight-impact-labels/
    In WW2 they had arrangenemnts of compresiible springs to do the same, as they had no foam and rubber was too costly to be wasted on shipping. After WW2 they used a springy mass of rubberized pig hair. for a few years. Nasty stuff, if you ever set it on fire, a wastebasket full would emplty the building as it stand or burning rubber abd pig skin – retchwaorthy to the max.

  3. I recently installed a Mr Cool DIY heat pump and their “transit tested” packaging still allowed the mounting bracket attached to the back of the inside unit to get bent, which had to require coming close to breaking the plastic clip area at the bottom edge of the unit, and on the outdoor unit part of the grille got pushed in enough to just kiss some of the fins.

  4. Back in college, I got assigned the dubious honor of QSL card manager at the ham radio club. I remember taking my first batch of cards to the post office to be mailed, and they were rejected by the postman. I had used brown paper and masking tape to hold it together. He told me, masking tape wouldn’t hold up to their rigorous handling. I’m looking at this package about the size of a paperback book, and wondering, “WTH are they going to do with this package that requires stronger tape”?

    1. The post ofice hated QSL card managers way back, not so much now. They wanted US postage per item. When you ship them in country packs where they just get the destination local stamp the USPS gets zero. In effect you were sending forst class mail, which should be individually mailed as they had your signal report = first class, at the bulk printed matter rate,

    2. IIRC, the prohibition on masking tape has more to do with the potential for it to come undone in the sorting machine, and gumming up the works. Brown paper and cheap packing tape isn’t stronger, just the tape isn’t’ designed to come undone.

  5. If I had to ship that one, I think I’d do 2″ styrofoam taped securely all round it, so it’s in a styrofoam box. Shipping box should be double thickness, should be able to put it in without distorting box. Put it inside, wedge it into place with scraps of styrofoam or rolls/wads of heavy duty bubble wrap. Then fill voids with packing peanuts. Fill very slightly overpacked with peanuts, such that they’re already pushing on the sides of the carton, but not bulging it. It’s like a full waterbottle vs an empty one, want no voids. Then close it up. Lots of good tape. three stripes around over all the seams. Criss cross and reinforce the corners. Now stand on it. If you daren’t or it starts to give, you did it wrong.

  6. There was a British science show I once watched similar to Myth Busters. The show tested what padding should be used when shipping a CRT TV.

    The winner was wrapping in bubble wrap. The TV was launched off the back of a moving lorry. It survived.

    I do concede that an old monitor will likely have de plasticised plastic that will be quite brittle.

    I did ship an Apollo/Domain monitor successfully across the Pacific. However that likely had better condition plastic due to age differences.

  7. My brother worked for UPS one holiday season as a “tosser” ie the guy that “loads” the long haul trucks. He expressed his amazement that anything fragile makes it through the system due to staff ignoring any “fragile” (aka kickme) signs on the box and what not.

    Fast forward a few years and I am in need of a storage upgrade at work and due to cost we got used drives from the east coast shipped to Alaska! – We insured them for extra, they were doubled boxed and had expanding foam of some sort inside. The works. They arrive, the foam was compressed to dust and the boxes broke out. The drives were mounted in a chassis that was steel, the steel was deformed, drives mangled!

    File an insurance claim for $8,000+ and ask the shipper/seller for round two. They also arrive a broken mess, Another claim for $8,000 or so. I got a friendly call from the FedEX folks trying to deny my claim because it was “inadequately packed” etc… Since we had pre and post pictures and I just happen to have video of them being thrown out of the hold on the airplane onto the tarmac with nothing below, just a bin they were tossing all of the boxes into from above. (small town airport with only 1 flight from FedEX a day, Flight aware for the win!) Claims were paid. I doubt others have been as fortunate getting paid out on their claims.

    3rd time we shipped via Lynden “Less then Truck Load” aka LTL on a pallet. Turns out that the very small extra cost and time was well worth it because everything arrived perfect. The difference is that once its on a pallet, the folks in the (pro/larger?) shipping industry just move it around with a forklift so long as the driver doesn’t put a fork through the box or item your golden. I would strongly suggest people explore the route if your concerned about getting your product. I realize this solution is either overkill or inaccessible to some but since I have to ship a lot up here I have grown to like the system more in some respects. Particularly when it comes to getting my items without a lot of damage caused by 50 different people all throwing the item as fast as they can for minimum wage.

    Then there is the total BS tactic FedEX and UPS pull sometimes, if you use next day or 2nd day air and they don’t have a profitable route, you will get a “held for security inspection” tag on the line tracking until they fill the plane enough to pay for the run.

    1. That’s kind of my thought, but then we shipped our items via a big truck line. Only real way to damage them was a forklift. Of course only way to move them was the same. Maybe if the incredible hulk worked in shipping.

    2. At $DAY_JOB, I often ship 72” racks on custom built pallets (they have their own fold down ramp and thick cardboard walls.. works of art) with the better part of half to three quarters of a million dollars worth of servers. More than once I’ve had a forklift punch through the front and right out the back side. One phone call gets the attention of the right folks at the trucking company.

      1. Unfortunate. I worked at a data center and our pallets were usually good. Stack ~40 pizza box servers 2x2x10, space them at least 3-6in from the edge, wrap TIGHTLY in cellophane starting with the servers then the pallet, optional straps, done.

        The only freight issue I remember is when a two-bit shipping company unloaded our pallet and poorly reloaded it on a smaller pallet. They stacked it twice as high and half assed the plastic wrap.

    3. With UPS if you investigate enough you find that your package was involved in a “4th level belt jam” which means it fell a long ways to the concrete in the sorting facility.

    4. I had construction scaffolding trucked to my house. This is stuff you couldn’t deform with anything less than a sledge hammer. Some pieces arrived bent.
      There is nothing so strong and so well packed that a shipper can’t damage it.

  8. I remember a small article in Popular Mechanics when I was a teenager. They packaged up boxes with accelerometers and microcontrollers (like a BASIC stamp), and marked some boxes as fragile.
    The ones marked fragile received more abuse than the the unmarked ones.
    In addition to some of the great advice above, do not ever, mark a package as “fragile.”

    1. yes that. Courier handling personnel is poorly paid and will lash out on parcels to try to cause abuse to their employer. Make your parcel as unconscious as possible. If you want to ensure the top side will be facing up, stick the transportation documents on the top side.

  9. My Sony PVM was well packed but it was no match for the delivery driver who dropped or threw it with enough force that I could hear it loudly thud from the other side of the house, whereupon it rolled end over end who knows how many times, coming to rest on a box edge. The driver did not bother to hide his crimes. I suspect he was halfway back to his truck before the box stopped moving.

  10. What about using a drop-and-tell label like ShockWatch? Has anyone found whether they encourage the carrier to be more careful or make it easier to get a claim paid?

    1. I am not a carrier but whenever I see them show up at work one of the first things I do is whack the crate with a 3lb ball peen just for fun. Might as well put a target on the thing

  11. – If you have anything fragile, put it on a pallet. Even if it is just a few harddisks.
    – If you use cardboard boxes, do NOT reuse them. After their first use, they are considerably weaker, even if they look fine.
    – Dont write “fragile” on the box, write “glass”.

  12. As someone who’s shipped a ton of CRT bare tubes and old computer monitors (with almost perfect results).
    The key is to send anything fragile is to pay extra for USPS “Special Handling”.
    You’ll have to bring them to the post office in person, however they avoid all the machinery.

    For bare tubes, make sure to send them face down and do NOT use any packing peanuts or bubble wrap around the necks.
    The peanuts/bubble wrap will move around in shipping and can wedge against the bare tube’s neck and break it.
    You have to use cardboard to secure bare tubes (including upside down), it takes a while to package them, but they survive.

  13. Check out this video on youtube from D-Labs N6TLU (Terry) about shipping heavy old heavy boat anchor tube-based ham radio’s via FedEx. It is full of good information on just what needs to be done when sending awkward, heavy, fragile things and not have them smashed up on the other side……

  14. Wrap the monitor in a plastc bag and close it well,

    Use expanding wall-foam to make custom packing by spraying a layer into the box, then set the monitor quickly into the box and fill the sides and top with foam. After it hardens, you can slice off the rest with a bread knife.

    I have shipped a lot of fragile glass items this way and never had a breakage.

    Success!!!

  15. Maybe there should be a QR code to a YouTube/Vimeo/whatever video or photo gallery showing the item being packed and the level of care shown by the packer pasted on the *outside* of the box with a big fat “fragile” warning beside it.

    _Then_ watch the courier try to weasel their way out of it.

  16. I have a collection of military equipment shipping cases for just this purpose. Buy some off ebay and get creative with hard foam pads to make sure whatever you are putting in it stays put.

  17. We had a PC shipped from China to the U.K. well packed. Our Chinese team were using it to remote test in the U.K., so we plugged it into network and power and turned it on.
    A few days later, they complained they couldn’t see it on the network.
    We opened it up.
    The HD had ripped lose of the (now bent) chassis, and smashed one of the PCI cards.

  18. I can’t even type out my story about shipping with UPS because I involuntarily start screaming obscenities just thinking about it. Happened 12 years ago and it’s still too soon. Avoid UPS like your life depends on it.

  19. For CRT oscilloscopes, use the techniques recommended by Tek, modified by availability of new materials

    1) protect any knobs sticking out by sculpting dense foam /around/ them
    2) three or more layers of small bubble wrap; it takes more energy to break several small bubbles than one large bubble
    3) cardboard box, tight fit no movement
    4) a three inch gap all around then a second cardboard box. Use bouncy rubber foam around the corners to separate the two boxes and reduce the peak impact forces when dropped

    Optionally add some materials to keep the two boxes separate everywhere. Expect the outer box to be damaged when it protects the inner box.

    Packing peanuts, despite being patented by Tek, are not recommended: they can be pushed out of the way and become useless.

    Also see
    https://www.eevblog.com/forum/repair/how-do-people-pack-delicate-instruments-properly/

  20. I rarely ship fragile things, in fact the reverse. I tend to ship heavy sharp things (machined castings) that will escape from the box with little provocation.
    I like to use the mix-in-bag foam-in-bag expanding foam. Look for “Instapak Quick RT”. You can get it from Amazon / eBay in smaller numbers. Press on one part of the bag to burst a bladder, press somewhere else to squoosh it around a few times, put it in the box, close the lid and sit on it :-)
    It’s not cheap, a couple of quid per bag, and you tend to need two. But it makes a perfectly fitting resilient layer.

    1. Thanks everybody for all the advice. Given that I’ve worked from home for years, in somewhat a hardware-intensive field (vr/ar system software), and have had a lot of stuff shipped to me, I’m pretty surprised I don’t have a horror story like these. Though, I suppose my saving grace is that my hardware tends to be light: aside from the occasional small form factor pc, HMDs are generally under 1kg for wearability reasons, so there’s less mass slinging around to get damaged. (And my Project North Star headset came internationally in an awesome, possibly overkill but appreciated, custom foam “flight-case” style container.)

      From other very heavy shipments we’ve received, though, I can agree that empty space is the enemy: mass in gravity means acceleration, acceleration means force, and force over a distance of empty space in a box is “work”: in this case, work done to self destruct or to destroy the package. If there’s space for your item to move, there’s damage it can and will do to itself and the container.

  21. I don’t have any real horror stories of valuable items getting broken. One time I received a heavy power supply that was only put in a padded envelope, of course the heavy transformer broke free inside it and decimated the casing, but a few pictures and the seller did refund me instantly.

  22. Twice I’ve had an 80 W CO2 laser tube (125 cm long) shipped from China to Denmark, with no problems. Seems those AliExpress sellers have it figured out: Put the tube in a heavy (3-4 mm thick) cardboard box just a little bigger than the tube, and place some blocks of dense foam around the tube to keep it firmly fixed inside the box. Then wrap the cardboard box with wide foam strips in 4-5 places, and put that inside a wooden box. Staple or screw the wooden box shut.

  23. It would be helpful to know the area from and to these were shipped. At the link he mentions “Global Shipping Program.” Are these damages coming from scumbag handlers somewhere in a very long shipping chain?

  24. Expanding foam. Put your item to be shipped in a plastic trash bag, tape it up good. spray a little foam in the bottom of the box, let it harden enough you can set your object on it without it sinking. Do so then fill the rest with foam.

    For the really important/delicate stuff you can toss a piece of plywood in the bottom before the foam and/or place it on one or more sides, inside the box.

    If they manage to break that I doubt the driver survived the crash.

    That’s what they did at one place I worked. I don’t know what it cost the company though. Shipping costs weren’t really an object with the sort of expensive equipment they were shipping.

  25. When I was a young man, I spent a summer doing cleaning work at my local UPS center. I saw for myself the extreme lack of care that those workers had when it came to package handling.
    If you want something to survive, pack it well. When you think you’ve done enough to prevent damage, you probably haven’t. Add another layer of packing materials, and another one around that. They will find a way to break it, if it is possible.

    I hope that UPS has improved their package handling since then, but I seriously doubt it.

  26. I have not used it myself, but I am told that if you’re shipping retro computing stuff like CRTs, the way to go is Greyhound Express. They put your item in the baggage compartment of a bus, and route it to the nearest bus station in the destination city. I would guess that since shipping packages is sort of a “side job” for them, they don’t have to deal with disgruntled “package throwers” as much.

  27. Heh… we had United Parcel Smashers handle 5 17″ CRT’s (back in the day). One had a 2″ hole all the way through the middle. They were arguing with us about accepting the box because — hey the box isn’t damaged or crushed…

  28. Well, as a buyer, if ‘truly’ one of a kind ‘fragile’ component, been looking for it for ‘years and years’, and is ‘in country’ … Then my thought is spend the time to go pick it up personally. Make a mini-vacation out of the road trip — going the cheaper route. If you have the deep pockets, charter a flight there and back of course . Or fly there commercial, rent a car and drive it back. We sorta did that… As my son had to give up his car when he went to the Naval Academy in Maryland, we flew out, spent a little time there, and then drove his car back in 3 days to Montana. Do-able.

  29. NEVER USE PEANUTS.

    Over time, they will shift out of the way of an object trying to settle to the bottom of the box. Bubble wrap does not shift.
    Use many layers of bubble wrap. Use thick bubble wrap if available. Make sure all sides of the item are wrapped.
    Lightly over-wrap the items. There should be very little or no room for the items to move around.
    Consider a box within a box.
    Some objects are very unbalanced (such as CRT monitors). Consider shipping them with the heaviest side facing down.

  30. We’ve used shock tags and tip’n’tell tags as a first pass measurement of how a package is handled during shipment. Shock tags capture the strongest impact force in a particular direction. Tip’n’tell tags capture how far a shipment was tipped from vertical, including inverted. Neither will indicate multiple instances.

    I would swear that if these tags are visible, handlers will do their best to fully active all the tags (50g tags were frequently tripped). Tip tags often indicate tipping by >130 degrees (i.e. mostly inverted). Fedex (and probably UPS) state in their service agreement that even their “white glove” handling does not assure a package wont be inverted.

    We now use tri-axial data loggers with 50g accelerometers (X, Y, and Z directions) to capture the times and magnitudes of forces acting on our boxes, and even these sometimes saturate (off-scale high). Side benefits: these loggers also contain temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors. The pressure sensors indicate clearly when an aircraft is in flight, or on the ground. With the accelerometers, you can tell how the box was loaded (on it’s front, for instance), and get some idea of where it was handled roughly.

  31. Y’all this is a solved problem…
    Wrap the monitor in a ton of plastic food wrap, base down on a thin square of plywood in a oversized box.
    Then fill the entire box with spray foam insulation (closed cell foam) and tape it up.

  32. Every now and then I order some oriental canned food from a German online store. To my surprise they always arrive in such packaging as displayed on the pictures, filled with little protective spunches. I guess they’ve been in monitor delivery business in the past. /s

    Congrats for resurrecting this beaty nevertheless!

  33. Back in the 5-1/4 floppy disc days, my friend in Japan ordered some software from the USA. Every time it arrived, the Japanese post office would fold it in half to fit into his P.O. Box (despite “do not fold” labels). Finally he sent the American company two aluminum plates and requested they send the software sandwiched between them. This time it worked!

  34. I shipped about a dozen sony PVM monitors over several years here in the UK, for 20″ PVMs I always shipped on a pallet, the monitor wrapped in bubble wrap 3 layers, wrapped in carboard, sat on some cut up roll mat or foam on the palllet and then strapped down, then shrink wrapped. I could never agree with myself on tube down or normal orientation, as the neck PCB is quite large on them and hangs down normally, so would not be symmetric if tube down.

    Smaller 14″ PVMs I did, in the end, ship via DPD (including 3 to EU). For these I used 2x 18″ cubed movers boxes, one inside the other but with flaps open on one (so about 27″ high), for additional height. This gave enough space for a cut up foam mattress to yield 3″ heavy foam all around the monitor, which had 3 layers of small bubble wrap around it. Packed these face downwards so more foam top and bottom. It was also 1cm inside the DPD maximum size limit when finished.

    All went OK, but they were always a big risk. One guy used anyvan to have one collected from me and two guys just turned up with a luton and slung it in the back, next to an engine and gearbox that was just sat there… Took a few photos of that but it seemed to make it ok none the less.

    Nowadays for most things I just make heavy use of a big shredder here and a pile of newspapers, I find that better than polywidgets for most things (and cheaper too).

  35. Damn it make me both sad and angry to hear all those sad stories , what a horror .
    Personally I think the key problem here is with the personal who handle the items in the
    transport ( to and / or from the shipping company ) .
    There is countless videos on youtube showing how those personel just throw the packets around .
    ( when loading / unloading the cars / airplanes / trucks ect , ect )

    My own experiances have being all good ( so far ) .
    My biggest load of stuff was when I moved to china in 2014 and I was sending my entire home studio .
    Speakers , computers and such stuff .
    I had flightcases to the rack systems but my guitar amplifier ( an old Tube Combo ) I actually wrapped it in a blanket
    and 6 layers of bubble plastic .
    Then I send it all with a private company as FRAGILE .
    One month later ( it took 3 week to pass through custom ) it arrived at my new home in china ..
    Everything totally in perfect condition and not even a scratch to the packing material .
    All Tubes in the amplifier still sitting perfect and all function perfect .

    Here a few years ago I again moved , this time from China to Philippines and , again I had to send my studio .
    Big speakers and small monitors , Subwoofers , my guitar amplifier ( its a big heavy one ) all
    wrapped in blanket and layers of bubble plastic .
    Big heavy flightcases where my computers and rackmounted gear is inside ( more than 100 kg ) ect ect …
    This time I used a Chinese cargo service and just as first time , I SEND IT AS FRAGILE .
    They handled it extremely well .
    Not a single scratch or any damnage at all and when they arrived in the truck at my new home I could see
    how carefull they moved it around ( despite to get it lifted out of the truck we was 3 people because its heavy )

    In computers not a single card , harddisk ect was loose or have moved .
    All tubes in the guitar amplifier was nicely seated in their sockets .
    In short , everything was excately as when I send it .

    Those people working there know how to take care and they respect the items they are responsible for .

    Sadly its not the case in all the stories I so far have read here .

    As I see this , the whole problem is with those people who is in the transport phase of it .
    ( those who load / unload the cargo )
    Some years ago they faced many such bad stories in china and they got so p*ss they have fired many
    and their staff undego special training and , I know many dont like this , especially in europe but
    they have installed cameras to keep eye at those who load / unload trucks / airplanes ect ect .
    This have really worked perfect .
    Now we just need them to do the same in Europe and US so those personal who doesnt care they get fired .

    Its all about respect and those working in such companies should respect the items they are responsible
    for transport off .

    Im very happy and thankfull they took so god care of my stuff but again , It was what I paid them to do
    so this is also what I should get.

    I feed both angry and sad when I read all your stories about how careless those *d*ots have handled your stuff.

    Better control of those people working in those companies is they key to solve this .

    Of course the only reason the screen in the article could arrive in that condition is if it was tossed around
    and being thrown into the truck / airplane ect .

    Normal handling where being picked up normal and placed normal and it would have arrived with NO problems .
    This should have being ok fine packaging if they have handled it normal .

    But of course if you have to account for personal who throw around with packets then you need something
    more extreme .

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