Monday, 27 March 2017

Toomas Karmo: Stackerboxes and the Management of Chattels

Screenshot from one of my four Debian GNU/Linux desktops. Anticlockwise from upper right: operations clocks (green for the local civil time, red for UTC); paper template for pencil markup of bow plate; closeup of the paper template (note lines on the paper, to help produce a correct pencil-mark asterisk on the underlying plate; a plate for port, starboard, upper deck, or lower deck, already marked with pencil asterisks under the guidance of its paper template, and now awaiting dimple-marking with hammer and metal punch; box with glue applied to the junctions of port, startboard, upper-deck, and lower-deck plates, and with stern still facing the ceiling; assembly now rotated, with bow facing the ceiling (it is time to apply the final bead of glue, on the exposed edges, and then to secure the bow plate in position - at first just with a pair of nails in each of its four corners; completed box (note note yellow-plastic face mask, for protection of eyes when operating power drill); closeup of completed box, showing UTC timestamp and serial number; a Debian GNU/Linux /usr/bin/xterm, or "glass teletype", window, configured to show an extract from my private flat-ASCII 2009 project design notes. - As always in blogger, the graphic may be enlarged, if desired, with a left mouse-click. 

Quality assessment:

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 4/5. Justification: Kmo had time to do a reasonably complete and (within the framework of the version 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ...  process) reasonably polished job.

Revision history:

  • 20170328T1742Z/version 3.0.0: Kmo added a graphic, with caption. He reserved the right to make further tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, improvements over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented verions 3.0.1, 3.0.2, 3.0.3, ... . 
  • 20160328T0237Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo finished converting the outline into coherent sentences. He reserved the right to make further tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, improvements over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • 20170328T0031Z/version 1.1.0: Kmo made some improvements in the outline.
  • 20170328T0000Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo managed to upload just a (partially polished) pointform outline. He hoped to finish converrting the outline into coherent sentences, with some necessary details also filled in, at some point in the next 4 hours.

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that is formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" which on many Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect "Cascading Style Sheets" problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

Elsewhere in tonight's blogging, I shall have to describe my ongoing search for new accommodations, in the wake of my landlord's friendly 2017-03-20 announcement to me that he is about to sell his house. Trying to make this blog as useful as I can for people other than me, I will at the moment, however, write not about my urgent apartment-or-single-room-or-unfurnished-basement hunt, but instead about one of my three or so inventions for the management of chattels. 


Organizing my life over the years, I have arranged many household things into stackable wooden boxes of my own design. My ideal is to own almost no furniture beyond two wicker chairs, and perhaps an ornamental coffee table. Most of the rest is under this household-management ideal to be implemented with stackable wooden boxes - with what I call "stackerboxes". Stackerboxes give the visually attractive effect of conventional furniture. They are amenable not only to stacking, but to being if necessary covered with decorative drop-cloths and the like. With a large brown-stained plywood panel (stain makes cheap wood look expensive) and a bevelled-glass overlay, one even gets an attractive desk. With utility-grade panels, sofa cushions, and a memory-foam mat (and bedding, and a bedspread for correctly civilized daytime appearances), one gets a serviceable bed. Stackerboxkes would potentially make even an unfurnished, unfinished basement into adequately pleasant living quarters. (I would be strongly interested in renting such a basement space, provided I can do it legally - both in Ontario from 2017-05-01 onward and in Estonia from late 2018.) 

The stackerboxes make moving, in a situation in which books and papers abound, as easy as it can reasonably become. 

Additionally, given my stackerboxes, the people in Estonia having to dispose of my estate after my death, perhaps in the 2020s or 2030s or 2040s (I was born in 1953), will have a rather easy job. As I lie at last in a Tartu grave near 1940s/1950s family friend, and horticultural scientist, August Mätlik (1881-1956;; this is the agreed family internment arrangement, siunce the Mätlik plot is in our family's care), my eventual executors are to be pictured taking rather easy decisions, clipboards in hand, in the following approximate style: Great-great-Uncle Toomas's box QD-14 contains only books in linear algebra and basic calculus, and therefore can safely go to the Nõo science-intensive "reaalgümnaasium" in Tartu County, as directed by Toomas's codicil of 2034-12-01. Toomas's box PF-09 contains only ham-radio gear, and therefore can safely go to the Estonian Amateur Radio Association/Eesti Raadaioamatööride Ühing (ERAÜ), as directed in his will over the past decades, and as now reaffirmed in that same codicil. Although we do have to phone ahead, we can be pretty sure that the reaalgümnaasium and ERAÜ will be happy enough to receive not only the contents, but even the so-handy stackerboxes themselves. And if, contrary to what we expect, those particular institutions have no use for stackerboxes, the empties will later prove handy for Uncle FGH and Auntie RST , as they re-organize their Tartu County summer cottage.

Each stackerbox is large enough to hold fifteen or so tidily shelved books, or their equivalent in loose-paper filing folders (with the books, that is, library-arranged, to display their spines, and with the spines running parallel to the shorter sides of the box; and with filing folders correspondingly archive-arranged, with their filing tabs exposed for an archivist's perusal, and with the folder spines again running parallel to the shorter sides of the box). 

On the other hand, each stackerbox is small enough to be carried rather easily by a single person, when filled in the just-described library or archive style with its (tidy) load of books or papers. 

Each stackerbox is formally defined by me to be of external dimensions 0.500 metres by 0.370 metres by (0.300 + epsilon) metres, where "epsilon" represents the modest thickness of what I am about to be calling, in this documention, the thinnest "hull plate", specifically the "bow plate". In the North American market, timber is sized by Imperial measure. I will leave it to the reader to make any necessary metric-to-Imperial conversions - noting, however, that since I am implementing the "bow plate" in what is marketed in North America as 1/8-inch stock, and since 1/8 inch is to one significant figure 0.003 metres, the quantity "epsilon" becomes under North American market conditions, to one significant figure, 0.003 metres. Given my formal definition, the interior dimensions of a stackerbox will be contingent on the timber available. If all plates but the thinnest are implemented in "1/2 inch" stock, then all plates but the thinnest are, to two significant figures, 0.013 metres thick. Under any reasonable choice of timber, whether in the Imperial or the metric system, my external-dimensions definition seems to yield an interior space sufficient for handling ordinary published books (including rather imposing university textbooks), and for handling letter-sized folders under both the USA and the European (International Organization for Standardization - i.e., ISO) definitions. (In the USA system, letter-sized paper is called "8 1/2 inch by 11 inch paper". In ISO, letter-sized paper is called "A4", under a set of definitions documented at, e.g., - The ISO definitions, incidentally, are designed to make the waste-free cutting of large sheets into smaller sheets easy at the stationery factory, and reducing and enlarging easy at the photocopy machine.) - An advantage of my external-dimensions formalism is that a large population of stackerboxes can be built first in Canada, and later on in Europe, with the assurance that the boxes from the two separate subpopulations will stack cleanly - even though, since European timber is not sized under Imperial measure, the internal dimensions of stackerboxes from the two subpopulations may differ slightly.

In a naval metaphor, each stackerbox has a thin bow hull panel, and thicker port and starboard and upper-deck and lower-deck panels. The stern is normally left open. (When one is inspecting the spines of books in a library stackerboxk deployment, one is facing, as might be expected when travelling at sea, toward the bow. When a book is steadily pushed, library-style, into a stackerbox (its spine vertical, as is normal in a library), it moves in nautical terms steadily "forward", i.e., steadily "ahead", until finally its (vertical) fore-edge is somewhat forward of midships and its (vertical) spine is somewhat aft of midships.)

In my implementation, the upper and lower decks and the port and starboard hull panels are of cheap (here in Ontario, "1/2 inch") particleboard. The (thin, "1/8 inch") bow hull panel is of a thinner, and still less imposing, board, marketed here in Ontario at Home Hardware as "utillity board". (This is a kind of ultra-cheap composite, with glossy middle-brown surfaces, or perhaps with one middle-brown surface glossy and the other mddle-brown surface matte.)  However, individuals enjoying more financial strength than I happen to enjoy these days might consider building their own stackerboxes in pine or spruce, perhaps combining two lengths of mill plank into a single hull panel with box-interior wooden ties, or with box-interior metal fishplates. Or they might even - should cost be no limitation, and should it be desired to leave the best possible legacy for one's eventual heirs - consider some such cabinet-grade hardwood as birch, oak, or maple, with perhaps also some exquisitely precise gluing of abutting plank lengths into panels, as is done when making a fine countertop or table.


Stackerboxes can be safely built up, given an adjoining house wall, and given a bit of scrap-timber shimming under the bottom box to achieve the right (slight) tilt, to a height of at least six. This gives the effect of a shelf, with an interior nearly 0.50 metres wide, possessing at least six horizontal ranges. A single column of six stackerboxes, configured as library shelving, thus holds the equivalent of around 6 times 15, or 90, books.

My design incorporates bolt-holes in the port hull, in the starboard hull, in the upper deck, and in the lower deck, for fastening stackerboxes into a rigid assembly of any desired vertical and horizontal extent. In practice, however, I have not found it necessary to make much use of the bolt-holes. One the boxes are loaded with books and filing folders, their weight makes the whole array safely solid, provided the site suffers no earthquake larger than a small tremor. (Both of the two regions of personal interest to me - the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, and Tartu County in Estonia - are geologically rather stable. Readers living in geologically active Italy, Japan, or California, on the other hand, would require a quite thorough deployment of bolts  (perhaps in visually attractive brass, rather than in drab steel?), with accompanying washers and wingnuts.)


I finish with construction tips. Since these tips are rather self-evident, for many readers it will be enough merely to glance at them, instead referring chiefly to the (self-explanatory) photographs which I shall be eventually be putting at the top of this present blog posting:

  • Here in Ontario, Home Hardware is willing to cut panels to size, for a moderate fee. 
  • I have learned the hard way that it is more efficient (a) to approach Home Hardware with wood (or perhaps paper, cardboard, or whatever) templates, and to say "I would like you to cut (say) 80 panels in this size" than (b) to give Home Hardware a specification-of-dimensions in inches or metres. 
  • Before starting assembly, I pencil-mark each panel for its nails or screws, using a paper template, and then mark the intended point of puncture with hammer and punch. 
  • I do all drilling of bolt-holes before assembling, making the bolt-holes somewhat head-welcoming by countersinking their rims with a large drill bit. 
  • I additionally use a large drill bit for countersinking in the upper-deck plate at the eventual positions of the heads of the two screws fastening upper-deck plate to port plate, and at the positions of the heads of the two screws fastening upper-deck plate to starboard plate (and so too for the total of four screws whose heads eventually rest on the lower-deck plate, and whose tips eventually lodge in the port and starboard plates). 
  • Having drilled all the bolt-holes, and having finished all the countersinking, and having applied the necessary white glue at appropriate anticipated plate junctions, I hold the (now glue-wet) upper-deck and lower-deck and port and starboard plates rigidly in place with corner clamps, with the eventual stern facing the ceiling, and with the assembly temporarily resting bow-down on a hard and truly level floor. The level floor ensures that the bow edges of the port, starboard, upper-deck, and lower-deck plates lie in the same plane, even if Home Hardware has proved to be a little inaccurate in its cutting. Conceivable slight inaccuracy in cutting will then be reflected not at the (eventually closed) bow, but at the (permanently open) stern. Since the stern is open, the possible failure of its edges to lie in exactly the same plane lacks structural-integrity significance. 
  • I next invert the assembly, with its corner clamps now on the (truly level) floor, and with its (truly coplanar) bow edges now facing the ceiling.  I put a bead of white glue around the (truly coplanar) bow edges of the port, starboard, upper-deck, and lower-deck plates. 
  • I now confer additional rigidity on the assembly by putting on the bow plate - not yet driving its screws home, but nevertheless holding it rigidly in place by driving a pair of finishing nails at each of its four corners. - Experience shows that this is the point at which a blemish is most likely to occur. In my own sad case, the bow plate is liable, through my clumsiness and myopia, to go one or two millimetres skew when I nail it down. My own special medical problem aside, I find it can also be that the bow plate, while not skew, nevertheless overhangs the particleboard panels by a millimetre or two (in at any rate one of the two possible directions for overhang, assuming the fortunate absence of skew), because Home Hardware turns out to have cut it a couple of millimetres too big. 
  • I precede the driving of each screw by first drilling a pilot hole, with a small bit. In doing this, I use a carpenter's square to help ensure that my pilot hole runs true (i.e., that it refrains from running obliquely to the side of the panel being drilled; if the trajectory of the pilot hole were to be oblique, the tip of a screw would at a later stage of assembly be liable to burst forth from the side of a panel). 
  • First I pilot, and drive home, the total of eight (flat-headed) screws fastening upper and lower decks to port and starboard plates (at this point of course turning the assembly as necessary, and at this point of course removing corner clamps as necessary). 
  • Then I pilot, and drive home, the total of ten (round-headed) screws securing the bow plate to the port, starboard, upper-deck, and lower-deck plates. 
  • As my eight flat-headed screws, I use Home Hardware (Ontario) "222-487, 8 x 1 1/2, Flat Socket Head, No. 2 Red, Plated Steel, Particle Board". 
  • As my ten round-headed screws, I use Home Hardware (Ontario) "222-550, 8 x 1, Round Washer Head, No. 2 Red, Plated Steel, Particle Board". 
  • For pilot holes, I use a drill bit which is in my North American (Imperial-measure) bitbox a "1/8 inch". For bolt holes, I use a drill bit which is in the classification of this same box a "1/4 inch". For countersinking, I use a drill bit which is in the classification of this same box a "3/8 inch". 
  • With power tools, one stackerbox can be assembled, from the raw, as-yet-unmarked, Home Hardware pre-cut panels, in around 80 or 90 or 100 or 110 minutes. Some brief experimenting suggests that with hand tools (hand drill, and also rotating chuck-equipped brace), the job can take around 120 minutes. 
  • It is helpful to log each box in one's computer as it is finished, and to assign it both a UTC timestamp and a serial number. I use for this purpose a black felt-tipped marker, writing on the (upon normal deployment, invisible) bow plate. Logging ensures that in the event of some construction mishap, the anomalously weak stackerbox does not disappear anonymously into one's overall population of 100 or so stackerboxes. (I myself was in the case of at least one box, I think just a few months ago, so absent-minded as to secure a bow plate with the usual nails and screws, and yet without the advisable all-four-sides bead of white glue. Stuff happens, folks, when you have too many things on your mind.) 

[This is the end of the current blog posting.] 

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