Sometimes I feel like, as well as miniatures, I collect small pots of paints. I’d reached the capacity of my existing storage (some acryllic racks by Back 2 Base-ix, an Australian manufacturer). Now, these are good little products that go together nicely with some nice ideas. However, they’re not cheap, will take a few weeks to be made/shipped, don’t move around very easily and take up a fair bit of desk space. So what I decided to do was build some myself out of PVC pipe/conduit. I can’t claim this as my own idea, but I’m not sure who had it first. What I am going to do is share my plans (really measurements) and a couple of things I learnt.
Time-wise you’re probably looking at a couple of hours. But that’s going to depend greatly on how comfortable you are with all these types of things.
What you need
This is what I used. A lot of my choices were driven by what was in my garage/at the local hardware. Your local might be different, if you’re in Australia then Bunnings has all this stuff.
- 32mm heavy duty PVC conduit (1* 4 metre length)
- 6mm*6mm (square dowel) dressed timber (300mm length)
- 6mm MDF board (I got 3 boxes out of the smallest size piece I found: 600x900mm)
- PVC adhesive
- 12mm * 1.0mm bullet head nails/brads (tiny, tiny nails)
- Construction adhesive (i.e. Liquid Nails)
- Wood PVA glue (but craft PVA is fine)
- 4* felt feet (optional)
I had the nails, construction adhesive, PVA and felt feet around the place. But they’re not particularly expensive. Here in Australia, the rest of that stuff came to about $25, but I had enough MDF, timber and adhesive to make at least another couple. So after the first one it’s only going to be the conduit, which was $7. So I’ll have storage for 240 paints for under $40. Plus the PVC cutter was another $12.
- PVC cutter
- Wood file/sand paper
The saw and file were used when cutting the MDF. I used hand tools for every part of this build. MDF is super easy to cut with a saw and none of the cuts are very long (at most about 300mm) so you should be able to get decent results even if you’ve almost no experience.
Be careful, this project isn’t super dangerous, but you’re still working with sharp tools and chemicals. MDF dust can be nasty if inhaled; you’re not cutting much but a mask is never a bad idea when working with MDF, especially if you’re doing alot of sanding. Glues have solvents in them which can be nasty, so stay ventilated. Saws and PVC cutters are sharp so keep soft and squishy things away. Four metres of conduit is pretty long so don’t be a dick and collect someone with it when you’re wandering around the store. Don’t eat the felt feet (or actually any of this stuff); the dressed timber is probably OK, but it doesn’t taste very good, and make sure it’s not treated or stained if you are eating it. Wash your hands after handling the glues (you should be doing this any way because after a good run for about a century, plagues are now a thing again and so good general hygiene is important).
I had the following considerations when I built everything:
- I wanted a slight backward slope, so the paints sat in nicely and didn’t slip out too easily.
- I use Vallejo and Scale75 paints, these come in the 17/18ml dropper bottles. They’re 25mm in diameter so that dictated my counduit size.
- I put my paints in lids first (so I can see the colour and write the ## on the bottom), so I needed the pot to stick out from the end of the pipe. I found a depth of 65mm was perfect to hold everything and also leave enough pot to stick out so I can grab the paint.
- I wanted each row to contain 8 paints (the size of Scale 75’s box sets) and 10 rows sounded nice. This means my racks would each hold 80 paints.
- I wanted each rack to be self contained so it could be moved around.
- I wanted everything to be as compact as possible (horizontal distance is more important to me than height).
- Everything is metric because – well – the imperial system is stupid, and it’s a poor reflection on any community that uses it when accurate measurement is more important than winning/losing a game. I’ve extensive experience in both systems (including scientific education) and I’ll be honest I stopped teaching in Imperial units as it was just too confusing for the students, and they’d been using them all their life.
The design is essentially a little 4-sided MDF box with a stack of 80 short lengths of PVC counduit in there. I did consider how to efficiently stack the counduit and I found the height reduction of offsetting each row wasn’t worth the additional width (nor having every second row 1 pot narrower). The stacking I chose also meant a little more space to pluck out paints. The diagram below shows how it goes together, with the sides removed.
How it’s made
This isn’t difficult at all. It’s mainly about being careful and even in your wood work. Building the MDF box is the hardest part.
Cut the conduit into 80 5cm long pieces. I found measure 6, cut 6, rinse and repeat. I grabbed a single throw cutter and it takes a bit of force to get through the conduit. I’m also not a little unit. I found the easiest way to do it was to line the cutter up to the mark, hold the pipe in place and then put it on the ground and lean into it (hooray body weight). That made it pretty easy, but after a while it does start to hurt your hand, and you’ve got about 80 cuts to do. You get into a rhythm so it took me about 20 minutes to do a whole 4m section. But it might be wiser to do it in a couple of sessions with a break. You end up with a lot of little pipe lengths.
Once they were cut I glued them into strips of 8. Anything straight you can use to line up what will be the front edge in the final product. The cuts aren’t perfect, there are some that aren’t quite 90′ and the lengths vary a little. But working towards getting that front edge close hides enough of your sins to get it looking good.
You need to cut the pieces of wood. This where you will use the saw and file/sand paper to smooth the edges of your cuts. The size pieces you need are:
- 71*268mm of 6mm MDF (box base)
- 332*268mm of 6mm MDF (box back)
- 2* 65*332mm of the 6mm MDF (box sides)
- 256mm of the 6x6mm square dowel (ledge for the bottom)
Construct the box starting with the base. The bottom ledge is attached to the front of the base in the centre, so there are 6mm on either side. I nailed and glued (PVA) this in, but glue would have been enough.
I then attached the 3 sides of the box to the base. These 3 pieces are a fat U that sits on top of the box. Again I used PVA and nails. The thing to make sure of here is your box is pretty square and wide enough for your stacks of PVC pipe.
Next comes attaching all the PVC strips together. Pretty easy here, I used the box I’d just built as my guide to assemble. I just rested the first one in the bottom, lined it up with the front of the box and then just attached each row to the nxt and lined it up with the front of the box. Because the conduit is on an angle the bottom is further foward than the top, so I just lined it up so the bottom of the pipe was at the front of the box. I didn’t do this perfectly, but I did it well enough. I put the 10 strips on top of each other and then let it dry. Because each pipe length is 50mm and the hole depth 65mm So there will be a gap from the end of the pipe to the back of the box. This doesn’t impact how the paints sit in there as 50mm with only 1-2mm clearance holds them in nice and straight. But it does make the assembly a little more tricky, if a little more forgiving of uneven length pieces of PVC.
Once it was dry I pulled it all out and then attached it to the MDF box with construction glue on the bottom and the sides. Some clamps held it all together.
I didn’t end up putting a lid on. All told, it was strong enough, construction adhesive and PVC glue is pretty serious stuff and nothing in this is very heavy. So it’s structurally fine. But if you want you just need to cut a piece of MDF the same as the base piece and attached it to the top. If you’ve made the box tall enough it should close fine.
Things to make you feel like a pro when you’re doing this
- Don’t cut your lengths exactly 5cm long if you want to use just one length. Yes 5cm * 80 = 4m which is perfect. However, you probably put a cut randomly in the middle so you could fit it in your car and usually there is about 10cm at one end where it is wider so it can eaily be joined with another length. Either cut at around 4.8cm, or expect to need 4.1m.
- Take cutters with you when you pick it up. The lengths are 4m long, so you can either wait for someone to cut it where you get it (which at my local takes forever), or you just cut it in half in the carpark as you load it in. The latter approach will shut up the dickhead tradies as they pull up to watch you load a 4m length into the back of a VW Golf. Only to have to remain unsatisfied as you just cut it in half, close the boot and drive off.
- Be careful chosing conduit. The 32mm measurement I quote is the outer diameter, and that is how it is sold every where I have seen. But we don’t care about the outer diameter, rather we have a specific inner diameter. For the Scale75/Vallejo/droppers you need at least 25mm diameter. This stuff had 26mm inner diameter which gives a nice amount of wiggle (you don’t want it too close as tolerances are a thing and the manufacturers probably pay more attention to the outer diameter, so whatever they specify for the inner diameter is probably not perfect). What I’m trying to say is take a bottle to test with you.
- Craft PVA is fine; I had some wood PVA that had been sitting round the shed for a few years. But it had dried out and I had craft PVA nearby.
- A little bit of a buffer in the height of the box will make sure it all fits. My first box wasn’t quite tall enough (I was lazy and didn’t do the geometry properly) and so the last row of PVC conduit is a little proud. A couple of millimetres extra will make sure you have a little buffer when you’re glueing it all together as it’s easy to have small gaps that can add up over 80 little pieces of pipe glued together.
- My measurements are based on what I used. If your conduit has a different outer diameter, or you use a different depth MDF then you will need to adjust the size of things.