Organization 101: DIY File Crates From Pallets

A recurring theme here over the last couple of weeks has been watching me desperately trying to dig myself out from under a mountain of unorganized papers, which pretty much describes the regular chaos of my life. (You can see some of my other attempts to get it under control here and here.)

Hello contents of my filing cabinet. Nice to see you heaped into a pile on the floor.


I had one more project up my sleeve to help get things organized. I wanted an easy, portable way to file papers that looked good enough to leave out in the open. (So basically not those plastic filing cases that get stacked in the closet, I’ve got plenty of those.)

I was inspired by these wine-crate-esq filing boxes from Ballard Designs, but 1.) They don’t make them anymore, and 2.) when they did make them, I’m pretty sure they were more than $50 each.

First I searched online for some wine crates I could turn into my own file boxes, and then I realized all of the time I was spending on the computer could actually be better spent playing with my power tools. Duh. So, I got my butt out of the chair, went out to the garage, and built myself these out of a couple of old pallets.


Here’s how…

Step 1: The Epic Dismantling of Pallets

I started with a rough plan and some tools (nail pullers and hammer) to help me dismantle the pallets.


Let’s just say, they resisted the dismantling.


However with the assistance of even more tools (pry bar, jig saw, rage) I finally won.


Step 2: Reassembling the Pieces

I built the “short ends” of the crates first, using 2 6″ boards (approximately 14″ long) and some small pieces of wood left over from my rustic wood wall art. Everything was attached with 3/4″ staples.


Here they are all put together and looking pretty.


Then I used 3″ pieces (approximately 15″ wide) to attach to two end pieces together. Again, more staples.


It was all pretty easy. Soon enough I had some bottom-less crates.


It occurred to me that I didn’t actually need a bottom to the crates because they’re for hanging files, and I didn’t want to add a lot of weight to them with a big solid board on the bottom. In the end I compromised with myself  (yes, there was an actual out-loud conversation involved) and added a couple of ledgers inside the crate…


And then stapled some furring strips to them.


There are a lot of ways I could have added a bottom to these–some 1/4″ chip board, more pallet wood, 1/8″ luan. But I went with the quick, easy, and within-reach method this time, and it worked great. You’ll never really see the bottoms of the crates anyway.


Step 3: From Crates to Hanging Files

This is any easy way to turn any crate or box into a hanging file. I used a couple of aluminum strips (which can be easily cut down to size with some tin snips)…

11_aluminum strips

And my Rockwell Sonicrafter to put some 1/8″ channels in the crates, which I then slid the aluminum strips into.


And now they’re ready for hanging things.


It was super easy. I ended up spray-painting the hanging rods with black paint and calling it a day.

Step 4: Labeling With a Blender Pen

The crates were ready to go, but I thought they could use a little “fancying up” with some faded labels.


I read about this technique when I was debating about what to put on my rustic wood wall art panels, and you could totally use it for something like that as well. All you need is a “blender pen” (clear marker you can get at craft stores) and a photocopy (not a laser printed copy, but an actual copy machine copy) of the image you want to transfer.

First, I created my fake label in Illustrator (but you could do it in word as well) and then I reversed the text so it was a mirror image of how I wanted it to look.


Then I printed it out, took it to a photocopier, and made several paper copies. (I made sure to throw the printed versions away so I didn’t get confused later.)


To transfer the image to the crate, I taped it ink side down onto the wood.


Then I used the blender pen to “wet” the back of the paper. The pen contains a chemical that releases the ink from the paper. (And gives off some fumes, so if you don’t like getting high from markers, definitely work in a well ventilated space.)


I worked in small sections, wetting with the blender pen and then rubbing the letters with the back of a spoon (don’t be afraid to press hard.)

After I removed the paper I was left with this, a perfect faded label.


The blender pen I used was a Chartpak Woodcrafter’s Marker (I also had Prismacolor version that did not work at all, so I think the type of pen you use will really make a difference here.)

Step 5: Organize Your Life

With these two crates I basically doubled the amount of paper storage I had in my expensive wood filing cabinet.


First of all, this thing is heavy. There will be no moving the filing cabinet in front of the TV so you can sort papers and watch Die Hard at the same time, thank you. Also, it was always a little awkward to fit in a space with the desk. (Does it sit next to the desk, under the desk, across the room? The mental anguish was indescribable.)

And then of course there was this…


Which, thanks to some gray hanging files from Office Max, now looks like this:


I actually have way more paper storage than I need at the moment, which is a totally awesome feeling. I also know where my passport is now, in case I need to leave the country in a hurry. (One never knows.)

Eventually I’ll have an office with some shelving in it that will hold these babies, but they’re so pretty I don’t mind if they just sit in the middle of the floor for a while longer. And the best part? The total spend for this project was under $5. Can’t beat that for some organization.

This project is linked up to my favorite party, The Lettered Cottage’s How-To’s Day:

The Lettered Cottage

50 Responses

    1. The hardest thing about made up labels is what the hell to put on them, I thought paying homage to the hometown (the pallets came from there, after all) was the way to go!

        1. Cougar… and under penalty of death, I may admit to Cougarette. But that was many yards of spandex ago.

    1. And, I’m the worst with typos, normally I would never point them out, but I just noticed Organization is spelled wrong in the heading 🙂

      1. OMG, hahahaha. I’m so glad you did. “Oraginzation”, seriously could I have any more letters in the wrong spots there? Thanks for letting me know!

  1. Those are so stinking FAB! We just moved from Oregon to Southern CA and our file box got crushed in our moving truck…I will be making a couple of these babies to organize my life! You rock…thanks so much for this great idea!

  2. Oh I am so glad that I found you on the linky party for The Lettered Cottage! My husband and I just got home from picking up a bunch of free crates!! I have been searching Pinterest to get some ideas of projects to make. I am totally sold on these filing cabinets/boxes!!! Thanks so much for the inspiration!
    By the way…I noticed in your print that it said Sylvania, OH…is there where you live? My hubby and I went to college at University of Toledo!! and I have some good friends who live in Sylvania!

    1. Go Rockets! I am from Sylvania (just north of there now, actually)… and I went to UT for my grad degree. You’re the second former NW Ohioan I’ve found through this post!

      These crates really are so simple to make, and even easier if you already have crates on hand. And it feels so good to have those papers filed nicely away.

  3. Those crates look so great! I can totally relate to your filing-cabinet-positioning issues. Mine is in the basement. Where I don’t like to go. So my filing piles up for months at a time… Not good. I am inspired to abandon it and build (?!?) me some filing crates too. Thanks.

  4. Not to be negative, but commercial pallets are routinely treated with anti-mould and anti-fungal treatments which are highly toxic to the human nervous system.

    Pallets should never be used for indoor furniture, andy prolonged contact with the wood is to be avoided.

    1. That should be any, not andy.

      And just to make sure, I think the crates look absolutely stunning – I love both the design and the workmanship. It’s just the wood used that’s a problem.

    2. I was curious about this, and turned to Wikipedia to rescue me from ignorance. Short version: look for the HT mark on the pallet to be safe.

      “Pallets made of raw, untreated wood are not compliant with ISPM 15. To be compliant the pallets (or other wood packaging material) must meet debarked standards,[24] and must be treated by either of the following means under the supervision of an approved agency:

      Heat treatment
      The wood must be heated to achieve a minimum core temperature of 56 °C (132.8 °F) for at least 30 minutes. Pallets treated via this method bear the initials HT near the IPPC logo.

      Chemical fumigation
      The wood must be fumigated with methyl bromide. Pallets treated via this method bear the initials MB near the IPPC logo. From 19 March 2010 the use of Methyl Bromide as an acceptable treatment according to ISPM15 [25] has now been phased out.”

  5. Oh my. Love. Love. Love these!! I must make some of these!

    I’m originally from NW Ohio–still have family in Maumee, Sylvania, and Toledo. And not sure how far into MI you are, but I’ve got relation just over the border in Ottawa Lake too! Was never a Rocket, but was a Falcon at BG for a year, but that was a LONG time ago 🙂

    1. You nailed it, the Memorial house is just north of “Ottawa Lake” proper. The internet… it’s such a small place! 😉

  6. For efficently stripping pallets you need a Cargo Cycles pallet Dismantling bar …. I have got one, and after 25+ years of struggling reclaiming timber from pallets I can honestly say that there is no easier way of doing it. But don’t take my word for it, have a look at the cargo Cycles youtube video; all the contact details are in the comments section

  7. Love these!

    Sidebar: We…and by “we” I mean “my poor husband who gets dragged into so many of my projects” have discovered that the Glorious SawzAll is an amazing power tool. My husband may not always like my projects but any opportunity to buy a “special tool” is right up his alley. AND…every project seems to need a “special tool”.

    Anyway…SawzAll breaks down a pallet in minutes.

  8. Hello I truly love this! Unfortunately I can’t make my own because I don’t have the tools. I was wondering if I could purchase one from you?

    1. I’m sorry Rachael, I don’t make anything for purchase. You might be able to find some crates that can be used at an antique or craft store. Best of luck!

  9. These look so cool! The faded “label” is probably the nicest touch – adds this super vintage feel to them. I’d love to try this out next time I have my hands on some pallets!

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