Crating and Shipping Tips

Advice on packing and shipping your fine work safely. August 23, 2006

I manufacture custom wood products in the Midwest and ship them through a common carrier all throughout America. I use 4' x 4' skids and strap them down, no issues. Then I also build my own crates made from 1" thick pine that are 4" high by 12' long for long grid pieces. I then screw down hardboard with 3/4" screws and this forms my crate. I also strap it with metal strapping at each end and add 1" x 3" pine members across the crate to strengthen it.

My crates have been showing up looking as if someone dropped a bomb on them and my customers have obviously been a little upset. I have had success sending shipments like this in the past, but as of late I seem to have to be filing a claim, rebuilding my product, and reshipping. These all cost time and money. Anyone have a freight carrier that they like?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor T:
I have had good luck with American Freight. These drivers are independent and you can specify that you do not want (other) crates stacked on top of yours, which seems to be the problem here. Marking your crates *fragile* or *do not stack* would help too, but the independent drivers seem to understand and I have not had many problems. Usually when the trucker hands off his freight to another truck is when the problems occur. This is where the stickers come in handy.

From contributor H:
Hire a moving company . Not a freight line. It might be a little more and it might take a little longer, but they will arrive in one piece.

From contributor W:
We are currently going through a lawsuit with our last freight company. They destroyed a pallet of cabinet doors and on the very next shipment lost a used machine that we had bought. To top it off, they want me to pay the freight on the machine that was lost and never found. We switched to Fedex Freight and have been happy so far (18 months). We set up an account with them and we get a 65% discount.

From contributor C:
Place a triangular shape on top of your crate and it will magically gravitate to the top of the stack.

From contributor S:
Sorry to hear about the long crates. You didn't mention their width, but I'll assume that they're less than 12", and advise you to think of this as a beam rather than a crate. With that in mind, I suggest that the weak point is the hardboard. We build crates for movers and industry and rule #1 is "If it can be loaded onto, it will be," therefore if a crate is 12" or less in both width and height, we use either 1' stock throughout or 6/4 perimeter with 3/8 d-grade faces. If appropriate, we add 4/4 or 6/4 interior braces to help the ply resist bending stresses.

Anything over 12" in length or width is on edge or on end, as the product dictates, and marked with arrows. It's up to the carrier to pay attention (see rule #2). I've in the past negotiated lower rates for higher load rating on crates (if they can load 4500 lbs on top of your long load, they can have a more profitable load). I hope this helps, 'cause I don't think Fed-ex likes 12 ft long headaches.

From contributor O:
I have had very bad experiences with freight and this last year it seems to have gotten worse. I use a lot of Gem Loc edging, which is shipped in a 12' tube. 2 weeks I received one with dual tire marks on it - they actually ran over it. To a warehouse guy getting $7.50 an hour, "fragile" is "fra-gil-ee," Italian for "how far can I throw it."

From contributor B:
I built a couple of cedar lined chests that I had crated and shipped cross-country. The people who crated and shipped them attached some traffic cones to the top of the crates. They told me it was cheap insurance! Said you couldn't put anything on top of the crates because of the cones. The bright orange color drew attention, too. Anything you can do to discourage stuff being put on top of your stuff will help.

From contributor K:
In a previous life, I used to work for an export packing and crating company. They also had a division that did domestic trucking. If you are using a common carrier, the shipments often are on 2 - 4 trucks and possibly 1 to 3 transloads at various warehouses across the country. Each time something is moved across a dock or handled, you are exposed to the risk of damage.

I would find a truck broker that will work with you to find trucks that will give you door-to-door LTL service (less than truck load). The door-to-door means it's not leaving the truck you loaded it onto.

I worked with a broker who specialized in LTL pad-and-strap shipments. The pad and strap carriers often have blankets, load bars, and straps to move items like furniture, uncrated machinery, fragile items... He found me some good deals on sharing a truck with 2 -3 other shipments.

Now comes the balance of price vs. service. Your national/regional carrier like a Yellow or Roadway will be cheaper than a LTL partial or a mover/pad-n-strap guy, but you have all the additional cross-dock moves.

The second part is the crating. In general, in the shipping world, if it isn't crated, it means that it doesn't need it. If it's crated, stack on it to get an additional skid space on the truck.

So either 1) build crates to handle more abuse, 2) go with the orange cones idea, or 3) find a different type of carrier or a smaller one that will give you more personal service.

P.S. On crate construction - they use 3x4 oak runners, 2x10 decking, 1x or 2x framing and either 3/8 or 1/2 plywood. It is just another form of insurance - how much do you want to spend for protection to mitigate the risks? (On certain shipments, we would even put steel plates around the boxes to keep people from driving the forks through the crate... You can't fix stupid!)