So this guide is about how I converted a vintage military ammunition crate into a display case with sliding, removable pegs that run in a custom slat storage system. I know that's a lot to process, but following along will basically teach you how to make this kind of display out of ANY wooden box, but it looks really cool as an ammo crate.
To get started, you will need the following tools and materials:
- An old ammunition crate: Actually any wooden crate with a hinged lid will do, and it's best if it's a bit shallow as well.
- Wooden slats: I used old lathe from a house remodel, but any 1-1.5 inch by 3/8-1/2 inch wood will do fine.
- 6 Penny Roofing Nails: as many as you wish to make pegs, I used about 20
- 3/4 inch wooden dowel: I used a few old drumsticks, but any dowel in the 3/4 - 1 inch range will do
- Acrylic Sheet: About 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, the same size as your box's lid or larger
- Hacksaw: or any saw capable of cutting through the metal nails easily and cleanly.
- Cross Cut Hand Saw: Or any saw capable of cutting the slats at a clean, 90 degree angle
- Table Saw: for cutting down the acrylic. You can also use a jigsaw with the proper blade installed or any means you know will cut it cleanly and safely.
- Drill/Driver: with bits that can remove/replace the hardware screws for you crate and drill holes they can comfortable mount through. A drill bit slightly smaller in diameter than your nail's shanks as well.
- Laser Engraver (optional): I laser etched the stencil from the top of my crate into the new acrylic lid. I borrowed my friend's laser for this step.
- Carpenter's (claw) Hammer: Hopefully pretty self explanatory
- Blue Painter's Tape
- Rabbet Plane/Shoulder Plane: For making the rabbet/groove in the side of the slats. Alternatively you can use a tablesaw (carefully), a router (more carefully) or even a chisel for this.
- Sandpaper: Just some rough grit like 80 and a finer grit like 120 and 220.
Step 1: Prep and Cut Your Slats
- Using your hammer, pull any nails you might have in the slats if you're using reclaimed wood.
- Cut the slats to the exact interior dimension of the box that will be hung parallel to the floor. For example, if it will be hung vertically, like mine, cut the slats to the interior, shorter dimension.
- Sand off any dirt or rough edges on the slats.
Step 2: Cut a Slot (Rabbet) Into the Slats
- Using a router plane, or other capable tool (power router, tablesaw, etc) to cut a rabbet in the long ends of each slat. These need to be slightly deeper than the thickness of your nail heads, and as wide as half of one of your nail heads.
Step 3: Prep the Inside of the Case
- Flatten and clean the inside "bottom" of the ammo crate where you will be laying the boards using a sander, plane, or other capable tool.
Step 4: Install the Slats
- Using the nails as a spacer, install the slats parallel to where the ground will be when you hang the case, with the slots facing the bottom of the box.
- I nailed mine in place, you can use wood glue or screws if you prefer, just make sure to pre-drill any screw holes so as to not split the slats.
- Use the nails as shown to evenly space out the slats. The nail, head facing the bottom of the crate and captured in the slots you routed earlier should slide freely from one end of the gap between slats to the other.
- Using a drill bit the same size as the nail heads, make a hole to widen each gap near the edges of the box in order to be able to add/remove the nails.
Step 5: Create the Hanger Pegs
- Cut a piece of dowel (I used old, broken drum sticks for this) to a length necessary for what you want to hang. I needed about an inch to an inch and a half for mine.
- Drill down into one end of the dowel piece at least a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch depending on your needs and nail size.
- Cut your nail so that it fits into this hole with an additional thickness plus 1/4 of an inch of your slats. So if your slats are a 1/4" and your hole is 1/2" then you should cut your nail to a length of 1". This is what worked for me, you may need to adjust.
- Add glue to the nail and tap it into the hole, leaving that slat thickness plus 1/4" sticking out
- Insert the peg you just created, nail-head first, into one of the holes you drilled in the last step. Slide it back and forth in the gap. Remove it again from the drilled hole.
- When the pegs are added to the track, they should move freely, but not sag
Step 6: Replace the Top W/ Acrylic
- Unscrew any fastening hardware and remove the wooden top from the crate.
- Cut or order a piece of acrylic to the same length and width as the top. I suggest at least 1/4" thick acrylic, but you don't want a piece thicker than the top was.
Step 7: Transfer the Hardware
- Because my acrylic top was significantly thinner than the old, wooden one, i had to change where the hinges were located.
- Using a chisel, I re-cut the mortise and then I drilled new holes for the screws so I could move the hinges down.
- Replace any hinges, locks, etc on the top, pre-drilling the holes carefully through the acrylic, and using 1/4" pieces of wood as backers behind the acrylic, to give the screws something to bite into, as shown.
Handy Tip: You can use a dry-erase marker to mark drilling and placement locations on your acrylic without leaving a mess.
Step 8: Remove and Transfer the Battens
- Using a pry bar, or any capable tool (i used an old screwdriver and a mallet) remove the battens (fastening boards) from the old, wooden top.
- Remove any nails still in the battens. I cut the inside (sharp) ends off of mine so the boards would still look nailed-in.
- Using painter's tape, affix the battens to the new, acrylic top where you want them to be permanently located.
- Pre-drill and countersink holes in the underside of the acrylic top, beneath the battens.
- Using screws long enough to go through the acrylic and into the wood, but short enough not to go through the wood, fasten the battens in place from the underside.
- Remove the painter's tape.
Step 9: Decorate the Lid (optional, But Super Cool)
- One of my favorite aspects of this build was this step. It's optional, but if you can do it, you should.
- I went to a friend's shop where they have a laser engraver. You could also do this with a CNC machine or even by hand with a dremel.
- We laser cut the old stencil from the top of the crate into the new, acrylic top. This, along with the battens, makes it seem like the top of the crate just magically became transparent.
Step 10: Add French Cleat and Spacers and Hang
- A french cleat is just a strip of wood (or plywood) that is cut lengthwise at an angle around 30-45 degrees. You install one half of the cleat, as shown, to the back of the crate near the top. The other half, you attach to the wall where it will hang, in the mating orientation to the crate cleat. A quick search on "french cleats" will yield many guides on how they work.
- Adding spacers the same thickness as the cleat to the bottom of the crate's back side will alleviate stress on the cleat and just give everything a cleaner look.
-Hang the crate on your new, very strong, french cleat!
Step 11: Enjoy Your New Display Case!
And that's it! I built this case custom for a friend, and he uses it to display antique firearms and vintage artifacts. The rail system is incredibly strong and versatile, as is the hanging system.
If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below or message me!