Tutorial: General flight case assembly instructions

Step 1: before you start
Step 2: wooden box
Step 3: lid locations
Step 4: case angles, corner braces and ball corners
Step 5: butterfly latches, hinges and handles
Step 6: wheels
Step 7: inside finish

Step-by-step instructions - Step 1: before you start

OK, so you decided to make your own tailored flight case. But what parts and tools do you need for this exactly, and how should you start on it? These step-by-step instructions will help you to successfully build your very own flight case.

Be careful, though! These are only example instructions, so they’re not the only correct way to build a case. There are a thousand and one other ways to approach this, so I’m definitely not going to say this is the only or the best way to do it. Certain things you can do in a different order. Sometimes the best way to approach things depends on the situation you’re in. But with the instructions below, I’ve tried to give you a good idea of how you could go about building your flight case if you’ve never put one together before.

OK, so you’ve got a clear image in your mind as to how you’d like your case to be. Imagine you want to build a flight case of 40 x 50 x 65.5 cm for a loudspeaker weighing 40 kg. You can see the result we want to get to in the end here on the right.

 

 

 

First of all, you can pay a visit to the DIY shop and buy the things you need: wood, hinges, latches, wheels, etc. Now, if you think you can just take a quick trip to the DIY shop on the corner and find all the material you need to build a real flight case, you won’t get very far.

You’ll soon notice that you’ll only be able to build a tarted up ‘box’ at best with the parts you can buy in your average DIY shop, while the ones you can find in the web shop on here at flightcase-brico.com will make you a real professional flight case.

But you decided only to be satisfied with the real stuff and you want to build a real flight case, able to handle all the dangers of the road. This means you’ll need to make a few choices first.

Choosing the wood

First up: will you work with real flight case wood (with a hard, black protective layer) or will you be OK with just normal wood that you’ll spray or paint black yourself? Spraying will probably end up being a bit cheaper in most cases (although this depends on the kind of paint you choose), but real flight case wood is clearly much better in terms of scratch and shock resistance. And it’s also the only option if you want a flight case that looks really professional.

It’s up to you, of course. I’ve seen very nice self-sprayed flight cases (I know, I’m not talking in favour of my own case here), but if your flight case is regularly on the road, you may have to opt for real flight case wood anyway, as this’ll last you for many years.

If you choose normal wood, you’ll find that in any DIY shop without a problem. For example 10 mm plywood. Some shops don’t sell this, but have 9, 12 or 15 mm, for instance. What thickness you choose all depends on what your flight case is for, but most often 10 mm will be strong enough. Careful though: at the moment, flightcase-brico.com has lid locations of 10 mm or 13 mm. If your wood is 9 or 12 mm, you can deal with this problem by sticking something under the lid location on the inside, like a thin piece of cardboard.

I’ve chosen real flight case wood for my project. Plywood of 10 mm should definitely be strong enough for my 40kg loudspeaker.

Case angles or case makers

Then you have to choose whether you’re going to work with case angles or case makers. If you work with angles, you’ll make a wooden box first and then reinforce it by fitting aluminium case angles over the edges. If you work with case makers, you’ll slot the wood into the extrusions. The sides of the case won’t be fitted together, but indirectly attached to each other with the aid of case makers serving as the links between the wooden panels of your flight case.

Tools

Most things you need are everyday standard tools that average DIYers have at home or which they can go and borrow from friends, family or the neighbours if necessary.

- wood saw
- carpenter’s glue
- hammer
- sandpaper
- file
- hacksaw
- mitre box/-saw
- drill bit for aluminium and wood
- drill
- fretsaw
- hand riveter

Flight case parts

Of course this depends in the first place on the type of case you’re after. In my case, I need:

- flight case wood
- nails (2 cm)
- lid locations
- case angles
- 8 corner braces
- 4 large ball corners
- 4 large, stackable ball corners
- 4 large butterfly latches, with spring
- large heavy-duty handles
- thick plywood for the wheel panels
- 4 castors
- 4 castor dishes
- hard foam, 1.5 cm thick
- long and short rivets (lots)

 

Step-by-step instructions - Step 2: wooden box

The easiest way of working - I find - is with the box method. This means we’ll build a (closed) wooden box first which we’ll saw in two (preferably with a fretsaw), so we end up with two pieces (that fit perfectly on top of each other!): the bottom of the flight case and the lid.

How to do this exactly? First you measure the object you want to transport in your flight case. The loudspeaker for my project is 40 x 50 x 65.5 cm. But I also want to put a layer of 1.5 cm hard foam all around the inside to protect it, and I need half a centimetre extra everywhere, so the inside of my wooden box must measure 44 x 54 x 69.5 cm. As I’ll be working with the flight case wood on flightcase-brico.com (1 cm thick), the outside then has to measure 46 x 56 x 71.5 cm. In theory I can get cracking with this straightforward calculation, but it’s best if I take the lid location into account already, as this’ll be fitted in between the lid and the bottom of the flight case. It’ll take up about 1 cm. So if I don’t want to have to take off another centimetre later, after I’ve sawn my ‘box’ in two pieces, it’s best to deduct 1 cm now already. So the outside measurements of my box should be 46 x 55 x 71.5 cm.

Now I’m going to saw the 6 pieces of plywood I need for the box:

 - 2 panels of 71.5 cm x 53 cm
 - 2 panels of 53 cm x 44 cm
 - 2 panels of 71.5 cm x 46 cm

(Another advantage of using 1 cm plywood is the fact it’s easy to calculate measurements with!)
 

Depending on the tool you’re using, it’s possible that very small pieces of ‘veneer’ will sometimes be chipped away on the line you’re sawing along. Don’t worry about it, because the case angles and lid locations will cover it up later anyhow. You have to do some truly awful sawing to cause any visible damage that these extrusions can’t cover up.

 

I start with putting the first four upright panels together with carpenter’s glue (or other woodworking glue) and small nails. Some people prefer to use screws for this, but that isn’t easy, as the wood is only 10 mm thick. I find good glue the most important thing here. For the rest, small nails of e.g. 20 mm long, are enough. Alternatively you can use staples (if you have a staple gun), but definitely make sure, though, that the wood fits together properly everywhere and try to avoid banging the nails in crooked.

The top and bottom of the case are glued and nailed on last. These two panels will make sure the whole box becomes a proper case with perfect right angles.

 

So now you’ve got a box of 46 x 55 x 71.5 cm. At this stage it’s best to wait for the glue to dry before you saw it in two.

  The easiest way to cut your wooden box in two is with an electric fretsaw. Because mine isn’t that new anymore, I’m going to stick a thin layer of cardboard on the supporting surface, just to be safe. This way I can be sure that my brand new flight case wood won’t get damaged.

However, I have to be careful where exactly I saw the case in two, because I still have to leave enough space on the small part to fit my case angle and part of the butterfly latch, preferably without having the two overlap as well. Because a carpenter’s pencil doesn’t write that well on the somewhat rough surface of the flight case wood, I’m using a bit of masking tape, which you can find in any DIY shop, to mark the line I’m going to saw along. It’s great, because it’s also easy to remove without leaving traces of glue behind.

 

Before I can start sawing, I drill a hole with a wood drill on the line I’m going to saw, so I have a set-off point for my fretsaw. It doesn’t really matter where you make the hole. It’ll be covered by the lid location later anyway.

 

 

Now the wooden part of the case is ready and I’ve competed this step.  

 

 

Step-by-step instructions - Step 3: lid locations

The aluminium lid locations will be fitted over the edges of the two wooden parts of your case. Actually they mark the boundary between the lid and the bottom of your flight case. You can choose whether you’ll be working with the classic male and female ones (male on the bottom, female on the top, or the other way round) or with the hybrid ones. You’ll find both kinds in the web shop at flightcase-brico.com. I personally prefer the hybrid ones, because they’re a bit easier to work with and there’s less waste. It’ll all become clear in a minute.

 

 

  First I start with sawing the 45° angle on my lid location with my manual hacksaw and mitre box. Use clamps to fix the extrusion firmly in place before you start sawing, or even better: use a manual or electric mitre saw. (I actually have an electric one, but I did this project manually especially for these step-by-step instructions.)

 

Put the sawn lid location on the wooden case with the slanted part pushed right into the corner. Then with a pencil or pen, mark the spot where you have to cut it in the other corner and saw it in the mitre box (the other way around, of course).  

Put the rest of the extrusion on the other part of your case (yes, the angle you now have on the end of the rest of your lid location is already in the right direction - that’s the advantage of working with hybrid extrusions!), because it’ll fit nicely onto your first lid location. Mark where you have to saw here too and you’ve got your second lid location. Put the two on top of each other for a minute to test if they really fit together perfectly. Now cut the third lid location (again on the part of the case you started with earlier). The angle you’re starting with will be the right one again. Continue to put the pieces of lid location then on the one half and then on the other. The advantage of working with hybrid lid locations is that you always have the right angle to continue with.  

The most important thing when making lid locations is that they have to fit together properly in the corners. So measure and saw very carefully.

Once you’ve sawn and fitted all eight pieces of lid location, you’re ready with step 2. You don’t really have to fix the lid locations yet, they’ll be fixed later with the corner braces in step 3.

Photo one below shows the 8 lid locations when they’re ready. Photo two shows how the lid locations will be fixed later with the corner braces. Note: we won’t be fitting rivets in the centre of the lid locations, except where the corner braces are (and maybe where the butterfly latches, hinges or lid stays are).

 

Step-by-step instructions - Step 4: case angles, corner braces and ball corners

Sawing case angles is easier, but a bit more work, because you’ll need 16 pieces in total: 4 for the bottom edges of your flight case, 4 for the top, another 4 for the sides on the bottom and 4 for the sides on the top.

  You don’t have to mitre the case angles, you can just saw them straight. You don’t need to have them right up to the corners either, you can make them 3 cm shorter on every corner if you’re working with the 30 x 30 mm flight case angles of flightcase-brico.com. The ball corners we’ll fit later will cover those 3 cm anyway. You can make the case angles on the sides touch the lid locations, but make sure that the lid locations stay nicely over the edge and that you don’t accidentally move them with your case angles. It may be useful to knock the lid locations in place with a soft rubber hammer.

We’re going to fix the case angles straightaway. But before we can do this, we have to see if it’s necessary to slant the edges of your wooden case a little with sandpaper or a file, so the case angles will fit nice and snugly over the edge. We’ll use rivets to fix the case angles. You can choose how many, but the general rule is that there shouldn’t be more than 15 cm in between rivets. So maybe it’s best to measure and mark the spots for the rivets with a pencil on every piece of case angle. You don’t have to put rivets in the spots where we’re going to put the ball corners or the corner braces.

First drill the holes for the rivets with an aluminium-wood drill (the drill bits in the flightcase-brico.com web shop are ideal for this). Drill through the aluminium and all through the wood. The case angles usually have three grooves on both sides. Usually the rivets are put into the third groove (the groove furthest away from the case edge).

  You can put the rivets in with a hand riveter or automatically with a rivet gun (with a compressor). The first option is of course the cheapest, and manageable for DIYers who don’t build flight cases all the time. Do not underestimate the force you have to use with hand riveters though, especially with the cheaper ones. Cheap riveters are sometimes available in DIY shops, but they often break very quickly. The more expensive kind are a better buy if you’re planning to make several cases. Flightcase-brico.com has a professional quality model.

 

We’ll be using rivets of 4 mm in diameter and 12.5 mm long to fix the case angles. The drill bits in the web shop are perfect for this diameter as well. You’re welcome to fix all 16 of the case angles already, but make sure you don’t move the lid locations, as they’re not fixed in place yet.  

To fix the lid locations, we’ll be putting the large corner braces over them, while also partly overlapping with the case angles on the sides. Because the inside corners of the braces are often a bit rounded, it’s best to round the corners of the lid locations a bit with sandpaper too. That way the corner braces will nicely fit over them. You can drill all the way through the holes in the corner brace that fit over the case angle and use rivets of 12.5 mm long. For the holes in the corner brace that fit over the lid location, drill through the outside of the aluminium lid location and through the wood, but not through the inside of the lid location. This way it’ll stay nicely intact on the inside. Use the short rivets (9.5 mm long) to fix.

As a general rule, you could say: always use the long rivets of 12.5 mm, unless for fixing the lid locations, then use the short ones of 9.5 mm.

Which rivets do you need for your flight case and how many?

Now we’ve only got the ball corners left to deal with. Because I’m going to build two identical flight cases, I’d like them to fit on top of each other too. So I’m going to use four stackable corners on one side of the flight case. Usually I hold the ball corner with one hand and make sure I position it evenly, nicely fitting over the case angles. The legs will often not touch the wood, but you mainly have to make sure that you press the ball corner very firmly with one hand, so that the distance between the legs and the wood is a bit the same for all three legs.  

 

  Then drill the six holes at once with your other hand, but make sure the ball corner doesn't move while you’re doing this. Fix the corner with rivets and we’re another step closer to the end. You’ll notice the rivets pulling the ball corner legs towards the wood. See the picture on the left for the intermediate result. Your unassuming wooden box has started to look like a real flight case now, hasn’t it?

 

Step-by-step instructions - Step 5: butterfly latches, hinges and handles

Real flight cases don’t use drawbolts, but real recessed butterfly latches. You can choose either the medium or large version. I’ll opt for the large one. You can also choose with or without spring. The spring kicks out the latch at an angle below 30º, so it’s best to take the sprung version if you’re going to be using the latch upside down, as in my case. My lid will have four butterfly latches, so it’s really useful to use the sprung version, otherwise it’ll be difficult to put the lid on, because the latches will always be in the way.  

First, measure and saw a piece of the right size out of the lid location. I’m using easy-to-remove masking tape to mark the outline, because it’s difficult to draw a line on the flight case wood with pencil. Once you’ve removed the bit of lid location, saw the remainder of the hole you need for the butterfly latch out of the case with a fretsaw. Drill a little hole first to get your blade through and away you go!

Now you’ve made the hole, you can fit the part of the butterfly latch into it. Maybe round off the edges of the lid location with some sandpaper and the edges of the hole in the wood with a file as well. Make sure the butterfly latch isn’t perfectly level with the lid location, but about half a millimetre below it. First drill the two holes in your lid location - again, don’t drill these all the way through - fix these with short rivets. Then fix the other holes. You can drill these all the way through and use long rivets to fix.

Now do the same for the other part of the butterfly latch on the other part of your flight case. Once you’ve fixed both sides of one butterfly latch, you can put the two halves of your flight case together to test. Then turn the lid of your flight case and put in another half of a butterfly latch (= third half = first half of second butterfly latch) and make sure it fits on the first half of the first butterfly latch you’ve just put in. By turning the lid you’ll make sure it will fit in two directions. Because it would be seriously annoying if the lid were to fit only in one direction, wouldn’t it? This is only going to be useful, of course, if you’re working with a completely removable lid. If you’re building a flight case with hinges and an attached lid, you won’t be faced with this problem. The picture here on the side shows the case with the butterfly latches.

 

If you’re building a flight case with one or more hinges and lid stays, now is the right moment to put these on. The principle is the same: don’t drill all the way through to the inside of the lid location and fix with short rivets; for the rest drill all the way through and fix with long rivets.

It may be useful at this stage to have something to push the two halves of your case firmly together, like two lashing straps.

Now we’ve only got the handles left to deal with. Here too, it’s all about the measuring. Masking tape will come in handy again, because using a pencil on your flight case’s surface that’s a bit uneven is not very easy. Just drill a little hole for the fretsaw. If you’ve still got your 4.2mm aluminium-wood drill bit on your drill, you can just use that. If one hole isn’t big enough to get your blade through, just drill another one. Saw an entire hole of the right size. Of course the corners can be slightly rounded. Maybe also get a brief hold of your file to round off the edges a bit, so the handle fits nicely. Fix with rivets.

 

 

Step-by-step instructions - Step 6: wheels

This flight case will be very heavy: the loudspeaker itself weighs 40 kg and adding the flight case itself to that will mean the whole thing will weigh well above 50 kg. So I’m definitely going to put wheels under it. You can choose either fixed or swivel castors. Swivel castors come in a braked or unbraked version.

Most people opt for swivel castors, but I personally prefer to combine two swivel castors with two fixed ones, as I’m going to tip this particular flight case in the van. In my case, I’m going to fit the fixed castors on the side where the case will touch the floor when it’s tipped. With swivel castors I’ve always had the problem that the wheels end up hanging upside down and that always gives a little bump at the moment you want to put the case on its wheels again. But that’s just a matter of personal preference, of course.

OK, now let’s get down to putting the wheels on. They’re usually not attached directly to the flight case itself, but mounted on a wheel panel. For this particular case I’m using 18mm plywood for this. I’ve sawn two pieces of 8.5 x 72 cm (= more or less the length of the flight case, including the case angles) and sprayed them black before using them. That’ll look nicer.  

The reason why we use extra wheel panels instead of just attaching the wheels straight to the bottom of the flight case has of course to do with the load capacity and strength of your case. We positively make sure the wheel panels continue to right under the case angles. Drill four holes and fix with sturdy nuts and bolts. Teenuts are even more professional. They’ll make sure you don’t lose any space on the inside of your case.

Tips for wheels under your case

Oh, yes, as I said in the beginning, I’m going to make two identical cases, because obviously I've got two loudspeakers. I’ll be able to tip both and then put them on top of each other with the stackable ball corners, but I also want to stack them the right way up (with the wheels on the bottom), so I can move them easily. Therefore I’m going to fit them with four castor dishes at the top as well. The 100mm-wide castors will fit in there perfectly, so I’ll be able to stack the cases that way too. Careful though: actually you should take this into account from the start when you’re determining the measurements of your flight case, because castor dishes tend to stick out about 20 mm on the inside.

Tadaaa, the wheels and castor dishes are in place. And this is the result. So now we’ve only got the inside of the case to do still. That’s the next and last step.

 

Step-by-step instructions - Step 7: inside finish

The way you finish the inside of your flight case of course totally depends on what the case is for. As my case is meant to transport a heavy loudspeaker, I’m going to use hard foam from the flightcase-brico.com web shop. There are several thicknesses, but I’ve opted for foam of 1.5 cm thick. I’m not going to stick the foam all around the inside of my flight case, but just on the top and bottom, and some strips of foam on the sides.

This is why I’m first going to spray or paint the inside black before attaching the foam. To do this neatly, I’ve also covered the lid locations with wide masking tape first, as you can see on the picture here.

Once the painting is finished, you can start cutting the foam to size with a sharp utility knife (cutter). If you’re not confident about cutting straight, you can use a plank or an aluminium ruler as a ‘guide’. It’s best to use quick-dry spray glue to stick the foam on.

Once all the foam is in the right place, I’ll just see whether my loudspeaker fits nicely in its case and hopefully you’re pleased with the end result. Congratulations! You’re now the proud owner of your very own, custom-made, professional flight case.

 

Any questions? Don't hesitate to contact us!