Fragile items need to be packed properly or else they break. The shipper who handles your items may be doing their best, but they handle too many packages to take the kind of care that you might want them to. Additionally, many items must be packaged properly when shipped, or else the warranty becomes void. Heck, even getting Aunt Violet's best china into the car can be an adventure in itself. Here are a few pointers to insure that your cargo has the best chance of arriving intact.
What's on the outside of your package can be as important as what's inside. If the package is being shipped through a commercial service, find out if there are any specific requirements. For instance, many shippers will not accept a package that is wrapped in paper, or has no return address. You will not be able to talk anyone at the counter into ignoring these regulations.
Now there are packaging stores which sell new packing materials. They're good at providing odd-sized containers for items like bicycles and mirrors, and are generally knowledgeable about shipping regulations.
The best packing material is the original packing material. Especially when you buy electronic equipment, try to save the foam pieces that hold it inside the box. Carefully break down the original box, and put it all in the attic or basement.
It is often cheaper to ship two smaller packages, rather than one large one. Call the shipper, and find out how they set their rates. Find out if there is an extra charge for home pickup or weekend delivery (there often is).
Select the Container
The most common container used is a cardboard box. Some have thin, one-layer sides, while others are thicker, having two layers sandwiching a third, corrugated one. Use the second kind; it's much more protective. A few items to consider:
Clean, new boxes are best for shipping. They often have pre-printed areas for the address, and are less confusing to the shippers than a used box, with graphics and writing all over it.
Use a box that will provide adequate room for the packing material around the item. Don't put a large item into a box where it can touch the sides.
Shipping something fragile and expensive? Pack the item well in a strong box--then pack that in another box with packing material all around it. Don't fret paying for the additional weight: Aunt Violet will be thrilled her Limoges arrived intact.
Boxes can be made to fit odd-shaped items by creasing, folding and reinforcing with tape. Don't cut the cardboard if you want it to retain any strength.
If you're not shipping, adequate cardboard boxes can often be found in back of liquor stores or pharmacies. Ask a clerk at the counter--they'll probably be glad to be rid of them.
Choose Your Packing Materials
There's three basic packing materials that seem to be widely available: foam "peanuts" (choose the biodegradable kind, please), popcorn, and newspaper.
Foam "peanuts" are generally the best material: they are quite resilient, and absorb shock well. They also "pour" well into odd-shaped areas.
Popcorn (air-popped) is a nice, environmentally friendly packing material. It's cheap, and absorbs shock almost as well as the "peanuts". It's not as resilient, though, and is generally best used once.
Newspaper, when crumpled into semi-tight balls, works almost as well as the other two materials. It's the cheapest of all, if you have old ones lying around, and it's interesting to unpack a box years later and read about old happenings. It is not very resilient, though, and is adversely affected by humid storage.
Tackle the Tape Issue
You're going to need more tape than you think. When you rebuild a new box, you'll reform it by taping the seams, and reinforce it by taping the edges and sides. With a used box, reinforcement is even more important, so don't skimp. You'll even want to tape the corners of very heavily packed boxes
Reinforced tape has nylon filaments running through it. This stuff is really tough - excellent for closing and reinforcing particularly heavy boxes. Make sure it's at least 2" wide.
Plastic tape is not nearly as tough as the reinforced kind, but works well for all but the heaviest boxes. The clear kind is generally a bit heavier than the brown kind, which makes for easier handling. In any case, make sure it's at least 2" wide; 3" wide is better.
Paper tape is now less common: it needs to be wet with a sponge for the adhesive to stick. It's good for closing boxes, less so for reinforcing edges. Again, 2" to 3" wide is best.
Pull It All Together
We all know what the goal here is: to make sure that all objects are securely packed and protected from rough handling. There are a few things important to mind; they might seem obvious but are still essential to your packaging experience.
Make sure that packing materials cover the bottom of the box, before you place anything into it.
Insure that the objects do not touch the sides of the box. If you can, keep at least an inch of packing material between the objects and the sides of the box: you'll do just fine.
Pack things tightly and leave as few gaps as you can. When you finally close the box, it should feel like you're compressing the materials slightly.
Pick up the box and shake it, if you can. You should not hear anything rattling around in there. Once satisfied, seal the box with a piece of tape that's long enough to extend several inches down either sides of the box.
Reinforcing the box with tape is very important, especially when shipping commercially. When following the diagram below for placement, use continuous pieces for each wrap.
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