Shipping Semi-Fragile Items

How to pack glass, ceramics, and Bakelite items so they reach their destination, unbroken.  I have shipped around a dozen fragile items, so, while I’m not a pro at this, they’ve all arrived unbroken.

Watch these two videos showing how packages go through the USPS system.

The basic facts:

  • they drop packages around four feet, and
  • they may sit at the bottom of  a large cart full of similar boxes, some which may weigh up to 70 pounds.

You need a box that’s as strong as the USPS Priority Mail boxes at the post office.

Those are one step up from the boxes that most consumer products come packed in.  The USPS won’t accept consumer product boxes as packaging.

I used the “box within a box” technique.

You wrap the object in bubble wrap or foam, and then put it into a cardboard box.  Make sure the object doesn’t move around. Use enough wrap, or add packing peanuts, so it won’t fly around in the space.

Then, you put that box into a larger box, surrounded by packing peanuts, cut-up styrofoam, air pockets, big bubble wrap, or even crushed newspaper (if you can justify the extra weight). You want this material packed a little tighter.

It should look like this:

UPS insurance says put one inch of packing material around it all.  That’s about correct. You don’t want the object bouncing around in there.

Why Does Box Within a Box Work?

Box within a box is much stronger than just using a lot of bubble wrap.

It doesn’t transmit any motion or pressure from the outside box to the object.  If you punch the outside box, the energy gets partially absorbed by the peanuts, and then transmitted inward, to the inner box.

The inner box is rigid, so it presses outward, against the pressure. This is the key point: the inner box is a hard shell within the outer shell.

The energy from the punch presses inward, bending the inner box a little bit.  Then, the energy transmits inward, to the bubble wrap, which compresses.

The object inside receives a little of the energy.

Compare to Only Bubble Wrap

If you use only bubble wrap, pressure from the outside is transmitted, evenly, to the object on the inside.

Without an inner box that presses against incoming pressure, it’s weaker.

Compare to Two Boxes without Peanuts

Two boxes packed tightly strengthen each, but if you pierced it with something like a metal corner, the contents could be damaged.

Having an inch of clearance, allows for a sharp corner to pierce the outer box, but the package would retain most of its integrity.

Modifications for Sturdy Ceramics, Like Bowls

You can use stronger cardboard, and have narrower gaps.

Unlike a fragile object, a sturdy object will press harder against the inner box, and will help resist crushing.

One way to make cardboard more rigid is to make the corrugations run perpendicular to each other.

Another trick is to glue extra cardboard into the cardboard.

Prepacking and Testing

When I sold a Sunbeam toaster with Bakelite handles, I pre-packed it into the final package, and then did drop-tests on it.  I dropped it from four feet in the air, onto a hard floor.

I kicked it with my foot.

I put other boxes on top of it.

When it sold, I opened the boxes up to inspect the contents. I repacked it, and sent it along, knowing that it would withstand drops, kicks, and being placed under other boxes.

New Boxes

New boxes are stronger than used boxes.

Dry boxes are stronger than wet boxes, of course.

However, I’ve packed everything in used materials, and they’ve arrived okay. The “engineering” compensates for some of the lost strength.

Which Carrier to Use?

I use USPS Priority Mail. I don’t use USPS Ground because it stays in the system for a lot longer. USPS Priority Mail is in the system 3 days or less.

I used FedEx, but the products got handled a lot more as it went through FedEx then USPS or FedEx Ground (who are contract carriers).

I don’t know UPS too well – I have used them for larger items, but not small, fragile items. UPS requires you to hire their packers for their insurance, which raises the cost of shipping. UPS is mainly for business customers, and I’m not at that level.

See Also

Shipping Fragile Items

UPS USPS Fed Ex Study Shows Packages Marked Fragile More Likely Damaged

Author: John

I can be reached at johnk@riceball.com.

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