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More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Packing

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Packing on the Cheap

The cost of shipping continues to rise, and recently UPS announced another increase, and we all know the United States Postal Service has just about priced itself out of the large items market. After packing over 15,000 items in the last ten years, there may be some value in sharing with you what a slow learner can pick up over time.

Packing Fragile Items

Learning to pack glass and pottery should not take as long as it took me, because I did not learn from others. Learning from trial and error is not always the best way, and certainly not the fastest way, but eventually, some information becomes apparent to pass on to others.

Here is what works for us.

The Science of Packing

Packing has become a science, even if it started out as an art. It is a lesson in physics every day. The goal is to get the item to the customer with the least expense and the most successful outcome, i.e. unbroken.

From the standpoint of physics, we must allow for the package to be dropped from about 50 feet and to withstand 600 pounds of boxes thrown on top of it. How can that be accomplished at a reasonable cost to the consumer and not involve hours of packing time for the seller? We have analyzed the theory, and have arrived at some conclusions, although we may have one or two packages a year that do not survive, notwithstanding analytics.

Everything gets a first wrap here, and that is done with tissue paper purchased from a favorite drug store when it is on sale. If your item can be damaged by water, the second layer needs to be plastic or some water barrier.

This is also true if your item can leak, melt, or burst.

The elements are important. See? It is physics we are dealing with. Not only do you not want your item to ruin others in the box, but others outside the box ruining yours may be even more important. Anything glass, liquid, and stages in between, like candles, can leak.

Protect your package. You do not want the item to arrive on the outside of the box.

The common practice is to surround your item with a bubble bag or double boxing. We believe that the closer the bubble wrap is to the item but not touching it, the more likely for successful shipping.

We seldom ever use a bubble bag, since bubble wrap closer to the item is our goal.

However, never put bubble wrap directly against one of your items, because the heat and cold can expand or shrink it, or melt or stick it to your item. We prefer styrofoam instead of bubble wrap, since styrofoam is better protection against heat and cold.

We save all cardboard that has any flexibility, and cut it into strips of different sizes preserving the greatest length available.

When we pack a tumbler or any item cylindrical:

  1. we wrap it in tissue paper
  2. put it in plastic
  3. then roll it in the cardboard strip, tape it closed
  4. and place it in a box with a bed of foam, peanuts, shredded paper, whatever is available.
  5. We cover it with the same product and close the box with heavy tape.

What does this do? This saves you double boxing, and accomplishes the same thing. It saves space because the wrapping is around the item. It saves damage because the item cannot move around like it might if using a box. It works.

Packing Small Items

We purchase styrofoam cups when they are on sale, and for jewelry and items of that size, we use little boxes purchased on the internet or any little box we can find.


  1. wrap the item in tissue or tissues,
  2. place it in a hard box or container
  3. and drop that into the styrofoam cup,
  4. tape it closed with heavy tape and place it in a manila envelope.

We place the address tag on the envelope and stamp it with our address, and tape that from end to end.

Why do it like this?

Styrofoam cups are about 1 cent each, and plain manila envelopes are not much more than that in the 6x9 size for 500 in a box. Using padded or bubble envelopes costs about 35 cents each, and you are padding more than needs to be padded.

Only the item needs the padding, so why use padded envelopes when it is not necessary?

Packing Plates, Cups and Saucers

We utilize styrofoam plates and tissue paper to pack plates:

  1. Wrap the plate in tissue paper
  2. and put a styrofoam plate on top and one on the bottom.
  3. Tape it to hold the sandwich together.

If you have several plates, stack them with tissue paper wrap and styrofoam plates between. Tape up to four of them together.

I usually like to split the total number and pack half and half. This balances the box by placing half on each side when you place them on the bed of peanuts or shreds.

We use small plates to pack saucers, and styrofoam bowls to pack cups:

  1. Wrap a cup in tissue
  2. and place it in a styrofoam bowl closest to the size of the cup.
  3. Place another bowl over that and tape it closed.
  4. Make sure nothing rattles.

If it rattles, open it and put the cup in a plastic bag (grocery store type) and then place it in the styrofoam bowls.

Packing Art and Flat Items

Shipping art, particularly vintage art, is a science, and if it has glass on the front, the challenge is multiplied.

The local home construction store has just what's needed and that's a 4x8 foot sheet of insulation board.

If you do not have room in your vehicle to transport the 4x8 sheet, cut it in half while at the store, and 4x4 sheets should fit in your vehicle.

  1. First, wrap your picture in plastic (clean garbage bags will do) just anything to protect it from moisture.
  2. Then measure the inside flat of the picture
  3. and cut a piece of this insulation board to fit over the glass.
  4. Then cut another sheet that is larger that fits over the first one,
  5. and a front and back sheet the outside diameter of the frame.
  6. Put these in place and tape closed all the way around.

This keeps your art protected and ships it in about as small dimensions as possible. I have shipped some expensive vintage art safely with this method, and the insulation board is not expensive.

The cardboard that is bendable is great to roll items, but the cardboard that is too stiff to roll works for flat items.

Using hard cardboard sometimes requires scoring of the edge so it will bend evenly. A box cutter is handy for this, and just score where you want to fold the cardboard.

Sometimes books can ship in hard cardboard, but most often, a piece of bendable cardboard the girth of the book works best.

When calculating the size, add double the thickness of the book and double the width. This will allow a complete wrap around the book.

Using What is Available: Sources for Packing Supplies

When shopping, examine everything with an eye for packing. This may include blue pads and diapers, anything styrofoam, and plastic containers.

Often one of the bargain stores will have plastic containers on sale, and the 40-piece sets have different sizes and lids to fit. You may fall upon some of these at an estate sale or garage sale, too.

Tupperware is a lesson in physics, too, since it is a water barrier and a protective hard cover. Even the tiniest plastic boxes are ideal for jewelry. The new disposable plastic kitchen containers with lids work well, too.

If you know someone at the furniture store, ask about bubble wrap. They often have large pieces that they throw away.

Another source for good wrapping is the overhead garage door company. Some garage doors come in a cushioned wrapping that is great for shipping.

Your local hobby store may have plastic bags or bubble bags, and the drug store often has these, too. Display items come in boxes and bags that are often thrown away.

The office supply store gets small boxes and great packing materials, too. Be creative, and think of items you can use and ways to use them!

You can learn to pack for the perils of shipping with very little loss or damage, and we hope that your learning curve is improved by what we learned over hours and years of shipping items sold on internet sites.