Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to build your own Pochade Box

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed as an artist was the craftsmanship involved. If it’s either building my own stretchers, prepping canvas, customizing equipment for the studio, or just preparing panels for future work, it is great way to kill down time between painting projects. Sort of a Zen thing, doesn’t tax the brain but is productive in all ways for my efforts.

When it came to me that I would tackle building my own Pochade box, there was a precise set of criteria I needed to meet.
First it could not take hours of planning and measuring. Some boxes seem very complicated for what their function is. It needed to be a simple, functional design. I built this box in an afternoon, maybe four or five hours total. The panel carrier took a bit longer, but we will get into that later in this post.
Second it had to be done with fairly simple tools. Most importantly, it must be easily built without the use of a shop full of equipment. I’ve seen some wonderful “build your own Pochade Boxes” online. But most people do not have routers and table saws, or any method to cut dados into material. Just a set of hand tools, an average person would own and simple joinery. No complicated hardware to fabricate.

Third it had to be lightweight and easy to set up, which of course, is the entire point of a Pochade box. A few I’ve seen on the market have hefty bottom boxes that make the person using them look like an organ grinder without the monkey. But more importantly, the large base restricts your arm movement with the brush, so streamlined is the idea.

And finally, it had to be inexpensive to build. The material cost on this Pochade box was $22.09 US, and $20.08 for the Panel Carrier. Then another $13.27 for misc. items such as glue, stain and polyurethane. All for a grand total of $55.44 US dollars.

So you are probably thinking, let’s have a look at this fifty five dollar Pochade Box? Here she is in all her glory with her side kick, Panel Carrier. Which we will also build so that we have a complete en plain air kit. Ta-da!

Still interested?
If so, then read on and I’ll walk you through the projects with some photos and some simple explanations. Following is a materials list, tool suggestions and a photo to clarify some of these hardware pieces.

Materials: Estimated cost:
1 – 1/4” x 5/16” – Tee nut .98 per bag
2 - #10 washers .98 per bag
1 - #10 – 32 x 3/4” bolt with nut .30
1 - 1/2 inch by 4”x 4” wood stock…… I used a scarp of plywood.1.00 ?
1 - locking table leg brace 2.89
2 – 4” x 3/4” continuous hinges 7.00
1 - 1.75oz container #18 x 5/8” Wire Brads .98
1 – 2’ x 2’ 1/4“ luan plywood 3.40
3 - 36” x 1/2” x 3/4” Hardwood Square Dowels 4.56

Tool List:
Small hand saw
Miter box,… handy but not necessary.
Philips head and standard driver
Drill, with a 3/16 inch wood bit

Your first step is to decide on the size of your box. I wanted mine to hold panels as small as 5”x7” and as large as 9”x 12”. So the finish size was 14”x 11”, perfect for fitting in most backpacks. Once you have made this decision cut your 1/4” plywood to your finished size.
I used a normal handsaw, but you certainly can use a jig saw. Be warned, this stuff cuts like butter. In fact you can cut it with several passes of a utility knife. The Luan plywood is probably the main thing I would do differently on this box. Wherever you touch it with wood glue it saturates the wood fiber and does not allow a nice stain penetration, even after wiping off the excess glue. Pretty much acts as a resist. On the Panel Carrier I switched to Birch plywood, more expensive but worth the better finish. Also try to get the two panels as square as possible, the better they match up, the easier it will be to complete.
Next, measure 4 inches down from the top, on one of your two panels. Then measure in from the side 4-1/2 inches. You should have a vertical line on this panel reaching one third of the way in from each side. These will be your panel clip guides. Carefully cut both line as straight as you can with the saw, and sand smooth by doubling a piece of sandpaper in half and sliding it through the slots. If your cut line is a bit wiggly, sanding will help, but on location with a panel in place you’ll never notice if you wandered off the line.

Moving on to the box frame, what we are using is a stock commonly referred to as hardwood square dowels. Usually located where they sell finish grade lumber, they come in a variety of sizes. I had no problem locating this material. I used the 1/2” x 3/4” stock so I could have the bottom of the box deeper for paint and the top thinner. The construction is to simply cut your square stock to length and shadow box your panels using butt joints. Use the 1/2” on end for the bottom panel and flat on the 3/4” side for the top. See photo. Thinly coat both the panel and square dowel with wood glue and let them set a minute, tack together using the small wire brads.
Cut one piece to fit down the center of the Pochade Box top, in the wood space between your panel clip guides.

By now you should have something that’s starting to look like a Pochade Box, and it’s all down hill from here!
Now for attaching the base plate and the Tee Nut, I used a 1/2” scrap piece of plywood, but any stock material a half inch thick will do. (If you build the Panel Carrier at the same time, you can use the extra 4” stock.) If you already have a tri-pod, check the fit of the Tee Nut with it. The size listed here is standard for most, but it is best to be certain. Once you’ve got the right size, take your 1/2 x 4 x 4 stock and drill a hole in the center and drive the Tee-Nut in with a hammer. They usually sell this hardware in a bag of three so you can have a couple of try’s at it. Center base plate on the bottom box about an inch from the lip, glue and tack from the inside palette side with wire brads. Place some weight on top of this and let set for a day, you need a strong bond here.

At this point, with everything dry, I sanded and stained the box and hit it with a coat of fast dry polyurethane. How finished you want the box is up to you, you could go as far as setting the nail heads or just leave it raw wood. I thought the varnish wood help clean-up after use, and I’m glad I did.
As far as the hardware, the back hinges are simple enough to install. The placement of side brace requires a decision. I wanted my box to open as wide as possible, giving me lots of room to move a regular handle brush around without bumping the palette tray. But when closed the hinge brace sticks out about an inch from the box. You can move it in and flush with the edge of the box and still get a good angle. This was just a personal choice, you need to decide which will work best for you. When you mount the brace hinge use the washers in between the wood and metal so that it will slide and not bind the wood. I used a nut and bolt on the bottom and a wood screw in the top. Figuring the bolt side would take the most abuse and needed to be stronger.

Now for the panel clips and how panels are going to be held. It can’t get any simpler than this. I really thought about all the commercial boxes and the “build your own Pochade Box” sites that I’ve seen. The panel mounts were often too complicated or took too many specialized tools. A simple backpackers bungee and problem solved. I actually think it holds much better than some of the sliding mechanisms I’ve experienced. Plus it makes this a box that anyone can build and quickly enjoy the experience of painting on location - pretty much the goal of this whole effort.


So that is the box. Pretty simple and streamlined, it weighs in at just under one pound. And easily fits into my pack with the panel carrier. I made a small hand palette that fits into the carrier from the left over material. And other than the tri-pod spent just fifty five dollars on this entire kit. With the money I saved I can really stock up on paint, where I would rather spend my cash. Besides isn’t that what I am suppose to be doing, painting?
I hoped this was helpful, that you get some good ideas, or it even inspired you to build one yourself. If you do, I would love to see yours, I’ll post it if you’d like. Also, feel free to e-mail me with any questions, or post any comments, or if you share this info, just call it the “Serrett Box”.
In my next post I will be showing how the Panel Carrier goes together, so stay tuned.
Enjoy, Jim


  1. Thanks! This is just the sort of thing my friends and I are looking to build. We are faced with all of the restrictions you mentioned. I was well on my way toward over-complicating this, but you may have saved me.

  2. Great instructions and it looks like an ideal pochade. I hope you will post some of your works too.

  3. The use of a bungee cord to hold the canvas board is a very clever idea!!

  4. Yes the bungee is clever! Do you have any problems with the canvas staying level while you are painting?

  5. Hi Dave. Thanks so much for your comments.
    Your group is doing some wonderful work, very inspiring. I am thrilled if my post contributed in some small way to such a talented group of artists.
    Keep up the good work.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Shari,
    I'll certainly be posting my Pochade adventures here. But it's been so cold lately that I am pretty content just being in the studio working and sipping coffee.
    I had so many layers of clothes on the other day I could barely raise my arms.

  8. Hello Anonymous,
    Yes, the bungee is just simplistic.
    And the panel is very snug to the board, you have to nudge it side to side to move it up or down. So it is very tight, holds canvas panels completely flat. Of course you can take the bungee off and reposition it. I just clip it into the height I want and push it to level.
    Thanks for your question.

  9. Mr. Serrett
    This is amazing! I built a pochade box a few months ago, but after using it once I found that it was incredibly awkward and it ended up discouraging me from painting. But now I'm inspired to try to build another!

    I only have one question, where in the hardware store did you happen upon the table leg brace? I've been looking for something like it for so long, I almost raided my grandmother's dining room table for it

  10. Kenny, I hope you build one you like. This one works very similar to a easy L, or open box M brand. I love it.
    The table leg braces I bought at Lowes Hardware, made by Stanley. I think they were in the section with furniture hardware.
    But you can find them on line.
    If you build this box I would love to see it,
    thanks for the comment.

  11. Hi Jim,
    I just finished building and testdriving my pochade box and panel carrier made according to your instructions. they work wonderful, thank you for your generosity and posting the steps.

  12. Thank you for the photos and info on how to make a pochade box. I had started one a couple of years ago and given up. You inspired me to finish the box. I have to correct the t-nut attachment to the tripod. There is a little rocking movement there because the t-nut is not flush with the wood. I will try it out soon. I also made the panel carrier and just need to put on the hinge and latch.
    Thank you for the great info.

  13. Jim,
    Just finished building the pochade box today and it looks great. It was very easy to build and I can't wait to take it out for a test drive. Many thanks for the detailed instructions and pics of construction. I've been wanting to do this for a long time. Many thanks.

  14. I starting my Serrett Box this weekend. I think it is a great design, simple even, elegant.

    Now that you and my fellow fans of your design have had the opportunity for some test drives, do you have any suggestions or things that you would do a bit differently?

    Thanks for the great post, Kevin

  15. Hello Kevin.
    Thanks for the comments.

    I am pretty content with the box.
    Does exactly what I want it to do with out much fussing around.
    The main thing for me was to have something quick and easy to build so that I could get into more plein air work.

    But I am always amazed by the innovations people come up with on this design, I have posted a few in this blog, Ron Guthrie has produced his second and larger version. Another artist built a panel carrier inside of the box and I will probably make a small thumb box on that concept.

    But as a kit to get me working out of doors I could not be happier with it.

    Would like to see your kit when your done and hope it is a avenue to some great work

  16. Very cool.
    Thanks for the info.

  17. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

  18. Looks wonderful am going to make it! As for accessories some useful info I have found to go with this lovely box: To solve the problem of the tee nut, after scanning the net have found 2 places who sell Tripod Tee nut plates: www.pochadeshop.co.uk, www.judsonart.com.(usa). Holbein stainless steel brush washers look good to hang from your box: www.danielsmith.com sell them.(they have rubber seals) There was an excellent article by Zan Barrage and he included his Mijello Artelier Palette which has a lid and rubber seal. Would have to make the box a little bigger as the size is 13.25" x 9.125".
    Georgie Rey

  19. Brilliant! I have a pochade panel box which my husband made for me years ago but which I have never used. It's big enough to take quite big panels,while remaining portable (under my arm!) but your idea of including slots for a bungee is perfect for adapting to different sizes. This gets around weather conditions too! I've thought of trying sliding butterfly nuts through to small blocks to brace against the sides of the panel - what do you think?

  20. Hi Jo, Thanks for the comment.

    I did make a pair of sliding cleats from small wood scrape that slide in the same slots as the bungee.
    It works pretty well, but the bungee is tighter and simpler to deal with.
    Experiment with it, I am sure there is a better hardware/butteryfly mechanism idea then I had.

  21. Georgie Rey, I missed your comment.
    There are some great accessories on the market, and some fantastic Pochade manufacturers. I want them all!
    I looked closely at the T-nut plate when I built this kit, but decided that my goal was to build a inexpensive, functional, entry level Pochade Box that anyone could build easily with simple hardware and tools. The T-nut plate cost would have been equal to all the material cost in the Pochade Box.
    Besides after two years of using this box I have not had any problems.
    The only issue was from one artist who used a soft wood (pine) as the base plate. Use a hardwood, a hard plywood is even better and mount your quick release to it and leave it on and you won’t have a issue.
    I really like Zan Barrage’s boxes, (artezan.blogspot.com) it is always interesting to see creative people solving similar ideas. Just fascinating the answers artist come up with.
    Thanks for your input GR.

  22. Jim,
    I'm inspired by you pochade. I wonder if I could make it using 2 (11 x 14)cradled 7/8 inch birch/wood panels that are sold online Cheap Joes or Paint on This. I would just need to make the slots and add the other hardware. It would be more professional that if I made the boxes myself.

  23. Hi An,
    I think that is a great idea.
    It would certainly be simple to assemble, if the cradles are thick enough to take the hardware. You’re over half way done.
    If the panels do not work out, look into a cigar box and fitting hardware to it.
    Best of luck.

  24. Jim, thanks for the info. I just made my own pochade box according to your plans with some minor mods. Feel free to see it at my blog: http://jeremysams.blogspot.com/2011/03/homemade-pochade-box.html

    I can't wait to dirty it up with some paint!

  25. Jeremy, Very nice !
    Always interesting to see another artists modification to the ever increasing world
    famous Serrett Box. Lol
    I hope it delivers some great work to you, now get out there and dirty that
    pretty thing up.

  26. Hi Jim, Thanks for sharing your plan. I finished mine recently and am dying to try it for a test drive! I have some pictures. http://josefsy.blogspot.com/2011/03/diy-pochade-box.html
    I saw some comments about the T nut being wobbly. I think it is better if the T nut is installed behind the piece of hard wood. I had to do a counter sink (3/4 dia) and about 5/8 in. deep, install the T nut and make a little plug to cover it. I hope I make sense. Cheers.

  27. Jeff, Very nice pochade box.
    Just think of all the money you saved and can now use for new paints, panels and

    As far as the attachment system, a few artists have had issues with the t-nut installation, mainly from using a soft wood. With a hard wood or plywood you won’t have this issue.
    I do think your mounting method is the better approach, but I had a fear that if I had to replace the t-nut I would have to remove the base plate which I glued and nailed on.
    Looking back and from talking with other artist I think if one was to use a thicker
    bottom panel you could permanently attach a quick release tripod mount. However that raises the question of added weight, I have got to say as to date I have not had a problem with the mounting and my box has had couple of good falls.

    A quick tip to remove the wet panel, tilt the tripod base foreword until it is nearly parallel to the ground so that the painted panel is supported by the Pochade lid. Release the bungee and just slide the panel off directly into a panel carrier. Will cut down on any retouching back in the studio.

    Really enjoyed your site and your work.
    Can not wait to see some sketches and plein-airs from your new kit.

    Best to you and yours, Jim

  28. Thanks a ton it was a good support, now to build our own pochade box is without a doubt easy with the help of your information. Thanks

  29. Thanks so much for these post. I just made my own pochade box, with a few modifications. check it out on my painting blog:

  30. Thank you very much for the plan for a pochade box.Due to major back surgery I was looking for something lightweight to allow me to explore plein air painting. It was easy to build and I am excited to try it out.
    I hope I can now be fearless in my plein air paintings.

  31. Tout d’abord félicitations pour votre note, tout autant éclairantes et posées. Cela dit, certains détails auraient pu comporter davantage de précisions, par exemple vers la conclusion. C’est juste un moyen de dire que je suis pressé de lire la suite.