Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How To Make a Paint Box and Panel Support - Part II

This is the second in a series of posts on how to make your own portable painting palette and panel holder for plein air painting. 

After staining and coating the panels with 2-3 coats of polyurethane the next step is to attach the side trays to the center palette with some hinges.  I clamped the side tray/lid pieces to the center palette in their closed position then placed the hinges where I wanted them and drilled pilot holes for their screws.  Repeat this for the tray on the opposite side.

Once the hinges are in place I stuck one vinyl feet/bumper next to each hinge as shown below.  These provide a stop for the side trays to rest against when in the open position (second picture below).  This is important to ensure the side trays don't open past 180º.... because if they do then anything you rest on them (turps, brushes, cellphone) will slide off!

Now you need some way to attach your new paint box to your tripod.  I cut two "L" shapes out of 3/4" plywood (I'll call these the "hooks" from now on).  Since each tripod is different I suggest you hold up your new paint box to your tripod to get an idea of how big the hooks should be and where on your paint box they should be mounted.

Once the hooks are cut out you will need to drill a hole through them and into the side of the palette portion of the paint box.  I used a 1/4" threaded bolt that is 3" long to attach my hooks.  Therefore, I drilled a 1/4" hole through the hook and palette (see below).

Now these 1/4"x3" bolts will need to screw into something.  So, I decided to use a product called a "T-Nut" pictured below.  Basically, these are female threaded parts that have four spikes that bite into the wood and provide a strong hold.

I inserted one T-Nut into each of the 1/4" holes just drilled.  Insert them from the INSIDE of the palette and then use a C-Clamp to push the spikes on the T-Nut into the wood.

Now go ahead and thread the bolts through the hooks and screw them into the holes with T-nuts on the palette.

Now, take the palette box to a glass store and have them cut a piece of glass to fit inside the palette.  Cutting glass is easy and if you have a cutter and feel comfortable doing it then just pick up a piece of glass from the hardware store and cut it yourself.  You don't want the glass to fit too tightly or you risk breaking it.  I left a 1/32" gap around the perimeter of the glass.

I then took some grey oil paint straight from the tube and smeared it on the perimeter of the glass surface filling the gap between the glass and palette box and leaving a thin coating on about 1" of the glass.  I took a straight edge razor blade to scrape off excess paint from the glass and leave this nice straight edge before the paint dried.  This coat of paint serves two purposes - 1. filling the gap so paint and mineral spirits don't seep under the glass and 2. providing a surface for the puddles of paint to grip to so they don't slide across the slick glass.  Let this paint dry thoroughly before you start using the palette.

And here's how your paint box / palette should look when open! 

One other note:  I counter-sunk magnets into the ends of the side trays (pictured below).  When you close the trays the magnets pull together and keep the box closed and when the trays are in the open position, the magnets are a great place to stick your palette knife to.  I bought the magnets then drilled a shallow hole the same size for the magnet to sit in.  I then used a two part epoxy to glue the magnets into the holes. These "earth magnets" are strong so you need epoxy to keep them from pulling out when they stick to one another.  Magnets are a nice touch but are optional.  You could use a clasp or some other type of simple latch to keep the box closed when transporting.

That completes the palette / paint box.  In my next post I will show you how to make the painting panel support.
Closed palette box shown here hanging from my tripod


  1. Hey Scott, thanks for these last two posts, very helpful! I've been trying to figure out a way to simplify what I bring with me to paint outside and this helps. Looking forward to the next part for sure!

    1. Thanks, Brandon, I'm happy to share what I've learned. I still need to take some photos for the post on the panel holder. Hoping to get to that soon!

  2. learning how to paint enables to sometimes look at ordinary things differently and give them a new attractive look. your site has drawn my attention, i have given it a try and made a beautiful paint box, i also appreciate your brilliant ideas.

  3. This is great, do you have part lll? Thanks for taking the time to share your creativity.


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