DIY Market Caddy

Build sturdy, charming crates to carry fresh flowers safely to market without tip-overs, spills, or broken glass.

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by Robin Orm Hansen

When our daughter, Hanne, was transitioning from pork farming to vegetable and flower farming, she needed easily transportable, attractive, wooden display caddies to hold water-filled, quart jars of flowers at her farmers market stand. While she assigned building vegetable display boxes to a family workday, my assignment was to create canning jar crates for flower transport.

I figured an eight-jar crate was about right for weight and convenience, possibly six crates max, holding 48 jars altogether.

A crate for flowers should have a handle tall enough to be above the tops of the flowers. Canning jars need dividers to keep them from banging against each other, and the sides of the caddy should be tall enough to keep the jars from tipping but short enough to allow jars to be lifted in and out easily.

I also thought Hanne’s caddies could be stacked two high as steps for display at the market (the bottom one using only half its carrying capacity, the top one supported in back). And the jars themselves could be filled with anything, from flowers to maple syrup to canned tomatoes.

The sides could be nailed-in pine lattice molding, but the bottoms had to be strong, rigid, and screwed in, because the weight of the water-filled jars would rest entirely on them. The grab handle could be set into its supports or simply end-nailed, as the weight would be downward, not side to side. The strength of the structure could be a solid centerboard firmly fixed to two sturdy end panels, coupled with hefty handle supports also firmly attached to the two end panels.

I rarely make one of anything, so I made two samples. The resulting initial two caddies (see image on top of opposite page) had ends cut from 3⁄4-inch plywood, a 1-inch dowel handle end-nailed into the end panels 12 inches from the bottom, and a solid 1-by-5-inch centerboard dividing the sides and supporting removable separators. I sent them off to my daughter for judgment.

wooden caddy with jars in it

We both ended up with points for improvement. Hanne noticed the handle was too low; she had to reach into the flowers for it. But if I made the grab handle higher, the triangular shape of the end panels would then be too narrow and tall to be practical. So, I redesigned, supporting the grab handle with 16-inch-long 1-by-2-inch boards nailed outside 1-by-5-inch end panels. The triangular shape of the handle supports made it difficult to stack empty carriers for storage between market days. By using 1-by-5-inch horizontal boards for the end panels with handle supports attached outside, the crates could be stacked in steps, each fitting inside the one below, for both storage and display.

I noted that the dividers wiggled around in their slots and could fall out. It was difficult to cut slots to fit the dividers tightly in the center bar and time-consuming to cut slots in the dividers to fit down over the slots in the center bar. Instead, I could use 4-inch lengths of round bamboo chopsticks for the dowels (bamboo doesn’t readily snap in two) or 3⁄8-inch dowels. It’s easy to drill holes perfectly to size. Finally, for rigidity, the center bar would have to be thicker.

After revisions, the caddies’ final structural design resembles a New England clam basket: two ends with handle supports on the outside, faced on both sides with narrow lattice, with a heftier center bar for rigidity, bottomed with boards spaced wide enough to allow for possible water spillage and to discourage tipping during transport. With my daughter off to market with her new flower caddies, I want to share how you can make your own.

Tools and Materials

These caddies are designed to fit 8 quart Mason jars measuring a little less than 4 inches in diameter. The materials listed make 2 caddies, but you could build as many caddies as you want – preferably a maximum of 6 at a time.

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Drill press (or a steady hand on a power drill
  • or hand drill)
  • Adjustable clamp
  • Square with inches marked
  • Crosscut saw or power chop saw
  • Small piece of medium-grit sandpaper
  • Hammer
  • Carpenter’s tape or elastics
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • 2×4 lumber, 16 inches long (2)
  • ¼-inch-diameter bamboo chopsticks (6), or 3⁄8-inch birch dowels, 4 inches long (6)
  • 1×5 lumber, 91⁄2 inches long (4)
  • ¼-by-13⁄8-inch pine lattice molding, 6 feet long (3)
  • 3⁄8-by-31/4-inch wainscoting or crate wood,
  • 18 inches long (4)
  • 1×2 lumber, 16 inches long (4)
  • 3/4-inch birch dowels, 20 inches long (2)
  • 8d or 9d common nails (20)
  • 1-to-11⁄4-inch small wire nails (56)
  • 11⁄4-to-11⁄2-inch rust-proof deck screws (16)

Directions

Complete each step for both caddies before moving to the next step.

  1. Start with your two 2×4 pieces of lumber, which will be the center bars for your 2 caddies. Mark points along a centerline, 4 inches apart. Then, bore three ¼-inch or 3⁄8-inch holes for the dividers through two 2x4s at a time. (You’ll need access to a drill press to do that accurately. Most middle school shops have one if you or a friend don’t.) Make a test hole in a piece of scrap wood and try fitting a divider through it. If they’re too tight or too loose, adjust the hole size to fit. For safety, clamp the wood to the drill press bed.
  2. If you’re using chopsticks, cut each piece to 4 inches long. Round the chopsticks’ (or 3⁄8-inch dowels’) ends with sandpaper. Drive them about halfway through the holes. They should fit tightly and have about 1 inch sticking out on each side. If they seem at all loose, smear a little glue on their centers and leave them to dry in their holes.
  3. Meanwhile, mark the lengthwise centers of the 1×5 end panels and the widthwise centers on the ends of the 2x4s. Place 1 end panel flush with the top of the center bar. Nail in place with two 8d or 9d nails. Repeat on the opposite end.
  4. Check the distance between the outside edges of the end panels, and cut the lattice molding to that length, bundling them together with carpenter’s tape or 2 elastics to get multiple pieces per cut. You’ll need 6 side pieces per caddy. Nail them in place with small wire nails, 2 nails per fastening.
  5. Cut the wainscoting or crate wood to the same length as the side pieces to create 4 bottom boards, 2 per caddy. Pre-bore through each bottom board, assembling and attaching with deck screws, 2 screws per end. Space the bottom boards to support the heavy jars but allow for drainage in case of spills during transport.
  6. Bore a ¾-inch hole in each 1×2 handle support, centered roughly 11⁄2 inches from one end, for the grab handle.
  7. Place the handle supports flat against the end pieces, and measure the total length of the caddy plus the handle supports. Cut the 3⁄4-inch dowels to that length, and insert them into the prepared holes in the handle supports. Secure each end of the grab handle with a small wire nail.
  8. Using 8d or 9d nails, nail the handle supports to the centerline of the end panels using 3 nails each, ending flush with the bottom of the end panels (not flush with the bottom boards). Take care to avoid previously driven nails.

Different Sizes?

Maybe you use quart jars to transport things, but maybe you use pint jars, discarded salad dressing jars, or half-gallon jars. To change the size of the compartments on your caddy, start by measuring the jars you plan to transport, measuring between the sides of an adjustable clamp. Add 1⁄4 inch per jar to each compartment size, and multiply the total (jar measurement plus 1⁄4 inch) by the number of jars for the length of the center divider. That’ll be the interior length of the caddy. A caddy for smaller jars might be good with 10 or 12 jars; half-gallons might be better with fewer, say 4 to 6 jars. Think about the person who will be carrying the caddy of full jars and plan accordingly.

Note: If your dividers are 3⁄8-inch dowels, add that number instead of 1⁄4 inch.

How Many Should I Make?

When I made the market caddies for Hanne’s flower jars, I made two right away as samples to be sure I got the measurements right and that she’d judge them useful. As it happened, they needed considerable revision.

After revising, I made the next four simultaneously, enabling me to saw or bore holes through several boards at once with glorious precision. After that, I easily assembled the parts and made four caddies for the effort of probably no more than two. The procedure is to cut or bore all the pieces for each step, for up to six caddies, assemble that step for all of them, and then proceed to the next step.

If you make multiple caddies at once, remember: “Measure twice, cut once.” If you’re careful, every part should be identical to every other part like it, so you can check measurements on a sample and count on them working for the rest of the caddies. But double-check against at least one of the partially assembled projects after each first cut. A 1⁄2-inch short on all the side pieces, for example, will ruin a lot of good wood for this project, unless you decide to caddy smaller jars.

Robin Orm Hansen has authored traditional handcraft directions for more than a decade, including projects in FACES Magazine, COBBLESTONE Magazine, Highlights, FamilyFun Magazine, PieceWork, and Yankee Magazine; and several books, most recently Ultimate Mittens (Down East Books), a collection of traditional mittens from around the world. She’s known for readable instructions and entertaining and useful commentary. With a doctorate in folklore and folklife from Boston University, she’s credited with bringing public attention to North American knitting traditions.