Handy Project Boxes – For Free!

Recycled mushroom boxes make great project boxes in your studio for gathering small items in one project. Perfect for beaders and jewelry makers.

Everyone loves something for nothing. And everyone loves recycling. So here’s an idea that has been around my studio for the past few months.

We eat a lot of produce and much of it comes in boxes and packaging that we end up throwing away. I hate that. But one day I was fixing dinner and the box the mushrooms came in caught my eye. It’s blue (score!) and it was a nice size without any holes in the bottom. So I washed it and set it aside for the studio thinking (and how many times have we all thought this), I’m sure I’ll find some use for it.

Well, I did. It seems that I always have a small gathering of little things sitting on my workbench. They might be beads for a specific project, or something that I haven’t put away yet, or even a set of beads that aren’t finished yet. It seems silly to use a larger, lidded box for these (like these pencil boxes) when it’s not permanent storage. It’s just to keep something together for just a short time.

I use mushroom boxes in the studio to gather small amounts of beads when I'm working on a project.

When you work with polymer clay, your projects often take many steps, and it’s nice to keep the pieces all together as they go through these stages. These mushroom boxes are perfect project boxes for holding a handful of beads for their trip from the oven to the bench. Or to the sink if I have to wet sand them. As it turns out I often have partly finished projects sitting around the place and these mushroom boxes are perfect for that!

Another thing about beads is that they’ll roll right off the table if you don’t hold them in something. I’m going to collect even more of these project boxes and have a stack of them waiting for those times when my hands are full of little things.

I also use one to keep my bits and pieces together next to my “thinking chair“. It’s where the notepad, post-its, and pens live. Again, the size is just right. Because the sides of the mushroom box are fairly vertical, as opposed to being angled, they hold a lot without wasted space.

I use mushroom boxes to hold miscellaneous items in my studio.

Where you live, the mushrooms probably come packaged in a different type of container. One brand around here comes in a styrofoam box, in fact. But have a look at the packaging and containers that they do use in your area. Is there something that you could use as a project box like this? I’ll bet there is.

Raw Polymer Clay Degrades Some Plastic

Did you know that you should never store raw polymer clay in a container made from polystyrene? It’s recycle number 6. Always check the bottom of your container to see what kind of plastic it is. Not sure how to recognize the various types of plastic when there is no number? It’s usually pretty easy to tell. Check out this post about the various plastics and how polymer clay affects them.

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32 thoughts on “Handy Project Boxes – For Free!”

  1. Many of these recyclable containers can be washed in the upper rack of the dishwasher. I’ve been doing that for years, but you can’t run them through a lot of times, because they sometimes do start to take on funny shape after a while. I like the blue mushroom boxes, and the styro tray that comes under veggies or meat, and especially the ones from some of the restaurants as their take=home containers that are a nice rectangular shape, a good size, and have a good, secure snap=on top. I love them for assembling all the parts for a project.

  2. Just thought of another packaging recycle tip I found on YouTube and used a lot when I was playing with Friendly Plastic but could easily be used for polymer clay. The aluminum from soda cans make awesome cutters in a pinch.

    Use a thick oven glove on the hand touching the raw edges when cutting the cans up with scissors and then use a rotary blade cutter to straighten the edges and cut straight strips (I use this Fiskars cutter – http://www.joann.com/fiskars-12in-classic-rotary-paper-trimmer/4268470.html). Aluminum tape is added on one edge of the aluminum strip for protection before shaping into a cutter.

    The aluminum tape is very strong and effectively blunts the sharp edge you need to touch when cutting. Aluminum tape is also great for taping the new cutter along the top edge into a permanent shape. The bonus is that you can make almost any custom shape in a pinch.

    The aluminum used in tealight candles can serve the same purpose and already come with a smooth upper edge. The strips are just not as long.

  3. Another great article.

    I use the clear # 1 plastic containers with lids for storing things like my polymer clay tools and cutters. I normally get these containers when I buy dried fruit and they make it so easy to put my hands right on the supplies I need.

    I save the round aluminum pie crust pans and use them for paints and chalk powders. They make mixing simple and are super easy to clean after use.

    The long rectangular cardboard boxes that the Philadelphia 48 oz blocks of cream cheese come in are awesome as organizers in drawers or larger containers.

    In addition for using them for storage the plastic vegetable containers are great for using with spray dies on small pieces of paper or fabric as they contain the spray and are easy to clean afterward. I also use the flatter styrofoam containers covered with wet wipes when adding alcohol ink to metal as it contains the mess.

    I also save bottles that come with a built in dropper for art projects as they make it easy to add paint, alcohol etc. in small amounts in specific areas.

    1. Wow, some excellent suggestions there. I especially like the idea of using the flat styrofoam as “mess containers”. I’m always using paper plates, but honestly, rectangles fit on my workbench better as I have a really small table.

  4. Sharlene Frazier

    This is not exactly wrapping but I use the lids from old lipstick tubes as nice little cutters. they are just the right size for flat beads.

    1. Perfect! Thanks for the idea. Maybe I need to hit some garage sales once the weather warms up. There’s always old makeup people are getting rid of (and I normally just go “ew”, but maybe I should reconsider)!

  5. But…. There are other ways to recycle number 6 plastic. I use flat pieces of number 6 plastic as shrink plastic. Works a treat. I most often use the lids of sushi containers for that.

    1. Ooh, that’s a good one! I had forgotten that you can use it for shrink plastic. Once spring comes and we can open up the house again, I might have to plant that idea in the mind of the resident teenager. She’d have a blast with that.

      1. I once made babushka earrings for a work colleague on the sly at work one day. We ate sushi together on her last day and I used random supplies on my desk then snuck downstairs to bake it in a less frequented area lol

  6. My best/worst example of overpackaging is Hillshire Farms thin sliced deli meat. Most lunches I have a half slice on 4-6 Triscuit crackers. This very sealed meat comes in a reusable covered container-completely unnecessary. But, I save the containers and Honey and I use them all the time for all our gadgets, beads and bobbles. I have never used them for uncured clay, but they are way handy around our hobby shops (half of our big house is for our hobbies-we have our priorities). The containers change size and shape occasionally, so we have several different size/shapes.

    1. I use those, too! I found a whole bunch of them on sale for like a dollar each and bought them for the containers mostly. Yes, massive overpackaging madness on that one. They’re really a great size and they stack well, but I find the lid to be really hard to snap on.

  7. Take out containers with the snap lids – not uncured polymer safe – BUT, great for necklaces which you are assembling/designing/considering…..well washed, of course! Our local sushi place provides me with great ones when I get take-out!

  8. all great ideas! I use the almost clear plastic tops from hair spray or mousse for little beads & put them all in a tray for easy viewing. For beads a little larger or bead sets I’m working on, I like the tops from laundry detergent.

      1. One more thing….I’m looking at them; the white lids from Synder’s pretzel sticks (Costco) or the even larger tan lids from Maxwell House coffee; perfect for ‘collections’ of beads. Then there are the tuna cans we have all covered with clay, but they don’t hold as much.

        1. One one hand, it’s great that we have so many options and things to use. On the other hand, what a waste to have all this packaging wasted. And not just containers…I’ll bet if we start looking for textures it’ll get interesting.

  9. A little tip though … DO NOT LEAVE UNBAKED POLYMER CLAY SITTING IN THESE PLASTIC BINS !! I always grab a few extra sauce cups from restaurants that have salsa bars to use at my craft station. They’re perfect for holding small beads, a tiny bit of cornstarch, great for paint, etc. But I left some wads of unbaked polymer clay sitting in the cups and I guess the plastic chemicals of the cup and the chemicals in the Polymer clay don’t get along very well. The end result was the polymer clay melted the bottom of the plastic cup that it rested on into a very sticky tar like gloop. The clay was unusable bcuz of this sticky stuff and I just ended up throwing it away. So if you do put unbaked clay scraps put some foil or use the plastic wrappers that the clay came in to avoid it from melting the plastic bins/cups.

    1. Oh darn, I meant to talk about that! These particular mushroom boxes are made from polyethylene terephthalate (recycle #1), which is generally considered to be polymer clay safe (meaning it won’t melt when in contact with raw polymer clay). You’re absolutely correct to be cautious, though! I’m pretty sure those little cups are made from polystyrene (recycle #6) which is the one that melts when polymer clay sits in it. Most disposable plastic cups are polystyrene, too, so we also need to be careful with raw clay in those. Thanks for reminding me about this issue!

  10. Here we are super conscious about recycling, so most of our produce comes either open, to be filled into bags, or it is cardboard that is being recycled. We collect it for 2 weeks and then it gets picked up. So not much to be used in that section 🙂

    1. Oh how I wish it were like that here. It used to be. But now everything is packaged in plastic, even things that don’t need it like green onions and broccoli. I mean broccoli? It comes shrink-wrapped now! It’s stupid. And we can’t recycle that kind of thing. I recycle everything I can, though. But I wish the packaging wasn’t there in the first place.

  11. I have to smile, our mushroom ones are useless too flimsy and the wrong dimensions for my liking. But I drink black coffee and we have a bad habbit of not making it ourselves so there are often extra paper cups floating around. I always hold onto that extra cup and if you peek into my studio it often looks like I’m drinking 8cups of coffee at once. I also use little aluminum weigh dishes since well they were practically free – heck cheaper than all that coffee

    1. Those little weighing dishes are fantastic. Tart tins would be similar. We drink a lot of coffee here, too, but you must have better coffee places than we do. It’s a last resort only type of thing, LOL.

  12. I have some shorter white ones that meat comes in for that same purpose. These look like a really nice size and I too love the color.

    1. I’ve seen those in the store. They’d be better for laying out several pieces that you need to see, almost like a tray. I might have to think about those. Great idea!

  13. I love them! I use icecream containers…in this moment I have 3 in my work bench with beads in different phases!

    1. That’ll work! I use the large ice cream buckets for corralling all the ziploc bags of bits that I accumulate when I am working on a tutorial. All those samples and trials and experiments. Then they’re all in once place.

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