Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Speaking of Crate Digging, What About The Crates?

 
Stacks of milk crates
What crates stack up the best for record storage and transporting collections?

Related to Elements: Crate Digging, DJ

Long before Showbiz & AG rapped about "Diggin' in the Crates" on their 1991 Soul Clap EP, or even before "Diamond done looked in the crate and found you this FUNKY beat!" on Raheem's 1989 track "I'm The King", DJs and vinyl collectors have been digging through actual real milk crates for their records.  In fact, crates have been used for decades longer than the term Crate Digging was even muttered in any song, because of their once abundant availability and convenient size they were the most practical container for transporting and storing records.  Milk crates can come in countless shapes, sizes, styles and colors and to this day they are manufactured specifically for storing things just like your records.  Some are much more practical than others for the job.  While some are easier to carry, they might be bad on record edges when diggers carelessly flip through them.  Yet others were seemingly designed for storing 12" wax because they cradle the records safely under the rim making them easy to stack without damaging the top spines.


K-Def Crates
K-Def knows crates.

Random Milk Crates
Crate Break Down: Your typical crates, the classic brown, classic orange, and bad blue Sterilite.


For over 15 years, Wade Schilling, Owner of Metrowax Records has accumulated a mass amount of all kinds of interesting crates in his various acquisitions of DJ collections.  He has been kind enough to let me run rampant in his huge warehouse allowing me to snap photos of the more interesting ones that not a lot of people see hanging around any more.  He's got the good, the bad, and the ugly crates too.  It's clear they just don't make crates like they used to, in fact so many of these are now basically antiques.


Crates are rarely ever discussed by crate diggers, they ironically seem iconic and mundane at the same time.  Everyone who has them seems to overlook them, they neglect them or kick them out of the way, or maybe they step on them to reach a higher shelf.    Antique or not, no one really knows their true dollar value, nor does it matter, but we all visually associate them with what we truly love, our vinyl collections.  When you see a milk crate, you don't think about milk, you think about records! 

Digging in the Crates
Classic Orange vs Big Grey


So which ones work best? Which ones are the worst for storage and digging? It depends. It's basically a personal preference based on how you use them. Are you a DJ who only cares about the music, wants something lightweight and easy to handle who maybe doesn't care if the covers are damaged? Are you an audiophile who keeps the record covers in pristine condition and puts outer protective plastic sleeves on his or her best wax? All of these are factors in deciding which ones get filled with your beloved records.  



The Classic Orange Crate:


orange milk crate
The smaller classic orange crates force angled storage of records
It could be orange or brown or any color.  It's whatever color the milk company felt like repping that year.  At Metrowax most of them are orange with the big green "G" for Golden Guernsey Dairy.  But regardless of color, they are all that slightly-too-small-for-twelves size.  

Personally, I like my 12" records to fit perfectly in the crate.  These classic orange crates are not wide enough for that.  However, when packed just full enough (not too full, or too loose) the records don't flop back and forth and for transporting small collections they are adequate and fairly rugged and light weight.  But they are not stackable when full of 12"s and if you don't have the right number of records in them the records tend to bend and flop back and forth which can be hard on the edges and the records if you aren't careful.  



Classic Orange Rating:

Strength: 9/10
Weight: 9/10
Record Wear: 5/10
Ease of Handling: 8/10
Amount of Records Held: 5/10
Overall Rating: 7/10 (Average)




The Big Grey Crate:

grey milk crate
A mad villain named DOOM stares from the iconic "X"s in big grey crate
Records easily fit in Big Grey.  They stay well below the rim making them easy to stack while full.  They are tough and fairly lightweight but not as easy to handle as the classic orange.  The hand holds are fairly sharp and when loaded are a bit rough on the hands.  The edges inside the crate, like many crates, are fairly sharp and with repeat record flipping they will wear on the record jackets' spines and sides.  Like most crates, potential wear and tear can be minimized when it's lined with either congregated cardboard or carpet on the bottom, or if you really want to be anal you can line the front back and sides with cardboard as well.  


Like the grey crate, this white one has sharp handles.  Fixed with grip tape!
Big Grey Rating:
Strength: 9/10
Weight: 8/10
Record Wear: 7/10
Ease of Handling: 7/10
Amount of Records Held: 9/10
Overall Rating: 8/10 (Above Average)

 



The Big Orange Crate:

orange milk crate
Unlike the classic orange, this generic orange crate is full sized
I bought this crate from Wade months ago because it was one of my favorite crates ever,  and it really adds a nice touch of color to my studio.  It currently holds all my odd-ball novelty crate digging beat-source records, library records and sound effects.  Records easily fit in Big Orange as well.  Records are taller than the crate so once it's full it cannot be stacked.  They are extremely tough with almost none of the typical crate holes which are much easier on the records when flipping through them.  Their handles are a bit sharp and might hurt the hands when fully loaded but they are still one of the most practical crates for protecting, moving and storing records.  When a 12X12" carpet square sits at the bottom of big orange, it cushions your records and keeps them from sliding forward, and with that small addition, this crate is as good as it gets.


crate with carpet
Like the classic orange, without padding, the bottom is not ideal for record wear and tear



Big Orange Rating:
Strength: 9/10
Weight: 7/10
Record Wear: 9/10
Ease of Handling: 7/10
Amount of Records Held: 9/10
Overall Rating: 8/10 (Above Average)



The Big Red Crate:

red milk crate
Big red, the best crate to store my scratch tools
The same day I bought big orange, I bought this crate from Metrowax as well.   It seems to be much older and tougher then big orange, and it has the throwback milk logo going for it, but other then that it's basically the same type of crate except slightly taller. 


sealtest milk crate
A vintage French-Canadian Milk Crate













Big Red Rating:
Strength: 9/10
Weight: 7/10
Record Wear: 9/10
Ease of Handling: 7/10
Amount of Records Held: 9/10
Overall Rating: 8/10 (Above Average)




The Bad Blue Crate:

blue crate
Notice there is no records in that?  There's a good reason for that.  Bad blue is called that because quite frankly it's lousy and basically a worthless waste of space.  It's a fairly modern, cheaply manufactured crate for random home storage use by Sterilite.  This never had anything to do with milk, and it shows.  Metrowax probably got this from some DJ who bought it from K-Mart back in the day.  It's very lightweight and therefore very breakable.  Every single edge protruding from inside and outside of this crate is sharp.  Incidentally It destroys record's covers with even a few flips through them.  Even half loaded with records, picking it up leaves sharp painful pressure marks on your hands.  You can find a very similar modern day equivelent of Bad Blue in many department stores and I would strongly recommend that you never buy it for storing your records unless you don't care about cosmetic damage to your covers.

Bad Blue Rating:
Strength: 5/10
Weight: 8/10
Record Wear: 4/10
Ease of Handling: 3/10
Amount of Records Held: 8/10
Overall Rating: 5/10 (Poor)





The Sharp Yellow Crate:

yellow crate
"OOOM, BOW BOW...  CHICK!  CHICKA, CHICKAAAHHH!"
Like bad blue, this is manufactured for general home storage for people's crap.  Except this one is even weaker, lighter, and sharper edged and so it chips easily.  Carrying it even empty pains the hands.  This one is so bad it seems to have attracted some kind of brownish mold growth on it.  It normally doesn't even store even Metrowax's unsellable records but since I found the perfect 12" for the picture I couldn't resist the setup of the photo.  As soon as Wade saw me fill it with records he made damn sure I emptied it immediately after photographing it.   "I don't even know why that crate is in here" he muttered.

Sharp Yellow Rating:
Strength: 4/10
Weight: 8/10
Record Wear: 3/10
Ease of Handling: 2/10
Amount of Records Held: 8/10
Overall Rating: 5/10 (Very Poor)



The Wide Load Crate:


wide crate
Embassy Dairy's wide load crate, not bad for CDs
This vintage milk crate is fairly odd, it's much wider than the standard square crate.  Not thick enough to put 12" records in it the long way, and too wide to put them in the short way.  You could place a few twelves in it and slide in a few 7"s on the side of it to keep them from sliding around, or better yet, you could use it the way Wade does as storage for random 45s and CDs.  Basically, when loaded, It's too cumbersome to be practical. It's better as an "odds and ends" storage container.


wide crate
Not bad for 45s either!
These two are from "Embassy Dairy" with the tag-line "A Protein Group Company" based out of Waldorf Maryland.  Want to call them and see if they have any more crates?   All you gotta do is zoom in to the phone number on the picture of the crate and see if they are still kicking it in 2013.

Wide Load Rating:
Strength: 8/10
Weight: 6/10
Record Wear: 5/10
Ease of Handling: 2/10
Amount of Records Held: 8/10
Overall Rating: 5/10 (Poor) 




The Steel Crate:

metal crate
This solid steel constructed crate with a plastic bottom crate is a pain
Just like the classic orange crate, the records don't fit in straight.  They need to be angled to fit in at all.  But at least the classic orange completely destroy your covers like this does with flipping of records.  Sure, it's strong, but it's heavy as hell and loaded with sharp edges.  There's about 30 dollars worth of scrap metal here that's basically what it's good for.

Steel Wire Rating:
Strength: 10/10
Weight: 2/10
Record Wear: 4/10
Ease of Handling: 4/10
Amount of Records Held: 5/10
Overall Rating: 5/10 (Very Poor)



The Wooden Crate (Fruit Crate): 

wooden crate
Stezo chilling in the wooden crate.

Sure it holds a lot of records, but try lifting it.


No brand names on this, so we're not sure if it's a real fruit crate or just handmade and sized the same.  It's got a cool factor, although it's pretty long it's hard to carry and even pick up.  The wood is fairly smooth, but it's still not the best on records edges for flipping through them.  As long as you have to store records you won't be moving for a long period of time this is fine, but I wouldn't even attempt to use it to carry my records from DJ gig to gig.


Wooden Crate Rating:
Strength: 7/10
Weight: 2/10
Record Wear: 6/10
Ease of Handling: 3/10
Amount of Records Held: 10/10
Overall Rating: 5/10 (Poor)




The Plastic Tub:

plastic tub for records
Another cheap Sterilite product

Not a crate technically, but in this case it was purchased to store records.  I guess "Sterilite" is death to covers because this one is just as shoddy as it's other cheap container the bad blue crate.  The sides are smooth, but the records sit on cheap plastic that cracks under no pressure at all.  Wade told me this broke immediately after filling it half way.  


The record edges were somehow stronger than the clear plastic, so it broke through damaging the record and the tub.  Carpet was added to try to get by but even that didn't help the integrity of the tub.  Out of all storage crates this tub is probably the absolute worst option.  Too big to be practical and too week to be filled.  Use this to store record magazines, NOT your records.  There are some tubs that are just fine for storing records but this isn't one of them.


By putting plush carpet in the bottom of these tubs that made it so they weren't completely  useless wastes of space, but even with carpet in them to protect the records, once filled you shouldn't even think of lifting it or the entire bottom will break right off leaving you a pile of damaged records on the floor.

Plastic Tub Rating:
Strength: 1/10
Weight: 8/10
Record Wear: 3/10
Ease of Handling: 3/10
Amount of Records Held: 8/10
Overall Rating: 4/10 (Worst) 






The Record Flight Case (Odyssey) 

DJ Travel Case Records
Bulletproof but heavy.
Another "Not a crate" crate, but this had to be included here because I'm pretty sure this thing literally is bulletproof.  Designed to be sealed closed and even locked for the traveling DJs of the world.  It's made with a heavy duty metal shell with a softer inner padding.  The padding could be improved since when it's not full records can flop back and forth easier, I usually just add a small piece of styrofoam in the front when I'm on the road so if they do fall they fall against that and not the metal lip.  Designed to hold 80 records comfortably its about as heavy as you'd want it to be.  Any bigger and it would be too heavy to carry with the one handed handle at the top.  The really nice thing about this is it protects your records on all sides including from sun damage and subsequent warping from hot days.  Rain and snow proof too! 



Lockable and Weather Proof.


Nowadays I keep all my Sesame Street and non-Sesame Street kids records in here as it's the perfect size for that small niche collection.
 
Odyssey Flight Case Rating:
Strength:
10/10
Weight: 7/10
Record Wear: 8/10
Ease of Handling: 8/10
Amount of Records Held: 8/10
Overall Rating: 8/10 (Best)




Summary:

To cap it all off, it's apparent that there are many varieties of crates out there.  So many we've never seen nor will we ever see since many of them are basically regionally produced milk crates.  They each have their own strengths, weaknesses, and quirks.  In real life scenarios many of the modern retail store sold crates just aren't cut out to hold your records.  Frankly quite a few of the old milk crates aren't much better on your record's covers and spines if misused. 

Crate digging as we know it will always be about the records and never about the crates, but the crates themselves will always be the unheralded symbol of our ongoing quest for our personal best, yet-to-be-discovered records.   



ADD ON!  GOT A GREAT CRATE NOT SHOWN HERE?

Submit it to us here, by posting a picture link in your comment.  If anti-spam settings won't allow you to post a picture link, post a written comment only and I'll make sure it get's shared here.  You can always join up and PM me at our forum the Cratedigging Cooperative or else you can find my email here


RELATED READING:  A Crate Digging Breakdown

NEED MORE RECORD STORAGE?  DIY Record Shelves Plans

1 comment:

  1. All I can say is this is the best article written about crates I have ever seen. Outstanding!

    ReplyDelete