Wargaming Tradecraft: Finding Cheap Army Containers


Finding Cheap Army Containers

I wrote this as part of Dethtron's Gaming on a Budget series over at House of Paincakes and didn't want to leave all y'all out.

Lets face it, wargaming is an expensive hobby. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not your friend - they just want you to play so there's someone they can beat or so they won't be the n00b at the local store anymore. To offset just how expensive this hobby is, there are corners you can cut - and I don't mean "cut" as in, did you know brake lines make good scale metal tubing? That would be highly inappropriate... cheap terrain is going to be another article.

If you're looking for a way to carry your models around that won't scratch them up, there's plenty of options besides dropping a ton of money on professional carrying cases. Most of this stuff you can get from around the house and often for free.

source: Bolters and Balsa
Egg Cartons give you about the right sizing for 6-12-18 models (depending on the size of your carton) because eggs are about the size of our minis. Monstrous Creatures can sometimes lay sideways and still fit.

Shoe boxes will fit Monstrous Creatures, vehicles or a bunch of loose models. You could make dividers for these out of cereal box cardboard though, so things don't rattle around - something that will chip paint and break glued joints. I wonder if shoe stores end up with empty boxes from people who want to wear their new shoes home?

These can all end up stacking on each other for storage or transport.

source: inetGiant
You can also buy plastic containers from hobby stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby. This starts getting less economical at $10-20 a container, but you might be able to buy them on sale and over a long period as your army grows. These have the advantage of being sturdier and can often be found with plastic dividers.

source: world of green
You'll want a larger box to put smaller containers into, making it easier to transport armies. Cardboard boxes come in all sorts of shapes and if you go into big box stores like Walmart, Staples, Future Shop, Best Buy, Target, etc, you might be able to ask for some for free. However, while moving, I've recently discovered a lot of these places have newer policies against giving away boxes - this could be store/regional policy, but I've instead had great luck getting boxes from smaller independently owned stores instead. (computer / electronic shops)

Boxes that are great for this are those big sturdy boxes that reams of paper are sold in. (Reams are those packs of 500 pages most people buy) Stores that sell the 500 packs individually have them shipped in the same large boxes they also sell, throwing out the empty boxes. Your parents work may also have extra boxes. Sometimes these will have holes on the sides as handles too.

source: Staples
Office supply stores also carry small storage bins for letter or legal sized paper filing. These might run you $10-20 or so, but they tend to go on sale often. Another benefit here is that they'll be much more rugged than a cardboard box and might have handles.

The Cadillac of low-end is probably the tackle (fishing) box. Yes, good quality ones go for $40-60, but there are always cheap ones around. Check garage sales, Kijiji, Craigs List, the local paper and other used sources and you can probably find a good deal. "Just an old tackle box" tends to get sold off cheap. If there's lures included, you can either keep them as bits, or haggle with the seller to exclude them and lower the price. Not as much room for vehicles and monstrous creatures, but usually some. If you can't find one used, this is the sort of thing that goes on sale quite often, especially on holidays like Fathers Day. Find a good deal on a tackle box, and it will be the last army case you ever need.

  • Fun fact, some tackle boxes can be fit into those long bag-like suitcases.
  • Fun fact #2, long bag-like suitcase handles are sometimes spaced so that you can put your arms through them and carry it on your back.
  • Fun fact #3, I have intimate memories from my childhood of bicycling 30 minutes in the blistering sun with a tackle box digging into my spine while it bounces around, scratching the minis within... ah the things we do to game.

The expensive option
source: Bell of Lost Souls
Next up, to protect your minis, you either want to line their containers with something or wrap them up. (Though wrapping and unwrapping an army takes a lot of extra time, and it means you can't see who's who)

Foam is usually best for this - However, for those of you not aware, foam is porous gold. It's great to line your containers with to protect your minis, but it can bankrupt you unless you have a mysterious source of cheap foam. (Which some people gain access to in weird and wonderful ways from time to time) For particularly important minis, you can use foam saved from blister packs.

Rather then dumping your savings into foam, line your containers with cheap options such as paper towel, Kleenex, toilet paper, etc. (Maybe your parents won't notice if you slowly build your collection over a week or so)

Here are some further tips from the community on cheap army containers:

  • Cheap Army Transport Trays from Menelker @ Dark Future Games
  • Cheap, Quality Army Case Video! from Old School @ Dark Future Games
  • From the comments at House of Paincakes
    • Dethtron suggests $10-20 pistol cases
    • Loquacious suggests duct tape + cardboard, video/camera bags, craft bags and reminds us Michaels and Hobby Lobby always have 40% or so coupons floating around.
  • A few people suggest KR Multicase, however this company just seems like any other case seller.
    • Their cheapest model is a $40 cardboard box with a handle - for the same price, you can get a hard plastic tacklebox brand new that'll actually protect your minis.


  1. I second Dethtron's recommendation of the pistol cases. One of these: http://www.amazon.com/Plano-Protector-Single-Pistol-Case/dp/B000P3WPHI

    I have 2 that I bought at Walmart for $10 each and I can fit my 2000 point Tau army in them. They're not as useful if you have a ton of tanks, but for infantry, they are great.

    Another source of foam is fabric stores. You can get thick foam for pretty cheap, but what I've done is buy a yard or two of the thin (1/4") foam and glued it into the bottom of the tackle box trays to better protect my infantry.

  2. Exactly, $40 is the absolute bottom line for the cheapest miniature cases that you can buy. With just a few hours work I got a solid plastic tool box case with 3 times the space of that cardboard case for a little less money and it even has extra compartments on top to carry my dice, tape measurer, etc. I ordered my foam from http://www.foamonline.com/ but you could also try http://www.foamorder.com/packing.html or https://www.foambymail.com/ or http://www.foamandupholstery.com/ or some of the other sources already mentioned in the article. The tutorial I used as a basic guideline can be found here http://forums.tauonline.org/hobby/63268-tutorial-how-make-foam-trays.html . A similar alternate tutorial can be found here http://www.frostreaver.net/forums/vbjournal.php?do=article&articleid=38 . The method used in this tutorial seems needlessly complicated to me, but there are lots of other good tips that can be combined with the methods used in the other tutorials http://www.dakkadakka.com/dakkaforum/posts/list/241220.page

    I tried posting this on HoP but their comment system lost everything but the first paragraph above. I'll try to re-create the important stuff over here and hope it sticks this time.

    When ordering foam online, the most expensive part is probably going to be the shipping. It can't really be avoided for such bulky packages so you may be better off buying locally if possible. If you can't find what you want/need locally, there are some ways you can save some money when buying online. Let's say for the sake of simplicity that you need foam for a 10x10 box and you want four trays. You could just buy 4 10x10 peces of foam but you should also check the price on a single 10x40 or 20x20 piece that you can cut yourself. You can likely save a little more money that way. No matter what you do, it's good to do the research and compare prices so you know you are getting the best deal possible.

    Back to the super cheap cases, there is one more tutorial that I found that shows you how to make a case out of empty boxes, bits of sprue, bubble wrap, and anything else that you have laying around. http://www.bolterandchainsword.com/index.php?showtopic=191375 I also came up with another cheap material that can be used as padding for your miniatures: old t-shirts or other cloth that you would have just thrown out anyway. Even better, some old sweat pants or shirts since they are nice and soft and fluffy. I almost never throw anything out without thinking about how I could use it for conversions, terrain, or a number of other things.

  3. I'd reccomend going to some local shops that repair/assemble computers - the electronic components come packed in neat flat cardboard boxes that are perfect for storing figures. Also many of those boxes have sheets of nice waved foam - you can lay down models in the valleys, then cover with another sheet of foam and lay down some more figures. I usually top this with several crumpled supermarket foil bags to keep things nice and tight. The cover of the boxes comes with locking flaps so it's well protected. Several boxes fits into typical sport bag.

    Apart from the medium cardboard boxes for graphic cards etc. there are also large flat cardboard boxes for motherboards. I use these extensively home - for storing entire armies (or several units at once, nice and safe on the waved foam sheet as above. They are like high standard hobby drawers. You can keep your army nice and safe and at the same time take it out to display it to your friend or just to dream of upcoming battles :P

    Just ask if they have some boxes they would like to get rid of. Say you are hobbyist modeler and most likely you'll get more than you can use :)

  4. This is another great tip. Those card / motherboard boxes get thrown out all the time and most computer shops would probably be a-ok with you taking their trash. If you can get the foam too, all the better.


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