Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pony Express: Packing, Shipping, and Moving Your Models


I’m in the middle of a move, so my plastic pony making time is considerably limited this week. There's also the back issues, which I'll post a summary of on Monday. However, I’m hoping to make lemons into lemon drops out of my current predicament. Today, I’m going to talk about my packing and shipping techniques.

Saddle and pad by Lauren Wood, bridle by Carrie Sloan Meyer

Traveling to Shows

Several years ago, I discovered these great trunks at The Container Store:


They were cheaper then ($29.99) but so was gasoline.


They're light, have wheels, and you can add a handle to the front with a coat hanger, a dog leash, and an adequate supply of patience.*


*Only a few of my boxes have these handles. I had a limited supply of one of these ingredients. I’m sure y’all can guess which one.

I’m big believer in pony pouches. The biggest advantage they have over something like bubble wrap is the amount of time saved packing. It may only take 30 seconds to wrap a horse in bubble wrap (as opposed to five seconds to put a pony in a pouch) and put him in your truck, but when you multiple the extra time across 50 models, you end up being that last person out of the show hall. You will not be the show holder’s favorite person if they have to wait on you to finish packing.

I’m usually the last person out of a hall anyway because I'm chatty and in love with the sound of my own voice. Show holders don't like being held up by me either.

My OF models go into their pouches and straight into the tub, but my customs travel in luxury:


I lined this trunk with a cut up foam mattress topper…thing. The egg crate looking things. The foam adds that little bit of extra padding for fragile ears and tails. I can’t pack nearly as many models as I could without foam, but I consider it a reasonable trade off in order to arrive at a show with a trunk full of uninjured ponies.

But the foam trunk is nothing compared to how some of my customs travel:


My Seattle Slew won’t fit in a traditional “gun case” because of his tail. He has his own super special box, which I only carry or stack horizontally. The definition of pampered pony.

The hole in the foam is for his tail.


Knock on wood, I’ve never had a model I’ve shipped break in the mail. I’ve had my packing described as “obsessive-compulsive and borderline psychotic” but they don’t break. I follow a few basic steps to assure safe travels for my models.

Step 1: Identify the Type of Model I Am Shipping

Fairly obvious, but I pack models differently based on what they are made of. Model horses fall along a spectrum from extremely durable to exceptionally fragile. Most Breyers, believe it or not, fall on the extremely durable side. This is doubly true of older plastic models, which were made with a tougher plastic than Breyer uses today. The other side of spectrum is ceramic models, which are not only fragile but very difficult to repair. The customs vary depending on how much resculpting they’ve had done. Drastics fall pretty close to chinas in this respect. Simple repaints are much closer to OF Breyers.

When I am shipping my customs or other fragile models, I try to ship them in slightly larger boxes with more supporting bubble wrap. You can get away with a smaller box for an older OF Breyer.

Picking Your Box

My general rule of thumb is I prefer ~3 inches of clearance between the model and the edge of the box. If I left less clearance, it introduces the possibility that the model could be smooshed from pressure on both sides of the box. If the model has nowhere to go, that means breaks.

My personal opinion is that most hobbyists re-use boxes too many times. Every time you ship a box, it breaks down a little more. By the third or fourth time you reuse a box, you might as well be shipping in a paper sack for the amount of protection the box would provide if it ended up under a large stack of heavy packages.

I double box my moderate and drastic traditional scale customs. A box inside a box increases size and weight, but it give the model one more layer of protection.

Packing Material

Don’t use shredded paper. Doesn’t do crap.

I wrap ears and tail tips with toilet paper, but I’m not sure it does as much as I’ve like to think it does. It just doesn’t have enough to it to provide substantial protection. I do make a point the fold an extra piece of bubble wrap and place it over the ears and tips of tails. I do this mostly to avoid an ear tip from fitting between the bubbles of a couple layers, thus being exposed to potential breakage.

I’m really not a big fan of packaging peanuts. They are fine in small spaces and if the model itself is wrapped in enough layers of bubble wrap. I think it’s fine for most OFs, but I don’t use as many when shipping customs and resins.

I actually prefer crumpled paper, especially the rigid kind. Carefully placing paper will prevent the model from shifting about in the box and potentially slamming itself on the walls of the box. Air bladders are meant to serve this purpose, but they are prone to pop or break during shipping, leaving you with flaccid plastic wrap.


Shipping tape only. My masking tape is used for sculpting, not keeping boxes together.

I also make a point to tape the top and bottom edges of the box:


This again stiffens up the box, providing more protection.

Shipping Companies

I am exceptionally indifferent to the different companies. UPS is usually cheaper, but I’ve gotten more than one accordion box via their service. I ship USPS out of its physical proximity to my apartment.


Unknown said...

What's been your experience with traveling on planes? Do you check them in, or carry-on? Does TSA flip out?

Laura Skillern said...

Eek planes. I do have a process, but I get so much anxiety flying with ponies under the plane that I wouldn't suggest it.

When I have check my models in the past, the ponies are first put in pony pouches, which in then wrapped in bubble wrap, and then put into my black trunks. I have a foam piece the fits just under the lid, too. It’s a mostly effective process, in that I’ve only had an average of one ear break pre-flight.

The TSA are the worst. They unwrap the models and then half-ass rewrap them. I had a Conn who scraped a hoof when a TSA agent slammed the lid down on it.

If anyone wonders why I’ve driven two Breyerfest twice from Seattle, this is why. I never broke a model driving cross country and I can take a lot more stuff.

Having said that, I’m flying this year so I’m planning to carry on a few models and ship the rest. I’m revising my carry-on process and I’m looking into the possibility of stiff foam for protection.

Unknown said...

How come I can't see any of the photos? It says update your account....