165: Dialog Box Storage (Mark III)

About 52 weeks ago, I designed a new storage solution for some of the laser-cut products I sell online. That new drawer system provided more flexible storage than the previous jewelry boxes I’d repurposed, but it had a few caveats of its own that prevented me from expanding the system beyond the initial drawer. Up until recently, I used a combination of both to keep my dialog boxes kept organized and clean. It was kind of messy, but it worked well enough!

Initial testing of the thicker MDF piece, containing 64 grooves

A new arrival in our household meant that we’d be repurposing those plastic drawers in another room and replacing some of the office storage with a few more modern pieces. This would give me four whole drawers of an IKEA Alex storage cabinet to use for dialog box storage!


The previous design was very complicated for what it was, and that was mostly due to the depth of the plastic drawers. They were so deep that I needed to design a dual-layer shelf inside the drawer just to get the most use out of the space. With the new modern cabinet, the drawers were deep enough to house my largest pieces but shallow enough not to need a second layer. This would dramatically reduce the complexity of the design.

Another time-saver was realizing that I no longer needed the solution to be in a removeable tray form. Since the new cabinet was more accessible where it is in the office, I don’t need to remove large quantities of dialog boxes at a time, which means I can keep bulk down. In fact, this solution would be a single piece of grooved material.

The hardboard prototype didn’t cut very cleanly, but it was just a prototype anyway!

I created a panel, to be cut from hardwood, that would cover the entire bottom of one of the Alex drawers and fill the space with horizontal grooves that the dialog boxes could stand up in. I wanted to maximize the space, so I packed them tightly together, getting me about 80 grooves from front to back. I cut two little notches into the sides because I realized I’d need to be able to clear two screws that held the drawer together.


The prototype panel was cut from what I expected would be the final material: nice cheap hardwood. This proto helped determine a few different changes that needed to be made, one that would necessitate moving to a different material entirely!

The hardboard prototype flexed too easily between grooves, causing pieces to flop about a bit more than I liked

First, the grooves were too close together, which meant that the hardwood dividing them was thin and too flexible. Compounding this issue was the thickness of the material; at about 1/8″ thick there wasn’t much preventing that flexibility. I also made the piece just about 1/16″ too small compared to the footprint of the drawer, which meant that the notches cut for the screws weren’t even necessary. At least that was an easy fix!

I reduced the amount of grooves on the piece down to 64, and put together another smaller prototype out of black melamine-coated MDF. This material was a sliver over 1/4″ thick, almost too thick for the laser to process, so I wanted to make sure the cuts would be clean and the changed panel width would fit nicely (screw notches and all).

The screw notches provide ample clearance when installing and removing the grooved MDF


The finished MDF panel fits the drawer like a glove, and contains enough grooves to hold plenty of dialog boxes in multiple sizes. The smooth black finish pairs nicely with the modern white look of the rest of the cabinet. Most importantly, the flexibility has been reduced significantly thanks to the thicker material and wider spacing on the grooves, so dialog boxes won’t wobble as badly when moving things around. But there are some issues, too.

The first two rows of the drawer are very difficult to read. The pieces can be plucked out easily enough, but it’s very hard to see which quote is on which dialog box that close to the front of the drawer. I tend to sort these pieces in columns of four, though, so this issue is almost moot. I could resolve it by not cutting out the first two grooves, but I can also just elect not to use them if it becomes nuisance enough.

The top drawer contains three sizes of Earthbound dialog boxes, with the original storage boxes sitting atop the Alex storage unit

Of much more negative impact is the set of sixteen grooves at the back of the drawer that never come fully out of the drawer itself. When fully opened, the back sixteen are still covered by the top of the cabinet, which makes placing and removing dialog boxes back there very difficult, almost impossible if there are several to store. I might have avoided this issue by modifying the groove layout to include some vertical grooves that far back, but that solution wouldn’t work for the longest pieces. I considered just leaving that section of the panel blank, but I felt I could still use the grooves, just not to full capacity.

In the end, I’m left with 48 perfectly usable grooves and 18 grooves of questionable utility. Still plenty enough to fit one series of pieces per one drawer. In fact, thus far the space is organized well enough that I have two extra drawers for future expansion.

The first two grooves are difficult to read, but the extra storage space will still be useful

These aren’t the only new cabinets in the office, either. Once I’m done organizing these dialog box drawers, you can bet I’ll be designing some dividers for tool and sample drawers. In fact, some of that work is likely to end up right here!

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