How to Build an ATA Road Case

By Jeff O'Kelley

Things Needed

  • ACX-grade plywood - amount dependent on desired case size
  • Heavy-duty, aluminum ball corners -- 8
  • Heavy-duty, aluminum corner clamps -- 8
  • Recessed, heavy-duty, twist-catch locking assembly -- 1
  • Heavy-duty, aluminum, piano hinge -- 1
  • Tapered, aluminum edging -- amount dependent on desired case size
  • ABS plastic laminate -- amount dependent on desired case size
  • Recessed, spring-loaded, heavy-duty handles -- number dependent on design
  • Compression foam padding -- amount dependent on desired case size
  • Lid-restrictor strap (leather, metal or chain) -- cut to desired length
  • Aluminum rivets, 5/8" length, dome head, 3/16" diameter body, anodized finish -- approximately 100
  • Phillips head, wood screws, 1/2" length -- approximately 100
  • Spray adhesive
  • Razor knife
  • Rivet tool
  • Electric saw
  • Phillips head screwdriver
ATA Road Case Assembly Diagram

When transporting expensive or delicate equipment, a secure and rugged road case is often the best option. Road cases come in many different shapes, sizes and quality, and offer varying levels of safety. If you plan to ship your equipment on an airplane or require insured shipping, an ATA-rated case is the industry standard. The Airline Transport Association (ATA) publishes detailed specifications for the manufacture of cases and associated testing standards. This article will outline the steps necessary to construct an ATA road case.

Familiarize yourself with ATA Spec 300. These rules define the exact specifications for a shipping case that meets ATA "flight ready" standards. A link to the specifications is included in the reference section below.

Design your case to meet your equipment needs using a computer or a hand-drawn diagram. This design will help you purchase and configure the parts and materials necessary to build your case. For this article, we will outline the steps to build a simple, top-loading equipment case.

Purchase your materials according to your design and material list. Specialized hardware can be ordered from Internet retailers. There is a link to an online retailer in the reference section.

Cut plywood to sizes specified in your design layout. Use the plywood pieces to "dry fit" your design and verify that the sections fit as desired. Make any necessary adjustments before moving to the next step.

Cut tapered aluminum edging to fit all edges and corners of the case.

Using 1/2" wood screws, assemble the plywood pieces to construct the basic case and lid shapes. Verify that the case is square by measuring the length from corner to corner, diagonally. If the length of both diagonal measurements is the same, the case is square.

Apply the ABS plastic laminate. Roll out the laminate and measure to achieve the maximum amount of coverage with the least number of cuts. Cut the necessary sizes with the razor knife and secure to the outside of the case with spray adhesive.

Install the twist-lock clamp using aluminum rivets as shown in diagram.

Install spring-loaded handles using aluminum rivets as desired.

Using aluminum rivets, secure aluminum edging to all edges and corners of the case and lid.

Attach the ball corners to the outside corners of the case and lid using aluminum rivets.

Attach the corner clamps to the corners where the case and lid meet (see diagram).

Secure the piano hinge to the case and lid with aluminum rivets.

Attach the lid-restrictor strap with aluminum rivets.

Using spray adhesive, cut and attach compression foam padding to hold desired equipment.

Complete assembly by testing all parts and operation of the case.

Tip

Consider the weight of your case when choosing materials. Casters can be added to make transportation easier. Be sure to label your case before shipping.

Warning

Unless you are shipping very valuable merchandise, don't lock the case. Security may wish to inspect the contents, which may delay your shipment.

About the Author

Jeff O'Kelley is a professional photographer and writer, currently based in the Tampa, Florida area. His images and words have been featured by websites and publications such as CNN, Creative Loafing and Tampa Bay Times. O'Kelley holds associate degrees in telecommunications and website design from St. Petersburg College.