Building a Pochade Box

Pochade boxes are wonderful little tools for artists, especially for landscape artists. The box is a tiny, portable studio. Usually they are sized to use a 5x7 or 6x8 painting panel, and as well as the panel, they hold everything you need to paint: colors, palette, brushes, mediums, solvents. They are small, so that you can take them anywhere and paint unobtrusively. Most commercially availably boxes are quite expensive - from $250 to $300! But you can make a wonderful little box out of a cigar box. Here's a picture of one that I made recently.

Note the panel (tinted orange) that is held in the cigar-box cover, and the palette that also serves as a cover for the lower part of the box, where the paints and brushes are kept. Here's a picture of the same box with the palette removed.

So, how can you make one of these? Here's how. First, you'll have to visit your local tobacco shops - now more common since the cigar craze. I found mine at a liquor store that also sells cigars. The kind of box to look for is one with a recessed cover. Many have a flat cover, and are not as suitable for transforming into pochade boxes. The one used is a brand called "Te Amo". (Not bad having a pochade box that tells you it loves you, too...) The best size is the "Presidente" (named after the famous cigar-smoking, bearded Fidel, I'm told). The "Churchill" size is just slightly larger, Here's what it looks like.

Transforming the cigar box into a pochade box
  1. Upgrade the hardware.

  2.  All the cigar boxes I've seen - even from the priciest cigars - have cheapo hardware that falls apart almost immediately. So I replaced the hinges and added a new latch to the front. You can find these small hinges and latches in hobby and craft stores or in a good hardware store. Since the wood is fairly thin on these boxes, it's a good idea to drill holes first before placing the screws for the hinges and the latch.
  3. Make a panel holder

  4. This cigar box, like many others I've seen, has small fillets of wood that extend up from the lower part of the box into the cover. For this size box, the 5x7 panel fits the cover exactly horizontally, and these wood fillets keep the panel in place when the box is closed. To be sure that the panel doesn't move while I'm painting, I use some double-faced tape.
  5. Make a support for the cover.

  6. Since your painting panel will be resting in the cover of the box, you'll want some way to make the cover strong enough to hold in place while you are painting. I constructed a support with two small pieces of metal - also from the hardware store. Here's a diagram of what this looks like.

  7. Palette

  8. You will have to cut a palette to fit your box. Measure the inside of the box, and cut a piece of wood, or masonite, or plexiglass to fit. (For a box I made for acrylics, I had my local hardware store cut me a piece of acrylic. When the palette gets too loaded with paint, I let it sit in a tub of water for a while, and then the paint lifts off more easily.)
  9. Palette Support

  10. Your palette will have to have some support to keep it steady while you are painting, and also so that it will lie flat and cover the paints and other items in the lower part of the box. I used the same sort of lath that I use for nailed-on informal frames for paintings. This wood is 1 1/8 x 3/16, and I cut 2 lengths of it to fit the inside of the box. These pieces of lath are placed flat against the front and the back sides of the box, and form a thin shelf on which the palette rests. You can see the one in the back in the second picture; it's that white piece of wood at the back of the box.
  11. Palette Holder

  12. OK, now you have a box with a compartment and a palette, but if you used it as is, your palette would bounce around when you picked up the box, and would get paint all over your lovely painting. So, the next thing to do is to construct something to keep the palette in place when the box is closed. (This was the hardest part of figuring out this whole scheme!) I found exactly the right thing in the local hardware store - again. If you look at the two pictures, you'll see that there are little cubes of wood attached to the inside of the cover. These are cedar blocks that are actually sold as fresheners for bureau drawers, but it turned out they are exactly the right size that I needed for holding the palette in place. (Ain't life amazing??) I glued them to the box so that the 5x7 panel can nestle between them either in an upright or a horizontal position. When the box is closed, the palette is held in place from the bottom by the wood lath, and from the top by these wood blocks. So, voila! There it is!


Here's a list of the costs for these pieces: So, total cost is under $15.00. Only other expense was that I bought some short handled brushes to fit into the box.

Box for Carrying Wet Panels

Here's a box that will hold 10 5x7" panels. It will keeps the panels safe while they dry; they won't smudge each other, they won't get smudged by anything else, and they won't get paint on your clothes, your car, your dog... that expensive hotel room.

Here's the view from the top; you can see the grooves that hold the panels in place.

The box was made from a piece of 1/2" x 4" pine board, two pieces of plexiglass, two hinges and a latch. I first cut a 22" piece of board, and cut the grooves in it with a table saw. The grooves are about 3/8" deep. After the grooves were cut, I cut the board into two 11" lengths to form the two sides of the box. (Cutting the grooves before cutting the board into these two lengths ensures that the grooves line up on each side of the box.) After these boards are cut, you wil need to cut the pieces for the top and the bottom of the box. To figure out how long they should be, you can use a panel as a guide. Take the two cut sides and stand them up on end, on another piece of the 1/2" stock you used for the sides, with the grooved sides facing each other. Then place a panel between the two pieces, and position them so that the panel fits somewhat loosely between them. (Too snug a fit and you'll have to struggle to get the panels in and out of the box.) Once you've determined this distance, mark it on the board they are standing on. Cut two pieces that size, and you have the top and the bottom of your box. Attach the bottom with wire nails and glue.

You now have a U-shaped construction. The front and back of the box that I made are of plexiglass. I had this cut at the local hardware store. I chose plexiglass because it is lightweight, and because I liked the look of it, but you could also use thin wood. Measure the width and the height of your U-shaped box carefully, and then have two pieces of whatever you chose cut to this size. Attach it to the front and back with small screws, first drilling holes so that you don't split the wood or the plexiglass. I found it particularly easy to attach the plexiglass because I was able to see just where I was putting the pilot holes snd the screws - always troubling when you are attaching something to a thin edge of wood.

 After the front and back are attached, you can attach the cover with hinges on one end and a latch on the other. I also added a handle on the top (a drawer pull) to make the box easier to carry.