Home > Woodworking > Wooden Beer Totes – Design Phase

Wooden Beer Totes – Design Phase

I love listening to pod-casts while on my daily commute and one thing I hear fairly often from brother Marc Spagnolo is that with each project woodworkers should consider challenging themselves by trying something new. For me darn near everything is new so this means getting better at the things I’ve tried before while incrementally adding new things. As a brewer and “beer ambassador” this idea of making a wooden six pack holder seems to be, well obvious. Looking around the web, I have seen many variations of the beer tote and some I like very much and others seem a bit utilitarian. In the spirit of challenging myself, I thought it time to design a tote of my own. If building projects in the shop taught me something about patience, designing the projects as I go has forged patience into my work habit. Perhaps a bit dramatic and overstated, I just wanted to convey that designing as you go can be time consuming and one shouldn’t be surprised if the project gets built a few times before the production run…..

First the logo

I’m still seeking a logo for “Turtlecove Brewing”. I have ideas about what I want but I’m not particularly good at free hand drawing so progress has been lingering. I have been seeking a freshwater turtle that can be (easily?) drawn in silhouette  such that it can be used as part of a logo AND inlaid in wooden projects such as a guitar head stocks, etc. Google Images has helped but I just wasn’t typing in the correct search criterion. Logo, tattoo and pictures didn’t yield what I was looking for but “silhouette turtle” was fruitful. One of the problems I have is I don’t want a cartoon and I’m not interested in sea turtles. There is a huge sea turtle following BTW, no problem finding something in that style.

I finally found something I liked on a lady’s back (of all places). I don’t think this is the end to this story but at least it is a beginning to it. This is what I came up with.


I brought the captured image in to Photoshop and spent a little time cleaning it up. The image is pretty complex and a bit tiny for inlay work but for this project, it will do.

I also had an idea about the Turtlecove signature so I went through all the fonts I had loaded on Photoshop and went to work. I landed on Segoe Print for “Turtlecove” and Segoe Script for “Brewing”. Both are arched but in separate layers.


Turtlecove Logo


Not bad, I think I can work with this…..


 Tote Design

To me, the key to making this design “my own” was going to be in shaping the sides. The most common and albeit easier to mass produce sides where simply angled at the top. I felt I needed to complicate things by coming up with a more interesting shape. My idea, I wanted the sides to be “bottle-shaped”. So again I looked to Google images in search of the right bottle. A wine bottle style was too narrow at the top to be practical and besides, this is a beer tote. Growlers are stocky but typically have roundish bottoms and again this wasn’t as practical to construct. I settled on a jug shape a bit of a cross between an old milk bottle and a carboy. Looking over perhaps a hundred shapes, I found one that liked. Captured it and in to Photoshop for “fixing”. Here is the result.




Again, I’m pretty happy with the idea.

Building a Prototype – Saturday

So this is where it gets interesting, I spent Saturday building a prototype which would also be used as the part templates for the production run. I knew it would take longer to design and build then to just build from a plan but I’d estimate it took me about 3 times longer. Not only that but instead of setting up and running all the parts through the process. I had to move from setup to setup basically to test and fit a single part. So this is not news to anyone with experience and it isn’t even shocking to me. It’s just that I figured by the end of the weekend I would have all my templates made and be ready to rock for next weekend. But this was not exactly what happened……

On Friday after work, I made a quick trip to the lumber yard to pick up some cypress. Cypress is local, wet resistant, fairly light and relatively inexpensive. I build my prototype out of cypress and in the end found it to be unsuitable for this project. Never-the-less I was able to work out the kinks during this first build.

IMG_6883 IMG_6890  IMG_6887

As it turns out, I was quit happy with the shape of the sides and I also liked the arched handle with through tenons. If you are planning on banging out of a lot of they bad boys, I would not recommend this design! Hand shaping the arched handle and hand chopped mortises are not convenient. If I really wanted a challenge I would also dove tail the sides to the bottom but I think for now I use screws and plug them. I do need to finish this project by the end of this year and I have already added many challenging new design elements to keep me busy.

What didn’t work on this prototype? The cypress was too soft and kept splitting on me. Both mortises have cracks at the top. I would also end up re-sawing thin stock for the sides and divider elements and not only would milling these pieces take time but the unpredictable thickness that resulted would make dadoes for the dividers a nightmare. I didn’t want to use plywood for the dividers, I felt it clashed with the cypress and I didn’t have a plywood bit for the router, etc.

Building Prototype Type 2 – Sunday

I never finished the build on Saturday but I almost did. I was hoping to have all the pieces cut and dry fitted by day’s end but this was not to happen. I did get all the pieces cut but alas, I realized the tote dimensions were too small. DOH!

First Susan noticed upon visiting that although my handle was curved, you would have to reach you fingers between the bottles to get a proper grasp. It was workable but certainly not optimal. I needed to make the sides taller. Next after milling and cutting the dividers I had a slight problem, the bottles in the center section didn’t fit. DOH! Forming the dividers from 1/8″ stock would have solved this problem but at this point, I was already committed to another prototype so I might as well make the tote longer as well. At this point I have opted not to make it wider and decided to stick with 1″x 6″ stock.

Sunday, I decided to go with pine. So armed with boards on hand and some new dimensions, I went back to the drawing board; and the miter saw and the band saw and table saw and spindle sander, etc..

IMG_6896 IMG_6900  IMG_6897

So by the end of the day I had most of Proto 2 cut.

Improvements include:

  • 1″ taller so easier to grasp handle and no split outs on the mortises
  • 1″ longer to accommodate stockier bottles
  • Pine is mostly free of knots and easier to work with
  • Really took my time on the mortises and they are the best I’ve ever chopped
  • I have a 3/8″ straight router bit so I can precisely cut the diver dado to fit the store bought stock (Yes!)
  • Can’t really see it but there are 45° bevels on the side pieces


  • I ran out of thin stock so I haven’t sized the center divider yet
  • I’m not through shaping the handle. I’d like to perfect it before using it as a template.
  • I need to sand the bottle sides, these are how they came off the band saw

To sum up the project, things are not going to happen as quickly as I first imaged however I do think that once I have a working model for templates, it won’t take nearly as long as I was beginning to fear. Many days to be sure. I’ll batch out ends and sides, then shape handles, then (ugh) mortises until …… well until it’s finished.

But what about the logo? The jury is out on this, I wish I had a branding iron……

You have been designing with the Turtlecovebrewer…

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