Read these 20 General Shipping/Packing Details Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Shipping tips and hundreds of other topics.
If you are packing fragile pieces for shipment, remember the post office rule: "If you can shake it, we can break it." The following procedure takes time but creates an almost foolproof layer of protection around your valuable items:
-- Wrap the piece in small-bubble wrap. (If it is painted, wrap it in a layer of kraft paper first to protect the finish.)
-- Follow with a layer of large-bubble wrap. You can combine like items, such as bowls, at this stage.
-- Wrap the resulting parcel several times in stretch film, going in at least two different directions.
-- Choose a sturdy box with at least two inches of room on each side of your wrapped parcel. Tape the box bottom with two layers of tape.
-- Fill the bottom with a layer of packing peanuts. Put your wrapped parcel on top, then fill with peanuts from the top. Use only enough peanuts to fill the space -- if you have to push down to get the box shut, remove some peanuts rather than put internal pressure on the box.
-- Seal it with two layers of tape. Label it "Fragile" on more than one side.
Furniture shipping can be costly and time consuming, but most professional shippers know the best practices to transport odd shaped and modern pieces. Most inexpensive modern furniture is made from particleboard rather than wood, and is made to be "flat-packed" in a disassembled state. (Indeed, such pieces have a distressing tendency to fall apart when shipped assembled.)
Antiques, however, were most often made to be put in one place and kept there. This means that moving or shipping them presents special challenges. A piece that looks solid and well-built may be of sufficient age that it is vulnerable to damage when moved.
In most cases, unless you are very experienced in such matters, you will find it safer to hire a professional with expertise in antiques to handle your furniture shipping.
A box is a box is a box, right? Not necessarily. Using the right box can make a big difference in the ease of packing and unpacking, and in the safety of the items being shipped.
For household moves, wardrobe boxes -- which have a bar inside on which clothes can be hung, closet-style -- can be very convenient. The structure of the box is meant to support the bar, so be sure not to overload the bottom of the box with shoes or heavy items.
Mirror boxes, available at truck rental facilities, can also be used for paintings, while super-sturdy boxes are available for large or heavy shipments.
While many boxes can be reused, avoid shipping in boxes that have been used for liquids. Any spillage in transit will have weakened the box. Be sure to use a permanent marker to hide any bar codes on the box, to avoid confusion in transit.
Before you move a large appliance, be sure to measure and remeasure the appliance and the space to be sure it will fit. Also, measure any doorways through which it will need to pass on its way to its destination. Finally, make sure there is a properly grounded electrical outlet which matches the fittings on the appliance.
Appliances should be well crated before shipping. Be especially careful of glass cooktops. In many cases, it may be preferable to have a professional move and ship such items.
When working with a freight shipper on a large-appliance move, be sure you understand how far they will transport the appliance -- will they leave it on the sidewalk for your mom to wrestle into the house by herself, or will they bring it in and set it up?
Do not allow delivery teams to uncrate and set up appliances without being there yourself. If the appliance appears damaged, refuse the shipment and insist on returning it for an undamaged one.
More people are shipping antiques than ever before, mostly because of Internet auction and sales sites that have revolutionized the antiques and collectibles trade.
Naturally, no one wants to receive an antique item that has been broken, scratched, or otherwise damaged during shipping.
A few tips to get started:
-- If you're not sure whether it needs another layer of bubble wrap, it does.
-- Be sure your box is sturdy. Many parcel shippers provide free boxes in popular sizes. If you must reuse a box, be sure it did not originally contain liquor, beer, or corrosive liquids, all of which are illegal to mail. You might get your box returned to you!
-- If you smoke, do not store your shipping supplies in a room where tobacco is used. Some people are sensitive to the smell and may even reject an item that smells like smoke.
It's a bad idea to just get some friends and a pickup truck and try to move the pool table. Doing this risks cracking the slate and popping the table joints. Hiring a professional to crate and move the table may be the best way to go.
If you are experienced at dealing with furniture, have several people with strong, healthy backs, and have access to a truck that can carry at least 1,000 pounds, then it may be worth trying to move it yourself. First, measure both the table and its intended destination to be sure it will fit. Take all normal safety precautions, such as wearing a support belt, when lifting the heavy pieces.
Disassemble the table carefully, marking each piece so that you know exactly where it will go. First, remove the bolts that hold the rails in place, then remove the pockets. Use an electric drill with a screwdriver bit to remove the slate. Transport the slate vertically, not horizontally. If necessary, remove the legs.
Once your table is at its destination, if at all possible, hire a pro to level and square it off so it provides the best possible playing surface.
Most shippers offer some form of insurance, but you may feel more comfortable with those that also offer tracking numbers and some guarantee of reimbursement for lost items. However, carriers tend to set low limits on their own liability.
If you are shipping a large quantity of valuable goods, you may wish to purchase separate shipping insurance. Look for a company that offers "primary" rather than "contingent" insurance -- the latter covers you only if your carrier denies the claim, which could leave you with inadequate protection.
A number of companies now exist to insure shipments made as part of online businesses. Be sure to compare a variety of quotes, check out company reputations, and investigate whether your shipments could be covered as part of your regular business or homeowner's insurance.
Most cameras can be shipped with no more than the same care you would give to any valuable device. However, antique or fine photographic equipment demands extra attention.
When shipping a modern camera, remove the batteries and memory card before packing. Seal the camera in a plastic bag to keep dust and packing material from coming into contact with lenses.
If you are shipping your camera to be repaired, many companies ask that you obtain an authorization number by phone or e-mail before shipping a product back to them. Be sure to include your address, phone number, and a complete description of the problem.
Sometimes, you may need to ship a work of art that has significant importance, size, or value. If you don't trust such a work to your standard shipping methods, it may be worth hiring a company that specializes in shipping art.
Get several quotes for this work -- it is expensive enough to merit shopping around, but the lowest price may not provide the best protection for your art. An experienced art shipper will be able to answer all your questions about crating, packing, climate control, and communication during transit.
It may be especially useful to consider an agent for shipping art internationally. A reputable art shipping company will be able to meet other countries' requirements for customs, crating, and paperwork.
If you're embarking on a venture that will involve frequent shipments, it's a good idea to set up an account with the company or companies you use most often. Some companies will give you a discount simply for setting up an account; others will give you access to free supplies.
Try to go to the same office or counter each time, and build a friendly relationship with the clerks. Don't waste their time; have your shipment ready to go when you get there.
Save yourself time by printing professional labels (or, more frugally, buying a self-inking stamp) with your return address information. Also, include a business card or receipt with your name and address inside each package in case the label is damaged.
Don't skimp on tape. A continuous wrap around the package provides a substantial reinforcement for minimal cost.
If you have an account with the U.S. Post Office, UPS, Fedex, or many other popular shipping companies, you can use the shipper's Web site to print bar-coded shipping labels on your own computer, saving you time and trouble at the shipping counter. You can buy special label stock for printing, or simply print the label on regular paper. Tape paper labels down well with clear tape, to prevent moisture from obscuring your information. For extra protection, include a copy of the label inside the package.
If you're hand-writing a label, use a large, dark marker, and write in large, clear letters.
Use caution in listing the specific contents of boxes. Most shipping company employees are honest, but if your package says "Joe, here's the digital camera I bought you" it may provide too much temptation.
Crating is the most expensive way to transport a piece of art or furniture, but also the safest. Many art and antiques shippers will take care of crating your pieces for you, but if you are confident in your handiwork you can do this yourself and save some money.
First, wrap the piece well in a shock-absorbent material. Bubble wrap may be sufficient, or you may prefer blankets -- not the kind on your bed, but special oversized quilts which provide cushioning for large items in transit. You can get these at truck rental companies or from any vendor of moving supplies. (Note: Keep bubble wrap away from painted surfaces with a layer of paper or cloth.)
For extra protection, use heavy-duty stretch film to hold the shock absorbers in place around the item.
In most cases, you don't need to build a solid wood crate. Instead, build a frame of 1/4-inch wood or strandboard (OSB) with an open top and line it with a solid cardboard box. Line the box with solid 1/2-inch polystyrene foam (you can buy this and cut it to size for each side of the box). Add a layer of packing peanuts, place your item inside, and fill with peanuts. Top with a layer of polystyrene foam, then a layer of cardboard, both taped into place. Finally, construct the top of the crate and nail it into place.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, hire a professional packing company to do the work for you.
You found the perfect gown in Chicago, but you're getting married in your hometown in Arkansas. What to do? Fortunately, most salons will ship gowns to out-of-town locations, using a special padded garment bag stuffed with tissue and cardboard.
While this service is much more reliable than trying to pack the gown yourself, it can still result in unwanted creases. Allow a little extra time, and about $100, to have your outfit professionally pressed in the location where you're going to wear it.
If you're shipping vintage or other delicate clothing, be sure it is clean and lint-free before it gets packed. If it needs ironing, give it some time to air out to let any residual moisture dry out before packing.
Be sure to use a waterproof box (many vintage clothing dealers prefer Tyvek boxes), as a wet box can cause inks on the label to run and damage clothing. For maximum protection, particularly for items which are to be stored, obtain an archival box and pack the garment in acid-free tissue paper.
If you collect small objects -- stamps, coins, sports cards, etc. -- sooner or later you will face the question of moving your collection.
One useful invention is the Riker case, first used by butterfly collectors in decades past. These flat cases have protective material inside, and glass in the lid. They are particularly effective if you wish to display small or flat items after transporting them, but have the disadvantage of needing to be packed carefully to protect the glass.
"Top loaders" are clear plastic sleeves of varying sizes which can be used to protect individual items. Small numbers of top loaders can be wrapped in bubble wrap and shipped in a padded envelope.
For larger shipments, try to find a box that most closely matches the size and shape of the packed shipment. For extra protection, place this inside a larger box with filler in between the two layers.
Hiring a professional to pack and crate your antiques is a considerable expense, but worth it in some cases.
The first consideration, of course, is the value of the item. Professional packers are advisable for antiques that are worth a great deal of money, but also for ones that have a great deal of sentimental value. Take a moment to picture the worst. If you would be devastated to get a scratch on Great-Aunt Jane's rolltop desk or the Buddha statue your parents brought from China, then hire a pro.
Second, think about how fragile your antiques really are. Your ancient Roman coins may be valuable, but they're not that easy to damage, and you may be OK packing them carefully yourself. On the other hand, that 1960 purple Stratocaster guitar could get damaged in any number of ways. Call a professional to get it there intact.
Very valuable paintings should be shipped by a professional art moving company, but a great many works, however beloved by their owners, do not require the white-glove treatment. Fortunately, there are less expensive options available.
If possible, ship paintings unstretched and unframed, to provide the maximum protection against damage. Instead, roll the canvas around a sturdy cardboard tube, paint side in, then wrap it in bubble wrap, then encase the whole in a second, larger tube.
If this is not possible -- for instance, in the case of paintings on board -- you may be able to use a "mirror box" available from most moving-supply stores. Pad this with corrugated cardboard or bubble wrap. Another inexpensive solution comes from the Airfloat company, which makes boxes with foam layers that can be easily customized to the exact size of your framed art and a protective layer that can be placed on glass to prevent damage from breakage.
When you uncrate or unpack a painting, save the crate or packing material in case you need to ship it again.
The easiest way to save money on shipping is to plan ahead. If you don't need it there right away, you don't need to pay extra for rush shipments or special handling.
The first pound of any shipment is the most expensive. Whenever possible, consolidate multiple items into larger boxes to save more.
Many shipping companies, including the U.S. Post Office, offer some supplies for free. Good boxes can often be obtained free from local businesses (be careful to avoid boxes used for alcoholic beverages or hazardous substances).
Instead of buying packing peanuts, crumple up plastic grocery bags or inflate zip-closing freezer bags to fill in spaces around your items.
First, place loose or small parts in plastic bags, seal them, and (this is the important part) label the bags clearly. If possible, remove any breakable parts (for instance, vacuum tubes in an antique radio) and wrap them separately. Bundle the cords with rubber band or twist-ties and label them if needed.
If your piece has a large amount of empty space inside the chassis (as, for instance, in an older television set), LOOSELY fill this space with bubble wrap.
Cut a piece of bubble wrap to fit over any glass screen, and tape it in place before wrapping the entire piece in several layers of bubble wrap. When you're done, you may want to label the top of the piece unless this is obvious. Pack as you would any fragile shipment.
For those who enjoy selling products online, drop shippers sound like an ideal solution. They stock and ship your products, and you do the selling and order-taking.
Unfortunately, fake drop-shipping companies are an all-too-common scam. They take would-be retailers' money (in "membership" or "setup" fees) and then place orders with real drop shippers or distributors. Because these middlemen take a cut of the revenue without performing any actual service, their clients find they have to charge higher-than-market prices.
Beware of companies that offer to set up your Web site with products chosen by them (YOU should be in charge of choosing products that will sell), and of any drop shipper that wants you to pay a fee up front.
When checking out a potential drop shipper for your business, make some inquiries. Will you have a tracking number for every shipment? Are there any complaints against the shipper on file with the local Better Business Bureau? How long will it take them to ship your items to your customers?
To protect yourself, you may wish to use more than one dropshipper and compare prices and delivery times. Order a couple of products from each shipper yourself to test their promises.
If you are shipping art to another person or institution -- for instance, to a museum, gallery, or private buyer -- begin by clarifying responsibilities with the person on the other end. Are they willing, for example, to travel to a warehouse to pick up the item, or will you or your shipping agent need to transport it to the door?
Depending on the value and rarity of your art, you may find it useful to employ an art shipping agent. There are many companies offering this service, from basic crating and packing to full "white glove" treatment with satellite communications and security personnel. Obtain a range of quotes before making your choice.
If you choose to transport your art yourself, be very sure you are aware of all customs and documentation requirements for bring art into your destination country. Failing to follow these can result in your artwork being delayed or seized at the port of entry, or even losing your privilege of importing art into the country.