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Get Your Stuff There in One Piece

Take care when packing your precious gear for service and repair

It’s easy to throw equipment in a box and then send it off for repair or for use elsewhere. United Parcel Service and Federal Express have guidelines on how items should be packed to assure they arrive safely. Even if you insure a shipment, you may not be able to claim shipping damage if you did not do a good job packing in the first place. You need to do your part.

Fig. 1: A loose modulated oscillator.
Credit: Photos by Mark Persons Before you put equipment in a box, check to see if everything inside the equipment is secure.

An example is the modulated oscillator in an FM exciter. The oscillator module is often attached to rubber shock mounts. It is common to find the oscillator has broken loose from its mounts and is rattling around causing damage during shipment. Ouch!

Fig.1 shows how it goes wrong. Best to put foam rubber in to keep it secure. Tighten any screws on terminal strips, too. They can easily work their way out with vibration in shipping. This may seem like a small point, but it is a hassle when some are missing.

Each shipment is different, so there is no single answer. For starters, use a corrugated cardboard box. You should have 2 inches of packing material between the item and the inside of the shipping box. That usually means rolling the item in bubble wrap. To get 2 inches means multiple layers of bubble wrap, taped to keep it from unrolling. Since the box is likely to be wider than necessary, you can use packing peanuts, packing pillows, or even an old Radio World wrinkled up to fill the remaining space.

Figs. 2, 3 and 4 all illustrate items that were not packaged correctly.

Fig. 2: The handle on this FM exciter is bent …
Credit: Photos by Mark Persons Fig. 3: … as is the panel on this audio processor.
Credit: Photos by Mark Persons Fig. 4: Here’s an FM exciter in a 19-inch-wide box. That’s just asking for trouble.
Credit: Photos by Mark Persons


If the equipment you are shipping has a front panel that you want to protect from damage, you might use an extra piece of cardboard on that side of the shipping box to double the thickness. Cut another box apart using tin snips to get that extra cardboard. Repeat that for any other vulnerable sides, in case the box is stabbed or gashed during shipping. It only takes a few minutes to get it right and to prevent hours of haggle over an insurance claim.

Fig. 5: A MW-1 PA module is shown with packing peanuts.
Credit: Photos by Mark Persons If you are shipping an analog meter, put a wire across the meter terminals. This will “short” the meter movement so the needle is far less likely to swing wildly in transit. The more sensitive the meter movement, the more likely it is to be damaged in shipment. Remember, packages vibrate during every mile of transit by truck or airplane. The vibration is unavoidable.

Fig. 5 shows one of six Harris MW-1A PA modules received at our repair shop. Fortunately, this one arrived safely, but packing peanuts completely inundated it. Peanuts were not “inside” the module when it was packed, but vibration and movement in shipping forced peanuts into spaces that were difficult to reach. It took 20 minutes of billable shop time to clean six modules. That included partially disassembling two of them to extricate peanut fragments.

The client would likely be very angry if we returned the modules to him with the same peanut problem. You really need to think ahead when packing for shipment. Fig. 6 shows a module and another one wrapped for shipment.

Fig. 6: A module and another wrapped for shipment.
Credit: Photos by Mark Persons Don’t get me wrong — packing peanuts are a good choice. Wrap an object and put it in a box. Pour packing peanuts around to fill the gaps. Don’t close the box yet. Shake/bounce the box to get the peanuts to settle, then add more peanuts. This will lessen the chance of movement in the box.

Also, always include some contact information inside the box. A business card will do. Sometimes shipping labels are accidentally torn off packages. The only way the shipping company will know how to find the owner is by looking inside the box. Your expensive FM exciter could become “unclaimed freight”!

If you are shipping an item for repair, be sure to include a return shipping address, contact information for payment, and a description of the equipment problem, which will help the repair tech in his job. This is especially true if the equipment problem is intermittent. As we all know, intermittent problems rarely show up on a service bench. Give as much information as you can.

Remove any labels from the outside of the box, especially any bar codes, so today’s shipper won’t be confused about where the package goes. Use a heat gun to warm labels so the adhesive softens and lets go when you pull on a corner. If you absolutely cannot get a barcoded label off, then cover it with at least two layers of colored tape, preferably three layers, so it cannot be read. Remove or cover any labels that do not apply to this shipment. That especially applies to “hazardous materials” labels.

Do not use string or rope to hold a box closed. Several layers of 2-inch-wide packaging tape on all box seams appears to be the right approach. Flip the box over and check its bottom; it may need help there too.

When affixing a new label, do not put it on top of packing tape. Shippers want you to put the label on the box itself. Packing tape can tear off, along with any labels.

If you are tasked with measuring the dimensions and weighing the box before shipment, best to read high. For example, if the box is 18-1/4-inches long, you note it as being 19 inches long. If it weighs in at exactly 20 pounds on your scale, write it up as 21 pounds. Shippers often check packages and rewrite the charges. This could be a problem if you have already told the recipient what the shipping charge will be.

Knowing the facts will help you get the job done right.

Mark and his wife Paula have shipped more than 5,000 packages during 35+ years in business. Mark WØMH is a Certified Professional Broadcast Engineer by the Society of Broadcast Engineers. His website is