21 April 2008
Materials: 48 70mm aluminum, glass-topped watchmaker’s cases from Lee Valley. 48 3/8″ rare earth magnets from the same. Gorilla glue. Magnetic inkjet paper. Lots of inspiration from the internet.
Time: A weekend, mostly spent waiting for the glue to cure.
Cost: $60, including shipping.
As we prepare to move to another old, urban apartment, we’re faced with a dilemma: storage for our ever-growing spice collection. (This is a problem that we can largely blame on our local Penzeys.) Most racks don’t hold more than 20 containers and take up lots of countertop or cabinet real estate, or require actual installation on the back of pantry doors — all things that, as renters with small kitchens, we can’t do. Our current apartment has a little ledge above the sink that’s perfect for spice storage, but there’s no equivalent in our next place.
After some internet research, it seemed like a magnetic system would be the best for us: no matter how small our future kitchens, they will always have a refrigerator. And lots of people have embarked upon this project before. This article from the Washington Post has the right idea (though involves the extra steps of making a mount), and this Craftster thread is also really helpful. Here are another two posts about a similar system to our own, and Spice Rack 2.0 was useful as well.
I ended up buying 48 70mm glass-fronted aluminum watchmaker’s cases from Lee Valley, and 48 3/8″ x 1/10″ rare-earth magnets from the same. These magnetic storage tins look really neat, but were out of stock at the time that I did the project — boo. And they’re much more expensive elsewhere. On the plus side, the rare earth magnets that we bought do a great job of keeping the containers firmly on our fridge. Most of the time spent on this project involved waiting for the Gorilla Glue that we used to fix the magnet to each case to dry, and then waiting for all of the moisture to evaporate from the tins after I gave them all a good washing. Instead of affixing the tins with a sticker of some sort to identify their contents, I used a sheet of magnetic inkjet paper to print out the names of our spices (plus a few others that we frequently use, but happened to be out of.)
Here’s the finished product. So far, it seems to be working out quite well — for one thing, the 70mm tins are easy to scoop out of, and it’s simple to tell what we need to restock. I still have my eye on the other Kamenstein containers, but the watchmaker’s cases have a decent seal on them. Two of the magnets broke off our tins during washing, but if that becomes a problem I’ll just order some more rare earth magnets and stick them on the inside of the spice tins. And while light in the kitchen will no doubt age the spices faster, we can always put smaller amounts in the tins if necessary; besides, our old setup consisted of clear glass- and plastic-jarred spices immediately below a light, so I’m not convinced that it’s any worse. We have the extras stored in a box in the very top, closed cabinets in our kitchen, which ought to keep them fresh enough.
We also had some friends over later on the day when we put these up, and they were spontaneous and effusive in their praise. And you can’t impress your friends with very many other spice racks, now can you?
Addendum, added several months later:
A couple of follow-ups about this project: the watchmaker’s tins are holding up okay, but they’re not as airtight as I’d like. Were I to do this again, I might invest in more solid containers. Similarly, a couple of our magnets have popped off. In retrospect, I think the easiest thing to do would be to order twice the number of magnets needed, and simply fix the tins by putting one magnet on the inside bottom of the tin, and the other on the outside. (The rare earth magnets are tenacious enough to not consider shifting or coming off when you do this.)
Lastly, exposing your spices to direct light is of course a bad thing, but you could easily rig up some kind of mounting system to attach these tins to the inside of a pantry door. There again, they wouldn’t take up much space, but would be easily accessible and pretty.