Low-maintenance mailbox overview: Materials, cost and design
Last winter, my teenage son ran over our mailbox. He blamed it on an
antilock-brakes malfunction. It wasn’t a huge loss, however; the
destroyed mailbox had been looking pretty shabby. And since painting
and staining are not my favorite things to do, I took the opportunity to
build a low-maintenance mailbox.
I found all the materials I needed at my nearest home center. The
PVC post sleeves can be a little tricky to work with, but PVC boards
are easy to cut and fasten with regular woodworking tools. PVC
doesn’t tear out, split or splinter.
The whole project cost under $120. Building it took about four hours,
which included shopping but not digging the post hole—I made my
son do that.
Start with a trip to the post office
Don’t assume the dimensions I used will work for you. The
height, distance from the curb and newspaper box requirements
may be different in your area. The dimensions for this
low-maintenance mailbox are based on a pamphlet I picked up at my local post office.
The USPS recommends that a post be buried no more than 24 in. It’s safer if the post gives way if someone runs into it.
Completed low-maintenance mailbox
An Old Time Mailbox Design With Modern Low-Maintenance Materials
PVC is great to work with because it’s consistent
and forgiving. It’s easy to sand and shape. It cuts
without tearing. You can screw right next to the
edge without splitting it, and once two boards are
cemented together, they literally become one.
And best of all, PVC will never require paint or
stain, making a low-maintenance mailbox that’ll last a long time.
Step 1: Cut out the parts
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Photo 1: Cut the side curves
A dull blade actually works better than a sharp blade, which
tends to grab and shake the PVC as it cuts. Cut one side of the
news paper box, then use it as a template to mark the other side.
A 6-ft. fence post sleeve leaves virtually no extra length for cutting
mistakes. Start your 45-degree cut as close to the end as
possible; a 20-in. angle bracket will leave you a 52-in. post
sleeve. Cut into the sleeve slowly; thinner plastic can shatter if
you cut too aggressively, especially when it’s cold. After cutting
the angle bracket sleeve, use it as a template to mark the wood
angle bracket. Once again, start your cut as close to the end as
possible. An 8-ft. post with 20 in. cut off will leave you with 2 ft.
of post to bury in the ground.
The two newspaper box sides (J) only need to be cut to
length, but don’t assume the factory ends are square—they’re
usually not. Trim just as much as necessary to make a true
90-degree end. After cutting the top (H) and bottom (G) to
length, you’ll need to cut them to width. Start by removing
1/4 in. from one side of each board to remove the rounded
edges. The leftover scrap from the top should be about 1-1/8
in. wide. Save that piece to make the mailbox base.
I used the lid of a 1-gallon ice cream container as a template
to mark the curves on the sides. But any circle with an
8- to 9-in. diameter will work (Figure B). Once all the curves
are cut, clamp the two sides together and sand the curves
smooth so the pieces are identical.
The mailbox we used required a 17-1/2-in. x 6-1/8-in. base.
Your mailbox might be different. The total length of the base is
not the same as the length of the mailbox—it has to be about
1 in. shorter to allow the door to open. Cement the scraps (E
and F) together to form a base board that fits your mailbox.
I cut kerfs in the bottom of the newspaper box (G) to allow
water to drain. Set your table saw blade at a height of 1/4
in. and set your fence 1/2 in. from the blade. Run the
board through, then flip it around and do the
same on the other side. Then run both sides of
the board through at 1 in. and then again at 1-1/2
in. The middle kerf should be centered at 2 in., but
you may want to double-check and line the last kerf
up manually. I practiced on a sacrificial board.
Figure B: Newspaper box sides
Low-Maintenance Mailbox Details
You can download and enlarge Figure A and Figure B in “Additional Information” below. You’ll also find a complete Cutting List and Materials List in “Additional Information.”
Step 2: Assemble the newspaper box
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Photo 2: Assemble the box, bottom side up
Dry-fit the entire newspaper box before you apply any
cement. Cut a couple of 4-in. blocks to hold the bottom (G)
at the right height. Tape along the joints to catch excess
cement. Work fast—the cement won’t wait.
Use PVC-vinyl-fence cement to assemble the newspaper box.
The cement is a little runny, so be prepared to wipe off the
excess after clamping.
Clamp the box together, bottom side
up. Hold both the top (H) and the
bottom (G) out flush with the curves
on the front of the sides (J), as shown
in photo 2. The bottom is shorter than
the top at the back of the box. This gap
allows water to escape.
Step 3: Put it all together
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Photo 3: Screw on the wood angle bracket
Most post sleeves aren't perfectly square, but slightly
rectangular with one side a hair wider than the other. Attach
the bracket to the narrow side. The newspaper box will slide
on easier that way.
2 of 3
Photo 4: Fasten the newspaper box
Bore two 3/4-in. access holes in the top of the box. You
will need a magnetic bit holder at least 4 in. long to reach
the screws that attach the box to the angle bracket.
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Photo 5: Mount the mailbox
Leave a gap under the mailbox
door so it can open without binding
against the base (E). Hinged screw
covers snap shut and hide the screw
heads for a clean look.
If your 4x4 post is twisted on one end,
use the straight portion above ground.
Slide the PVC sleeve over the post,
leaving it flush at the top. Attach the
wood angle bracket. Slide on the angle
bracket sleeve (photo 3).
Once the newspaper box is in place,
clamp a framing square onto the post
to ensure a true 90 degrees (photo 4).
Don’t worry about splitting the small
areas between the kerfs—PVC is much
more forgiving than wood.
Screw the mailbox base to the newspaper
box flush with the front edge of
the box. Use your 1-5/8-in. screws, and
be sure to screw down into the sides or
your screws will poke through into the
box. Attach the mailbox to the base.
Slide it all the way forward to allow
room for the door to open (photo 5).
Apply the cement to the cap, not the
post—it’s less messy. I used a pretty
basic fence post cap, but feel free to
decorate your post with a fancier cap,
maybe one with a built-in solar light.
There will be a little play in the vinyl
angle bracket sleeve. Use a putty knife
to slip a bit of cement underneath each
end of the sleeve in order to seal it to
the newspaper box and post. Caulk
both sides of the angle bracket with
white exterior-grade caulk. Silicone is
the easiest to work with. You’re done!