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.
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
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.
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
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
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!