A Tale of Two Boxes

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Blog entry by Don posted 01-14-2007 05:44 AM 1762 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is an article I wrote for a club newsletter. The two boxes featured are also shown in My Projects. I thought that you might like to read some additional comments on their construction. For those of you not familiar with the metric system, I’ll let you do your own conversion.

This first box came about as a result of a friend’s invitation to his birthday bash and his comment, “How about one of those boxes you make?”

So here it is – nothing too special. But it’s the first box I’ve made with totally hand cut dovetails – no jigs, no band-saw, just chisel, mallet, and Lie Nielsen Dovetail saw. I’m pleased with the results.

The dimensions are: 9mm x 132mm x 82mm.

The primary wood is from a hunk of re-cycled River Gum bench-top given to me by friend. The tray frame is Blackwood, the contrasting mitered trim on the bottom side of the lid is Tassie Oak, and the burl veneer is Amboyna. Oh yes, the lid tab is Ebony with a dovetailed shape mortised into the lid.

Cutting the mortise for the Brusso Lid Support was a real challenge. The walls of the box are 10mm thick. The support is 8mm thick. This requires a very delicate mortise. When cutting out the mortise with a chisel, I had to reinforce the sides of the wood by placing it deep in my bench vise to stop the 1mm sides from breaking through. (Next time I will know better and use wood that is at least 12mm thick.) Before I encountered this challenge, I reasoned that 10mm thick wood would reduce some of the weight of the River Gum.

The hardware is from Lee Valley; the box is lined with black velvet. The small knob of the tray, repeats the design feature of the lid tab. It makes removing the tray possible as the fit is so close, air pressure forms a vacuum.

By the way – as my friend is male – my design is intentionally masculine.

The second box is inspired by one that is shown in Taunton’s Complete Illustrated
Guide to Box Making, by Doug Stowe, page 97. There are no drawings or dimensions given in this publication, so this is my interpretation.

I continue on my quest to make perfect hand made dovetails, but I’m not there yet. The ones in the top four corners are mitered dovetails, a first for me, and a little trickier than standard through dovetails.

I cut the top away on the table saw after joining up the four sides. Each of the three drawers and the top shelf have slightly different divider configurations to accommodate a variety of jewelry items.

I find the secret to good looking dividers is choosing the right wood. I like to use something in the white color range and with very straight grain. I don’t think there is any point in using a wood with a complex grain or that is the same colors as the primary wood. If the box has an interesting grain, I don’t want the dividers to compete with this. They should be simple, plain and dead accurate in terms of their angles, and joinery. Otherwise, they detract from the main game.

The drawer dividers are removable so that the felt liners may be removed for cleaning or replacement. The Ebony handles are press fit into mortises (no glue). I hope they hold. The dimensions of the box are: Width 325 x Depth 200 x Height 180mm (not including the base). The wood is 15mm thick which resolves the problem of the mortise for the lid support.

The primary wood is nicely figured Queensland Maple (Flindersia Breyleyana). The dividers and drawer sides are European Beech with Solomon Island Ebony drawer handles (Ebenaceae, Magnoliophyta, order Ebenales, class Magnoliopsida). The grain of the Maple runs continuously around the box, but this is not that noticeable when interrupted by the drawers and dovetails. The 10mm Concealed Barrel Hinges and Brusso Lid Support are from Lee Valley.

The finish is four coats of MinWax Wipe-On Poly with a light steel-wool buff between coats. Great stuff!

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

8 comments so far

View Karson's profile (online now)


35121 posts in 4401 days

#1 posted 01-14-2007 06:54 AM

Very nice work Don.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4237 days

#2 posted 01-14-2007 07:07 AM

You need to create a website so you can sell these boxes. Your talent is extraordinary, and you could be known world-wide. The “Sam Maloof” of boxes. A Galery to show what you have for sale would be great. Can I help in any way?

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3648 posts in 4327 days

#3 posted 01-14-2007 07:16 AM

Fantastic stuff. Great job, and what a challenge to do one totally by hand.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4177 days

#4 posted 01-14-2007 07:45 AM

Thanks, Mates!

Michael, you embarrass me. I’m not even worthy to hold Sam Maloof’s tools.

I appreciate your offer of assistance, but will have to gratefully decline. The lord was good to me during my working career, allowing me to earn a very good income as a senior executive. Because my dear wife and I always lived conservatively in terms of expenses, we now enjoy a very good standard of living with a retirement income that is more than we need.

My years in business leadership brought me great satisfaction, but when I retired, I decided to leave the entrepreneurial life behind.

For me, working wood is its own end. I love it and do it at my leisure. I would be loath to introduce any monetary factor into the equation. I receive sufficient affirmation from the recipients of my woodworking creations. I’m afraid moving from a recreational worker of wood to a commercial craftsman might change all this.

Thanks for your kind words – you’ve more than made my day!

God bless

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4237 days

#5 posted 01-14-2007 08:44 AM

O.K. Then you can send me a box to:
Obiwan The Monk
501 Mt Everest Ct
Modesto, Ca 95358
Any box. I just want to study it. And if you could make it with wooden hinges, I could learn even more.
To own a masterpiece like your boxes is like owning a Rembrandt
I dont have the time to blow smoke up your …. well you know, but your boxes are masterpieces.
It would be like owning a Maloof Rocker in the early years

Anything like ”
I’ll even send you money and I dont normally buy lumberjocks stuff, i study them and make my own, but your boxes are one-of-a-kinds

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18615 posts in 4161 days

#6 posted 01-14-2007 12:49 PM

indeed beautiful.
and all I want to do is “make a box”.

I loved the matching handle on the inside and what a brilliant idea to make the dividers removable so that the cloth could be changed.
Thank you for the inspiration

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 4237 days

#7 posted 01-14-2007 03:30 PM

My first box was dovetailed out of curly maple, and it had all the potential, but it didn’t look nearly as nice as Don’s do. Oh, I guess it means I get to practice and practice and practice.

Now I get it, it’s because mine didn’t have the wooden hinges

O.K. After looking at the pictures… I can make that kind of hinge

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4177 days

#8 posted 01-14-2007 11:39 PM

Michael, the hinges are not hard to make. They are essentially box joints also known as finger joints. I’ve shown two different kinds of wooden hinges in My Projects. Hinge #1 Hinge #2

The first is the simplest of the two. It can be made on the tablesaw, or with a router table. If you don’t already have a simple box joint jig, do a Google search and you will find many on the net.

The second, also a box joint, was made using an Incra Hinge Crafter. Look here for complete step-by-step instructions. My only caution here is that it’s unlikely that this procedure can be adapted to home-built jigs. It really requires the accuracy that the Incra System can provide.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

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