Making a Small Wooden Box #3: Lid and Trays

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Blog entry by Don posted 2557 days ago 28606 reads 6 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Spline Jig Part 3 of Making a Small Wooden Box series Part 4: It's the Small Details that Matter »

This past week has been less productive than I would have liked. I’ve been struggling with a flue, thus operating at less than full capacity.

I worked in the shop last Wednesday, and took some pictures showing the installation of the splines in the spline slots shown in my previous episode of Making a Small Wooden Box. Unfortunately, my photo card was corrupted, so I lost all of those pictures.

Today, I will show you the continuation of making the lid and a start on one of the trays.

David has done a great job of showing veneering, so I don’t plan to go into any details on that here. This picture shows my lid panel ‘sandwich’ being glued up in my manual vacuum press. If you look very closely, you will see two cauls that make up the ‘bread’ of the sandwich, in between which is a layer of veneer, 3mm MDF and another layer of veneer. I left the sandwich in the press overnight.

Now I move on to the tray components. I plan to install fixed dividers in the bottom layer of the box interior. The dividers will serve as the shelf to hold two smaller trays in the top layer. I’ve chosen American Maple with a slight ‘bird’s eye’ affect. The trays will be lined with velvet and one or two compartments will feature ring holders. (Pictures of these in a few more episodes.)

Below are the tray-sides cut ready for additional milling. The saw blade has left some burns, but these will be removed during sanding.

The next two close-ups show one of the ways I use the Grrr-Ripper. I commented in Dick's blog about this tool that I find invaluable for milling small box pieces. The first picture shows the tray side being passed by a round-over bit on my router table and the second shows me cutting a rebate for the tray bottom on the tablesaw. I can’t think of a safer way to do this. You might note that the piece is ‘trapped’ between the fence of the router table and the bottom ‘stabilizer plate’ of the Gripper. It can’t go anywhere. Also, the side of the gripper is registered against the Router Table Fence, not the work-piece. This prevents ‘snipe’ from occurring which is the bane of milling small pieces on the Router Table.

The picture below shows the veneered panel inserted into the lid frame and the tray being glued up. (Please excuse the focus.)

I tend to pre-finish my boxes with Pure Tung Oil as I progress. I find this much easier than trying to reach into awkward corners and contending with a flapping hinged lid. I need to take care that I don’t apply any oil to surfaces that will be glued.

Below are two more pictures of the box. Hinges will not be applied until the last stage of making this box.

Add another 12 hours of shop time.

I know this is a fairly slow pace, but remember, each step is only performed once or a few times. This is not production run stuff, so one has to carefully think through each step, measure twice and cut once. The old adage, ‘haste makes waste’ is very applicable to woodworking, and sometimes a mistake means starting all over because of stock limitations, etc. For example, I have no more of the primary wood used in the box. Mess up now, and it would force me to start all over with a different wood.

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

16 comments so far

View Karson's profile


34869 posts in 3025 days

#1 posted 2557 days ago

I just like your small wooden boxes.

Nice job 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 †

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1804 posts in 2711 days

#2 posted 2557 days ago

Very nice Don. I’m planning on making my wife and daughters jewelry boxes for Christmas. These will be my first small wooden boxes so I’ll be following closely.

-- Bob, Carver Massachusetts, Sawdust Maker

View mot's profile


4911 posts in 2661 days

#3 posted 2557 days ago

Just great, Don! Small boxes are something I really want to get into making. I just can’t seem to get into the shop to do it. When I do get in there, I get side tracked by other things. Great box and great tutorial….CSS CSS CSS

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Obi's profile


2213 posts in 2862 days

#4 posted 2557 days ago

Stunning as usual.

View PanamaJack's profile


4469 posts in 2702 days

#5 posted 2556 days ago

Yes, another wonderful job Don!

-- Carpe Lignum; Tornare Lignum (Seize the wood, to Turn the wood)

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6646 posts in 2604 days

#6 posted 2556 days ago

Wow Don;

You are going to end up forcing me to build a small wooden box!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Hawgnutz's profile


526 posts in 2701 days

#7 posted 2556 days ago

WOW! I, too, love small wooden boxes. I am just begginning and love your technique! The joint splines are very nicely done. Do you use a Japanese saw or a trim router bit to trim them?

God Bless,

-- Saving barnwood from the scrapyards

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

3962 posts in 2688 days

#8 posted 2556 days ago

Absolutely beautiful. You are “The Don” of small boxes. Got to get into that veneering!

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View Don's profile


2599 posts in 2801 days

#9 posted 2556 days ago

Quote Hawg: “Do you use a Japanese saw or a trim router bit to trim them?”

First I cut a strip of wood to the thickness of the saw curf; 3mm. I then insert the strip into the spline slot and trace the outside of the box onto the strip with a knife. I then cut the splines just outside the line with a bandsaw. I apply glue to the spline and press into position. This leave a minute bit of wood protruding from the slot, usually .5mm. I have a Rotex 150 ROS from Festool, a marvelous tool. After the glue has dried, I use this to sand the splines flush.

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

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 2785 days

#10 posted 2556 days ago

gorgeous box!!!

maybe I’ll just have to pop over to your shop one day for a hands-on tutorial :D

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View TomFran's profile


2942 posts in 2619 days

#11 posted 2556 days ago


That is a beautiful box. The design and craftsmanship are excellent.

Thanks for sharing your “secrets” with us.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View DocK16's profile


1139 posts in 2711 days

#12 posted 2548 days ago

BEAUTIFUL BOX! I appreciate all the technique tips you have shared. This love of little wooden boxes might be contageous. I do have one question; The 10 degree splines cut at the corners appear pretty deep, do you have to trim the splines on the inside of the box also?

-- Common sense is so rare anymore when you do see it, it looks like pure genius.

View Don's profile


2599 posts in 2801 days

#13 posted 2548 days ago

Dock, no, I carefully measured from outside corner to inside corner before cutting the slots for the splines. I reduced the depth by 1.5mm to avoid cutting through the inside of the box walls. It’s surprising how long that makes the splines, but if you place a set square across the top of a mitered corner, you will see that it runs equal to twice the depth of the the box wall thickness on each side of the corner.

For example, look at the lid spline, imagine a line drawn fro one corner of the spline to the other and you will see that despite the large size of this spline, it is well short of coming out the other side.

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

View happy_budah's profile


132 posts in 2423 days

#14 posted 2401 days ago

wow, as previously stated this is why i joined up! you are amazing! thanks for the step by step

-- the journy of a thousand miles begins with a single step " Lou-Tzu"

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 2499 days

#15 posted 2400 days ago

I am glad this came out of the archives so I have a chance to see it. Very n ice Don. I like small wooden boxes.

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