Having successfully milled my board to four square, cut in a dado, and cut it to size, I worried that all that had been accomplished would be for naught once I learned I had to miter the corners to 45° and use splines for added support. I nearly panicked when they told me I had to use a “spline miter jig.” Now there were three words I was practically unfamiliar with individually; put them together to make a compound noun and I had recurring nightmares of failing 5th grade sentence diagramming.
But first, the mitered corners. For a novice like me, a miter saw immediately came to mind. Here though, the philosophy was, set up the table saw so that each board will be exactly the same size after the 45° cut. So after setting up the saw to 45° and setting up a cross-cut fence with a board clamped to it as a stop at the correct length, each board could easily be ran across the blade for perfect cuts. Here’s the result:
I then learned probably the most profound thing I might ever need to know as a woodworker: the versatility of painter’s tape. Turns out the stuff is magic in the wood shop. Although it was used in nearly everything we did, not once did paint come into the picture. We used it on fences when we needed just a little more thickness to get a board square. We used it around a finger when sanding by hand to prevent splinters and scratches on our delicate digits. And here, we used it instead of clamps. It is truly a miracle tool. As you can see, the trick is to lay out your boards side-by-side, tape them together and them simply fold them up. That trick alone was worth the price of the workshop.
With my box now looking very, well, boxy, it was time to turn to cutting the 1/4” plywood bottom. Suffice it to say, it was back to the table saw. The real challenge here was that I hadn’t actually tried very hard to see if the plywood would fit the dado (oops). I had tested the plywood in it as I cut, but I’ll have to admit that once the plywood fit snugly in the slot, I stopped, figuring a little sanding would loosen it up just enough … Nearly 1/2 hour of hand sanding later, I was worried that if I had to sand any more, I would sand through the veneer and possibly into the workbench below. Fortunately, just before I hit bone, the darn thing slid right in. Lesson learned: don’t assume the wood you measured will fit the pretty little dado you spent so much time planning out and cutting.
I added a little glue to the corners, retaped to my heart’s content, and now I was steaming along:
Finally, the last major challenge to my woodworking metal had arrived—cutting the spline joints. And like much of my life, it turned out to be … anti-climactic.
Notwithstanding my trepidation, the spline miter jig is a simple, but ingenious little jig. They’re easy enough to make and if you’re ever going to make a box with splines, this is definitely the way to go. Needless to say, there are countless videos on how to make this jig and once done, you’ve got a friend forever. If I could, I’d take my spline miter jig on vacations with me if I wasn’t afraid some unscrupulous airline baggage handler might recognize its value and abscond with it. In any event, once the jig is set up, cutting the joints is just a matter of getting the blade depth right. Then you get to cut corners, which is yet another story of my life. And here’s the result:
After that, it’s pretty much manual labor to chisel out the triangular splines and sand it all down.
Cutting the cherry top was fairly easy. The fun part was using the router table on the underside of the lid to create the indentation so the top sits snugly and then beveling the top edge. The trick for getting such a wide cut on the underside was using just the very top (or bottom, depending on your perspective) of a bullnose bit. Leave it to woodworkers to again use something designed for one purpose for an entirely different one. You go from this:
And with that, my box was complete. I worried over what kind of finish I should put on it. Thought about lacquer, shellac, poly, some exotic oils I couldn’t pronounce, then looked around my basement and settled on the tung oil I didn’t want to go to waste. Three coats later and a coat of bees wax for good measure and voilà:
I brought my finished masterpiece to my wife and held it up, much as a father might his new-born son to the gods and said “Behold, I give this to thee.” She took one look, sniffed, and said “All that and it’s a … box?”
Anyway, until next time, remember: somewhere in the world is the world’s worst woodworker, and you just read his blog.
-- Cut first and ask questions later.