First Commissioned Piece #2: Status Update

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Blog entry by Ethan Sincox posted 09-24-2007 09:27 PM 1683 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: My First Commissioned Piece Part 2 of First Commissioned Piece series Part 3: Keyed miters »

Ok, why is it so difficult for me to remember my camera when I’m working on this thing? Last night I was taking the clamp (large rubber band clamp) and tape (blue painter’s tape) off of my box, and I realized I hadn’t been taking ANY pictures as I originally planned on doing.

The problem is that I’ll just get a free hour or two to work on it, so I’m more concerned with actually getting an hour’s worth of work done and less concerned with trying to remember where my camera is.

So I guess what I can do right now is write out a blog entry on my design ideas and thoughts. Later tonight, I’ll run through the steps I’ve done so far, throw in a few pictures of what I’ve worked on this evening, and then try to keep up with it from there.

Box design ideas/thoughts:
This is actually a major part of any project I create. I put almost as much thought into design and concept as I do in actually making the piece. I focus on the different species of wood I’ll use, the purpose of the project and what design would best fulfill that purpose. I determine what kind of joinery I’m going to use, what kind of issues I’ll need to keep in mind with that joinery, and what finish I’ll use to protect the completed piece.

Thinking about these things ahead of time really helps to keep me from building myself into a corner (which I’ve done on several occasions).

- I started by talking to the woman ordering the box. Her name is Bronwen and the box is to be a part of her wedding gift to her fiance on their wedding day (the other part of the present being the sgian dubh). Fortunately for me, she is a theatre director, among other things, and so she has a great understanding of “creative license”. She pretty much left it up to me to come up with a concept and design. I like that in a customer.

- There are actually several small items a guy generally wears with his kilt. One is the sgian dubh, but quite often it is worn with a formal shirt that requires cuff links, and a kilt pin is employed to keep the front flap from coming up with a strong breeze. This got me to thinking that I wanted a box with three separate compartments – one for the sgian dubh, one for the cuff links, and one for a kilt pin. I modified this initial idea a little; the compartment for the cuff links is going to be a handmade padded bar section for rings and cufflinks.

- I will not have the sgian dubh in hand (the buyer and seller both being in Scotland), so I can’t make a fitted compartment like I did with my first presentation box. I contacted Rab Gordon, the guy making the sgian dubh, and asked him what dimensions it would be and if Bronwen had requested anything special for the knife. He said the dimensions would be just about the same as mine, but to give it about 3/4” extra space, just to be on the safe side. He also said she was getting a sgian dubh with a damascus steel blade, a bog oak handle with silver fittings/trim, and a red jasper cabachon cap for the pommel.

- I decided to play off the bog oak. The box will be made of reclaimed white oak from my family farm, and I’ll use bog oak (from the UK and Ireland – expensive to buy and expensive to ship) for accent pieces. I’ll inlay a rectangle of bog oak into the lid, use bog oak for the keyed miter joints, and add a small handle/lip to the lid to aid in opening. On the inside, I’ll use bog oak for the two dividers (one dividing it in half lengthwise and one dividing one of those halves into two sections). I’ll then add ring bars to one of the smaller sections.

- After a bit of contemplation and a quick search on eBay, I decided I could also add an additional feature that I didn’t even mention to Bronwen; it will make for a nice surprise. I found a cab of red jasper (40mm x 30mm) on eBay for about $2.50. I’ll inlay that cab into the rectangle of bog oak in the lid.

- I received the jasper cab a few days after the auction ended and then started figuring out what I was going to use for the bottom liner and what kind of finish I would go with – i.e. what liner color and finish would best play off of the red jasper. Initially, I wanted to fume the wood. The technique I ended up using for the bottom panel created some fuming challenges, so I decided to go with a coat of Watco’s Danish oil (dark walnut) and a few coats of garnet shellac.

(In case you’re wondering, the problem was this: I can’t fume until after the box is glued and the lid cut from the rest of the box (otherwise, I’ll have a section of unfumed oak where I separate the lid from the box). I had concerns about fuming AFTER that point, however, because the bottom panel (with a suede cloth lining) will already be glued into the box (I glue the suedecloth to the panel before assembly, that way the cloth ends somewhere under the groove and it creates a nice, clean line at all of the edges)).

- For help with box dimensions, I pulled out the trusty graph paper. I know I should probably try a little more to learn one of the online project development tools, but… something feels good about drawing it all out by hand. I love the fact that one square truly equals 1/4”, because it makes design so much easier, especially when you’re trying to figure out dimensions and you can draw it out and use actual objects (in this case, my personal sgian dubh) to determine proper required space. I ended up with a box that was 2” tall (after lid separation), 10” long, and 5 1/4” wide.

- I also decided to go with extruded brass hinges (from Woodcraft, about $12). Really, that is a “default” decision – the only time I use pressed brass hinges is when I’m making something for the shop, like a router bit case. If I’m taking the time to make a quality box, then I’ll make it with quality accessories. I should mention, however, that I still have trouble paying $30-$40 for the Brusso extruded brass hinges. I guess I could always push the extra cost on to the customer… I think the biggest struggle is with paying so much money for something so small. Maybe I’ll give them a try on my next box and see how I feel after that.

That’s about it for the design thoughts I went through. In true Ethan form, I wrote way more than I intended. But once I start writing it is hard for me to stop. I’ll work on pictures tonight with a blog entry showing my progress to date.

-- Ethan,

2 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4159 days

#1 posted 09-25-2007 01:44 PM

I love reading your blogs, Ethan.
This is filled with lots of tips and lots of cultural information!

Thanks for sharing… and, although LJ’s love pictures, your words have done the process justice.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Karson's profile


35121 posts in 4399 days

#2 posted 09-25-2007 05:47 PM

You need to wear your camera around your neck so that everytime you move it smacks you.

-- 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 †

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