First, the disclaimer. I am just a hobby box maker, and these are nothing more than my opinions, and I have no interest in disparaging any else’s work. I tend to make a particular kind of box, and my comments surely reflect that. By all means feel free to disagree or comment. Hopefully someone will benefit from the discussion.
There is a nearly infinite variety of box types and designs. Nearly all have merit in one way or another. Even a simple pine box nailed together is better than no box at all. Most of us strive to make something better, and to do so, we implicitly or explicitly make a whole series of design decisions.
Regardless of how we get there, the resulting box is a “whole” rather than a disconnected series of parts. The best boxes reflect this “harmony” of parts. Masterpieces, whether furniture, boxes, or other, invariably reflect this harmony. When we see a box that lacks this cohesiveness, we mentally go “Oops, that part doesn’t look right. …doesn’t fit.” And, this cohesiveness of design comes from mental activity, not craftsmanship. It comes from the thinking we do before we begin cutting.
Perhaps it is fair to say that a box consists of two parts: The first resulting from “design skill” and the second the culmination of “woodworking skill”. When both come together, we have something special.
But, sometimes we think a lot, and the result is disappointing. Similarly, we might only begin with a simple idea and the result is great. My point is, that either way, there is thinking involved, and the better we do the thinking part, the better the result. Design quality is perhaps even more important than build quality. After all, if it’s ugly, craftsmanship won’t make it un-ugly. On the other hand, a great, though simple design buys a little forgiveness even if our craftsmanship is less than perfect.
How we Learn:
Most of us learn from seeing and experiencing things that have gone before. There is much to be learned from studying earlier boxes. (I much prefer this to trial and error.) Whether you choice is a period style, contemporary, art boxes, or whatever, much is to be gained by studying every one you can find. With so many web sites available these days, many many are readily available. For traditional English made boxes, www.hygra.com is a great source. There are many others.
I grab screen shots of all the boxes I find interesting and file them in Keynote pages, sort of like a slide show. I also frequently mark LJ posted boxes as “favorites” hence making them available for future reference. Dissecting other’s work is very useful.
Woodworkers who are also readers are at a significant advantage. I have a large reference library that includes just about every box book ever written. Ideas, solutions, and inspiration are only a few steps away. In my opinion, this kind of stimulation is important to being unusually good at anything, including box making. One cannot do it all by yourself. Every master has been carried on the shoulders of those who have gone before.
Working on Paper:
I keep a sketchbook of my thoughts and designs and ideas, so I can refer back later. I use it to work out my ideas for projects. These drawings are not works of art. Quite the contrary, they are rough sketches of boxes, fixtures, processes, set-ups and other details. For me, if I cannot draw it, I probably can’t make it. Works for me.
Here’s one that’s on my bench for the future: (I have hundreds of pages of this stuff.)
The more boxes we make; the more we study; the more we communicate with other box makers, the better we get.
I think I’ll stop here, before I get too windy. I’ll have a new box to post soon. Perhaps my best.
Make more boxes.
-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)