Dovetail Box #10: Next Obstacle: The Lid

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Blog entry by Eric posted 03-01-2008 03:25 PM 2151 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: Dovetails Glued Up, Now for the Top Part 10 of Dovetail Box series Part 11: Hand-Cut Veneer »

NOTE: As is my custom, my list of newbie questions are at the end of this post.

So a week or two ago I wrote about my plans for the box lid. In short, it was going to have mitered edges with a thin strip of the lighter-colored sapwood (would you call it an inlay?) in between the mitered edges and the center piece. Today I took advantage of the Saturday down time to try to make it happen.

A few days ago, I resawed a small block of wood 1/2” thick and ripped it into four pieces each about 3/4” wide. I was trying to rig it so that the sapwood inlay would be visible about 1/4” in from the edge as you look at the underside of the lid. Then I ripped very thin strips of sapwood (I really love that ryoba), and here’s what I had (the bottom sapwood strip would be cut in half, for the shorter edges):

Mitered Lid 1

I glued them onto the heartwood pieces and was pretty pleased with the tight edges. A small amount of tinkering brought the mitered edges together (more or less). I did a combination of planing and sanding. It’s mostly there, but I’ll need to do a little more to have them be perfectly tight. You can also see a bit of unevenness in the height of the pieces; one of my weak points is getting a perfectly flat board. So once it’s all together, I’ll plane it even. But overall, I think it looks okay:

Mitered Lid 2

Then came the center piece. I chose to do this last because I recently heard Marc (aka The Wood Whisperer) say that in joinery, he always did the “female” part first, and then fit the “male” part to that. So for example, he’d do mortise and then tenon.

So I already had a piece that was the original top (before I went with a thicker one) that is about 1/4” thick. My idea was to have that be the center piece, flush with the edges on the top and recessed on the underside. I’d bevel the insides of the mitered edges so that they met the center piece and give it a nice little look (I even thought of putting a mirror in there, but don’t feel like going to get one cut to size).

But then inexperience reared its ugly head and smashed my teetering confidence. I spent so much time trying to get two of the sides flush with the mitered edges, I ended up having a very slightly undersized piece. Here’s the pic (click to enlarge):

Mitered Lid 3

It’s grossly undersized lengthwise, and just a tad undersized in width. My first inclination was, “Fix it!” I thought maybe I’d cut that center piece in half and glue another thin strip of sapwood in between them. But maybe I’d be better off just resawing another center piece. So here are my questions:
  • Most importantly: How would you advise me to fit the center piece to the mitered edges, using only hand tools? Maybe my method is okay, but just needs more practice. Would you do it differently? The mitered edges are still loose (unglued), by the way.
  • I’m considering having the centerpiece be slightly thicker than the mitered edges, and having them stand a bit proud on both sides (and chamfered). What do you think? Might make glue-up a bit tricky.
  • Is there a way to “cheat” to get the edges to mate well, or at least to disguise a less-than-perfect mating?

-- Eric at

2 comments so far

View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 3867 days

#1 posted 03-01-2008 09:08 PM

The problem with a perfect mate here is that it will blow the frame apart in the future. The only way that I know of to get this to work and have the top perfectly flush is to use ply/veneer to stop the panel from expanding.

In any case, I didn’t see your panel groove. You will need to cut a 1/4 (or 1/8) groove on your mitered pieces for the panel to be captured in, whether you stand it proud, flush, or just have it below the surface. If you go with a 1/8th, you will have to rabbet the 1/4 top by 1/8th.

Believe me, after the 75 boxes or so that I have made, none that I have tried to accomplish this with solid wood has worked out. The ones I overengineered with splines and such just shrank and left a gap in cooler weather. So no matter what you do, you will have to deal with expansion/contraction, and IMHO, the best way to do that on a box top is to use a veneer…..And a piece this small, you can veneer without all the fancy vacuum pumps and such…..

Let me know if you need more help or would like some pics of what I am talking about. You can also get Doug Stowes boxmaking book, it is generally considered the authority on basic boxmaking.

Good luck,


-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 3867 days

#2 posted 03-02-2008 12:38 AM

I just noticed that you are a neander, er, hand tool guy. Not being familiar with the ways of the wise, I can’t see how you would cut the small groove, short of a router plane. Barring that, you could cut a rabbet on the underside of the lid to allow the panel to float, however, you will still have the problems stated above…..



-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

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