Miniature Sailor's Valentine Box

  • Advertise with us
Project by mauibob posted 12-21-2015 01:27 AM 1588 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This miniature (5×5 x 3.75 inch) box was inspired by the sailors’ valentine designs of the late 19th century. The sailor’s “valentine” was a form of shellcraft made using a large number of seashells from local beaches. These were originally made between 1830 and 1890, and were designed to be brought home from a sailor’s voyage at sea and given to a loved one. An actual sailor’s valentine was created in a typically octagonal, glass fronted, hinged wooden box ranging from 8 to 20 inches across.

My “valentine” was created as part of the top to a small box. The design was created in the following manner:

1. A Forstner bit was used to create a hole (2 1/8” diameter) in a small piece of MDF material to be used as the top substrate;

2. A thin sheet of wood (~ 1/16” thick) was then used as a backer to create a cavity for the shell design. The difficulty here is that, when applied as a single sheet of veneer to the MDF, the MDF has a tendency to curl (with a counterbalancing top layer, this would not happen, however a second layer cannot be applied until the shells are inset), so the sandwich is kept in a small press when not being worked on;

3. The shell design is inserted using white glue which dries transparently;

4. To protect the shell design from accumulated dust, a very thin (0.005”) plastic film was cemented over the shell inlay. I used a product called Grafix Clear-Lay Plastic Film, explicitly made for protective coverings. It is sturdy enough to stay rigid over the opening, yet thin enough so as not to “telegraph” through the thin layer of veneer that will be placed on top. I originally considered a thin glass covering for the shell design, but the necessary support structure would have made the top much too thick for such a small box.

5. The final part of the “sandwich” is created by adding a thin piece of veneer to the top surface. Unlike the MDF, the hole in the top veneer is not created with a Forstner bit which would chew up the veneer pretty badly, but rather with a Lie-Nielsen radius cutter which provided a very clean edge.

The box itself is made of Hawaiian koa, and the veneers for the top were of burl maple. I used shells which I purchased at a small store in Captiva Island, Florida, although there are many eBay sellers of such items.

-- Bob, Potomac, MD

6 comments so far

View shipwright's profile


8129 posts in 2969 days

#1 posted 12-21-2015 04:54 AM

Nice one Bob. .... and that’s coming from a sailor. :-)

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Daniel Sheppard's profile

Daniel Sheppard

22 posts in 1064 days

#2 posted 12-21-2015 08:42 AM

I learned something new today. I never knew sailors had ‘valentines’. Awesome job.

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 3125 days

#3 posted 12-21-2015 11:03 AM

Well done!

-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

View mauibob's profile


236 posts in 3239 days

#4 posted 12-21-2015 12:21 PM

Have a very Merry Christmas, guys!

-- Bob, Potomac, MD

View Mean_Dean's profile (online now)


6889 posts in 3319 days

#5 posted 12-22-2015 12:54 AM

Man that’s a great looking box! That shell work seems like it took quite a bit of time and work, but it was definitely worth it!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View mauibob's profile


236 posts in 3239 days

#6 posted 12-22-2015 02:12 AM

Thanks, Dean. Used a pair of pointed tweezers to place the shells in place—with a few choice words spoken here and there when a shell would go flying off into space! :-) All in all, pretty therapeutic after I suppressed the desire to drop kick the box when shells would shift on me!

-- Bob, Potomac, MD

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics