Box with a Secret Locking Mechanism

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Project by JamesVavra posted 1191 days ago 13118 views 37 times favorited 38 comments Add to Favorites Watch

One of the guys at the office asked me to make a box for his nephew. he only requirement: some sort of secret or trick locking mechanism. He and I brainstormed a bit and then I went home to make some prototypes. After he picked one, this is what I came up with.

The dimensions are roughly 9” x 7” and it’s 5.5” tall. The sides are solid maple and the top and bottom panel are maple ply. The miter keys and top inlay are bubinga. Finish is 5 coats of rattle can lacquer rubbed out with steel wool.

The handle is attached to the body with rare earth magnets. They are a bit proud on the handle and a bit recessed on the body, making for a very positive fit – it’s hard to tell it comes off and take a bit of force. Inside the mortise lock, there are two very small magnets that hold the catch in either the locked or unlocked position. The much larger magnet in the handle/key attract the magnet on the bottom side of the catch and allow you to move the catch between the two positions. The locking mechanism works very well. And aside from mis-positioning the hinges by something like 1/64th (and thus causing the lid to be just slightly skewed from the body), I’m pretty happy with it. If I had the time, I’d fill the hinge holes with maple dowels and try again, but I’m out of time on it.

One lesson learned: when working with hidden magnets, do not use steel wool. The little fibers are impossible to remove from a magnet. Sticky tape worked the best, but nothing would get them all off:

Thanks for looking – questions, comments, and criticisms welcomed.


38 comments so far

View bigike's profile


4031 posts in 1920 days

#1 posted 1191 days ago

very nice box.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View Rev_John's profile


93 posts in 2520 days

#2 posted 1191 days ago

The box looks great! I’m still some confused on the “lock”. I love the idea of a hidden lock.

-- John from Jackson, Michigan

View tomakazi's profile


645 posts in 1915 days

#3 posted 1191 days ago

Great box, I like the secret lock, great idea!!!

-- I didn't go to college, I was too busy learning stuff - Ted Nugent

View littlecope's profile


2898 posts in 2134 days

#4 posted 1191 days ago

A Fine Job James… It must be pretty frustrating to open, if you don’t know the “trick”!!

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View sarahss's profile


254 posts in 1281 days

#5 posted 1191 days ago

that is so very cool—and beautiful. he should really like it.

View JamesVavra's profile


286 posts in 1948 days

#6 posted 1191 days ago

Here’s a quick and dirty cutaway diagram of the lock mechanism that may make it a bit clearer:


View Arlin Eastman's profile

Arlin Eastman

1976 posts in 1193 days

#7 posted 1191 days ago

I always like a nice looking box.
Good job on the inlay

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View tomsky's profile


10 posts in 1641 days

#8 posted 1191 days ago

Interesting lock. I use compressed air to remove small pieces of steel from magnets.
Thanks for sharing.

-- tomsky

View rance's profile


4130 posts in 1792 days

#9 posted 1191 days ago

Nice job. I really like the dark accent around the top of the lid. Good going on the lock too.

I can’t quite tell but it looks like you used a combination blade for cutting the spline slots. You might try a flat-top rip blade for a flat bottom slot.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View mafe's profile


9491 posts in 1721 days

#10 posted 1190 days ago

Really nice and who don’t love a secret lock!
The boy will be so happy.
Best thoughts,

-- Mad F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect. Democraticwoodworking.

View Ken90712's profile


14878 posts in 1820 days

#11 posted 1190 days ago

Very cool idea I like it!

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

View christopheralan's profile


1105 posts in 2352 days

#12 posted 1190 days ago

That is cool! Well done!

-- christopheralan

View ruddy's profile


396 posts in 1571 days

#13 posted 1190 days ago

Love it..well done

-- And my head I'd be a scratchin'

View EvilNuff's profile


59 posts in 1259 days

#14 posted 1190 days ago

Nice, I like the lock mechanism.

View moonls's profile


407 posts in 1618 days

#15 posted 1190 days ago

This box is a nice combo of beauty and design. I’ve only tried using 2 small rare earth magnets as a catch for a small box but your locking mechanism is very clever. Well done!

-- Lorna, Cape Cod

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