Cedar Box

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Project by rlrjr posted 07-03-2011 05:09 AM 2060 views 4 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Initially, not having done any woodworking before (framing houses falls outside these parameters, I think) and not really being familiar with the equipment I started making small square boxes, pencil boxes and such that were included in a book about how to make boxes. I used pine from the big box stores because it was cheap and if I screwed it up (and boy, did I screw up some lumber to start with) I could toss it and not lose a lot of cash.

That being said and having gotten my feet wet I bought some cedar planks, 1/2” thick by 4” wide and various lengths from Ricks Wood Shop (a tip I received from a fellow lumberjock). The only plan I had was that I had an idea that I wanted to build a box that I could put my Companion Bible in with some storage space beneath the false bottom for pads of paper, notes, pencil or pen and such. So I actually built the box to fit the Bible.

I used dovetail joinery on the sides, brass screws to attach the bottom and brass quadrant hinges for the top. Cutting the dovetails on my Incra table saw/router table setup was mind-blowing to start with…all the cuts were with the boards vertical to the router bit and after that two side boards would lie flat on the table and another cut inside a previous cut put a taper on the tails so that they would fit together. I also had to remove as small triangle of wood from inside the cut that the router bit couldn’t reach without screwing up the flat part of the joint. I practiced on pine until I got it figured out and then went with the cedar and to my surprise I got some really tight fitting joints.

I wanted to finish the wood with a French Polish so I got the rags, wool, alcohol, mineral oil, 4F pumice and rottenstone. That was the easy part. I had downloaded a 4 page article written by George Frank and this was my guide. What a mess. Everything that a person could do wrong with this process I did it But eventually I started to get the hang of it and the four photos above show the results.

I used Zinnser’s shellac in a can from Home Depot to start with but on this box I ordered dewaxed blonde flakes and mixed up a small 2 # cut. What a difference from the store bought stuff! I didn’t put shellac on the inside surfaces of the sides or the top because I read somewhere that shellac is used to cover up bad smells and I didn’t want to cover up the cedar aroma so I just waxed and polished them.

I covered the inside and outside bottom with felt. You will notice in one photo that there is a clear strip between the edge of the felt and the back of the box. I did this to keep the felt from binding and keeping the bottom from opening up all the way. Something that I need to work on as I don’t like the look.

Since the Bible fills the entire upper area the red ribbon is used to lift the bottom up so that the Bible can be grasped and taken out of the box. Photo 3 shows the Bible in the box. Photo 4 shows the false bottom in the upright position and exposes the hinges and hinge pin. I have the hingecrafter from Incra and it really makes wood hinges very easy. I cut the hinges down to where there are just one knuckle on one piece and two knuckles on the mating piece. The hinge pin is a piece of brass welding rod that I polished and waxed.

The solid brass quadrant hinges are usually expensive, $26-$28 bucks for ONE hinge but I came across a web site called A&H Turf & Specialties, Inc. (406-245-8466) in Billings, MT and they sell a PAIR for $4.98. I ordered 10 pair and got a call from them that they only had 9 pair in stock and would ship the last pair when they received their next shipment. Now, here’s the odd part: I had to file one end of the hinge down so that it would fit inside the mortise on the top as it is only 3/8” thick and it looked like the hinges were solid brass by the color of the filings. However, the last pair that they did not originally have in stock looked exactly like the others on the outside but when I filed part of the leg down I could tell that it was brass plated because the filings were grey steel. I feel that ALL of the hinges are brass plated but they really looked good when attached to the box.

All in all I think the box looks ok but not great. The one thing with the French Polishing that I cannot figure out is how to “spirit” the finish. This is the last process and is supposed to wipe off the residual oil and really bring out the shine. When I wipe it the first time I get grey streaks. When I wipe it the second time I begin removing some of the shellac and I can see ridges from the cloth in the finish and it becomes duller than the first. I ended up letting it dry for a day or two and then wiping it all with a soft cloth and putting a coat of wax on it but you can still see some of the “clouding” in the finish. Any suggestions on this would really be appreciated.

Thanks for listening.


-- When I works, I works hard. When I sits, I sits loose. And when I thinks I falls asleep.--

8 comments so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4216 days

#1 posted 07-03-2011 05:22 AM

Great job on the box!

I’ve never done French polishing, but I know that last part is supposed to be the trickiest because you are actually dissolving the finish while trying not to remove any of it.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View bigike's profile


4052 posts in 3286 days

#2 posted 07-03-2011 05:49 AM

very smooth i love it, that’s a very sexy box.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View RussInMichigan's profile


600 posts in 2779 days

#3 posted 07-03-2011 01:34 PM

A joy to look at. Thanks for sharing it with us.

View Michael Parrish's profile

Michael Parrish

125 posts in 2857 days

#4 posted 07-03-2011 04:10 PM

Beautiful box, great job.

View RogerBean's profile


1605 posts in 2951 days

#5 posted 07-03-2011 04:38 PM

French polishing takes a bit of practice. The final stage involves “mostly” alcohol (i.e. you begin feeding a couple drops of alcohol into the inside of your rubber.) Then blot the rubber on a piece of clean paper to remove any excess. (The spiriting stage happens only after you have a good, smooth base of shellac already built up.) It should feel nearly dry. If your rubber is “biting” into the finish you definitely have too much alcohol. It may even seem like it is doing nothing at first. Also, for box work the rubber must be very small; as in a single cotton ball inside a 3” square of soft (read old and used) cotton sheet. Forget the pumice and rottenstone, it just makes a mess.

Also, things go much easier if you provide a good base of several coats of Liberon spirit sanding sealer (expensive, but really good stuff.) Hope this helps. French polish is a wonderful and beautiful finish once you get the hang of it. The whole process of polishing a box takes about 10 – 14 days allowing for drying time, etc.

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

View LittlePaw's profile


1571 posts in 3076 days

#6 posted 07-04-2011 01:38 AM

Wow, I like the shine you put the lid! Is that what French Polish is? It looks just like float on poly! You do excellent work, Rick.

-- LittlePAW - The sweetest sound in my shop, next to Mozart, is what a hand plane makes slicing a ribbon.

View Dusty56's profile


11819 posts in 3686 days

#7 posted 08-26-2012 11:42 PM

Very nice looking Bible box…the finish looks like glass : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View Jerbone's profile


35 posts in 1921 days

#8 posted 03-15-2013 08:13 PM

Great looking box, and a wonderful walk though and description.

-- Joining two of my passions, beer and woodworking,

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