An Old School Pencil Box .....with an M&Ms secret.

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Project by vipond33 posted 1091 days ago 7578 views 112 times favorited 31 comments Add to Favorites Watch

September is coming with all it entails, but back when the earth was still cooling and I was in school (as my daughter would have you believe), pencil boxes were quite common and simple. A swing top, a rounded lid, in beech most likely, pencil crayon marked up in boredom, a storehouse for bugs, gum, secret notes.

Looking around the net to maybe buy? her one I find they have virtually disappeared. I did find a picture of a new one with a link to a store, but it isn’t for sale anymore,

and I discovered a photo of a very old one belonging to someones grandmother. Maybe we sat beside each other back then, but I really don’t remember the flowers.

That’s it.
Well, yeah, as usual, I know what you’re thinking: ”Cut to the chase already! Build the silly thing and make this post come true!”. Ok, ok, ok.

My version’s a little different than the classic style, quite a bit larger with a square end and no routed cavities, all to give her lots of space and be much easier to get her fingers in. The divider is heavily scooped for that reason.

The body is white oak for durability, though I’m afraid for those mitered tits left at the opening – but I could think of no other way to end it well. The lid is book-matched eastern white pine for a lighter look and feel, with an ogee profile providing a small grace note. The sliding trays are genuine Brazilian rosewood, eight way miters on 3/32”! – does anyone here throw even a sliver of this stuff away? Didn’t think so.

It was tricky getting the shallow angled ends to meet perfectly while preserving the right length and pivot point. I probably thought and worked backwards there – no surprise sometimes. Veneer covers all the end grain at that cut and significantly strengthens the thin butt joints. What, no tiny dovetails?

Now hold on, did I say trays? As in two? Look at the first picture and you will see the end of one peeking out from under the recess – and that is the secret from the teacher. No amount of shaking will make it come out and there is no purchase for even a fingernail. Hmm. Now if you look over at the large tray you might notice a little block of reddish wood at the opposite end, concealing, you guessed it, a magnet. Clear the space in between (the black torpedo shaped thing is a pencil sharpener), turn the big tray around and slide it up to the small one. Two super magnets kiss! through the walls and overpower the magnet/washer combination at the other end. Pull them back & M&M’s appear like magic – all when you were supposedly just getting out your eraser. Honest! Do make sure they’re not peanut style these days, plus the teacher might see you chewing. Heaven in the middle of math class.

Other details: A removable Chicago bolt acts as the pivot with a super slim brass washer between the wood halves, a small pair of magnets prevents the lid from ever falling out, tiny ebony keys break up the blandness of the quartersawn oak and traditional English green leather lines the bottoms (1/8” Baltic ply). Tried and True finish as usual (pre-finish on the interior) with Goddard’s wax.

I don’t know what the other kids might think, but if the teacher should happen to notice the little girl suggested in rosewood grain at the end of the small box, I hope my daughter will have the presence of mind to say “My dad made a mistake gluing it, she’s stuck and can’t come out”.

9 1/2” x 2 1/2” x 2 1/4”
About 22 hrs.
Build on LJ’s.

I couldn’t resist, so for all the M&M’s fans out there, a shot of it ready for the last day of school. No pencils or magnets required. Just like woodworking, share with your friends.

-- gene@toronto.ontario.canada : dovetail free since '53, critiques always welcome.

31 comments so far

View Tom Goodman's profile

Tom Goodman

197 posts in 2757 days

#1 posted 1091 days ago

This is so Cool !

-- - " If you want square work, You don't cut corners. " - -- Tom Goodman, Santa Maria, CA.

View BobTheFish's profile


361 posts in 1177 days

#2 posted 1091 days ago

Adorable. I love it. If it wasn’t obvious from the project, it definitely shone through in your story: You must really love your daughter.

Excellent job.

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5077 posts in 2338 days

#3 posted 1091 days ago

That is a great looking pencil box. I thought I was the only one that used the shield cooling phrase, good to know there is at least two of us LOL!

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View James Lango's profile

James Lango

180 posts in 2159 days

#4 posted 1091 days ago

thats a great project Gene. Well designed and well built. Good choice of wood, and just a great gift idea all the way around. I like it!! Thanks for sharing…


View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


14721 posts in 2301 days

#5 posted 1091 days ago

Kool ;-)) I should do a few of those. Add ‘em to the list ;-)

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Bearpie's profile


2586 posts in 1644 days

#6 posted 1091 days ago

Sort of like a big GBOC that mafe makes little! I’m impressed with this build. Fine pencil case!

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10850 posts in 1741 days

#7 posted 1091 days ago

very nice :-) .... Like the M&M tuch realy makes the colours pop …. LOL

thankĀ“s for sharing it with us


View mafe's profile


9483 posts in 1715 days

#8 posted 1091 days ago

That is the coolest pencil box I have ever seen!
If my father had made me one like this!
You have a lucky daughter.
So fine details, and the secret room, what kid do not dream of that?
Thank you for your wonderful little story also, I was taken away.
Best thoughts,

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

View littlecope's profile


2894 posts in 2128 days

#9 posted 1091 days ago

Great Job Gene… Great Story too!!
Very Well Done!!

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

View Maveric777's profile


2690 posts in 1702 days

#10 posted 1091 days ago

Two thumbs up on this one. One of the coolest pencil boxes I ever seen….

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View ChrisN's profile


259 posts in 2399 days

#11 posted 1091 days ago

Very Nice and nice story too!!!

Thanks for sharing!!!


-- Chris N, Westford, MA - "If you won't eat something from your fridge that turned green...why would you eat something that started out that way?"

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 2786 days

#12 posted 1091 days ago

oooooh I want one of these!!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Cobwobbler's profile


31 posts in 1112 days

#13 posted 1091 days ago

I’ve been looking to make one of these, I used to have one as a kid. Apparently they originated in China 100’s of years ago as writing boxes. Think I’ll use some of your features and make it a bit bigger. Great ideas and nice work.
Just had another look at the old box, is that name L Pope written inside? My surname is Pope.
Small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.

-- Martin, Rugby, United Kingdom. Make Tea, Not War.

View SPalm's profile


4784 posts in 2507 days

#14 posted 1091 days ago

That is so cool. Every kid would want one.
What a fun project. You got an eye for neat stuff.

Thanks, and for the story too.

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View DaddyT's profile


267 posts in 2136 days

#15 posted 1091 days ago

Wonderful story! Awesome box!

-- Jimi _ Measure twice, cut once.......@#%#$@!!!......measure twice, cut....

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