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Project by smartBoxmaker posted 10-12-2011 01:48 AM 4915 views 28 times favorited 32 comments Add to Favorites Watch


This box was specially commissioned for an exhibition in US, ‘Boxes and their Makers’ – mirroring ‘Celebrating Boxes’ that I set up with another UK box maker and old friend, Peter Lloyd, back in 2001.

Because of the extraordinary veneer that is its main feature this is a unique and never to be repeated box. 

Amboyna is one of the very few veneers still available un-trimmed, that is, with none of its natural, wany edges removed. This is because it’s so expensive and typically available only in relatively small sizes. This allows the purchaser to make maximum use of it – and also makes it ideal for this sort of project.

So, it was this I had in mind when I visited my favourite veneer supplier here in UK, Capital Crispin in East London. I quickly found a bundle of 2mm saw cut amboyna, the leaves at one end of which were very wild. Sawn veneers tend to appear somewhat blurred as a result of the rough surface left by the sawing process, but even in this state I could see that this bundle hinted at some very unusual colours. Amboyna is normally made up of rich dark red/purple heartwood and pale honey-coloured sap. But in addition to the usual vibrant red and honey colours this showed a lot of grey, stone-type colours [perhaps caused by mineral staining] and a strong suggestion of flow in the figure. This, combined with the wonderful shapes [holes, even] and movement in the untrimmed edges, could only mean one thing – lava!

I’ve been buying veneer for 25 years and I’ve not seen anything approaching the colour, figure and ‘flow’ in this veneer before or since. Hence the choice to use it for this exhibition piece, and to name it ‘LAVA’.

Apart from the fact that it was perfect for what I had in mind – there was a further advantage: the leaves I wanted [I bought the end six] were deemed too small and uneven in shape to be of any use for standard cabinetwork. So I got them cheap – and Amboyna, particularly if it’s sawn cut, is extremely expensive. Actually these leaves are almost all sap with only an occasional very small area of the deep red heartwood. 

The initial construction was simply done and the domed-top carcass veneered all over with a claret coloured dyed sycamore veneer before any of the amboyna was applied.

Then followed the time-consuming task of applying around 50 separate pieces of veneer to create the dramatic effect you see on the finished box. It’s a lengthy process, selecting and positioning the veneer so that the joins between the individual pieces occur exactly where the ebony ‘straps’ will be. Occasionally the quest for a dramatic outline took precedence over continuity of colour or figure … but wherever possible all these elements were considered.

Fixing them in place is an awkward task because you can’t apply glue to the ground [the already once-veneered box] – it has to be applied to the amboyna. And because it so happened that the natural curve of the veneer was curling up and away from the ground, when glue was applied the curve was increased due to the swelling effect of the water in the glue. You have to keep the edges almost dry so as not to allow glue to squeeze out from under them when they are laid down, spoiling the effect. With all the veneer applied, the box without the straps appears as a discontinuous patchwork of mis-matched veneer scraps. But if all goes well, with the straps fitted the brain is fooled into assuming a continuity.

There was a plus and a minus to the fact that the veneer was 2mm thick – the extra thickness gives an extra depth to the contours, certainly with light from above the front of the box looks far more dramatic than if it had been the more usual 0.5 or 0.6 mm thickness.  On the downside, it meant that the veneer only worked one way up – all the edges needed to slope down into the background veneer – the other way up all the edges were effectively undercut, so would not have been so visually effective.

The hinges, ‘straps’ and ‘nail heads’ are all made from ebony. I made the stop hinges from the same ebony the exact width of the straps so that they could be part of the continuity – I deliberately didn’t fit any sort of catch as I wanted to keep the lines and shapes of the exterior as clean and uninterrupted as possible. There is a unity achieved as a result of the close similarity between the colour of the background veneer, the few small areas of amboyna heartwood and the leather.

Sorry – a bit of a long description! I hope the technical details are of interest.

• Box dimensions: [LxDxH] – 400×320 x 235 mm [approx 16” x 12”  x 9”]
• Materials used: birch plywood, oak, dyed veneer, amboyna veneer, ebony
• Finish is a thin shellac-based sealer [actually a thinned transparent french polish] cut back and waxed
• Lined throughout with claret leather
• The interior contains a simple tray in oak.

Note: Following a serious falling out with the organisers I withdrew this box from the show last year so you will not see it featured in any of the online or printed literature, but some of you may have seen it in the book that accompanies the show, ‘Boxes and their Makers’.

-- Andrew Crawford, Shropshire, UK.

32 comments so far

View HawkDriver's profile


447 posts in 2838 days

#1 posted 10-12-2011 01:56 AM

Probobly one of the coolest boxes I have seen! Awesome work! The 3D effect is amazing!

-- Patrick, Helicopters don't fly. They beat the air into submission.

View 58j35bonanza's profile


395 posts in 2897 days

#2 posted 10-12-2011 02:14 AM

Just awesome!
At first I thought it was a map of the world warped around the box.
Excellent work.
I would never have the patience to do something that was exacting.

-- Chuck

View SASmith               's profile


1850 posts in 3192 days

#3 posted 10-12-2011 02:15 AM

Gorgeous box.
Sorry to hear of the falling out.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

View pariswoodworking's profile


389 posts in 2690 days

#4 posted 10-12-2011 02:23 AM

It’s beautiful. Great job.

-- Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. -- Albert Einstein

View marter1229's profile


437 posts in 3715 days

#5 posted 10-12-2011 02:30 AM


-- It's all fun, Terry******N. Idaho

View Jimboe's profile


257 posts in 3955 days

#6 posted 10-12-2011 02:32 AM

wow beautiful …love it !!!

View tomd's profile


2176 posts in 3975 days

#7 posted 10-12-2011 02:35 AM

Beautiful and unique box especially in the way it displays the amboyna veneer. I also at first thought it was a map, yet you call it lava, it must strike different visions to each person. This is quite an original type of box, and as always so well done, thanks for showing.

-- Tom D

View Boneski's profile


143 posts in 3338 days

#8 posted 10-12-2011 02:37 AM

You threw a few hours at that one eh?
Nice job.

-- Blinded by brilliance

View B13's profile


463 posts in 2898 days

#9 posted 10-12-2011 03:06 AM

That box rocks!

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18394 posts in 3881 days

#10 posted 10-12-2011 04:36 AM

Awesome, Over the Top!! Nowhere to go from here but down ;-(

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

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3513 days

#11 posted 10-12-2011 05:25 AM

Excellent…one of a kind beauty.

View vipond33's profile


1405 posts in 2703 days

#12 posted 10-12-2011 05:36 AM

This is a tour de force of vision and technique, most happily realized with your rare find. Would that I had such suppliers nearby.
I am verily impressed by your layout and superb result but wonder, as a builder, just what adhesive was used and how pressure was made to bear. 2mm material is neither solid nor veneer from my experience, quite difficult to make behave in so orderly a fashion. I have done this kind of careful brushing and application before and find it both tense and relaxed at the same time. There is a brief, quiet satisfaction when each piece is done.
For other details, the nail heads are perfect in their disorder and your hinge a modest thing of great beauty.
Thanks for showing the simply possible.

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

View majeagle1's profile


1426 posts in 3701 days

#13 posted 10-12-2011 06:09 AM

Beautiful, beautiful,beautiful Andrew!!! This is truly a work of art and symatry. I love the technique, the flow and the contrasts in the whole design. Your Ebony straps / hinges are just fantastic….... would love to see maybe an additional couple of shots closer of the hinge details….. I am interested!!!

Thanks so much for posting and also for taking the time to provide such fantastic detail…... love it !

-- Gene, Majestic Eagle Woodworks,,

View scueplain's profile


42 posts in 2646 days

#14 posted 10-12-2011 06:24 AM


-- Dave,Portland OR

View TJ65's profile


1381 posts in 3255 days

#15 posted 10-12-2011 08:32 AM

amazing and outstanding.
Thanks for the links too.

-- Theresa,

showing 1 through 15 of 32 comments

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