Crappy photo box

  • Advertise with us
Project by lumberjoe posted 04-26-2012 02:15 PM 2282 views 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Another project, another failure. Like the coffee table I made, I had high hopes and they were crushed. I wanted to make my mom something for her birthday. She is really into photography and her grandkids, so I wanted to make something appropriate. Instead of a frame, I had an idea to encorporate a frame into a box. The box is made from hard maple. The frame and bottom molding are poplar. Why? because I cannot route maple with my tools.

Things I like: the design of the frame. The outside is routed with a roman ogee profile. The inside has a 1/4” wide by 3/16” deep grove. bottom and sides are attached to the box. The top is not. I attached a piece of glass from a 4×6 picture frame to the top. It can slide off to allow changing of pictures (last pic) I wanted to make this out of maple, but all my router does to hard maple is burn it or tear it out.

The finish. These pictures don’t do it justice. The finish is actually really nice. I made some “Danish oil” from a recipe I found in the forums. I applied it first with 600 grit wet/dry sand paper, then with a rag after buffing with some 0000 steel wool once dried. After that I rubbed in 2 coats of renaissance wax. This is my first time working with either of those products and this is by far the best finish I have ever produced. It’s smoother than glass, although as the days go by I am still seeing some residual wax I need to buff out in the corners and on the frame. It’s a long process though waiting for the oil to weep out between coats and finally dry. It took about 8 days before I was done waxing.

Things I hate – the rest of it.
This was dovetailed, but every single one tore out. I wasted so much wood trying to dovetail this. Final construction is T&G. As such, I put the small maple strips over the joints to hide the lines. I hate them and they ruin the look I was going for.

It looks like a house with a door. The molding was designed to go under, but because I messed it up so many times dovetailing it, I didn’t have enough wood to make it any taller.

The lid sucks. I couldn’t get a good 45 degree bevel on the pieces with my TS.

Poplar. It looks like crap

I thought my mitre saw was decent, it’s not. 45 degree cuts are not even close. The top of the frame fits like crap, ever after a lot of filing/sanding.

Thanks for looking at yet another huge disappointment and a lesson of how not to build a box. As always, harsh criticism welcome.


23 comments so far

View Kenns's profile


155 posts in 2735 days

#1 posted 04-26-2012 02:29 PM

You are way too hard on yourself. Perhaps your router speed is set too high, and the bit a little dull. I think the general design, and the concept of the frame/box, is worth salvaging. Try it again, and be patient. Measure twice and cut once.

-- Then, Than, Their, There, They're, To, Too, Two.....Pine, Maple, Walnut....We need to know the difference.....

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2392 days

#2 posted 04-26-2012 02:46 PM

My router is not variable speed and that is undoubtedly the problem. Looks like a new one of those is in the cards now as well. It is a 2hp router, but it’s about 7 years old and getting long in the tooth anyway (horrible bearing noises on shutdown) I know for a fact I killed my dovetail bit in the process but it was brand new (wood river brand). It’s pretty burned up now.
I agree, I like the concept, but for all my projects I just find ways to hide mistakes instead of keeping true to the design. As it was I went through 5 board feet of maple for a 7”x8” box. For me, woodworking is like that super hot ex girlfriend in college. You know she is going to cheat on you over and over, but you keep going back anyway.


View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 2513 days

#3 posted 04-26-2012 03:05 PM

I can feel your pain with routing maple. I tried to route some with a junky single-speed ryobi, looked like crap and burned it. I grabbed my variable speed craftsman out of my table, turned it down, and it worked great. Used junky bits, too, so I think, like you said, not your fault, it was a tool limitation.
Were you using the stock miter gauge on your TS for the 45’s? Many times the stock ones are not true, either. I use a $50 incra gauge and get great 45 deg angles. Not an expensive investment and might help.
Give it to your mom, and then look at her with sad puppy dog eyes and say “I love you, Mom”. She’ll love it. And stop being so hard on yourself!

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2392 days

#4 posted 04-26-2012 03:09 PM

It’s not the miters, it’s the bevel cuts. I also have the crappiest table saw currently on the market.


View JoeyG's profile


1275 posts in 2769 days

#5 posted 04-26-2012 03:14 PM

Hey Joe, I will put in my two cents. It sounds like you have a few basic problems that can be fixed easily. First off never trust the stops on your saws. Get a decent tri-square and start there. Make as many cuts as it takes to get dead on 45. How will you know it’s on 45. Easy, cut 4 pieces the same length and put them together with tape. Keep adjusting and shaving off the edge up till it goes together perfectly. Now take a 2×4 and cut that at your 45. don’t forget to look the miter saw in place. it may not be in the pre existing 45 stop. Now take that 45ed 2×4 over to your table saw and raise up the blade all the way and use the block you just made to set the TS blade to 45.

Another issue I think may have happened is trying to route hard maple with a dovetail bit. If you must use hard maple, and I suggest you don’t until you have a lot more practice, stick with the softer maple, then you first need to use a straight router bit that is smaller than the smallest part of the dovetail bit, to take out the meat of the cut. Then go back with the dovetail bit. This is good practice when doing any dovetails with a router. Spin the top of the router bit off and have it fly across the shop at a few thousand RPM’s once and you will be sure to find a better way. If you are having trouble with tear out, you can do one of two things. Use a backer board behind your cut or take your time and route slower.

I don’t know that any of this will help you but I hope it does.
Good luck and be safe

-- JoeyG ~~~

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2392 days

#6 posted 04-26-2012 04:13 PM

Great tips! Thanks. I’m not going to attempt dovetailing 4/4 hard maple again for a while. I really like the look of it. but man is this stuff hard to work with. It put all my tools to the test. The only one that performed well was the PC 330 speed bloc sander. I’ve made a lot of dovetails with pine and had gotten it down pretty well. Very tight fits, slightly proud, and perfectly aligned. I bought a brand new bit because I knew Maple is a lot tougher. I set up the jig correctly, made some test pieces in the pine to verify. The pins and tails lined up well, but in some cases the tare out was so bad, it would rip off an entire pin when rounding the fronts (half blind).


View Danpaddles's profile


573 posts in 2456 days

#7 posted 04-26-2012 04:30 PM

You have some pretty cool design elements there, overall, that is not a bad idea at all! I like it, even if you have some not so perfect joints, hey you should see some of my stuff from a few years back!

And- ditto on that flying dovetail bit. If it was burning that bad, you were in danger of launching that sucker. That would be like a sharpened bullet. Yes, hard maple is a little tougher to learn on. Try walnut or cherry!

Next project, try to do something you find in a magazine article. They offer tips on set up, tips on how to make required jigs, stuff that helps you to learn. Then come back after one or two published projects with what you have learned.

I’m speaking from experience, I spent several years fumbling about until I did a steamer chest that was in one of the big mags. The whole project was handed to me- wood, plans, hardware. (My FIL decided it was beyond his scope.) I now use many of the techniques I learned on that one project!

With your cool ideas, keep working on the skills, I bet you get better every time.


-- Dan V. in Indy

View LesB's profile


1816 posts in 3587 days

#8 posted 04-26-2012 04:46 PM

I think most of us who are “self” taught have struggled with your problems but the solution usually comes with time and practice.
One thing I do with my designs is to draw them up with a CAD program or now I use Google Sketchup more because it is 3D (free download). The learning curve for Sketchup is a little steep so get help or a book to learn it. The end result is you get to see how your design will look in 3D before you start building it. I usually go through several changes in design before I cut the first piece of wood.
A quick suggestion to clean up this design would to make the picture frame encompass the who end of the box instead of having all the other stuff around it. Also I would make the molding design of the frame thicker on the outer edge and taper inward.

-- Les B, Oregon

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2392 days

#9 posted 04-26-2012 04:57 PM

All great tips and that is why I post my crappy looking stuff here! I am pretty good with sketchup and use it. The problem is I cannot stick to the design in practice because I don’t have the skills. This box looks awesome on paper, and nothing like it does in real life. I never wanted to have anything around it at all, I simply ran out of wood and had to cover up some ugly joints. I first drew the frame as you suggested, but that didn’t give me enough room to route the groove to slide the glass out and change pictures without covering some of the 4×6 print, unless I used 3/4 stock. I like the look of 1/2 stock better, and in my opinion, I think it looks pretty good. If the top fit better it’s the only thing I actually like about the box.

Dan, great idea. I have a book called the Complete Book Of Woodworking. There are a lot of projects in there, just none I actually want to make. I think I will take one on just to get the experience as you suggested. Isee now where that would be beneficial.


View Boxguy's profile


2738 posts in 2411 days

#10 posted 04-26-2012 07:47 PM


Invest in an “Angle Cube” at Rockler. It is a great set-up tool.

Consider splines instead of dovetails on the corners.

In a more philosophical bent:

Since, everyone fails. Failure is not a problem, failing to learn from failure is a problem.

What I like is that you designed this yourself and did not just copy a plan. Start today and make another one with improvements. What can you do better or easier on the next one? Solve the problems and write down or draw out the solutions.

After I try a new design on a box, I usually set it in the living room by the TV and look at it for several days deciding what I need to do to improve on the next version. Then I make another box in the series, and set it by the TV for a few days.

If I keep trying to perfect one box I have one box for sale. If I do my best on one and build a better one, I have two boxes to sell.

Keep boxing and learning.

-- Big Al in IN

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2392 days

#11 posted 04-26-2012 08:05 PM

Thanks boxguy. You make some amazing boxes. I sailed over to rockler and it just so happens that angle cube is on sale today only. I took that as a sign and ordered it (25$)

What can I do better on the next one? use this: (ambrosia maple)

I have a lot of it. It’s soft maple and a lot easier to work with. I had it planed at the mill and I recently bought a jointer which I sent it though today. I am not going to dovetail it. I think with the pretty grain, bevel cuts will work well. Now if I only had a planer I would like to take it down to half inch. Back to the drawing board (and garage) later tonight.


View JoeyG's profile


1275 posts in 2769 days

#12 posted 04-26-2012 08:42 PM

That’s a pretty piece of ambrosia.

-- JoeyG ~~~

View lumberjoe's profile


2899 posts in 2392 days

#13 posted 04-26-2012 08:48 PM

That piece is 8 1/2 feet long and 8 inches wide, and I have 3 more just like it. I wasn’t even looking for ambrosia and the mill owner didn’t realize it was because it was covered in dirt and really shaggy. After we planed it, he thought I would be disappointed, to his surprise I asked if we could go back to the barn and grab the other 3. The spalting on one of them is amazing and goes all the way though the grain.


View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2450 days

#14 posted 04-26-2012 11:38 PM

Hi Joe, it looks great, you are to critical of your work, we all make these errors at one point or another. As sighted by other posts, never trust the stops on the machines. Every saw I own has hardwood attached to it to get the angles right. As for the router I have been there years ago, I work with Maple all the time, it mchaines nicely, here’s the trick. Variable speed good router and good sharp bits. I have a Dewalt router and Freud bits, best bits I ever owned, I did my entire kitchen with this setup and it actually looked like I knew what I was doing,LOL. After 26 + years at it, it’s about time!
Just about everything you/we do will have an error, what makes you a craftsman is being able to correct it, and knowing what to do next time so it doesn’t happen again. Some days nothing goes right, some days everything goes right. My dad used to say, some days your the bird, other days your the statue, continuing is what makes you the statue people remember you for.

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

View Doghouse77's profile


9 posts in 2646 days

#15 posted 04-27-2012 12:54 AM

Like the other posts before me I think that you are being way too hard on your self. Most of us are our own worst critics. But you got bigger ones than I do. I have yet to put the first snapshot up of anything that has come out of my shop.

-- The reason a dog has so many friends is because he wags his tail instead of his tongue."- author unknown.

showing 1 through 15 of 23 comments

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