An Automated Box

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Project by Brice1 posted 12-02-2013 12:00 PM 5528 views 59 times favorited 44 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This box was inspired by the work of George W. Betjemann and Sons who were prominent case makers in London in the mid-19th century. I want to mention also Daniel Lucian, proprietor of Daniel Lucian Antique Boxes in London, who was kind enough to share valuable insights and information about the Betjemann design and cantilever mechanism. Daniel restores and sells phenomenal one-of-a-kind cases. He is exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about high-end antique jewelry boxes, their construction, and the master craftsmen who designed and created them. Visit his sites if you have time, they are a visual treat and quite educational. and

The box is automated in that when you raise the lid, the front lowers automatically and two opposing interior drawers simultaneously rotate outward to expose the center tray. There is a spring-loaded center drawer, which opens by way of brass button on top of the rear wall. When the lid is closed the side drawers swing in and the front automatically rises up and latches. I have not figured out how to get the center drawer itself to retract mechanically as the lid is lowered – I am still working on that one… If you have any ideas on how to do this – I would really like to hear from you.

The box is 13.5” wide, 8” high, and 10.5” deep.

Materials and Sources: Core: Baltic Birch ply and MDF – local vendor

Veneer: Burled Laurel – (Joe always has great stuff and service)

Metals: Brass & Aluminum – (great vendor, super service)

Velvet: Emerald Green – (good selection and prices)

Lock: Neat Lock – (a clean, nifty little lock)

Shellac: Platina Flakes – (Ron Fernandez is a very knowledgeable and friendly guy. He offers a wide selection of shellac flakes.

Glues: Various CA mixtures – , PVA – Tight Bond III, Veneer Glue – Better Bond Cold Press –

Mirror: Beveled Mirror – Hooker Glass and Mirror Co. – (Very slow service, ‘nuff said)

Mechanicals and Hardware:
Aside from the engineering issues – making the mechanicals was the most challenging aspect of the build. I made the hardware and mechanical movements with the exception of the lock, which I purchased from Ian Hawthorne. In all, the box required 81 pieces of fabricated hardware not counting the brass edging pieces. Since I do not own a mini-mill, the parts were cut on the bandsaw and refined with a jeweler’s saw and needle files. The brass pulls on the mirror’s frame were turned on a Shopsmith by using needle files. Tedious work, but it eventually gets the job done.

Getting the drop front, top, and side drawers all operating in correct sequence required constant adjustments to the linkages, gear pitch, and quadrant arcs. So I elected to build the box so it could be disassembled after construction should further tweaking be required (which it was). That led to assembly and veneer sequencing issues and occasional chin scratching laced with colorful language. After several failed attempts and some wasted materials, the mechanisms operate smoothly and the box can be disassembled.

The three-way mitered corners on the brass edging were difficult and are not as tight as I wanted… more practice is needed. The depth of the mechanism and therefore the placement and arc of the quadrants that raise and lower things required the thicker sidewalls. They look dimensionally out of place to me. What I was trying to achieve is to make the walls appear too thin to house any type of mechanism. I have since figured out how to redesign the mechanism to reduce the wall to as thin as 5/8” and still hide the mechanicals. So, I will try that on the next one.

My intent was to hand-engrave all of the interior hardware with a rococo pattern. Roger Bean, , was kind enough to loan me a very helpful collection of videos on engraving to get me started. If you think accuracy counts in woodworking, you should try metalwork and engraving. Folks, we’re talking hundreds, or in some instances, even a few thousands of an inch making a significant difference. I now understand why the old masters typically sent-out their metalwork to master engravers. Yes, it’s learnable – but as I’ve come to realize, I likely will not live long enough to master this unique art form, but I can get better with practice. Roger was right – “metalwork is a deep well”.

Finish and Interior:
The burled laurel was given three coats of boiled linseed oil as a base treatment to give a richness that I could not manage to get with the Platina Flakes alone. The Platina shellac flakes were mixed at both a one and one and a half lb. cut with twenty two sessions over six weeks, and one spiriting-off session followed by buffing with Novus #2.

I wanted to ruch the velvet in the lid, but quickly discovered that that skill also is above my current pay-grade. My best efforts looked like the badly wrinkled shirts I used to wear in the 60’s, and occasionally still do. (If you claim to remember the 60’s – you probably weren’t there… think about it) I opted instead for the removable beveled mirror. Ruching was a technique widely used in the 19th century in Europe to hold decorative pins and brooches in a jewel box or dressing case. Nice look but tough to do.

In Closing:
This was a very gratifying build and in general, I am happy with the results. I learned a lot through the process and enjoyed the challenge of doing something new. Now that it’s finished – I see many things I would do differently, but I think that’s half the fun – isn’t that one of the reasons that we do what we do – looking for a new challenge and a finding better way of doing something?

Photography is not my long suit, and so I will apologize for the focus, lighting, composition, backdrop, and twelve other things…. I tried quite a few times to make a video that shows the box opening and closing – but that frustrated me even more than taking the stills. I am working on enlisting the aid of fellow LJ friend Randy, who knows these mystical secrets and has offered to help produce some better pics and a short clip. More on this later.

Thanks for taking the time to look and, as always, I look forward to your critiques, comments, and suggestions.


-- Brice, Philadelphia

44 comments so far

View mafe's profile


11061 posts in 2505 days

#1 posted 12-02-2013 12:10 PM

Amazing work you put into this box, I feel like when I was a boy, I really would love to tear it apart and try to understand all the magic!
It must have been so much fun making.
Deep respect.
The best of my thoughts, even I now dream into the little magic,

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

View Oldtool's profile


2361 posts in 1607 days

#2 posted 12-02-2013 12:20 PM

Fantastic craftsmanship, one very beautiful creation. Excellent in every detail, this is already a family heirloom. I very much enjoyed the right up too, thanks for all the details, photos and references. Great project, thanks for showing.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View DIYaholic's profile


19135 posts in 2091 days

#3 posted 12-02-2013 12:21 PM

That truly is one jewel of a box!!!

Your patience and perseverance have surely been tested….
& they prevailed handsomely!!!

Words really can’t fully convey how impressive this build is!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View poospleasures's profile


542 posts in 1900 days

#4 posted 12-02-2013 12:27 PM

What a project. Its like magic to me. This goes into my favorites for further study. Thank you soo much. If I can make one to do just a couple moves I will call it a success. WOW!!!!!

-- I,ve had amnesia for as long as I can remember. Vernon

View RogerBean's profile


1598 posts in 2370 days

#5 posted 12-02-2013 12:33 PM

Wow. A really magical piece, and a fitting tribute to the master craftsmen of the 19th century. If they ever start a LJ box maker’s Hall of Fame, this one will certainly get you in. Hard to find the right words I think I’ll just go back and stare at it again. Marvelous work.

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

View Jim Sellers's profile

Jim Sellers

392 posts in 1751 days

#6 posted 12-02-2013 01:13 PM

Wow! now that is truly an amazing piece of work. Thanks for the write up and links. I’ll definitely be following up on some of those resources.

-- J.C.Sellers, Norcross, Ga. Just cut it right the first time. The best carpenters make the fewest chips.

View shipwright's profile


7080 posts in 2214 days

#7 posted 12-02-2013 02:14 PM

That is absolutely magnificent Brice. It makes me think of the mechanical tables and cabinets made by great craftsmen like David Roentgen. This must have been a splendid challenge and you have every right to be very proud of it. Personally, I often enjoy the challenge almost more than the finished piece itself.
Again, excellent work.

BTW, I have great memories of the sixties….... I just can’t remember what they are. :-)

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View helluvawreck's profile


22669 posts in 2283 days

#8 posted 12-02-2013 02:21 PM

This is a fabulous piece and you’ve done a fine job on it.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View RomDodd's profile


27 posts in 2671 days

#9 posted 12-02-2013 02:43 PM

Fantastic work. I also really enjoyed the write-up.

-- Romney

View sras's profile


4362 posts in 2545 days

#10 posted 12-02-2013 03:23 PM

Well, that is just amazing! A treat to see – thanks for sharing.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4607 posts in 2453 days

#11 posted 12-02-2013 04:25 PM

Beautifully and tastefully done.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View Northwest29's profile


1469 posts in 1907 days

#12 posted 12-02-2013 04:36 PM

Absolutely phenomenal engineering and master craftsmanship!! This has to be one of the most complex projects ever posted on LJ, at least that I have ever seen. I didn’t even know such complex boxes existed. Thank you so much for posting. What was your inspiration for the build? How many hours do you think you spent doing the build? Is this a gift or just a personal treasure?

Roger: Please share info on the videos referred to. TNX

-- Ron, Eugene, OR, "Curiosity is a terrible thing to waste."

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 1709 days

#13 posted 12-02-2013 05:34 PM


-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View hoss12992's profile


3809 posts in 1309 days

#14 posted 12-02-2013 05:43 PM


-- The Old Rednek Workshop

View RogerBean's profile


1598 posts in 2370 days

#15 posted 12-02-2013 07:18 PM

Ron, (Northwest29) Brice still has the videos, but I do remember that several were by Lynton McKenzie, and a couple from GRS Corp, makers of the GraverMeister (which I have, and use). You might look to the Gun Engravers Guild, and possibly to the Custom Gun Makers Guild as well for sources. Fact is, the best engraving goes on to guns. Very pricy guns. And, it is an art to behold. Great art, but cut in solid STEEL. Really impressive, fun stuff. Some of these craftsmen, like Winston Churchill of Vermont, are absolutely stunning. Really worth the study. But not something one picks up quickly. It takes study and practice. But, marvelous, nonetheless.


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

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