Seeking instructions for boxes

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Forum topic by tyskkvinna posted 05-07-2010 02:27 AM 2219 views 0 times favorited 35 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 2405 days

05-07-2010 02:27 AM

I’m VERY new to actually putting two pieces of wood together to make something. And I want to learn. I’m interested in making boxes. Something really simple, right?

I’ve been looking at different instructions and the choices are really overwhelming. And then I get really confused by the super big array of choices and then frustrated and….

I want to make boxes where the lid sits on it – rather than hinges. I want the joints to be something more complicated than a butt-joint. I’ve tried doing mitre joints on my chop saw a few times and must be doing something wrong because they don’t quite line up right. I’m sure it’s just my inability to get the lengths perfect.

I’ve also been noticing those nice splines in joints lately and would love to try that out.. tried searching it and got more confused than when I started, ha ha ha ha.

So – can anybody suggest a page or two that spells this out, with lots of pictures and simple words? I’d really appreciate it.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

35 replies so far

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


17574 posts in 3095 days

#1 posted 05-07-2010 02:38 AM

Doug Stowe’s box making book would probably be a real good place to start. A chop saw is not the best for doing what yoiu are trying. IMO

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

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 2627 days

#2 posted 05-07-2010 03:00 AM

Doug Stowe’s video is also excellent. I would suggest starting there.
I am far from being an expert, but as TopamaxSurvivor said, it would be very difficult on a chop saw. It may not just be the length of your boards – using a stop block would quickly solve that problem. It could be that your blade angle is not set up accurately. It has to be exact. Being off by only a degree, when multiplied by 4 corners and the combined length of the sides, will really throw things out of whack. I know this from my own recent frustrating experience. Do you have access to a table saw?

View Wolffarmer's profile


407 posts in 2657 days

#3 posted 05-07-2010 03:08 AM


I have started making some boxes. Just about need a decent table saw and blade for mitered corner bpxes. Make sure the miter gauge is square to the blade. ( if you don’t have a sled). and that you can get the blade 90 and 45 degrees to the table.

First i would say to make one of 3/4 inch material about 3-4 inches deep and no more than 8 inches on a side. I stopped clamping my corners as the glue dries. Now i just do one corner at a time and hold it against an assembly square. It is a whole lot easier and works for me. I use titebond glue. While the glue is drying make a simple sled to hold the box to cut the splines. Box will be very weak of course but so far I have not had one blow up on me. Cut the slots as you feel it and glue the splines in.

Many different ways to make the top and bottom. Sounds like for your first one you would only want to put a bottom in it.

-- That was not wormy wood when I started working on it.

View JoeButler's profile


39 posts in 3147 days

#4 posted 05-07-2010 03:12 AM

Lis, TopamaxSurvivor is correct. Doug Stowe’s books are very good. You can also get a companion DVD with a few of them that reinforces/demos what he teachs in the book.

I took a box making class a couple of years ago. We used a $600+ Dewalt 12” chop saw. The joints couldn’t have been tighter. I came home and tried doing it on my $99 10” Harbor Freight chop saw. I could see daylight between the joints, no two were the same. (I sold the Harbor Freight saw!) So it may not be your lack of skill, it may be the lack of the saw’s ability to cut a consistence mitre.

To help with getting everything the same length, try using a stop block clamped to your saw.

-- Joe

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 2405 days

#5 posted 05-07-2010 03:26 AM

This is a lot of good information, thank you all… I will be putting it to use.

I have a table saw but to be honest I’m absolutely terrified of the damn thing and am not ready to use it. And I’ve learned that when it comes to saws, hesitation is not an attribute that’s acceptable. Add in that I want to make relatively small boxes (and thus, smaller cuts of wood) and… not yet. I’ll get there.

I may get comfortable with it for doing the splines…. that might be a good idea.

Joe – my chopsaw is a very nice Dewalt 12” chop saw, as it happens. :-) It’s very good with angles and if I use a protractor I can get it dead on.

I will look into using a stop block. Never tried such a thing before.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Triumph1's profile


856 posts in 2498 days

#6 posted 05-07-2010 03:30 AM

Lis…there is a nice video on FineWoodworkings site right now on box making . I never used the router method but it seems like a cool idea. Doug Stowes books are very good. Once you get a couple boxes under your belt check out books by Peter Lloyd and Andrew Crawford to really get inspired. Also, a copy of 400 Wood Boxes wouldn’t hurt. Cutting miters on the chop saw is a bit tough. You really have to have it dialed in. Plus miter saw blades are usually thin kerf so you might get some flex…especially on really hard woods (exotics). I cut my miters on the table saw using a thing kerf cutoff blade with stabilizers. You can also “fix” a miter cut by making a jig to use on a disc sander. I place 220 grit paper on my disc sander and set it up using guaranteed 45’s…and sand the miter perfect. Maveric777 posted a very nice sled he made to cut miter keys/splines.

-- Jeff , Wisconsin Please...can I stay in the basement a little longer, please!

View rance's profile


4243 posts in 2579 days

#7 posted 05-07-2010 03:31 AM


I teach boxmaking at a local WC. The chop saw(CS) is the weapon of choice(yes, we use a $600 DeWalt but almost ANY one can be used-with the exception of a HF model). I’m not against HF tools, I have many, but their sliding CS is a POC. A miter gauge on a table saw(TS) can also be successfully used.

First, make sure your CS is adjusted square to the table and square to the fence. If you use a TS, then same thing for the miter gauge. I always make cuts with the box sides vertical, not laying down flat on the saw. Lateral adjusting the CS or the miter gauge is infinitely easier to get it right. As Joe suggests, use a stop block to insure both opposing sides are equal length. Check the ones you’ve already done to determine if this is your current problem. Almost without a doubt, the problem is the lengths do not match. If you have a DeWalt, then I doubt the problem is accuracy of the angle. I use the stops on the saw. If you are having to use a protractor to set the saw, then your saw is out of alignment.

Hope this helps.


-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View Branum's profile


54 posts in 2586 days

#8 posted 05-07-2010 04:15 AM


The easiest way to check if your chop saw is square is to take a piece of wood (2×4 works great) and cut it then flip one side over and butt up the cut together against the fence. The cut should line up but if it doesn’t there will be a small gap at the top or bottom. Adjust until you get it straight.


-- Branum

View JoeButler's profile


39 posts in 3147 days

#9 posted 05-07-2010 04:17 AM

Rance, you are dead on about the HF sliding CS. It was the first tool I purchased, back before I knew better. I used it to replace some rotted window trim. It worked great for that, where a few degrees off really didn’t matter…just fill it with chalking! LOL

I also used it to build my “workbench”. A 2×4 frame with a door on top of it. I really need to replace that someday! But it has worked great for years now!

But it did introduce me to woodworking, so I don’t regret the purchase. I replaced it with a Ridgid. Much better saw!

Oh…sorry Lis…didn’t mean to hijack your thread and turn it into something else!

To get it back on track, let me say that I’m drooling over your Dewalt CS!

Another joint that is fairly easy to make and looks good is a finger joint. Once you overcome your fear of using the table saw, you might want to check that out. Or, if you have a router table, it’s easy to do there also, with the proper jig. (Check out my projects and look at the few boxes I have made.)

I would be making more boxes, it’s what I really enjoy. But I made the mistake last year of buying a lathe. My wife had never shown an interest in woodworking, until the lathe arrived. Once she came out to the garage and turned a pen, she was hooked! Now, I spend most of my time preparing her blanks to turn. LOL

-- Joe

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


17574 posts in 3095 days

#10 posted 05-07-2010 04:35 AM

Lis, If you don’t want ot use the table saw, youi can always hand cut dovetails for a joint. It is easier than it looks at first glance.

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

View miserybob's profile


88 posts in 2463 days

#11 posted 05-07-2010 04:41 AM

Hi, Lis – I like your projects, very nice!

As far as boxes go, you could build a shooting board and true your miters with a hand plane.

That way, it doesn’t really matter if your power saw is dead accurate.

View bill1352's profile


130 posts in 2540 days

#12 posted 05-07-2010 05:46 AM

I’d take some longer cheap wood and start getting over the table saw fear. If you want the lid to sit on the top you will want to at least cut the dimensions of the inner box wall into the top on the table saw. 1/4” deep is good. Then you can remove the rest on the router table. The table saw will give cleaner cuts. you’ll never regret getting over the saw fear. it will open more doors then anything else unless you want to do everything with hand tools, the powerless kind.

-- Keep Your Stick On The Ice

View Stevinmarin's profile


838 posts in 2494 days

#13 posted 05-07-2010 06:17 AM


I’ve used this router technique for making boxes a number of times. It’s really easy and makes nice, tight-fitting lids. If you don’t have a router and table, I just saw a recent forum post where a guy uses the same basic technique on a table saw.


-- Entertainment for mere mortal woodworkers.

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4607 posts in 2455 days

#14 posted 05-07-2010 02:48 PM


As for reading matter. Seek out a copy of Box Making by Doug Stowe ISBN 978-1-56158-593-9. Its fairly exhaustive.

The mitred corners aren’t meeting right.

If the gap is a uniform width from the inside of the mitre to the tip its a side length issue, your sides aren’t of equal length. Place opposing box sides back to back and check for any difference in length and shorten the longer one. If the gap is a different width on the inside of the mitre to the outside of the mitre then its an angle issue
ie > or < 45° on the saw blade. You can either adjust the chop saw or try fine tuning the angle on a disc sander like this

This one shows the mitre fence set for 90° but as you can see its adjustable. A school type 45° set square is all you need to set it up.

Also check out the box makers and the jig blogs, here.


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

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10850 posts in 2534 days

#15 posted 05-07-2010 03:03 PM

cut them with a handsaw and then use a shotingboard
that wood proppebly bee the best way if your boxes
are small it wood bee a lot safer for you


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