Newbie: looking for hand tool box-making advice

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Forum topic by grego posted 05-02-2011 09:04 PM 4153 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View grego's profile


73 posts in 2607 days

05-02-2011 09:04 PM

Hello all,

I’ve been reading the forums here for a while and I’m really impressed with the knowledge and accomplishments – very inspiring! As a beginner to woodworking myself I’d love to get your advice for some early projects.

The local hardwood lumber store sells “thins”: ¼” to 5/16” thick lumber planed on two sides. I thought I’d try my hand at making small (say, 6” x 4” x 3.5”) boxes from this stuff. I’ll be usng only unpowered tools because of space and noise restrictions.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

1. Plane one edge of the “thin” with a smoothing plane so it is square to the faces.
2. Measure and mark out the rectangles for the sides, top, and bottom using a combination square and knife/pencil.
3. Cut out sides, top and bottom on a bench hook using this Japanese saw I bought from LV: (,42884,42924&ap=1) I’ll have to make a bench hook that accommodates the pull saw.
4. Use a shooting board and (yet to be purchased) low-angle block plane to true up the rectangles just cut out.
5. Measure and mark out finger joints on the ends of the sides.
6. Use a Dozuki-me saw (again already bought at LV:,42884) to do the rip cuts for the finger joints – perhaps clamp two sides and cut together, then clamp two ends and cut together?)
7. Chisel out the finger joint waste
8. Create ¼”stopped grooves in the sides to take the top and bottom using a router plane (haven’t purchased that yet.)
9. Plane or sand the edges of the top and bottom so they fit in the grooves.
10. Assemble and glue it all up.
11. Mark out the separation between lid and box, and cut it in a vise with the Japanese saw in 3 above.
12. Use a chisel and the router plane to make recesses to take hinges.
13. Attach hinges to the lid and box.
14. Sand and finish.

I hope I haven’t already worn out my welcome by typing such a long message, but I’d really appreciate it if you would let me know if anything above doesn’t make sense, or if there might be better ways to go about it.
In the meantime I’m practicing trying to saw straight and to get finger joints that don’t look awful…

Thanks in advance!

9 replies so far

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4123 days

#1 posted 05-03-2011 02:29 AM

An old Stanley 5 1/2 makes a good inexpensive shooting board plane as well. If you can find a Record 043 it is a good small plow plane…

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Chelios's profile


568 posts in 3092 days

#2 posted 05-03-2011 02:44 AM

I say go for it. It seems you have thought about all the angles on this project so as you develop into it your plans might change a bit but I am sure you will have no problems working through it. Don’t know how much you are into hand tools but if you are really new with them you really will gain a lot from this project and learning to sharpen/tune your planes and chisels especially if you work with pine.


View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2719 days

#3 posted 05-03-2011 02:49 AM

I’m a hand tool guy myself and it sounds like you’ve given this some solid thought. I get excited just hearing about the tools you’re planning to use. I can’t say I’ve ever cut a finger joint with hand tools. I’m interested to see how that turns out. I’d echo the above comments. A router plane is kind of a luxury. I think a plow plane would be more versatile for future projects. The old Stanley 45 keeps surprising me with its ability. I would agree to use a larger plane on the shooting board. The fatties (1/2 sizes) are a good bet. I’m impressed that you’re starting off this way!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View grego's profile


73 posts in 2607 days

#4 posted 05-03-2011 04:10 AM

Great feedback so far – thanks for the encouragement and great advice! I’m wondering now if I should be looking for a plow instead of a router plane. But it seems like the grooves will need to be stopped if I go for finger joints. Is this possible with a plow plane on such small panels?

View grego's profile


73 posts in 2607 days

#5 posted 06-09-2011 05:21 PM

I eventually went for a very simple project to start – a small pencil holder with finger jointed sides and the bottom just glued on. I used a shooting board with a Veritas low-angle block plane to true up the sides, and this worked very well. My joinery needs practice though, to say the least, and i ended up plugging the gaps with sawdust/glue mixture and painting the sanded finished product.

It was a start at least, and my daughter is happily storing her pens and pencils in it on her desk.

I’ve decided to spend some time practicing dovetail joints now – though they’re challenging for a beginner, they don’t seem to be more difficult for hand tool work than finger joints. And I’m surprised at how strong even beginner-quality dovetail joints are!

Thanks for the encouragement and suggestions!

View grego's profile


73 posts in 2607 days

#6 posted 06-09-2011 07:45 PM

Thanks Anji – I will definitely try the splined miter joint box. Adrian’s boxes look amazing. For now, though, I’m obsessed with getting dovetails right (and having fun in the process) so my goal is to put together a dovetailed box before moving on to the next project.

I may take a photo of the pencil holder tonight. If nothing else, it’ll hopefully remind me of how far I’ve come – when I actually do get somewhere!

View grego's profile


73 posts in 2607 days

#7 posted 07-05-2011 06:02 PM

Finally finished the pencil holder and a first dovetail box atempt. Apparently there isn’t as much time in a day as I had originally thought…

View DonnyBahama's profile


215 posts in 2557 days

#8 posted 07-10-2011 03:20 AM

I like your approach, grego, and I think you’re in for a great journey. I share your obvious love for Japanese hand tools, and the last thing I want to do is discourage you in the slightest, but I think someone needs to say it—starting your woodworking journey with Japanese hand tools is a bit like learning to ride a bike… by starting with a unicycle.

Don’t take that the wrong way… I encourage you to stay the course. But be sure you cut yourself a LOT of slack.

When I started with Japanese hand tools, I began by cutting scraps of various hardwoods into fairly small strips, squares, rectangles, and triangles using Dozuki, Ryoba and Kataha. I then tried to find a way to piece them all together to create a small cutting board, chiseling away small bits here and there as needed. Once it was glued up (clamping was its own challenge), I had a lot of planing to do – on all 6 sides. The end result was very unusual – and a great learning experience.

-- Founding member of the (un)Official LumberJock's Frugal Woodworking Society -

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4123 days

#9 posted 07-10-2011 06:13 AM

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