Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

Revisiting an Old Box (Part 1)

Some time in the coming months, I expect to find myself making two small boxes from a couple of scraps of 1in English cherry that I currently have no other use for (they’re the ideal length and width for an 8x5x3in box). I have no idea if I’ll keep these afterwards or try to sell them later on; I just want to try out a couple of ideas. Which leads me to revisit a “flawed” box attempt from about this time two-years ago…

As proof that this is indeed an old (-but-never-forgotten!) project, you might be able to tell that I’m working from my former softwood workbench, which was up against the far end wall of my workbench. 😉

Having made a fairly simple and conventional small jewellery box less than a year before this, I wanted to experiment with this box a little; to implement something ‘unique‘ that you probably don’t often see in boxes; to aspire towards ‘innovation‘…

Put simply; instead of the standard affair where the lid lifts or swings up on a pair of hinges, I wanted both ends of this box to slide up to reveal the contents inside. This was to be a box for storing excess CDs – more on all that later. For now, let’s take a closer look at how it all went together…

It all started with a long length of 1¼in thick sycamore; from which I was able to cut a length long enough for one side, one end, a divider, plus an allowance for waste. I could then deep-rip this on my small bandsaw and that would give me enough material for the box components.

When making any kind of box, I believe it’s crucial that the grain flows continuously around the outside as best as possible. That’s why it’s important to use one complete length – even though, I haven’t quite done that, here; I was still pleased with the effect...

Each corner was mitred at 45°. At the time, I only had my 12in Bosch sliding mitre saw, which didn’t fill me with confidence while I briefly entertained the thought of cutting accurate mitres in boards almost 6in wide… So, instead, I sweated a bit and used my no.5 Jack plane in conjunction with a Donkey’s Ear shooting board:

…After removing most of the waste on my bandsaw, rather awkwardly:

Mitring on the Bandsaw.

Each component was then grooved (top and bottom) for the veneered panels that you’ll see later on. This was done on my old Bosch RT 60 router table, with a ¼in straight cutter. I don’t remember why I didn’t use a slot cutter, which would’ve been much better… I guess it was to do with the width of the components and lack of height on the table’s fence.

For my ‘big trick‘, remember; I wanted the two ends of the box to slide up vertically. For this, I decided it would be best to do some more table-mounted routing and cut a slot in each mitre joint to receive some splines, later. I had to built a special 45° jig/carrier for this but, it worked very well:

Because I’d already cut grooves running parallel to the grain and was now looking to make some cuts running across it, I decided to plug each of the existing grooves with a scrap of MDF to prevent breakout or ‘spelching‘:


With all four sides cut to length, mitred and with all the grooving done, I next turned my attention to the central divider, which would serve two purposes – to reinforce the box with the ends removed and also, to separate two stacks of CDs. This simply involved chopping a series of mortises by hand, after some careful marking-out drilling most of the waste:

Of course; each end of the divider would then need a corresponding series of tenons to be cut; most of which was done on the bandsaw, as I couldn’t be bothered to set the router table up for such a short operation:

However, there was still more work to be done before I could think about gluing anything…!

While I was machining this timber nearer the start of this project, I made the sides 6mm narrower than they needed to be; which made an allowance for two 3mm-thick strips of American black walnut, which would hide the spline grooves:

So that the ends would slide up clear without fouling the top panel once it was in place, I had to remove a good amount of material from the inside face of the ends; leaving the top edges in tact so that nothing was visible with the box closed. This was mostly done using the router and my large tenon jig, which acted as a thicknesser:

Thicknessing with a router.

This was when I began to realise that something had gone wrong… I’d correctly followed my scheme of work and done everything as I had intended. The SketchUp drawing I created before starting the build told me that all would be fine – in reality, it wasn’t. Having removed all that material with the router meant there was less of the grooves for the splines to locate in. After gluing up, it was clear that once you’d raised the ends so that the top lipping was clear, there was nothing else holding it in place; both ends would pull away.

If only I had made the sides 3mm thicker… Another thing my SketchUp drawing didn’t show me was that the 16mm thick sides looked out of proportion to the rest of the box. Though, in truth, I didn’t realise this until I’d almost completely finished the box. I may try this one again some time, as I think it has potential. Sides would have to be at least 19mm though, which should leave enough of a ‘lip’ on the spline grooves to keep the ends in place.

That’s as far as I’d like to go with this first instalment, as this post is beginning to grow a bit too long. In part two, we’ll look at how I made the veneered panels (top and bottom) and also how the box was glued together.

Thanks for reading.

I welcome your thoughts.

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