Offcuts: Christmas Box By: Don Heisz

It’s Christmas day. And this year, I had a great deal of difficulty dealing with gifts for my kids. It’s easy to get stuff for the toddler. She’ll be excited over everything. Or not excited to get anything. Not sure yet. But the older kids, including the one in college, I’ve been at a loss.

This is not a new situation, though. My kids don’t seem to like much of anything. Or, rather, they don’t seem to want anything in particular. So, when I’ve asked them what they want, I constantly get “I don’t know” as the answer.

There is one exception this year, though. My second oldest has become interested in fountain pens and asked for ink for Christmas. I have obliged. But I also decided to buy him a vintage fountain pen. I found one from some time in the 1940s. It looks nice enough but it’s just a pen on its own. So, I thought it needed a little something to dress it up, as a present.

So, I settled on making a box. And, unfortunately, I really did not have much time. I managed to get about an hour one afternoon and threw one together. I decided to make a solid-block box. You know, a box that looks like a single piece of wood. So, no hinges. The lid has to fit on snugly so it doesn’t fall open.

solid block wooden pen box

I settled on maple, because I have a lot of shorter pieces. I made a box for him years ago, from purpleheart and cocobolo. It was a swell box, too, with brass hinges. Of course, he was quite a bit younger then and the box suffered for it. He took it to school and broke it. That was fine, but he fixed it. It was a valiant attempt. Let’s leave it at that.

Anyway, it’s a straightforward build: you cut the block of wood into chunks and then glue it together into a box. When the glue dries, you cut it in half (well, a bit less than half, so one side is a lid). Then you put some pieces inside to retain the lid. The snugger the better.

My planning, as usual, was pretty terrible. I had a perfect idea of how big the cavity in the box should be to hold the pen. I planned on lining it with felt. However, after I had it assembled, I recalled my son telling me that felt caused “microscratches” on a pen he had.

Not wanting to deal with something as insidious as microscratches, I decided to not use felt. So, I found some cushion material and padded the inside of the box. Then I found some purple satin (everything imaginable is in this house) and covered the foam cushioning with that. Unfortunately, I had no real good way of fastening that stuff, so I glued the edge down to the top of inside of the box. That looked pretty horrible, so I painted it black to cover up how much of a hack it is.

(I’m not concerned about the scorch marks from the tablesaw. Sanding this joint definitely would have made a gap between the base and lid.)

solid block wooden pen box

Then it was done. A complete box. And the biggest surprise is that the pen fit in it. So often I make things and find that I managed to mess it up along the way. Not this time, though. So, a successful Christmas present.

solid block wooden pen box

I did make a couple of other things this year. The main one was a picture frame that needed to look rustic, so I artificially aged it with drain cleaner. That stuff is otherwise known as caustic soda and is a tried and true way to make new wood look old. I must say, it worked. In fact, it seems impossible to stop it from working. It just keeps going and going.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a turkey to cook in the new oven. Seems my trusty old range up and died just in time for Christmas. Yesterday, I had to go get one. The old one is currently hitchhiking at the end of my driveway. It’ll get a ride soon enough.

To all you, Merry Christmas. And, if I don’t get back to you before then, Happy New Year!