Box With Needlessly Complex Joinery And Hand-Cut Inlay General Woodworking
This is a project that I’ve been wanting to do for more than a year. It’s actually inspired by the box making scene in the season finale of “Breaking Bad”, where Jesse Pinkman (one of the main characters in the show, for those that are not familiar) makes a wooden box with hand tools.
After I watched it, I immediately thought it would be interesting to do something to play off that. I watched it several times, studying it over and over, and even did a kind of a story board for the video to help as I filmed it.
At first, I was going to do a 100% faithful reproduction (within my limits as a video maker, of course) of the scene and also the box. However, I didn’t think the finished box was anything special and it had some basic building mistakes that I couldn’t bring myself to do. Additionally, the entire scene was very short – around one minute and skipped over a bit more of the detail than most viewers of woodworking videos are used to seeing.
So instead I decided to go a bit overboard with the box construction, making the joinery more complex than it needed to be. While it appears that I’m doing it all with hand tools in the video, in reality I did the bulk of the work using power tools to speed up the progress. I did do several very key parts of the build with just hand tools, including cutting the recesses for the inlaid squares in the top, and the dovetail ends to close in the through mortises.
The video was lengthened out to 3 minutes to show a bit more detail, while also keeping the ones from the original. It doesn’t go as deep as most of my regular build videos, since it was not meant to be instructional.
I must confess, it was an interesting project on both fronts and quite a pleasure to do.
To get started, I raided my scrap wood cabinet for some pieces of maple for the sides, top and bottom. I had ordered the barrel hinges (the only hardware used) a few months back in preparation for this project. I then cut the sides and ends to length (basically however long they could be from the scraps I picked out, since there wasn’t any real plan made for this) and cut a dado in each piece for the bottom panel:
To form the through tenons on the end pieces, I made shallow shoulder cuts on the table saw:
Then the face cheek cuts and the edge cheek cuts:
First bit of hand toolery, trimming down the edge shoulder cut flush. I cut it a bit proud on the saw to avoid cutting into the clean shoulders:
With the tenons done, I used those to lay out the through mortises precisely on the side pieces and made the first cuts on the table saw. I then removed the rest of the material on the band saw:
These are unusual in that they are actually open and will be closed later with a contrasting piece.
The band saw left a rough cut and I wanted these to fit perfectly, so I set up a guide block and trimmed these out by hand with the chisel:
It certainly helps when the chisel is freshly honed and I did that using my sharpening jig:
Time consuming to do it that way, but I can’t complain about how well that turned out:
Now on to what I think is one of the more interesting aspects of the box, and that’s the dovetailed end pieces to close in the through mortise. Originally, I was going to use these walnut pieces to do it, and even went so far as to cut them out. But to do that would create the same kind of cross-grain situation that made me not go with the original box design from the show. That box was riddled with cross-grain joints that may eventually fail:
Instead, I made new pieces from sapele with the grain oriented the correct way. With nearly every type of joint there will be some cross-grain, but the best approach is to try to minimize it. More hand work to cut the dovetailed recesses and the piece slips right in:
With all of the joinery in good shape, I did a dry fit to check for any problems. It all looked good, so I went ahead and glued it together. This was a fairly difficult glue up and to give myself more working time I used polyurethane construction adhesive, and let it set overnight:
To clean off the squeeze out and flush the joints, you can use a sharp plane, but there’s always the chance of snagging out a hunk of what you worked so hard on. So instead, I use the belt sander to quickly cut it down:
I did some hand scraping in the video for effect, then a lot of hand sanding off camera:
Next operation was to get the hinges for the lid installed. Unfortunately, the size hole this hinge fits in must be metric, since my 1/2″ bit was too big and the next size down that I have was too small. I wound up grinding an older spade bit smaller to make the right diameter hole. While I was at it, I made the point less pointy, so that it would make a flatter bottom hole and not go through the top of the lid:
To dress up (or mess up, depending upon your perspective) the top, I decided to do a kind of an abstract random pattern of contrasting wooden squares and rectangles as inlay. I cut some more scrap sapele into 1/8″ pieces and laid them out on the top:
I used a forstner bit to carefully remove the bulk, then trimmed it to the line with the chisel:
This took quite a while to do. I believe it took just as long to cut in these squares as it did for the rest of the build up to this point. But I will say that it was interesting to do, although it was getting a bit tedious near the end:
With all of the pieces glued in, it was back to the belt sander to grind them down, then I actually did use the scraper to finish making them flush. The advantage of the scraper is that it won’t round over the squares into humps like sanding does and that makes for a flatter surface:
Finally it’s fully sanded and ready to finish:
I used boiled linseed oil to bring out the rich colour and grain of the sapele, and highlight the chatoyance in the curly maple. Seen here with one wiped-on coat, I’ll let that dry and apply another coat and continue until I’m happy with the look and feel of the wood:
Definitely a change of pace for me from the usual things I make these days. It’s funny, I occasionally get comments or emails asking if I ever do any “real” woodworking projects, or if I only do shop projects. Nice to mix it up once in a while just to keep it interesting.
Here’s the video of the box build: