Making A Manly Box General Woodworking

“Manly”, eh? Yes, a man needs a box to keep things in that are too important to leave laying around on a shelf or scattered all over.
And this realization came to me while watching a movie, “The World’s Fastest Indian”. The main character is getting ready to leave New Zealand for America to race his motorcycle, and has a box with various things including his passport.
This made me think that men on average seem to be more nostalgic than women and should have a special place to keep those important papers, photos and other memories in.

And while this project morphed into this manly box idea (I watched the movie after deciding that I need to make a box), it started as a simple project to demonstrate the box joint jig I sell plans for.

The wood I’ll be using is from a tree that was cut down in my yard, a large sugar maple that was showing signs of rot and looming over the north side of my house. About two years after it was down, I cut up some of the pieces into boards, including this 3″ thick slab:

This is splalted and has crotch grain (where two branches meet) at the end, and I made a video showing how I cut it with a chainsaw:

That was two years ago and it spent more than a year out on my covered front porch drying out before I brought it into my shop about a year ago. So it’s well seasoned and dry enough to use:

It does have a few fairly deep cracks, but I’m not going to worry about those or try to fix them – they’ll just add to the character of the box.

I trimmed the edges of the slab first, then cut it into three boards:

That it didn’t move while cutting it reassures me that it is dry enough, given the amount of figure it has.

A closeup look at the crotch:

And the spalting that adds even more interest.

I might have had enough from those three boards to do the whole box, but decided to cut oak for the bottom and plane that at the same time:

After flattening each face on my homemade jointer and running it through the thickness planer, I trimmed one edge straight on my table saw:

I have my straightedge guide clamped next to the fence to extend it for these cuts, and that helps to improve how straight they are after just one pass.

I then decided on the overall size of the box – not too small and not too big, and cut out the sides:

I also cut the parts for the top panel and glued that up. It’s in three pieces with the bigger piece (showing the crotch) in the middle:

I cut the parts for the sides long enough for box joints:

And used my ultimate box joint jig to cut those. However, I should have been more careful about the setup, as the joints came out a bit loose. One reason is the state of the blade I use for this – it needs to be sharpened and nearly as important, cleaned. I also made the first series of cuts with just one clamp holding the stock, when it should have been two. Cutting through end grain on four boards at the same time with a dull, dirty blade will put a lot of stress on the parts and they need to be held securely.

I thought about cutting them again, but then that would make the box too small. And I’m being picky here, since the glue I used filled all of the small gaps and they are not easy to see.

I used tape to hold the sides together while I trimmed the top and bottom flush:

I always leave the parts a bit wider than needed when making box joints, since it’s much easier to cut the edges in line with each other after the parts are put together.

While I’ve worked on projects that seem to be cursed, I think this one takes the honour of being the most. Here’s a better look at the loose box joints, but also the gap left from cutting the grooves for the top and bottom panels:

I tried to make these with my router table first, with a 5/16″ bit, but then my router died part of the way through. The routing, which needs to go most of the way across, was breaking out the fingers of the box joint, negating the benefit of the stop cuts on the router table. So I switched to the table saw and cut them all the way through.

The better way would have been to cut the grooves before cutting the box joints, but then I’d have to precisely size and offset the parts before cutting the box joints.

The bottom panel cut to size and a rabbet milled into the edges to fit in that groove:

For the top panel I got a bit more fancy, and set up a guide to make a cove cut on the table saw:

This is done through trial and error, making a sample before doing it on the finished part. You make a series of cuts all the way around the panel, raising the blade a small amount each time:

Eventually you end up with a gracefully curved raised panel that needs a ton of sanding. Here I’ve clamped it in my quick release vise to do that sanding:

I took it from 100 grit to begin with to 320 for the final finish.

The all important dry assembly to check for problems:

Since the panels are solid wood, they will expand and contract with seasonal changes in humidity, and I cut them 1/8″ less across the grain, but made them a tight fit from end to end with the grain.

Glue up time, I’m using polyurethane construction adhesive and only putting it in the area between the panel slots to begin with. That will help to keep squeeze out from gluing in the panels and I can force glue into the rest of the joints from the outside after the box is assembled:

There’s a box hidden in that pile of homemade clamps, I swear:

Before the glue set, I cut pieces to fill the gaps from cutting the slots and glued those in:

After sanding the sides I set the fence on my saw and cut the lid free:

I was thinking while doing this that it might be interesting to make a sealed box with something valuable inside, much like a time capsule to be opened by whoever finds it after I’m gone.

The saw cut removed one box joint and to make the them line up again, I cut another away:

That way the sequence of the joint is not interrupted with the lid closed:

Next it was sanding, from 100 to 320 grit in the entire box. I’ve said before that sanding is an often overlooked or undervalued part of a build, and the one that distinguishes a project that looks professionally made.

Given the spur-of-the-moment nature of this project, I had to use hinges that I bought locally. Shiny brass is not a favourite of mine, but at least they are the right size:

I used a tung oil blend to finish the box, starting with the inside:

And this is how it looks after that first coat:

Solvent based oil finishes make the wild figure of this wood pop, and it would look completely different with a water based coating.

Some glamour shots:

Overall, despite the problems I had, I’m very satisfied with how the box turned out. After letting the finish dry for a few days, I’ll start putting those important things in there and find a place of honour to put it.

I made a video showing the build: