Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 11, Issue 2 - November 2016    
Building a Pencil Box
Antique pencill box
One of our Lee Valley staff members brought in an antique pencil box, the type with a mitered lid. It brought back memories of school days for a lot of us. It was suggested that this would make a good in-store seminar project if we changed the design slightly to be easier and quicker to make.
First attempt
The first prototype was built with two slots and a storage area. The waste was quickly removed with a saw-tooth bit and tidied up with a chisel. This first attempt worked out well, but it took much longer than the time allotted for the seminar.
Two compartment version
The second attempt was made using just one larger slot and a single hole for storage. This version took less time to make because there was less chiseling involved, but it was still outside the time constraint.
Single compartment version

So it was decided to keep it simple and go with just one compartment.

This pencil case is made from a single piece of poplar. The dimensions of the blank are 8-1/2" long x 2-1/4" wide x 1-7/8" deep. The lid is made by taking a slice off this same piece at 1/2" thickness along the length.

Cutting the blank for the lid

The two sides that form the underside of the lid and the top of the box should be planed smooth to give a good clean fit. Mark a center line along the length of the base. Mark the end of the recess at 1/2" from one end and 7/8" from the other.

Use a 1-3/4" saw tooth bit to remove the bulk of the recess in the bottom. The centers of the first two holes to be drilled are marked 7/8" in from the end marks on the center line. A set of dividers set to 7/8" makes this easier and more accurate. Set the drill press depth stop to give 1/4" thickness for the bottom.

Removing waste with saw-tooth bit
Use a fence on the drill press and set it to center the bit on the base. Drill out the two ends of the recess first, and then use the bit to drill overlapping holes to remove the waste in between. Using a chisel, remove the waste on the sides, left by the overlapping holes. To help with positioning the chisel, use a marking gauge to define the cut between the holes. Sand the interior of the recess now, as it is easier to do with the lid off.
Chiselling out waste

Place the lid back onto the base and ensure that the grain matches. Clamp the lid and base together and mark the position of the pivot screw onto the lid. The screw should be in the 7/8" wide end of the box. Use a tapered drill bit to drill through the lid and into the base to ensure alignment. Countersink the hole enough to allow the head of the screw to be below the surface. This allows for planing later. Install the screw.

Mark the miter cut on the lid. The positioning of this cut is dependent on whether the user is right- or left-handed. Mark one side 1/2" from the end and the other side 1-1/4" from the end to give the required angle.

Remove the lid, which is cut using a miter box and a jig. The miter box gives the angle across the lid and the jig angles the lid to give the second angle for the compound cut.

Jig  for cutting compound miter   Cutting the lid

The dimensions for the jig are as follows:

Jig for cutting pencil case lid

Screw the lid back in place and use a clamp to keep the top and base flush on their sides. This helps place the offcut in the correct position when it is glued in place. The offcut should be pressed up against the rest of the top, closing the gap left by the kerf.

Spread glue sparingly onto the offcut. It needs to be enough glue to hold, without causing excessive squeeze-out. Place a clamp across the box to hold the lid and base flush before gluing the offcut in place; position it carefully to match the miter on the opening part of the lid. Wait a short time until the glue has partially cured and will hold the piece in place. Take the side clamp off and open the lid to clean up any squeeze-out.

Clamping the lid in place to position the offcut

After the glue has dried, both ends of the box can be sawn flush using the miter box. Plane all sides flush and apply your finish of choice.

Text and photos by George Hammond,
Lee Valley staff

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