Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 8, Issue 4 - March 2014    
A Special Box
One summer, I had agreed to help my brother-in-law build a simple deck for his daughter's backyard. As is often the case, a simple plan can turn complex quite quickly. We continued with the construction in our spare time during what was, of course, the hottest part of the summer. The deck turned out very nice and everyone was happy. A few weeks later, I received a gift of some very special tools from my niece. I was surprised and pleased. My first thought was, "Where am I going to keep these so that they're handy and ready to be used?" I decided they needed a special box in which to store them all together. I played around with a layout that included dividers and holders for the tools.
Special tools
The author's "special" tools, given as a gift, needed a special box in which to store them.
Inner dividers
The inner dividers and holders built specifically to hold the tools in the box.
I had already signed up for a class that was being taught by Doug Stowe at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. This provided the opportunity to work on a design and to learn box-making methods. I'm not a seasoned woodworker, and achieving accuracy in my work is still a challenge for me. When I arrived at the class, I had a pretty good idea of what size box I needed and had already started to rough cut the internal parts. I brought some quarter-sawn sycamore and a piece of walnut that had a knot and an interesting grain pattern. Instruction on how to fabricate and assemble the box was the part of the plan that I needed.
Sled for 45° cut
The sled used to cut the ends of the box at 45° angles.
Doug presented many ideas to the class and had several examples on display. He showed us how to build simple sleds for the table saw to accurately make the 45° and 90° cuts. I cut the sides, ends, top and bottom using the sled and a stop block to ensure accurate lengths and angles. Before cutting the parts, I verified that the angles were correct using a good combination square.
The cut grooves
The cut grooves into which the top and bottom pieces fit.
The grooves into which the top and bottom pieces fit are cut using the table saw fence at a set distance from the top and bottom edges of the box sides and ends. Place the sides and ends face down on a flat surface end to end, ensuring the joints are carefully aligned, and tape together with packing tape. Cut rabbets on the top and bottom pieces to leave tongues to fit the grooves. Allow a little clearance for expansion. Carefully turn the end and side pieces over and fit the top and bottom pieces in the grooves. Apply glue to the joints and fold the end and side pieces over the top and bottom to close all joints. Tape the joints tight, check for square and let the glue cure. While the glue is setting, you can build another simple sled to hold the box at a 45° angle to the table for cutting key slots to reinforce the corners.
Sled used to hold box at 45°
The sled used to hold the box at a 45° angle.
Make a story stick the same length as the height of the box sides. On the stick, lay out where you want to position the keys. Keep in mind that when you make the cut to separate the lid from the bottom of the box, the saw blade will obviously remove an amount equivalent to the thickness of the blade. The keys should be made to match this thickness. Make some spacer blocks for the sled to move the box into position for the key cuts, as determined by the story stick. Cut all four corners for all of the key slots but do not cut through to the inside of the box. Choose a depth that is pleasing to you. The keys reinforce the miter joints and add some character to the box.
Spacer blocks and story stick for hinges
The spacer blocks and story stick for the hinges.
Cut some contrasting material into triangles slightly larger than necessary, of a thickness to fit the key slots, and glue them into place. When the glue is dry, cut off the excess material and sand smooth. A stationary belt sander works well for this but is not necessary; a sanding block, though slower, will work just as well. If you do use a belt sander, use a light touch or you'll remove more wood than you want to.

To separate the top from the bottom of the box, position the box on its side in front of the table saw blade. Then position the table saw fence against the box. Adjust the blade height so that you don't cut through. Leave just enough material so that the top remains attached but can be cut through easily using a fine saw. Check and adjust the blade height as necessary to keep the blade from binding on the last cut. Finish the separation with the knife and sand the edges.

For the hinge placement, make a story stick that is as long as the side of the box. Using the table saw and the 90° sled, cut out a notch that is a friction fit to the hinge in the location that looks best to you. Use the story stick to lay out the hinge location on the box and lid and mark it using a sharp razor knife or pencil. Remove the wood using a sharp chisel. Both hinge locations can be laid out by flipping the story stick over end to end. As an alternative for those who have a router table, use the story stick to set up stop blocks on the fence for the start and end cuts. Use a 1/8" bit and set the depth to the hinge thickness. Repeat the setup for the opposite hinge location. I used a small super magnet and a steel screw for a latch.

Sand and apply the finish of your choice. You should have a very nice box to keep for your own treasures or to give away as a gift.
Box prior to staining
The box prior to applying the finish
The author?s finished box   The author?s finished box
The author’s finished box looks great and serves its purpose well.
Text and photos by Richard Bell
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