Posts Tagged ‘wooden box’

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In:In the Shop

Comments Off on A Simple Box, Made Simple

For any beginners out there, or just someone looking for a simple-to-make project, boxes are a good and inexpensive option.  I recently made a batch of display boxes that required me to come up with something that looked nice, but didn’t take a long time to make.  There are a few tricks-of-the-trade I used that others may benefit from, so here goes…

The sides of the box are naturally all going to be the same height and thickness, but I also made the top’s length, width, and thickness match the bottom (though these dimensions are different from the side’s).  So, start by flattening and bringing your wood to thickness in your preferred manner, for most that will be using a powered planer.  Then rip your boards to width on the table saw. Pretty straight forward, but here is where some of the tips start to come into play:

Clean up the top edge of all the sides, not the bottom edge, that will get cleaned up at the end.  This will be your reference edge for all future cuts and will not be easy to smooth out once the box is assembled.

Cleaning up the top edge with a block plane.

The joinery for the box will be glued mitered edges.  This allows through-grooves to be cut in sides to house the top and bottom panels.  It also looks nice.  Yes other joints work well and can even be stronger, but they are more complicated and this is meant to be simple and mass-producible.  So with that in mind, use a mitered cross-cut sled to cut one edge at a 45 degree angle, then flip the board and reference it against a hard-stop. This ensures the box sides are the same length.  If your sides are slightly different lengths OR if your angle is not exactly 45 degrees, your joints will not be tight in the end.  Make sure to get this right, especially if you’re making a large run of these boxes.  After the board is mitered into the box-wall components, label them with some form of mark on the outside face, towards the top edge (your reference edge).

Cut the first mitered edge…

…then reference a stop block and cut the other edge.

Miters are cut, parts labeled on outer face,           towards the upper edge.

Now for the grooves which  I do after cutting the miters.  If the grooves are cut first and then you cross-cut the miters, you risk small blow-out as the blade crosses the grooves.  A minor detail, but it’s simple enough to groove after mitering, so I do.  Two things to be aware of here:  first, both grooves are cut with the top edge registering against the fence.  This ensures the grooves will be parallel to each other, even if the bottom edge of the board is slightly off.  It also ensures your top edge will align nicely when the box is assembled which ensures a gap-free top panel and because we already cleaned up this edge, you won’t have much to do here after glue-up.  Second, the groove cut in the side for the lid is the same as the groove cut in the lid (the bottom doesn’t get a groove).  You don’t have to do it this way, but it’s a lot faster than cutting an arbitrary groove in the box side, then moving the fence and trying to dial in a different groove for the top panel.  The pictures should help this make sense.  The bottom groove is wider because it has to house the entire bottom panel.  I used a stacked dado set for this, but didn’t have it installed when I took the picture (sorry).

Lower groove about to be cut (dado blade not shown). Label is face up, towards the fence.

Side walls about to have top groove cut in. Notice the label is again face up, towards the fence.

Orientation of the groove for the side relative to the lid panel. Notice the blade and fence do not change for either cut.  This makes for fast work.

The end result, a nicely captured raised lid.

And with that, you’re just about there.  The top and bottom panels should fit nicely in their grooves, tight enough that there isn’t rattling, but loose enough that they can float freely without binding to allow for expansion.  Dry-fit your box, see how it looks, and when the joints look tight, glue it up.  I use packaging tape stretched across the miters.  It pulls the joint tight, it’s cheap, and it works.  After the glue dries, check the bottom edges.  They probably don’t align perfectly and that’s okay.  We deliberately did all our referencing off the top edge and ignored the bottom edge error until now.  You can use a block plane or belt sander to flush up the bottom edges and make a flat-sitting box.

Packaging tape “clamps” the box for gluing.

Bottom error quickly flushed up at the end.

Finally, sand the box and cut off the lid, either by hand, on a band saw, or a table saw.  You’ll have a little glue squeeze-out on the  inner corners to remove, then you’re about done.  All you have to decide is how to attach the lid. I like a press-fit liner, but hinges will also work.  If you do make a liner, it should match the box walls in grain-orientation and be mitered in the corners, held in by friction alone.  Gluing the liner in isn’t a terrible idea, but it’s nice if the liner can be removed if it gets damaged or if you want to change the configuration of the inside by adding divider walls, etc.

Completed display box (still needs finish applied). This lid is cut at an angle and required a non-conventional liner, but you get the idea.

To spice it up a bit, you can add mouldings, glue in keys across the mitered joint for added strength, or look into other methods for wrapping the grain pattern completely around the box without interruption, but again, those are a bit more advanced and this simple box is a good place to start.

Tips and Troubleshooting: -reference all joinery off the top edge, clean up the bottom after glue-up. -top panel groove should be identical to the groove in the side wall that houses the top panel. -top and bottom panels are identical except for groove added to the top panel. -pick a good proportion for you box, mine was around 6″ long x 4″ wide x 3″ tall.  An awkward proportioned box will never look good. -miters don’t pull tight?  check the following: 1) are my miters at 45 degrees exactly? 2) are my opposing side walls exactly the same length? 3) are my top/bottom panels too wide or long, preventing the corner joint from closing completely? 4) is there anything (wood chip, etc) stuck in my groove, preventing the top/bottom panel from seating properly?

Enjoy and have a great day. -WMT