Asian-Inspired Jewelry Box

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This article is from Issue 68 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Color and pattern. Dark wenge is used for the legs and handle posts. The box panels and lid frame are made from bocote. The top panel is bird’s-eye maple. Inner trays are made from clear maple.

Use contrasting woods to create a distinctive treasure chest

Jewelry boxes are fun to design and satisfying to build. If there’s a nicer way to make use of small pieces of precious wood, I haven’t discovered it yet. The design for this box began as a discussion about alternatives to corners that feature dovetail or miter joinery. I was also interested in creating visual interest by using contrasting wood tones and grain patterns. Eventually the design evolved into what you see here–a composition of bocote, wenge, maple and 1⁄8" plywood that has an oriental flair. I added a curved, shop-made handle to build on this theme.

The box contains two jewelry trays designed to hold a velvet ring insert and cardboard tray liners covered with velvet (inset photos). A project like this lends itself well to a spray lacquer finish, and that’s what I used (see Buyer’s Guide, page 66). A pair of brass hinges is the only hardware required. When building your own version of this project, keep in mind that many other contrasting wood combinations are possible. Since a couple of jigs are needed for tapering the legs and routing hinge mortises, I recommend gathering enough stock to make more than one box.

The joinery on this jewelry box is achieved using splines and grooves. 

All the grooves can be cut on the router table, using a 1⁄8" slot-cutting bit.

Small slots. The spline joinery that holds the box together begins with a 1⁄8" slot-cutting bit that extends through a zero-clearance auxiliary fence clamped to my router table’s fence. The bit’s depth and height stay the same for routing spline slots in the legs and in the panels that form the sides of the box. Rout slots in a pair of 3⁄4"-square × 7"-long leg blanks, as shown here, using a pushstick to protect your fingers.

Basic Construction Sequence

  1. Make the box.
  2. Make the lid.
  3. Hinge the lid to the box.
  4. Make & install the handle.
  5. Make the trays.

4 cuts in each blank. Make sure the grooved faces are hidden when making each taper cut. When you've made 4 taper cuts in each blank, the 4 legs can be cut to their final length.

Making the box: Tapered legs, tiny splines, panels & a plywood bottom 

Box-building tips

It’s easier to groove and taper two 7"-long leg blanks than to work with four shorter legs. That’s why the leg tapering jig is designed to work with a 7"-long blank.

• Cut the legs to their final length after the grooves and tapers have been cut.

Run a length of masking tape along the bottom of each panel so that you can easily see layout lines for the curved cuts you’ll make on the bandsaw.

Don’t glue all the legs and panels together at once. Instead, glue the legs to the end panels first. When the glue dries, finish the assembly by inserting the bottom panel and joining the front and back panels to the end assemblies.

Taper 2 leg blanks on a small, sled-type jig

Tapered legs reinforce the oriental style of this treasure box, but it can be challenging to cut precise tapers in such tiny parts. 

My solution was to fashion a small tapering jig that rides in the tablesaw’s miter gauge slot and has a “working” edge that’s cut flush with the blade. Fasten stopblocks to the base of the jig as indicated in the drawing, and install a clamp to secure the workpiece during the cut.

Cut splines to fit snugly. Run the workpiece on end over a zero-clearance insert to make the first two cuts for a pair of splines. Cut each spline free by guiding the workpiece against the miter gauge. 

Pause to prefinish. Protect the end grain of box panels with masking tape before applying two light coats of spray lacquer. The bottom of the box can also benefit from finishing prior to assembly.

Two-stage glue-up. Spread glue in the spline grooves to glue the legs to the end panels, then clamp these two assemblies. When the glue dries, finish assembling the box by inserting the bottom panel and gluing the front and back panels to the end assemblies. Check the corners for square while tightening your clamps.

Making the lid: Mitered frame & maple panel

Because of the distinctive striping in the bocote, I cut all four frame members from the same board to keep the grain as continuous and consistent 

as possible. The miter joints in the frame are grooved to accept reinforcing splines and the rabbeted panel. All of these grooves can be cut using a single setup with a 1⁄8" slot-cutting bit on the router table.

Cut miters, grooves & rabbets. After making test cuts in scrap stock to check and fine-tune the setting on my tablesaw miter gauge, I used the miter gauge to guide all 8 miter cuts in the lid’s frame pieces. Then I used the 1⁄8" slot cutter in my router table to groove the miter joints and the inside edges of all four frame pieces. I used the tablesaw for rabbeting the panel edges to fit in the grooved frame. Two passes through the blade complete each rabbet. 

Careful clamp-up. Complete a dry assembly of the lid to make sure the glue-up will go smoothly. Allow the splines to run long, as shown in the photo. Apply at least one coat of finish to the panel before assembling the lid, and let the panel float in the frame; don’t glue it. Masking tape will help keep joints aligned as you assemble the lid. Tighten the clamps just enough to close the miter joints. Excess pressure can shift joints out of alignment.

Steel and brass. I chose stainless steel screws because I like the combination of silver and gold, and because steel screws aren’t as prone to twisting off as brass screws are.

Joining the lid to the box

A nice box deserves good hardware, which is why I used a pair of high-quality brass hinges. With this design, the lid overhang provides a built-in stop when the lid is opened, so it’s not necessary to use stopped hinges. Although hinge mortises can be cut by hand with a chisel, I decided to do the job with a simple jig that I can reuse whenever I want to make another box like this one.

Use a jig to rout hinge mortises. Made from 1⁄2" plywood, my jig is designed to work with a plunge router fitted with a 1⁄4" straight bit and a 1⁄2" O.D. bushing. I positioned each hinge 2" in from the box corners. With this setup, the rectangular template opening to guide the bushing needs to be 1⁄4" larger than the dimensions of the hinge leaf that will fit in the mortise. Cleats fastened to the jig keep the jig aligned on the lid. To properly align the jig over the box, insert 1⁄2" spacers between the box panels and the cleats.

Handle construction:  Posts, pull & pins

This oriental-style handle could look just as nice on a cabinet as it does on this jewelry box. To make the posts, cut 3⁄16"-deep dadoes angled at 4° in a 7"-long blank that’s 3⁄8" square in section. Then cut individual posts from the blank. When cutting the maple handle on the bandsaw, allow extra thickness so the handle can be finish-sanded to fit in the slotted posts. Instead of boring mounting holes directly in the lid’s panel, I made a drilling jig with exact hole locations that could be placed over the panel. 

This part of the project requires 5 basic steps:

  1. Make the posts.
  2. Cut & sand the handle.
  3. Glue handle & posts together.
  4. Make & use drilling jig to bore holes in lid panel. 
  5. Install handle with dowel pins & epoxy. 

Handle, slots and holes. Sand the handle to remove saw marks and achieve a snug fit in the slotted posts. A mini miter box and saw are useful for cutting posts to final size. To drill an installation hole in each post, I wedge the post in a larger hole made in some scrap stock clamped to my drill press table. The alignment jig I made for gluing the maple pull to the posts can be reused to drill matching handle installation holes in the lid panel.

Tray details: Maple strips & velvet lining

Internal trays are important in a jewelry box like this one. Feel free to configure your dividers based on the items that need to be stored. For best results, follow these guidelines:

• Start with maple strips 1" wide and exactly as thick as the table saw blade you plan to use for cutting notches. The trays for my box require 4 strips of maple 36" long.

• I cut slots, dadoes and rabbets using the outer blade from my stack dado set, because it creates a flat-bottomed kerf. Another option is to use a finish-cutting blade or rip blade that does the same.

• Size your tray frames to be 1⁄8" smaller than the inside dimensions of the box, but cut tray bottoms oversize so they can be flush-trimmed with the router.

Cut, assemble, trim, and line. Notch the dividers with the blade raised to half the divider width. Keep joints square when gluing up each tray, and make the 1⁄8" plywood bottoms slightly oversized. Once the glue has dried, trim the bottoms flush with a flush-trim bit in the router. After finishing the assembled boxes with spray lacquer, you can cut cardboard inserts for the trays and wrap them with velvet.


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