Game Box

Comments (0)

This article is from Issue 97 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Craft a custom container for your favorite decks of cards

My family and I play a lot of games together. We enjoy all manner of board games new and old—and no shortage of card games. So I thought I’d store a few of our favorites in this fun box designed by senior editor Ken Burton. The project is a joy to make and it looks better on the shelf than messy stacks of cards. The box has two bottoms, the upper of which is custom-cut to hold your favorite decks. In this version, I made room for a couple of decks of regular playing cards for our War and Rummy sessions, and in the center is a cutout for family favorite, Uno. We also love Skip-bo, Phase 10, and the fast-paced Dutch Blitz. But you can customize the box to fit anything you like. Rout slots that hold poker chips, or get creative and outfit it for a board game. For a great gift, pre-load a box for other game-lovers. This version also features a tray to hold dice and note pads as well as pens for keeping score. I chose cherry for the box, accenting it with an ambrosia maple lid panel. 

Finger joints for the box and tray, slip joints for the lid

The first thing you’ll notice about this box is the unusual raised panel, which overlaps a slip-joined frame. A routed cove invites opening the finger-jointed container to reveal a removable divided tray, also held together by finger joints, that sits on ledgers to elevate it above the cards underneath. Customized cutouts in the bottom hold your games of choice. These bottoms fit into grooves routed into the inner walls of the box.

Order of Work

  • Build the box
  • Cut out the bottom
  • Make the tray
  • Make the lid
  • Mortise for hinges
  • Get the snacks, it’s game time.

Start at the ends. Starting with the end pieces, cut the finger joints, leaving 3⁄4" at the top edges. Then straddle the jig’s pin with the bottom-most notch of an end piece. Butt the bottom edges of a side piece and end piece against each other to begin notching the side piece, as shown.

Saw the fingers, rout the grooves, and assemble

Cut the box sides and ends (plus extra for setups) to the sizes in the drawing. Set up a simple finger joint jig to cut the joinery as shown. The end pieces terminate in fingers, but the sides terminate in notches. Using a 3/16"-diameter straight bit at the router table, groove each piece to hold the two bottoms, then cut the bottoms to fit your box. Measure and mark the cutout(s) for your cards of choice. Rout the cutouts using the same bit from routing the grooves. Dry-assemble the box, fit the ledgers, and clamp and glue them in place. Then immediately disassemble the box walls and wipe up any excess glue. Sand and pre-finish the interior, avoiding mating edges, and glue up the box as shown.

Better Box Joints

See Great Gear on page 60 for more information on dedicated box joint blades.


Check our website for a free article on the basics of cutting finger joints.

Grooves, through and stopped. Rout the double grooves in the interior box walls. The end pieces get through grooves, and the side pieces get stopped grooves. To rout the stopped grooves, hold the piece against the fence with the trailing shoulder on the start line, and lower the piece onto the spinning bit. Push the piece right to left, stopping when the leading shoulder reaches the stop line.

Rout it out. Lower the workpiece onto the spinning bit, and rout just inside your layout line for each shape, repositioning the fence as necessary. Clean up the hole edges using a sanding block.

Clamps and cauls. Brush glue on the finger joints, then clamp up the box. Plywood cauls wrapped in packing tape evenly distribute clamping pressure without sticking to the box.

One jig, two joints. I used a dressed board and my miter gauge to make this jig, which I use to cut both finger joint sizes for this box. To allow laterally adjustable attachment to my miter gauge, I installed T-track in both faces but near opposite edges. To switch finger sizes, flip the jig edge for edge. One indexing pin will poke rearward during use, but it won’t interfere with the operation.

Build and assemble the tray

While the glue is curing, start the tray. Cut the tray sides and ends (plus extra for setups) to fit your box. Use a full-kerf ATBR blade for a smooth, flat cut, and saw the finger joints as shown. The tray parts get a single groove to hold the bottom, but this time, both the ends and the sides get stopped grooves. Take care when test-fitting and dry-assembling the tray after routing the stopped grooves. The wood remaining in the grooved fingers is very thin and can easily break if you tug too hard in the wrong direction. If you do break a finger, simply plug the void after assembly. Cut the bottom to fit and pre-finish it before assembling the tray. Cut dividers as desired, and attach as shown.

Divide and pin. After assembling the box walls and bottom, fit your chosen dividers. To attach each one, hold it in place using spacers, and drill the 1⁄8"-diameter dowel holes as shown. Then glue the dowels in place.

Make the lid frame

Cut the rails and stiles (and extra for setups) slightly oversize. (You’ll trim them to fit after assembly.) Then cut the slip joints, which are essentially open mortise-and-tenon joinery. I used my table saw outfitted with a box joint blade set to make a 3/16"-wide mortise, setting the blade height to match the width of the rail stock. Position your tenoning jig to center the cut across the stock thickness, and then mortise both ends of each stile, always keeping the show face outward on the jig. 

To cut the rail tenons, install a full-kerf ATBR blade, and set its height to match the mortise depth. Set up to cut the innermost tenon cheeks as shown, and saw all four of them. Then reset the rip fence and saw all the outermost cheeks. Making cheek cuts like this rather than flipping the stock on the jig ensures consistent tenon thickness regardless of inconsistencies in stock thickness. Finish up the tenons by sawing the shoulders, then rout through grooves in the stiles and stopped grooves in the rails as shown.

Mortise the stiles. With the stock centered on the blade, hold the piece firmly against the jig to cut the mortise. Always orient the show face outward to maintain joint consistency.
Tenon cheek-cut setup. To set up to cut the innermost tenon cheeks, mount a mortised stile on your jig, and adjust your rip fence to align the innermost mortise cheek with the outermost face of the blade teeth. 
Saw the innermost cheeks. With the blade raised to match the stile width, saw both innermost cheeks on each rail. To avoid double-cutting, remove the workpiece before retracting the jig.
Saw the outermost cheeks. Again using a mortised stile as reference, reposition the rip fence to cut the opposite cheeks on the rails. Then make the cuts on all the rails. 

A little off the shoulder. Register the end of the tenon against a rip fence standoff block, and cut the tenon shoulders. A miter gauge outfitted with a sandpaper-faced auxiliary fence prevents slippage.

Stopped grooves for rails. With the trailing shoulder at your start line (obscured here), lower the rail onto the spinning bit. Move the piece right to left, stopping when the leading shoulder reaches the stop line. Rout the groove in two successively deeper passes, keeping the show face out.

Assemble and attach the lid

Size the lid panel to fit the dry-assembled frame. At the table saw, cut 3/16"-wide grooves, 5/16" deep in the panel ends. Then raise the blade 1/16" and groove the panel edges. Now, trim the edge tongues and round over the panel top as shown. Assemble the lid, applying glue only to the frame joints, not the panel grooves. Pin the panel through the rails where noted in the drawing (p. 47). Mortise the box for the hinges as shown, and install each hinge with a single screw. Trim the lid’s length as needed to fit between the box ends and set it in place atop the hinges. To transfer the hinge locations to the top frame, press a sharp knife upward along the end of each hinge barrel and into the edge of the frame. After cutting the hinge mortises in the lid, temporarily attach it to the hinges, and mark its front edge flush to the box. Detach the lid, trim its front edge, and rout a cove to serve as a lift. Sand everything and apply your finish of choice. I used several coats of Danish oil. Reattach the lid, and load the games. You win.

Tongue-trim. After grooving the panel edges, install a standard table saw blade and reset your fence to trim the edge tongues to 1⁄4" to allow for seasonal movement in the frame. The end tongues can stay as-is for a tight, fully-seated fit.
Lid roundover. Chuck a 1⁄8" roundover bit in your table router, and rout the profile on the top of the panel. To minimize tearout, rout the ends first, following up along the edges.

Rout the hinge mortises. Make a simple jig like the one shown here to mortise the box and lid for the hinges. You’ll need a platform big enough to prevent your trim router from tipping, and a clampable fence for alignment. Using a guide bushing and a 1⁄4" straight bit, rout the mortises. Follow up by chiseling their corners square. 


Write Comment

Write Comment

You must be logged in to write a comment. Log In

Top of Page