Pinwheel Box

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This article is from Issue 17 of Woodcraft Magazine.

The lid to this bandsawn triangular challenge requires precision for a tight fit. Toy with the grain direction and add optional dividers for a creative three-sectioned box.

When I first started to work for the Austin, Texas, Woodcraft store I saw a fellow demonstrate how to make bandsaw boxes. I had an old bandsaw, and it looked like this was a safe and easy way to make boxes, so I tried it myself. The artist in me liked that these boxes could be in any shape and in any size or type of wood. Since then, I’ve designed and made many different boxes, and every one has been a fun experience.

This pinwheel box is a tricky project if you make it with the grain of the lid pieces converging in the center. It is also challenging to make the fit of the lid pieces so tight that the lid “clicks” into place when closing. I’ll show you how to make the more complex version of the box, but if you want to make it easier for yourself, just make the box with the lid pieces cut from the same piece as the body of the box and keep the grain going in the same direction. You may also sand the meeting edges of the lid a bit more so they swing freely when opening. 

The first, easier version of this box was made from a piece of spalted maple. It was just 41/2" on a side and did not have a divider. The more complicated canarywood box needed to be bigger and have dividers, so I had to figure out how to cut through a larger piece of wood than my bandsaw could handle. Challenges like this encourage us to use our imaginations!

Either way you decide to make it, this is a neat box that is interesting to make and a delight to hold.

Getting started 

In order to make the biggest box my 6"-clearance bandsaw could handle, I needed to figure out what size block to start with. It turns out that the final side measurement is 3/4 of the original side measurement. By starting with a triangle 10" on a side, I would generate a box with 71/2" sides. Digging through my wood block stores, I found just what I needed: a beautifully colored piece of 3"-thick canarywood that was 10" square. When you choose your stock, remember that strong directional grain patterns are preferred since they’ll add interest to the top.

I didn’t need to make the entire block smooth and square, so I cut out the original 10" triangle first (Fig. 1). Look for strong directional lines and color contrast in the grain.

Now sand the block smooth and square using a belt sander with the coarsest belt you have (I use a 60-grit belt). Starting with one triangular face, apply even pressure and keep the block square to the sides (Fig. 2). Reference the sides to the lines on the table and move the block side-to-side in a straight line to sand it evenly. If you don’t have a sander table like this, draw lines around the perimeter of the block to help you keep it even. Keeping the same side on the table, spin the block around and sand the other side flat and square.

Remove the saw tooth marks from the sides by placing the triangle face-down and sanding square to the face. Then finish sanding the sides with the grain by holding the wood against the moving belt (Fig. 3). Don’t press hard, just enough to eliminate the previous sanding marks. Always touch the bottom of the block to the belt first to keep the belt from spinning the block out of your hands, potentially damaging the block or injuring you. 

Change the belt on your sander to 120 grit and remove the scratches from the coarser belt.

Take a good look at your block and decide which is the best face. Mark this face with “top” and place it against your bandsaw fence. Set the fence to slice off a  5/8" lid and cut into the block as far as possible. Using a wide resaw blade will help keep your cut straight and true.

If you have a smaller block of wood, or your bandsaw has a riser block, you will just cut all the way through the block at this point. Otherwise, turn off the machine and back out of the cut. Repeat on the other two sides.

If you have not cut completely through the block, remove the blade guard and side blade guides to gain more height and repeat the cuts on each side. If necessary, cut through the remaining wood with a hand saw (Fig. 4). Be careful to keep the saw in the groove generated by the bandsaw blade. You can use any saw that doesn’t have a back stiffener to make this cut. I find that my Bakuma Japanese saw works especially well. Turn the block often to keep the cut even. To avoid breaking the remaining wood fibers near the end of your cut, place a small piece of wood in the kerf on the clamped side to keep the kerf from closing up.

Cutting the lid and bottom

Mark your lid block for four lid pieces using the pattern on page 33 (Fig. 5). I’ve drawn lines through the scrap areas so I don’t mistakenly veer into the good areas with the bandsaw.

Cut the triangles out first, using the resaw bandsaw blade and your fence (Fig. 6). While you still have the resaw blade installed, cut the body block to size, in this case 71/2" on a side; and slice 3/8" off the bottom of the block to make the bottom of the box.

Sand the faces (not the sides) of all pieces to 120-grit on the belt sander.

Change to a 1/8"-wide bandsaw blade for the curved cuts in the lid pieces (Fig. 7). If you cut to the center of the lines you will be able to sand the pieces until the lines are just about gone for a good fit.

Choose three of the four lid pieces for your box. Fig. 8 shows the three I selected arranged together, with the offcut from the box and extra lid piece on the left. 

It is important to get the lid pieces to fit together very well before doing anything else (Fig. 9). I used the half-triangle pattern shown in Fig. 9 to find the center, where the three pieces should meet. Smooth out the bandsaw blade marks first, then fine-tune. 

Place the lid pieces on top of the body block. Tape them to each other and then to the body. I like blue painter’s tape, which doesn’t leave residue behind. The lid will be slightly smaller than the body; center it by eye before taping.

Now turn the assembly over and mark the bottom of the body block for the three hinge holes using the pattern on page 33. The easiest way to do this is to place a copy of the pattern on the block and tap through the centers of the holes with a nail or center punch to mark the wood. 

Set your drill press to drill through the box body and halfway through the lid pieces with a 1/4"-brad point bit (Fig. 10). Taping the pieces together ensures the hinge holes will be aligned in both body and lid pieces. If you don’t have a drill press, you can drill the holes with a hand drill, but it might be difficult to keep the holes perpendicular. 

This next step is very important: before you remove the tape make registration marks on the sides of the lids and the body block. These pieces must remain in the same relative position from now on. After making the marks, remove the tape.

Assembling the body

Transfer the interior pattern to the top of the body block, and cut out the interior using the entry points shown in Fig. 11. This photo shows how the pieces should look when you are done.

Set up a dry fit with your clamps to make sure that the edges will meet. In this case, it was better to glue the cut on the left side first, let that set up, then later glue the other two at the same time. 

With the body glued together, smooth out the interior surfaces. It will take a while to remove all the bandsaw blade marks and make the interiors consistent. You could use a spindle sander (Fig. 12) or a sanding drum on a drill press. Fine sand the top of the base, the bottom of the box body, and the interior of the body to 220 grit on the belt sander.

Glue the body to the base. Don’t use too much glue, but use plenty of small clamps. In Fig. 13, you can see that I used too much glue. This both caused the pieces to slip while I was tightening the clamps and took hours of tedious scraping and sanding to clean off. 

Try fitting the pins in the holes, but do not force them. Sand the insides of the holes and the pins until you have a firm but easy fit. Epoxy the pivoting hinge pins into the lid holes. Use a square to make sure the pins are perpendicular to the inside of the lid pieces (Fig. 14) – this is critical. Check both right and left, and fore and aft, then keep checking until the epoxy has set. Use a rag to wipe off any excess epoxy before it sets up.

Now you can trial-fit the lid pieces. They should fit as well as those shown in Fig. 15. The lid pieces will not swing open yet. You will need to lift them out of their places for trial fittings. Don’t worry about discrepancies in the heights of the lid pieces or the roughness of the outside of the box, both of which will soon be addressed.


Tape the lid pieces together across the top to hold them securely in place for sanding. Use your coarsest sanding belt to make all the sides of your box smooth and even. Round over the triangle’s corners at the same time. 

Place the box on one side to sand the bottom. Move the tape to the sides to hold the lids in place and sand the lid pieces flush and smooth.

Change to the 120-grit belt and go over all the exterior surfaces again. Use this grit to round over the top and bottom edges of the box too. Hold the box with one of the pointed corners on the belt sander table and gently hold the corner of the box to the moving belt. Rotate the box to make a small rounded corner. If your eye isn’t trustworthy you can make pencil marks where you want the curves to start and stop. Do not do the tops of the corners this way; it is safer to do them by hand. Repeat with your 220-grit belt.

As you sand, renew the registration marks on the sides of the box so you will be able to put the lid pieces back in the same places.

Put on some good music, get comfortable, and prepare for a good long stretch of hand sanding. You cannot rush this part and expect to have a professional-looking box. Take enough time to do a great job and you will be rewarded with a beautiful finish. 

First, use some 120-grit paper to finish rounding off all the corners on the outside and inside of the box. Then use it to lightly sand the rest of the box exterior. Remove all the sanding dust and repeat with 220, 320, and 400 grits on all surfaces. 

If you have been careful you will have a flawlessly sanded box with no scratches and consistent curves (Fig. 16).  

Finishing up

Now you can make the lid pieces so that they swing open. This is a very delicate maneuver, so be careful. Use only 220-grit sandpaper and round over the outer corners of the lid pieces. Then, try to pivot the pieces. They will jam at some point and leave shiny spots on each other where they touch. Renew the registration marks, remove the pieces and sand the shiny spots away. Repeat until one of the sections slides open when pushed. If you’re lucky, the lid will now close with a satisfying “click” You will have to remember which lid piece to open first.

My finish here is Arm-R-Seal by General Finishes (Fig. 17). It is easy to apply with a rag, so there is no cleanup necessary. I applied two coats, rubbing it out lightly with a gray nylon pad between coats. Finally, I use the Beall Wood Buff System to give it a finish that just begs to be touched.  


Hardwood, 6" x 6" x 2" to 10" x 10" x 3"
1/4" Brass rod, 1" long (3)
Sandpaper, 120 to 400-grit
Wood glue
5-minute epoxy
Masking or painters’ tape


Hacksaw and hand saw
File to deburr brass rod
Drill or drill press
1/4" brad point drill bit
Bandsaw with 1/2"- 3/4" and 1/8" blades
Belt sander with table, 60 to 220-grit belts
Oscillating spindle sander or drum sander

Donna LaChance Menke

Donna LaChance Menke is the author of “The Ultimate Band Saw Box Book.” An accomplished woodcarver who has taught carving for twelve years, Donna lives near Austin, Texas. See more of her work at


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