Tile-Top Box

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This article is from Issue 48 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Keeper jigs make this construction spot-on accurate and repeatable.

Overall dimensions: 12"w × 10"d × 53⁄4"h

Makers of decorative boxes forever seek novel ways to join box sides and present a special look using favorite–often figured–woods and other materials. They also want box-making jigs to speed the cutting and assembly assignments and for achieving perfection. This handsome container promises all that and more!

Here, a mix of quartersawn sycamore, walnut, and ebony creates visual contrasts, while dovetail keys lock in the mitered corners.

Adding to the uniqueness is the ceramic tile top that personalizes the box, making it ideal for gift giving. Instead of a wood panel in a lid’s frame, an 8 × 10" tile displays a transferred photo image. Photos of a scenic landscape, favorite pet, or family members all make great subjects, and you can select from a matte, satin, or glossy finish. You also can order tiles in several sizes, but you’ll have to adjust dimensions accordingly.

Better still, when you build the box, you’ll encounter a super-accurate box-maker’s miter sled, a router-table dovetail slot jig, and a butt-hinge mortising template to add to your box-making arsenal. Use these to mass-produce as many boxes as you want.

Note: Order the tile in advance, and measure it for the best fit in the lid’s wood frame. My tile measured 77⁄8 × 97⁄8".

Angle the blade to exactly 45°, adjust the stop, clamp down the workpiece, and safely make the cut.

Make the box sides

1 Dress the stock for the box front and back (A) and sides (B), initially planing it to 3⁄4" thick. (I used quartersawn sycamore and walnut. Consider figured maple if sycamore is not available.) Dress sycamore and walnut stock for the lid to 7⁄8" and set it aside.

2 Rip the walnut side stock to 1" wide and the sycamore to 4". Edge-glue the contrasting woods for the box front and back (A) and sides (B). (See Figure 1 for reference.) Remove the squeeze-out. Now joint and plane the stock to 5⁄8" thick.

3 Build the Box-Maker’s Miter Sled, as described in Figure 2, or go with a tablesaw miter gauge, extension fence, and stop if they reliably make perfect cuts.

4 Cut the edge-joined stock for the box front and back (A) and the sides (B) to the lengths in the Cut List, plus 1". Set the sled’s stop, clamp the box front or back piece in place, and miter-cut one end. Repeat for the other piece, as shown in Photo A. Now miter-cut the other ends of parts (A). Cut the sides to finished length.

Raise the blade to the walnut/sycamore seam, slide a sacrificial fence against it, and safely cut the rabbet.
Align and adhere the leg templates to the box parts with double-faced tape, and flush-trim the openings with a 1⁄2"-diameter bit.

5 Outfit your tablesaw with a combination blade having FTG teeth for a flat-bottom cut. Now, cut the 1⁄8" rabbet in the outside faces of the sides, where shown in the Front Section View of Figure 1 and in Photo B.

6 With a dado set or 7⁄32" plywood bit, cut the grooves for the box bottom (C) in the front and back (A) and sides (B), where shown in the Front Section View in Figure 1. Cut a second set of grooves in the front and back for the tray supports (F).

7 Make four copies of the Foot Template pattern in Figure 1. Next, cut two template pieces from 1⁄4" scrap plywood. Make one 1 × 12" for the box front and back (A), and one 1 × 10" for the box side (B). Spray-adhere the patterns onto the ends of the pieces, and strike a line connecting the end patterns. Cut and sand the opening between the ends. Peel off the patterns, and mark a centerline on the templates.

8 Strike centerlines on the outside faces of the front and back (A) and sides (B). Fit the template in the rabbet and align the centerlines with those on the box parts, and lay out the box legs. Rough-cut the openings at the bandsaw. Then template-rout the waste between the legs, as shown in Photo C.

How To Build The Sled:

1 Cut the base and machine the dadoes and rabbet. 

2 Radius the front corners, and cut the T-Tracks to length. Drill 1⁄2" holes in the tracks to accept the cap screws. Epoxy the tracks in place.

3 From dressed hardwood, cut the fence and stiffener. Cut the groove in the fence, round over the corners on both pieces, and screw them in place. Cut and screw in the fence T-Track.

4 Cut the blade guard from face-joined stock. Center it on the fence, and glue it in place.

5 Make the stop.

6 Install the miter slider hardware, using package instructions. Add the hold-downs and stop.

With the clamping jigs held in place, apply spring clamps at the box corners, as shown, for snug miter joints all around.
With the box aligned and secured with hold-downs, move the jig along the fence to cut a clean, splinter-free dovetail slot.

Assemble the box

1 Dry-fit the box sides, and measure for the bottom (C). Cut it to size and test the fit.

2 Make two long and two short clamping jigs from 1⁄4" plywood scrap and hardwood wedges. Bond the wedges to the ends of the plywood pieces using a simple glue rub joint.

3 Lay the box front and back (A) and sides (B) face down on a flat surface. Align the edges and tape the ends together to control glue slippage. Now stand the taped assembly up on its feet, leaving the joints open enough to brush on glue. Clamp the jigs at their centers to the box parts. Apply glue to the mitered ends of the box parts, fit the bottom (C) in the grooves, and wrap the front, back, and sides around it. Use spring clamps on the jig ends to draw the corners together (Photo D). Check for square, and remove glue squeeze-out.

4 Cut and glue corner blocks (D) into the inside corners of the feet to ensure a lasting bond here. Let dry and sand flush.

5 Lay out three dovetail slots at the box corners, using the dimensions in Figure 1.

Form the dovetail key shape on the workpiece edges by running both faces past the adjusted bit and fence.

6 Build the adjustable Dovetail Slot/Spline Jig in Figure 3, following the instructions with the drawing.

7 Install a dovetail bit in your table-mounted router (I used a 7° bit with a 17⁄32" diameter). Adjust the fence so the dovetail jig is centered over the bit. Next, clamp a straightedge to the outside face of the jig to keep it from veering during use. Raise the bit to 1⁄2", and cut a dovetail slot through the jig.

8 With the box in the jig, center the centerline for the top corner dovetail in the jig’s slot opening. Adjust the stop snug to the box, clamp the box in place with hold-downs, and rout the first dovetail slot. Loosen the hold-downs, rotate the box, retighten the hold-downs, and cut the second slot. Repeat to cut all four top dovetail slots. Align the centerline for the middle dovetail slots in the jig’s slot opening, readjust the stop and hold-downs, and rout the slots (Photo E). Repeat for the lower dovetail slots.

9 Plane walnut dovetail key stock to just over the diameter of the dovetail bit. Raise the dovetail bit higher than when used to cut the slots. Adjust the router-table fence, and form the dovetail key shape by running both faces of the stock against the fence and bit (Photo F). Test the key stock in the slots to ensure a tight fit.

10 Rip dovetail key strips from the stock, and cut it into the needed number of keys (E). Cut the pieces long, and glue them in place. Later, flush-cut the waste and sand or plane the keys flush with the box.

How To Build The Jig:

1 Cut the sides, gussets, and cradle sides, bevel-cutting the latter where shown.  Cut and sand the radii on the sides and gussets.

2 Rout two dadoes for the T-Track in the top face of one cradle side. Cut two T-Tracks to length, and use a twist bit to drill shallow 1⁄2" holes  at one end of each track to accept the cap screws. Epoxy in place.

3 Drill countersunk pilot holes, and screw the cradle sides to the gussets. Screw the gussets to the sides. 

4 Drill countersunk pilot holes, and screw the gussets to the sides.

5 Cut the adjustable stop, and drill the knob hardware holes.

6 Add the hold-downs and stop to the jig.

Add the tray supports and tray

1 Rip, plane, and crosscut two tray supports (F) to 7⁄32 × 1⁄2 × 103⁄4". Test their fit in the groove in the box front and back (A), and set them aside.

2 Resaw and plane enough stock to 1⁄4" thick for the tray’s long sides (G), short sides (H), long dividers (J) and short dividers (K). Set the divider pieces aside, and cut the tray sides to size.

3 Cut a groove that matches the thickness of the tray bottom (I) in the sides (G, H), where shown in Figure 4. Now, rabbet and dado the ends of the tray sides for the joint shown in the Corner Detail.

4 Cut the tray bottom to fit, and then glue up and clamp the tray assembly.

5 Measure from the tray’s top edge to the bottom (I) and subtract 1⁄16" for the felt liner and cardboard backer. Use this dimension to cut the dividers (J, K) to width. Cut the dividers to length. Now, use a 1⁄4" dado set, miter gauge, extension fence, and stop to cut notches in the dividers. Set the tray supports (F) and tray aside.

Run the miter-cut top rail through the 45° channel and into the slot-cutting bit, using the router fence as a stop.

Make the box lid

1 Rip and edge-glue a 3⁄8"-wide sycamore strip to a 1"-wide walnut strip from the stock dressed earlier. Remove the squeeze-out, and dress the glue-up to 3⁄4" thick. Make extra material for machining setups.

2 Cut two rabbets–one inside the other–on the inside (sycamore) edge, as shown in the Lid Detail in Figure 1. (One rabbet will contain the tile and should be determined by the tile’s thickness; the other rabbet for the the 1⁄8"–thick tile retainer (N) that holds the tile in place.)

3 Rout 1⁄4" chamfers on the top inside edges of the stock.

4 Miter-cut the lid’s long rails (L) and short rails (M) to lengths that match the box front and back (A) and sides (B), respectively. Cut an extra piece for use in Step 5.

5 Install a 5⁄32" slot-cutting bit in your router table for #FF biscuits, and raise it to cut in the center of the rails (L, M). Adjust the fence to cut a depth that is just over one-half the width of a biscuit. Next, cut two pieces of 1⁄2"-thick MDF to 12" wide, miter-cutting one end of each piece. Locate them against the fence, and clamp them in place to create a channel for slot-cutting the mitered ends of the rails. Now, slot-cut the test piece, keeping the slot 1⁄8" from the rail’s outside edge. Cut the slots in one end of each rail (Photo G). Flip the MDF pieces, and set up a channel to cut the mating slots. Make the cuts.

6 Test-fit the lid rails (L, M) together, and fit the tile in place. You want 1⁄16" clearance all around in the rabbet. Measure for the tile retainer (N) and cut it to fit.

7 Biscuit-join the long rails (L) and short rails (M) to make the lid frame, using a strap clamp and checking for square.

8 Finally, align and adhere the lid frame (L, M) to the box with a few pieces of double-faced tape, testing the fit. If needed, sand or flush-trim the frame to the box. Label its front and back edge and remove it.

Install the hinges and finish up

Note: Instead of precisely laying out the hinge mortises and cutting them with a chisel–which you can do–I took a short cut by using the Brusso hinge template, a trim router, and corner chisel for the Brusso hinge mortise work.

Using the Brusso brass hinge template, rout hinge mortises in the box and lid, moving the bit clockwise.
Fit the corner chisel into a mortised corner, and then smack its spring-loaded cutter pin for a crisp, square result.

1 Raise the box lid so it’s even with the top edge of the box, using filler pieces. Check it with a straightedge. Also, align the box sides with the lid, clamping straight scrap pieces to fix them in place. Now, apply double-faced tape on the bottom face of the Brusso hinge template, and locate it snugly between the box and rear edge of the lid. Flush one template’s edge with a box side, and press it in place.

2 Equip a handheld router with a 3⁄4" guide bushing and 1⁄4" straight bit, and make test cuts in scrap no deeper than the thickness of the hinge leaf. Now, rout the mortises for one hinge. Repeat at the other side of the box, as shown in Photo H.

3 Square the rounded corners of the hinge mortise with a corner chisel (Photo I).

4 Test-fit the hinges and drill screw holes with a self-centering bit. Make any fine-tuning adjustments, and then remove the hinges.

5 Use the pattern in Figure 1 to cut the lift (O). Now use the lift's thickness to set the bit height at the router table. Set up stops and rout the centered recess in the lid. Test the lift's fit. Glue it in place. Sand. 

6 Glue in the tray supports (F), and sand the box to 220 grit. Finish it. (I sprayed on three coats of lacquer thinned at five percent.)

7 Install the tile, holding it in place with the tile retainer (N) and screws.

8 Line the box bottom (C), tray bottom (I), and tile retainer (N) with peel-and-stick felt. Do this by cutting stiff cardboard pieces to fit. Adhere slightly oversized felt pieces to the cardboard pieces, trim, and drop in place. With the retainer, adhere the felt to its inside face and trim it. Reinstall the hinges, drop in the tray, and your box is gift-ready.


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