Inside the Box

Chances are you own a wooden box.  Boxes are the basic form at the heart of many types of furniture, cabinets, planters and even buildings.  They have been irresistible ever since Pandora’s box was first tempting people to open it.  They most often are made to hold specific objects, but can be made solely as creative works of art.  Whether practical or whimsical, woodworkers have been building and embellishing boxes through the ages.

Wooden boxes are a favorite project for woodworkers.  The range of possibilities is endless; from pencil boxes to jewelry boxes, shipping crates to hope chests and even funeral urns.  Add a mechanical chime to a box and you have a music box.  Build one around a clock mechanism and you have a potential heirloom clock.  Need to store a treasured item?  A custom box is perfect.  

Woodworkers may be drawn to box making because of the freedom of expression it allows, to solve a storage problem or maybe just because it’s a project that doesn’t require a lot of wood to build.  It provides an opportunity to experiment with design and gain new skills. Boxes are an excellent way to develop woodworking skills since the techniques and tools used apply directly to other more complex woodworking endeavors like furniture making.

Traditional box building is sometimes referred to as ‘flatwork.’  You basically mill four sides, a top and bottom and then assemble them.  Of course, it’s usually a bit more complicated than that.  You need to decide on the type of joinery to use, how the lid will work, and whether it will be embellished or plain.  And not all boxes have to have square sides.  Bandsaw boxes have smooth flowing lines and often feature teardrop shapes made possible by long, smooth cuts on the bandsaw.  Scroll saws can make piercing cuts so scroll saw boxes usually will include delicate fretwork.  You can even turn boxes on a lathe.  Turners create hollow cylinders with matching turned lids.

One critical element in traditional box making is the joinery.  A simple butt is easy to make but it is neither strong nor elegant.   Look at the joints on one of your wooden boxes.  Chances are you will see dovetailed joints, finger joints or splined joints.  Each is strong and decorative and once glued, they do not require mechanical fasteners for strength.

Any wood will do for box building but using attractive woods will really add to the look of the piece.  Contrasting wood colors, grains and burls provide beautiful visual interest.   And the surfaces can be embellished with inlay, fretwork and trim like pillars and moldings to really take it to the next level.

If you are looking for a project that will challenge your design and building skills it is hard to beat box making.  You can satisfy a practical storage need and express your creativity at the same time.  But be forewarned, box making can be addictive.

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