Keepsake Box

A classy container with architectural profiles

Keepsake boxes are enduring favorite projects for many woodworkers. Some of these handcrafted wooden repositories are practical in design; others are elaborate and aesthetically pleasing while maintaining their functionality. This container, which is perfect for anyone, falls under the latter category. Its lavish lines and fabric-covered sections enhance its elegance, while its spaciousness and divided tray increase its utility.

The ornate profiles that set off this attractive repository are achieved with a handful of router bits that create architectural profiles you may recognize in your own home. For example, the box walls are shaped with a crown molding bit that is also used to help shape the feet here. And a table edge bit, which can also be used for staircase handrails, shapes the lid frame and its raised panel. Contrasting wood species (canary wood and leopard wood) add to the stylish design.

Miters make up most of the joinery, and the lid frame and box are reinforced with Domino tenons, though you can use splines instead (see below). The clever construction includes unusual techniques sure to challenge your woodworking skills, and the finished box will provide a gorgeous haven for jewelry, collectibles, and other mementos.

    Mitered majesty

    The joinery on this regal-looking box consists largely of miters reinforced with Festool Domino tenons. The box walls, which are shaped using a crown molding bit, are grooved to accept a bottom panel. Atop that sits a fabric-wrapped “false” bottom and runners that support a partitioned sliding tray. The lid frame is double-grooved to capture a raised panel on top and a fabric-wrapped inner panel beneath it. The hinges that attach the lid are positioned to support it upright when open. The container sits elevated on ornate molded, sawn, and mitered feet that are glued and pinned in place.

    Order of Work

    • Build box
    • Shape feet
    • Make lid
    • Attach feet and lid
    • Make tray
    • Finish and assemble

    Rout the profile and build the box

    Saw a 7/8"-thick board to about 8 × 22", which will yield all four box walls Outfit your router table with a crown molding bit (see p. 62). Adjust the bit height so that the cutting edge starts 1/8" above the table, which will leave a 1/8"-thick ledge at the edge of the stock. Then rout the profile on each edge of one face, taking multiple shallow passes as shown. Use the same procedure on a piece of scrap that you can use to create a custom sanding pad (see sidebar below).

    Rip a 3-3/8"-wide section from each edge of the stock. Then miter each of the two resulting sections into a short side and a long side. To ensure grain continuity around two of the box corners, cut the long and short sides from opposite ends of the sections. Saw grooves in each piece for the bottom panel, then cut the Domino mortises in the mitered ends. (See onlineEXTRAS for an alternative to Festool Domino joinery.) Dry-fit the box and measure for the bottom. Cut the bottom to size, then sand its outside face and the inside faces of the box walls before assembling.

    Miter the box walls. Using a sled and a standoff block along the rip fence, miter to length the long sides from each box wall blank. Then miter the short sides. A stop secured in the table slot prevents excess sled travel.

    Complementary sanding block

    A complementary sanding block significantly reduces time smoothing moldings. To make one, first crosscut two 1⁄8"-wide kerfs a few inches apart in a scrap of your molding, then wedge a plywood “dam” in each kerf. Lay plastic wrap (as a mold resist) over the assembly, and press a thick layer of auto body filler into the dammed area. Cut a 3⁄4"-thick backer to size, and press it onto the filler. After an hour, pull your sanding block free, attach sandpaper using spray adhesive, and fasten on a handle. I typically make two sanding blocks for a particular molding profile, facing one with 150-grit paper, and one with 220 grit.

    Cut the Domino mortises. After sawing the grooves for the bottom, set the Domino’s fence to 45°, and secure the parts before making the two mortises into the face of each miter.

    Pull it together. Quick-grip clamps are more effective than band clamps on heavily profiled box walls like this. Position them for force in each direction to bring the joints together. Then ensure the box is square under clamp pressure.

    Make and shape the feet

    Spray-adhere a printed foot profile pattern to 1/8"-thick plywood, then drill and scrollsaw the shape to create a plywood pattern. Mill stock 7/8" thick, at least 2" wide, and 24" long, enough to yield 12 parts—eight for the box and four for set-ups. Rout the coves as shown, then rout a 1/8"-radius roundover on both edges of the coved face. Next, rabbet the edges of the opposite face to create the recess for the box.

    Rip a 7/8" strip from each edge of your coved blank and then miter and crosscut your 12 parts to length, making six right-hand and six left-hand miters. Drill the holes in the feet and trace the profile as shown. Scrollsaw each foot to shape, and sand its edges. Glue up each pair of feet, being careful to align the top edges. The bottoms of the feet will be sanded flush after attachment to the box.

    Drill the feet. Use the foot template and a mitered stop to position a foot blank with its top edge against the drill press fence. Then bore the 3⁄8"-diameter hole into the coved face.

    Trace the profile. Use a dowel inserted in the foot blank’s hole as registration for the template. Then trace its profile onto the blank. A white colored pencil improves visibility when scrollsawing on dark wood.

    Wrap it up. After brushing glue onto the miters of mating feet parts, rub them together to tack up the glue. Then wrap a rubber band around the pair and press their top edges against a flat surface to make sure they align.

    Make the lid frame and panel

    Cut two pieces of your lid frame stock to about 3 × 24" long, which will yield the frame pieces and some extra for kerfs and test cuts. Shape the profile on the router table using a table edge router bit (see p. 62). Adjust the bit height and fence to bring the full curved portion of the cutting flute into play. Rip the pieces to width, and then use a sled as shown to saw the miters accurately and consistently. Dry-fit the frame and measure for the two lid panels. Saw the raised panel to size, groove its edges, and then rout the profile using the same bit as for the frame. Saw the inner panel to size, and wrap it with fabric cut 1" oversize at each edge. Groove each frame piece to accept the panels, and rout a 1/8" radius on its outside bottom edge. Then cut the Domino mortises where shown in the drawing, and assemble the lid as shown.

    Fabric-wrap. Spray adhesive on one side of the inner panel and press it into the fabric. Use a wheel cutter to miter the fabric corners to wrap around the panel. Double-face tape affixes the flaps to the inside face.

    Double grooves. After sawing the grooves in the lid frame parts for the raised panel, saw the grooves for the inner panel. Use the fabric-wrapped inner panel itself to test the groove width, adjusting it as needed by relocating the fence.

    Lid assembly. Apply glue to the miters and Domino tenons. Then, with both panels fit into their grooves, clamp the lid frame together. Inspecting both faces, adjust the clamps to align the frame’s corners with those of the raised panel.

    Mortise for hinges and attach the feet

    When laying out the hinge mortises, I use a template made from 1/8" plywood to make a template to ensure perfectly matched spacing between the box and lid hinges. Lay out the box mortises first. Chuck an upcut spiral bit in a palm router, and set the bit depth to the thickness of your hinge leaf. Rout close to your layout lines, then chisel out the remaining waste. Lay out and cut the hinge mortises in the lid in the same manner, but locate them about 1/4" from the lid’s rear edge. This positions the lid to stay upright when fully opened. With your table saw blade projecting just over 1/8", trim a consistent amount from the projecting ledge at the bottom of each box wall to make the box bottom perimeter 8-1/2 × 12-1/2". Then attach the feet as shown. After the glue dries, level the standing assembly by scrubbing it on sandpaper affixed to a flat surface. Snugly fit thin scrap plywood over the interior lid panel to protect the fabric while sanding and finishing. Also, mask off the tray runner glue-contact areas on the interior box walls. Then finish the box and lid as desired. I applied several coats of Watco spray lacquer.

    Lid mortise layout. Also use the template to lay out the lid mortises. However, use a marking gauge to mark the rear edge of the mortise and a knife to mark the ends. For stability, work atop a scrap riser panel covered with a protective cloth.

    Chisel clean-up. After freehand-routing the majority of the mortise waste close to the layout lines, chop and pare away the remaining waste, working to the knifed mortise ends.

    Glue on the feet. Brush glue on the rabbets of the feet and use spring clamps to pull them up against the outer box wall. Then clamp or pin-nail them to the bottom edges of the walls.

    Insert the false bottom and make the tray

    Fit the interior with a fabric-covered false bottom similar to the interior lid panel. Looping masking tape under it for retrieval allows testing the fit. Make the square tray as shown in the drawing, sizing it to fit your box’s interior front-to-back dimensions. Rabbet the bottom edges of the 1/4"-thick tray walls to accept the bottom panel. Use a 1/8" flat-kerf table saw blade to cut a dado in each side where shown in the drawing to house 1/8"-thick dividers. Then glue the sides together. To mark out the half-lap notches, first invert the assembled tray, and insert one divider. Then tuck the second divider into its dados, resting it on the first, and mark their intersection. Saw the joint as shown and glue the dividers to the tray. Apply finish to the side-and-divider assembly, avoiding the bottom rabbet. Cut a tray bottom to fit, and glue fabric to its inside face. Use glue and 1/2" pins to attach the bottom to the tray. Rip the runners to position the tray just below the top of the box walls. Miter the runners to fit, and then glue them in place. Finally, attach the lid by installing the hinges.

    Saw the half-lap joint. When sawing the notches for the half-lap joint, stack-cut the two dividers using a table saw crosscut sled.

    Put a lid on it. After applying a finish and wax, drive the screws in to attach the lid and enjoy your new project.

    About the Author

    West Virginia woodworker Bill Sands retired from GE Research & Development in 1998 and expanded a latent interest in woodworking. He is a regular contributor to Woodcraft Magazine, having built several projects for us over the years. When not in the shop, Bill enjoys photographing his outdoor adventures, all facets of BBQ cooking, and sharing good ale with friends.

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