A Gem of a Jewelry Box

Build a Keepsake Container in Treasured Wood

Designer/Builder/Writer: Paul Anthony

Overall dimensions: 12 3/4"w × 6 3/4"d × 4 3/8"h

This beautiful box, with its spline-reinforced mitered corners, makes a great gift for that special person. Part of its beauty is that it’s easy to build and lets you display that stunning piece of figured wood you stashed away for just the right project. I used walnut for the box, and spalted sycamore for the top panel, bottom, and keys. Simple routed moldings serve as the feet. 

I built the box as an enclosed unit of only six pieces: the four sides, top, and bottom. After assembling the box and cutting the key slots in the sides with the top and bottom in place, I sawed off the lid, then routed the coved recess for the finger lift. I attached the feet, then secured the lid with a pair of quality brass hinges. Inside, I added a removable tray. See the Convenience-Plus Buying Guide for supplies.

Build the basic box

1 Lay out the stock (see the Cutting Diagram) for the ends (A) and sides (B) in sequence on one long board to create continuous “wrap-around” grain that terminates at a back corner. This also keeps the stock long enough for safe handling when milling. Thickness-plane the board to 5/8" and rip it to 4 1/8" wide, allowing an extra foot or so for tool setups later. Mill pieces for the top (C) and bottom (D) panels to their respective thicknesses and cut them to length and width. (See the Cut List.)

Crosscut the sides to length, sand smooth the inside faces, then set up to miter the ends of the pieces on the table saw. Cut a test piece to ensure your blade cuts at exactly 45° and that your miter gauge is adjusted for a perfect 90° cut. Then miter-cut the box ends (A) and sides (B) as shown in Photo A.

TIP ALERT: Before crosscutting sequential pieces from a board to create wrap-around grain, make sure to mark adjacent ends for repositioning later. 


2 Saw the grooves for the top and bottom where shown in Figure 1, insetting them 3/16" from the top and bottom edges of box ends (A) and sides (B). Use a dado set, or two passes with a standard saw blade.

3 Outfit your router table with a panel-raising bit.At a reduced speed rout the profile in 1/2" -thick scrap to make sure it yields the shape you want and that the edges seat fully in the routed grooves. Then rout the profile on the top face of the top panel, taking incremental passes for safety as shown in Photo B. For the cleanest result, make a light final pass. 

HOLD THE STOCK FIRMLY against the saw table when sawing miters, and use a stop to ensure accuracy.
USE A FEATHERBOARD to hold the top panel against the router table. A backerboard stabilizes the piece.

DO A dry clamp-up before gluing using band clamps allows you to check the fit of the joints and panels and to rehearse your clamping procedure. 

Cut the spline slots by holding the box firmly in a cradle jig while pushing it across the blade. A stop in the miter gauge slot prevents overtravel here.

TIP ALERT: Always finish a solid wood panel before installing it in its frame to prevent exposing raw wood when the panel shrinks in the dry season.
4 Sand the top and bottom panels to 220 grit, then apply several coats of finish to both. (I used shellac because it’s easy to apply, dries quickly, and won’t trap an offensive odor inside the box. For more about shellac, see Success with Shellac.) Wipe a 1/2" band of shellac on the inside faces adjacent to the miter joints. This will ease removal of interior glue squeeze-out later. 

Dry-clamp the sides together with the top and bottom in their grooves (Photo C). Check the fit of the joints and trim the edges of the top and bottom panels if necessary. Remember to leave 1/16" of room for any cross-grain expansion during the humid season. 

Glue the sides together with band clamps. (Don’t glue the panels in their grooves.) After the glue cures, clean up any exterior squeeze-out. With a smoothing plane, scraper, or sanding block, smooth the top and bottom edges flush, as well as the corners, if necessary to remove any jutting or slightly offset mitered edges.

Spline the corners with keys 

1 To saw the corner slots for the key splines, you’ll need to guide the box sides at a 45° angle over your table saw blade. To do this, build the corner splining jig shown in  Figure 2. It includes a blade-guard block on the trailing end of the jig for safety.

2 To use the jig to cut slots, raise the blade to cut just shy of ¾" deep into the box corner. For quick, consistent slots all around, clamp a stopblock to the cradle ½" away from the blade, then cut all eight of the outer slots. Cut into the jig only as far as needed to saw the box corners, and not completely through the jig’s base. 

Next, adjust the stop and cut the center slots 2" up from the box bottom as shown in Photo D

3 Mill a strip of  7/8"-wide stock for the splines, sawing or planing it for a snug fit in the slots. Then saw the individual keys to shape as shown in Photo E, making them about ¼" oversized in length. Test-fit the keys in their slots, sanding any that are too tight. Then glue the keys in, seating them firmly in their slots.

4 Trim the keys flush with the box ends and sides. To do this quickly, attach ¼"-thick hardboard to the box sides with double-faced tape. Then outfit your table-mounted router with a ¼" straight bit and cut just a hair proud of the surrounding wood as shown in Photo F. A random-orbit sander or a few quick swipes inward from the corners using a sharp, finely set block plane, finishes the job.

TIP ALERT: To avoid slots with V-shaped bottoms, use an ATBR (alternate top bevel with raker teeth) combination blade to cut a square-bottomed slot. 

Cut away the lid and hinge it in place

1 Set your table saw fence for a 2 7/8" rip and raise the blade ¾". With the box bottom against the fence, rip away the box top. After sawing through the box ends and one side, shim the saw kerf to maintain its width before making the final cut shown in Photo G. Afterward, plane or sand the sawn edges smooth and clean up any glue squeeze-out from the inside corners using a blade removed from a block plane.

2 Using a 3/8" -radius cove bit, rout the 3½"-long by 7/16"-high finger lift recess.  Set up stopblocks on the fence to establish the cut length. After test-cutting in scrap, rout the cove in several passes as shown in Photo H, taking a light final pass to minimize burning. 

3 Install a quality pair of 1 1/8 × 2" drawn-brass butt hinges by mortising out recesses for each leaf as described in “Installing Butt Hinges" below, then screw the hinges in place.

4 Plane and cut two pieces of stock to ¼ × 1 ¼ × 11 ½" for the tray supports (E). Glue and clamp them in place where shown in Figure 1. 

5 With the lid hinged and clamped to the box, plane, scrape, and/or sand the box assembly flush all around. Remove the hinges and sand the lid and box to 220 grit. 

Register the strip of spline stock against a setup block on the rip fence, holding the thin material down with a stick. After making the cut, flip the strip over and repeat 
With the box riding on hardboard scraps, trim the splines just shy of the box surface with a straight bit.

After sawing through the box ends and one side, use tape to clamp the shims in the saw kerf, ensuring a safe, clean cut upon separation.

When routing the lift cove, place the box against the right-hand stopblock, pivot it against the fence, and then move the box toward the left-hand stop. 

Make the feet

Note: The small pieces for the feet would be difficult to machine individually. A safer way to make the feet is to build a small coved frame, and then cut the four feet from the frame corners.

1 Mill four pieces of ½ × ¾ × 6" stock for the frame, then miter the ends and glue up the frame. After the glue cures, plane or sand the faces and edges of the frame. 

2 Install a 3/8" -radius cove bit in a table-mounted router with the cutting edge projecting ¼" above the table. Rout the cove with the frame standing on edge as shown in Photo I. Then sand the cove to 220 grit using sandpaper wrapped around a ¾"-diameter dowel. 

3 Crosscut 2"-long corners from the frame to create the feet (F). For safety, use a crosscut sled on the table saw as shown in Photo J. Alternatively, you could cut them with a handsaw.

4 Mark the 3/8" cove on the inside ends of each foot. (See Foot Detail in Figure 1.) Tracing around a ¾"-diameter dowel works well for this. Then cut the cove with a scrollsaw as shown in Photo K, and clean it up with a sandpaper-wrapped dowel. Sand the feet to 220 grit, and then glue them to the box bottom, aligning the inside faces of the feet with the inside edges of the box walls. 

Rout the cove on the feet by standing the frame on edge on the router table. A featherboard ensures accuracy and safety during the cut.

Cutting the corners to length is quickly and safely done with a table saw sled and stopblock. Hold the pieces down with a scrap block. 

CLAMP THE FOOT TO A BLOCK to steady it when cutting the end coves on a scrollsaw.  

Installing butt hinges

Neatly installed butt hinges make an enormous difference in the look of a box or cabinet. Slow, careful work and a systematic approach is all it takes. Here’s how to do it. 

Lay out the mortises on the back edge of the box where shown in Figure 1, aligning each hinge pin centerline with the rear edge of the box. Lightly knife along the short ends of a hinge, then deepen the lines by guiding the knife against a small square. Set a marking gauge equal to the distance between the centerpoint of the hinge barrel and outside edge of one leaf, then scribe the long edge of each mortise. 

Install a ¼" straight router bit in your handheld router and adjust it to project just a hair shy of the hinge pin centerpoint. Set a router edge guide to cut to the rear of the mortise. Rout the mortises to within 1/16" or so from your end scribe lines as shown in the photo at right. Afterward, slice away at the remaining waste with a razor-sharp chisel, inserting it in the knife line for each final cut.

Clamp the box lid over the folded hinges and use a sharp knife to nick the lid at the ends of each hinge. Align a square with each nick and extend a deep knife line across the lid edge to scribe the ends of the hinge mortises. Use the previously set marking gauge to scribe the long edge, then rout and chisel out the mortise.

Build the tray and finish up 

1 Plane a 1 1/8 × 24" piece of walnut to ¼" thick for the tray sides (G, H). Cut the 1/8"  groove 1/8"  deep for the tray bottom (I), and then miter-cut four sides to length. Scrollsaw and sand the notches in parts (H) where shown in Figure 3. 

2 Plane a piece of figured wood for the tray bottom (I) to ¼" thick. Cut it to size and rout a 1/8"  rabbet 1/8" deep along the edges. Test-fit the piece in the grooves in the tray sides. Apply glue, then clamp the tray parts together.

3 Mark ½" in from the corners on the outside faces of the tray, then using a fine-toothed handsaw, cut down to these lines to create kerfs for the keys. Plane a contrasting wood to the kerf widths and cut the triangular keys to fit. Add glue and insert the keys, trimming them flush after the glue dries. Sand the tray to 220 grit.

4 Apply several coats of your favorite finish to the box. I recommend brushing a couple thin coats of shellac on the box interior. Unlike oil or varnish, shellac dries quickly, so the interior of the box won’t have a lingering solvent smell. I applied a few coats of wiping varnish to the exterior. Give the finish a day to dry, then rub out the surface with 0000 steel wool and wax. 

About our Designer/Builder

Paul Anthony is a woodworking writer, photographer, and teacher living in Riegelsville, Pennsylvania. His latest book, The Complete Illustrated Guide to Table Saws (Taunton Press) will be released in January 2009.

When closed the box shows off an exquisite piece of figured wood, in this case, spalted sycamore.

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