Round Jewelry Box

Rotating drawers for holding treasures

Unlike so many wooden boxes that are designed around squares or rectangles, this elegant walnut box with its stack of painted drawers is based on a circle. And rather than having the drawers slide out of their openings, these pivot to reveal their contents. The build presents a number of challenges in the shop: The drawer sides are bent laminations made from veneer, fastened to the fronts using special dowels (see Buyer’s Guide, p. 60). The drawer fronts are bandsawn to shape and then lightly carved before finishing with milk paint. (For more on this versatile colorant, see p. 26. And the box walls are made from a series of staves which fit into grooves routed into the top and bottom with the help of a router trammel. In all, this is a fun build with some good technical hurdles to overcome.

Order of Work

  • Make the top and bottom
  • Make the wall parts
  • Make the drawers
  • Add profiles and texture
  • Finish and assemble

A round box with semi-circular drawers

The black walnut top and bottom are mortised to receive the tenons on the three columns. Walnut staves with dyed poplar splines in between fill in the spaces between the columns. The curved drawer boxes are laminated from 12 layers of cherry veneer and are attached to rabbets in painted poplar fronts via Miller dowels. Each drawer front has an embedded bronze bushing that pivots on a central bolt. A series of appropriately-spaced nuts and washers hold the drawers apart. A small, round painted poplar medallion set into the top creates continuity between the colorful drawer fronts and the natural wood of the case. 

Make the top and bottom

Mill stock for the top and bottom, edge gluing pieces if necessary to make up the width. Locate the center point and layout the shape and mortise locations on each piece as indicated in the Top/Bottom drawing below. I covered my pieces with painters tape for easier viewing. Drill the 3/4" counterbore for the head of the central carriage bolt in the underside of the bottom piece using a Forstner bit. Then drill the through hole using a 5/16" brad point bit. Also drill a 5/16" hole through the top. Now, rout the stave grooves with a 3/16" straight bit, guiding the router with a trammel equipped with a 5/16" pivot pin. Switch to a 5/16" straight bit and rout away most of the waste for the mortises. Square the sides of the mortises with a chisel. Cut out the pieces on the bandsaw, and then sand the edges to remove the saw marks.

Square the mortises. Routing the mortises with a trammel leaves them with slightly curved walls. You’ll need to straighten them with a chisel for good glue contact with the tenons. 

Prepare the side wall pieces

For safety and efficiency, mill the stocks for the columns, staves, and splines to the appropriate thickness and width in long strips and sand their faces and edges. Then cut the columns to length before routing a single spline groove in the two front columns and two grooves in the rear column. Also rout the spline grooves in both edges of the stave strips as shown before cutting them to length. Cut tenons on the ends of the columns and staves. Color the splines with TransTint Green before cutting them to length. 

Rout the tenons. Clamp a sacrificial fence to your router table and raise a 1" straight bit up into it. Expose 1⁄2" of the bit to rout the column tenons, adjusting the bit height as needed. Push the pieces past the bit with a follower block. Reset the fence and bit depth to cut the stave tenons. Save this setup for routing rabbits in the drawer front.
Sawing the spline. Saw, sand, and dye the stock for the splines in long strips. Rather than risk splintering them with a power saw, I crosscut them using a handsaw, holding them against a bench hook. 

Build the drawers

Mill the stock for the drawer fronts. Lay out the center pivot point and the overall shape on each piece as indicated on the drawing, (p.32). Cut the pieces to length at the table saw, guiding them with the miter gauge to produce the angles on the ends. Then cut the pieces to shape at the bandsaw. At the router table, rabbet both ends of each piece for the side joinery before rabbeting their undersides for the drawer bottom. For the drawer sides, screw, but don’t glue together a 10-5/8" diameter bending form from three layers of 3/4" sheet stock. Laminate 12 layers of 2-1/4 × 24" veneer strips around the form. After the glue dries, use the form and a flush trim bit at the router table to clean up their edges, while cutting them to width. Trim them to length at the bandsaw before fastening them to the fronts with Miller dowels. Drill the counterbores in the underside of the fronts and the through holes for the bushings. Cut the drawer bottoms to shape from 1/8" plywood before gluing them to the bottom of the drawers.

End rabbets. Rout the 5⁄8" wide, 1⁄4" deep rabbets in the ends of the drawer fronts. Push the pieces through the cut with the follower block, notching it if necessary to accommodate the fence clamp.
Bottom rabbet. Change the setup once more to cut the 3⁄8" wide, 1⁄8" deep bottom rabbets in the fronts. 

Bend the sides. Apply glue to the veneers with a roller and clamp them around the form with a band clamp. If you don’t have a wide clamp, two narrower ones will work. 

Trim to width. Remove one 3⁄4" layer from your bending form. Attach the lamination to the now two-layer form with double-faced tape and rout it to its final 11⁄2" width with a flush trim bit.

Determine the length. Lay out the overall shape of the drawer on a piece of cardboard. Hold the lamination in place to mark its length at both ends. Extend the line across the width of the piece as shown before cutting it on the bandsaw. 

Attach the sides. Clamp the lamination into its mating rabbets and drill for the dowels. You may need to pare the drawer front’s shoulders with a chisel to match the lamination’s curve. Apply glue and tap the dowels home. 
Add the bottom. Rough cut the bottoms about 3⁄4" oversize. Hold them in place and trace along the front to mark where the bottom will fit into the front rabbet. Trim to fit and glue.

Embellish the pieces

Chamfer the upper surface of the top at the router table, stopping the cuts before the bit cuts into the center bulge. Recess an area for the center medallion. Round over the underside of the top, both sides of the bottom, and the edges of the columns with a 3/16" roundover bit. Make the medallion for the center of the box top. I turned mine on a lathe, but you can simply saw it to shape and round the top edge. Add texture to the medallion and the drawer fronts with a veining chisel. 

Add texture. Carve the chevron patterns near the ends of the drawer fronts with a veining chisel. Because all three drawers have matching patterns, I measured and laid out the lines carefully. 

Medallion lines. For the medallion, I opted to eyeball the layout, placing a straight edge in front of the piece as a visual reference. The box top served as a convenient holder when carving the small part. 

Finish and assemble

Paint the drawer fronts and the medallion. Glue the medallion in place. Finish everything with a clear topcoat. I used Osmo’s gloss Polyx-Oil. Take care to keep the finish out of the mortises and away from the glue surfaces on the columns. Fasten the carriage bolt to the bottom with a flat washer and nut. Slip the bottom drawer in place. If necessary, add additional washers under the drawer to position it so it doesn’t rub on the bottom. Add two nuts to the bolt, twisting them together to lock them in place. Slide the second drawer in place, again using washers between the lock nuts and drawer for spacing. Repeat for the top drawer. Dry assemble the box to make sure everything fits right. Then apply glue to the mortises in the bottom. Add the columns and fill in between with the staves and splines. Spread glue in the top mortises and clamp the case together. Done.

Coat and undercoat. I used marigold yellow milk paint for my undercoat followed by bayberry green on top. 
Burnish. After the paint dries, burnish it with fine sand paper followed by steel wool to create the weathered look. 
Two wrenches to tighten. Add lock nuts and washers to space the drawers apart. Tighten the nuts against each other and try the drawer. Reposition the nuts and/or add more washers to adjust the space under the drawer as needed. 
Assembly. Once the drawers are spaced correctly, fit the columns, staves and splines, trimming the width of the splines if necessary to keep the spacing consistent. Dry fit all, then glue up.
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