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On Making Boxes

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Want to improve your skills while making something useful? Make a box!

A Tea Box in Goncalo Alves, White Oak and Cherry.

There are a lot of tutorials on box making out there, it’s not like the world needs one more, and yet, I think there are a few aspects of such an endeavor that warrant a closer look and an opportunity to gain new skills and sharpen old ones, and to quote a friend of mine, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”, or make a box, for that matter.

Why boxes? Well, it seems that from the dawn of time man had a need for all kinds of containers, whether it was to keep grain, or tools or valuables, or yes, to burry the dead, a coffin is a box too! And the list could go on.

Making a box is as close to a perfect little project as it gets and you end up with a useful object, whether you keep it or give it away.

Many people collect things and often such collections are kept in a shoe box or some other lowly container. I believe that a special hand made box elevates and adds value to whatever it contains.

So, I will endeavor to make a few boxes, with a different approach for each one, from the simplest to the more complex.

I think that there are a lot of boxes being made, so called “jewelry boxes”, that are way too small to accommodate and keep organized a woman’s jewels. So, I decided to brand mine Treasure Boxes.

By and large I adhere to the philosophy that “less is more” and believe in what Leonardo DaVinci meant when he said, “Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication”.

With that in mind, my goal is to let the wood speak and go easy on the frills. What I mean is this, I try to use the material to best bring out or show its inherent beauty, its grain, color and texture. I often use two different kinds of wood that contrast each other.

I usually start out with a thumbnail sketch of the basic lines of the box. Before I cut anything I have to decide on the size of this thing, remember, there are no measured drawings here. Sometimes the figure in a particular piece of wood will dictate the size. If a board has unusual figure or grain running part through it, I’ll try making a box that will do justice to that piece and display its beauty.

For the proportions of the box, height x width x depth, I go more by feel and intuition than by some formula. Someone said that “every great artist has a closet-full of bad paintings” and while I consider myself an artisan rather than an artist and not great by any means, sometimes my “feel” goes “boing” (to quote Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbs) and I do have my share of pieces that I’m not fond of. But hey, every failure is a learning experience! And isn’t that what life is about?

Once proportions are decided upon, I have to think about joinery and how it’s all going to come together. Should I miter the corners, and do splines, or cut dovetails? Hinge or no hinge, and if so, what type? Sometimes I feel perfectly ok with a top that is not attached and comes completely off. That would justify the use of a handle, a perfect excuse to do something decorative, “the cherry on top” so to speak.

The utilitarian aspect of my “Treasure Boxes” is secondary to their function as decorative objects that can stand alone and can make a statement. As such, I don’t normally designate the use or purpose of a certain box, that is something for the future owner to do. For that reason, I usually leave the inside of the boxes bare, and only after a customer decides on buying one, I customize it according to the purpose it will serve.

A No-Hinge Box in Ziricote, Bird's Eye Maple, Birch with bark on, and Elk horn.

Bridge Box, in Bird's Eye Maple, Dyed Ash and Curly Maple.

Another Tea Box in Figured Ash, Imbuia and various bits and pieces.

Candy Dish, (out of focus), Black Locust Burl and Wenge.

Treasure Box, Ash, Walnut and Plum.

Another Treasure Box, Walnut and Roebuck Antler.

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