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Simple Continuous Grain Boxes

March, 2010
This project is one I found while attending a short class/seminar at the Woodcraft store this Winter. These boxes are detailed in an article in Fine Woodworking Magazine Issue #201.  The article is written by Doug Stowe and entitled "A Better Way To Build Boxes".
I thought these boxes looked very nice and quite clever in their design. There are a lot of interesting techniques to learn with this project so I think it should be quite challenging.


posted Nov 30, 2010, 5:24 PM by Kevin Fodor   [ updated Nov 30, 2010, 8:05 PM ]

Finally! The boxes are finished. I applied several coats of Danish Oil to protect the wood and then I attached the brass hinges, as well as a small brass knob. Overall I think they turned out pretty nice. So with that I now just show you a series of photos at different angles. Hopefully this information is helpful to you. I had a lot of fun making these boxes and learned a lot in the process.

What Da Flock?

posted Nov 30, 2010, 5:23 PM by Kevin Fodor

As I finished these boxes, my intention was not necessarily to make jewelery boxes. As a matter of fact I just was making plain old boxes without any particular purpose. As I approach the final finish however I realized one last touch might be to flock the inside of the box. This adds a bit of richness to the box construction and gives a sense of protection to the items you place inside. In hind sight I think I would have been better off skipping this step. The undercoating was hard to control and tended to seep too far underneath the masking tape in some places, yet not enough in others. I was able to clean up the edges enough to make it look OK however.

Lids, Sanding and Edges

posted Nov 30, 2010, 5:20 PM by Kevin Fodor

On the left you can see the three boxes with their sides sanded flush and the lid nearly cut away using the table saw. Cutting the lid almost through is critical to a uniform cut as the article suggests. If the lid were to separate from the rest of the box you would have an awful lot more sanding ahead of you to get both the top and bottom pieces to meet flush.
One of the critical parts of this step was to make sure the box sides were sanded completely flat. I was able to accomplish this by placing a sheet of sand paper on a hard work surface and sanding the entire side at once. My belt sander was ok for the initial 80-grit sand, but the finer grits needed the entire surface to make contact with the sand paper at once. 
 Here you can now see the lid separated from the box bottom. Just a small (but sharp) hobby knife if all you need to separate them. A bit of sanding on both the bottom of the lid and the top of the bottom piece and your all set.
Here are the lids again separated from the box, but here you can see the hinge mortises I cut to hold the small box hinges.

Cutting Splines and Slots

posted Nov 14, 2010, 7:35 AM by Kevin Fodor

Once the spline cutting jig was assembled and tested it was now time to cut the slots along each edge of the boxes. This process went very smoothly. The jig took some time to make but made this very nice detail incredibly easy to accomplish. Notice the look I was after was to have all three boxes with the same spline pattern.
Here is a shot of two of the boxes with the glue filled splines inserted. Now we just need to wait for them to dry. Because I cut them oversize (I didn't want to bother cutting them precisely to size) I will later need to trim them with a back saw or dovetail saw. This worked out OK but ended up being a lot of manual cutting (120 cuts in all for 3 boxes!). But it wasn't that bad. In the future I would recommend cutting these splines more uniformly and closer to actual size needed and just sand as needed.

Getting Jiggy Wit' It...

posted Nov 10, 2010, 7:25 PM by Kevin Fodor

Yeah, I know. Corney. Just like all the other post titles...what else did you expect? Anyway, the next step was to build the 45-deg jig for cutting those neat looking slots for the splines. The jig itself was easy enough to make. I thought however the instructions in the magazine article were not so clear as to actually how to assemble the jig. I think what was missing was a diagram similar to the angle shown on the left.
The idea basically was to simple stabilize the box on a 45-deg angle while allowing a story stick to align each of the places where a spline was to be cut. As the article warns be sure to cut all 4 sides and then that same spline position on each box if you want them to all look uniform.

Put a lid on it!

posted Nov 2, 2010, 4:29 AM by Kevin Fodor

At this point it was time now to cut the grooves around the lids. The lids will have a 1/8" deep (offset 1/8" from the edge) groove cur around the outside end grain of the lid. The lid is 1/2" thick so this will have the affect of "raising" the lid above the box sides creating a profile. Again using the zero-clearance insert jig I built earlier, it was very easy to cut this groove. Simply setup the blade to cut 1/8" from the fence about 1/8" deep.
One hint offered in the article about cutting this grove along all four edges is how to avoid tear out along the end-grain. By cutting along the end-grain first (narrower sides) this causes the final lengthwise cuts to cleanup any tear out which occurred. Doing it the other way would leave the tear-out making it less attractive. A really good idea as a small amount of tear-out almost always occurred.
At this point the final step was to once again, layout the box sides end-to-end and secure with masking tape. Using a brush, apply glue to all the mitered edges.
Now working quickly, insert the top and bottom pieces and fold up the sides securely around them. Use one last piece of masking tape to secure the two ends together. The box should fit snuggly around both the lid and bottom. Check for alignment and make sure all joints are secure.
The final step in the glue up process is to band-clamp or otherwise tightly secure the sides together so that the glue can dry completely and securely. The following photos should this process.

I repeated the procedure for the other 2 boxes as well. Once dried I removed the band clamps and finally they are starting to look like very nice boxes!

Getting back to it again

posted Nov 1, 2010, 5:18 AM by Kevin Fodor

After putting this project back on the shelf for a while I am finally getting back to it. The next order of business was to simply cut the box tops and bottoms to size. To do this I first needed to assemble (dry-fit) the boxes together.  To do so you simply layout the box sides as you plan to assemble them end-to-end. Then hold each joint together using some masking tape. I'll use this same procedure later when I finally glue up the boxes. Once the sides are securely and tightly taped, I fold up the ends to for the box sides. I then close up the box and take my measurements of the interior.
Once I had the inside measurements, I could now cut the tops and bottoms (adding about 1/4" to accommodate the 3/16" groove (allowing some play) that I'll cut around the perimeter. To the right is a photo of 3 bottoms and tops cut to size.
The next step is to cut the grooves along the top and bottom of the box sides. To do this, and because the pieces were so small, I needed to make a zero-clearance jig for my table saw. This was very simple to do. It was made from a piece of 1/2" ply-wood for the base and a 3/4" piece for the riser. They were cut to the depth of my table saw top and fastened at a 90-degree angle with each other. I then drilled 3/8" holes for the side clamps and attached it to my fence. After positioning the jog over the blade, I raised the blade to cut a small slot in the jig. I now had a stable zero-clearance jog for my table saw. This will allow me to accurately and safely slide the small box sides along the blade to cut those 1/8" x 3/16" deep grooves uniformly.
As you can see on the left the zero-clearance jig allowed me to precisely set up the height and placement of the grove. I cut a grove on each side (long-side) for each of the 4 pieces for each of the 3 boxes I am making.
The key here I found was to not be too shy about cutting the groove a little deep. You don't want the lid and or bottom sliding around on you too much, but that can always be taken care of later. It's more difficult to undercut, assemble, test-fit and re-cut the grooves deeper to accommodate the top later.
On the left you see an example of how I cut the grooves in each of the box pieces. Notice that the groove for the bottom piece is 3/16" deep by 1/4" wide (the thickness of the ply-wood bottom). This results in a recessed bottom. This is different than the plans described. The plans describe cutting a locked rabbet joint which results in a flush(flat) bottom. This was an oversight on my part, but I don't mind. If anything it gives the box a bit more interesting look being a recessed bottom.
For the top groove,  I cut a 1/8" wide (thickness of the saw blade) by 3/16" deep groove which is easily done without touching the set-up. This will accommodate the locking rabbet joint for the offset top piece.

I'm Your Crosscut Saw...

posted Mar 17, 2010, 11:10 AM by Kevin Fodor

So I like the blues and this post reminded me of this Albert King song. Anyway, my next activity was to cross cut all the box sides to length and miter the edges. All in all this wasn't too difficult of a task. The article suggests using a crosscut sled on your table saw. I completely agree, this makes the job much easier. fortunately my table saw has a miter-sled which almost does the same thing. The only thing I needed to do was attach an auxiliary fence to help support the board behind it as well as provide a surface to mount a stop block against. Cutting all the front/back sides at once and then all the left/right sides at once was a really easy way to make sure all the sides we the same. The results we pretty good and the boxes look like they actually have a good chance of being square. Bonus!
Don't mind all the scribbles. The pictures on the right show the sides inside face-up so all that will get sanded out later.
Here are a few shots of the front, back, left and right sides mitered.

It's a Bird...No, it's a Planer!

posted Mar 15, 2010, 12:04 PM by Kevin Fodor   [ updated Mar 17, 2010, 11:20 AM ]

Ok, bad joke. Anyway, the next big step was to take these boards which have a very rough sawn surface and thickness plane them to about 3/8". I don't personally have a planer (gotta get one of those) but my woodworking class at the local high school does. So I used their really nice planer to plane these boards down to 3/8" thick. The planer is awesome and did a fantastic job. Lastly, I also needed to joint at least one edge so I could be sure both top and bottom edges were parallel. Again, I don't have a jointer, but my woodworking class does. So I used the jointer to joint one edge. I took the boards back to my table saw and ripped the board against the jointed edge to width (about 4"). Now I have six 3/8" thick boards which are 4" wide each.
Here are the six boards after surfacing to 3/8".

Re-sawing, Lots of Re-sawing...

posted Mar 14, 2010, 7:29 AM by Kevin Fodor

So the first step I needed to take was to re-saw that big hunk of maple I bought. The first step was to simply rip it in half to yield two approximately 5" wide pieces. Each piece is about 2" thick. After I had two halves, it was time to re-saw them into approximately 1/2" pieces. With just a little left over, I was able to easily re-saw a total of 6 planks from the block of maple.
Re-sawing maple turned out to be more difficult than I thought. The band saw was set to re-saw approximately 1/2" thick boards. Doing so, I quickly found that my bandsaw's throat clearance was just right at 5". Just barely large enough to accommodate the blocks width-wise. Whew! That was close. Now I know I cannot re-saw anything wider than about 5" with my bandsaw! I didn't really think about that before I started, but fortunately it worked out anyway.
Re-sawing the maple boards was quite time consuming. The widest blade I have for my saw is 3/8". I took nearly 15 minutes of slow pushing to cut each board. With 5 cuts that's running the bandsaw 1 hr and 15 minutes. I think the bandsaw got kind of a work out that day. But kudos to Craftsman because it seemed to hold up just fine. I am definitely going to buy a wider blade with less teeth per inch to hopefully make future re-sawing go a bit quicker.
Because the bandsaw blade was quite thin, there was quite a bit of 'wobble' in the boards while cutting. It really wasn't too bad considering, but the resawn boards were quite rough when I was through with them. But all in all I was pretty happy with the results.
As you can see, the boards just made it within the bandsaw's throat clearance!
Here are the six boards after re-sawing. Notice the very rough surfaces which will later need to be addressed by a planar.

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