Thursday, February 9, 2017

Twin Small Boxes Within a Box

Before I get to the project, I've gotta gloat over meeting a woodworking giant.  I recently visited my sister in Salem, MA.  So what does a woodworker do before traveling?  He looks for woodworking places of interest that he might visit while there.  It turns out that Phil Lowe's shop, the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, is just a few minutes away in Beverly, MA.  Even though it was a holiday, Phil was "puttering around" in the shop and agreed to show me around.
Phil Lowe and some chump
We chatted for about a half hour.  He talked about work-in-progress in the shop and he showed us many pieces they were working on.  Talk about gracious.  What a nice guy and what a thrill it was to meet him.

On to the project.  A year or two ago, we helped my wife's workmate/friend pack and move.  He gave me some wood that was just going to be thrown out.  Some beech from a chair and some unknown wood from a kitchen drain-board or something.  Well, I made a small dovetailed box from the mystery wood and it sat unfinished since then.  The box was not even glued up.  A top and bottom were made from the beech, but never attached.  It was time to get it out of the shop.
The box
The box is an unusual size - 9 1/2" wide, 4" deep and 5" tall.  After gluing the main box dovetails, I glued the top and bottom on.  Then I marked through the upper-most dovetail and separated a lid from the main box.  There's an issue with cutting a lid off like this.  This wood was so soft that the fibers crushed when chopping out the tails and pins.  This leaves hidden caverns in the recesses.  Hidden, that is, until you cut through them to make a lid.
Exposed (and filled with sawdust/glue) caved in section from chopping
This wood isn't pine.  Something different, but I don't know what.  Some photos below will show face and end grain - maybe someone will know what it is.  Maybe balsa?

I hinged the lid with 1" long, 3/4" wide cheap brass hinges.  I'm concerned the tiny screws wont hold well in this soft wood, but so far they feel OK.
Those are some TINY screws
I made a couple lid supports that hopefully will keep the lid from pulling the screws out.
Lid supports
These supports were glued on with a superglue, as I had no good way to clamp them up.  When the lid is up, the supports hold it at 90°.
Lid opened and supported
Since the box is unusually deep, I decided to add some smaller boxes to fit inside that will sit on small support rails I added to the inside front and back.
One of the small box support rails inside the main box
The twin boxes that fit inside are from oak that used to be a bathroom cabinet stile or rail.  It was interesting making the dovetails on these small pieces and they came out easier and better than anticipated.
Twin small boxes, each 4 1/4" x 3" x 2" tall
I didn't take many pictures of the construction process on this project, but I did something different gluing up these small boxes.
Taped cauls to the tail boards for directed force when clamping
This worked very nicely and the boxes came out great.
Small box clamped up
After gluing a piece to the bottom, cleaning up the joints and rounding edges, they were done.
One corner of a small box
And they fit nicely inside the main box.  They sit up about 1/4" higher than the main box rim so they can be grabbed easily.
Showing the rail that they sit on
I finished the boxes with two coats of shellac and a coat of wax.  I didn't add wax to the interior bottoms, though.  I added a "felt-like" product called Suede-Tex that I had bought several years ago.  You paint the bottoms with the green adhesive (being VERY careful not to paint the sides), then add this felt-like green dust, and let it set.  The extra dust can be brushed out later and it leaves a surface that looks like a felt lining.  For painting the adhesive, I used a cheap "acid brush" on which I had cut the bristles to a point to help getting into the corners.
Faux felt
Another shot
And finally a glamour shot or two.
The finished box
Another shot
A fun project for sure.  And it got some clutter and wood scraps out of the shop.  Bonus!


  1. That wood looks a lot like the ramin wood that Lowes sells. Nice boxes and you can never have enough of them. Phil is the most down to earth guy I've ever met but I've only talked to him on the phone. Lucky you as got a face to face with a photo for proof.

    1. Thanks Ralph. Never heard of ramin wood. A quick search landed me on Wikipedia where it says ramin is technically named Gonystylus and it is a fairly hard hardwood. It's also protected from logging due to over harvesting. My box is so light and soft that it must be something else.

  2. Great looking boxes.
    Adding felt was a great idea.
    I think the size of the large box is spot of for a keep sake type of box.

    1. Thanks Jonas. The faux felt really adds a nice touch to it.

  3. Phil and Who?? Did not noticed, all I saw was the planes in the background :-)

    Very neat project, love the way it turned out using scraps. The ultimate recycling project. Another kind of "Green" woodworking :-)

    Bob, scratching Rudy

    1. Bob, even before I asked Phil for the picture, he knew where I wanted to take it. He said everyone wants to take a picture in front of the tool wall. Wish I had more time to look at those tools. His shop had a lot of power tools - table saws, band saws, planer, drill press etc., but I'm sure they use both in every project.