I generally make larger boxes fitted out with trays. I use wood that has a little extra, something special that lifts the box into the extraordinary. I make my own wooden hinges and that too gives the box that extra spark.
I wanted a simple box. Something I could make fairly quickly. Yet I wanted each one still to have an individuality and character of its own. Around about the same time as these thoughts were floating around inside my head I came across the Gifkins dovetail jig and "variations on a theme" came into being.
The Gifkins jig is dovetail jig which is very straightforward to use and easy to set up and enables you to make perfect through dovetails time after time. So the actual making and assembly of these boxes is very quickly achieved.
Prepare a strip of material 9x50x700mm long. Decide which is the most attractive side and sand the other side, which will be the inside to 240 grit. Take care to keep the face flat. You can either use a belt linisher or if you are sanding by hand I find that a slightly convex cork block keeps the face from becoming rounded.
Next, mark out the four sides of the box and number them. This means that the grain will flow all around the box.
Cut the four pieces to length. Using the dovetail jig cut the dovetails and pins leaving about 0.5mm to clean off. These corner joints could of course be mitre or lap joints but dovetails certainly do it for me!
The frame can now be glued up. Clamping dovetails is not easy but I have found that having used the Gifkins jig it is possible to glue them up without cramps at all. If you do want to cramp dovetails use blocks with cutouts for the pins and G cramp across the tails. If you cramp across the box there is a danger of the sides bowing inwards which would create gaps on the outside of your dovetail joints.
Once the glue has gone off clean up the outside of the frame either by planing toward the centre or on a belt linisher and then sand to 240 grit
The bottom and top are made from the contrasting material prepared to 68x9x500.Cut this into two pieces so as they are slightly large and then preferably using a table mounted router route a 6x4 rebate around the edges of the top and bottom. Clean up the rebate for the lid with some glass paper wrapped around a wooden block — try to keep the rebate square and sharp. Clean up either using a plane and shooting board or a belt linisher, the edges of the top and bottom and glue the bottom onto the box using a thin bead of glue around the inside of the rebate. The base of the box and the inside and outside of the lid can now be sanded.
I usually line the inside of these boxes with leather. Cut the leather very slightly oversize and glue it into the box using PVA. Cutting the leather oversize means that you are squishing it slightly and ensures that you get a perfect edge around the base of the box.
Finish the box with two coats of Danish oil and then I put on bees wax with 0000 wire wool and buff itoff. If you want the leather lining suede side up then glue this in after the box has been oiled and waxed.
That is it! A perfectly presentable box for only a few hours work. But the variations come with the handle. The only limits are your own imagination. Wooden pebbles make a great handle. Drill a hole in the lid and the base of the pebble and glue them in place with a short piece of thin dowel.
Odd scraps of wood can be shaped using a sanding drum or flapper wheels or even whittled and these can be either glued to the lid or made into a handle using short lengths of dowel.
Another idea for the "handle" is to use six pieces of veneer laminated together. Tape the first onto the bench using masking tape and thinly spread this with a polyurethane glue. Pop the next piece on, spread that with glue and so on up to piece number six. Tape these onto a male forma and clamp them into place ( see photos). I did try using PVA glue for this job but found that it introduced too much moisture and when they came out of the cramps they tended to curl up. I have also tried making these with a male and female forma which I think is the more accepted way of doing this job but I found I got better results using just the male forma.
Leave these cramped for between one and four hours then using the forma to support the pieceplane the edges, clean up the ends using a disc sander and sand the top and bottom to 240 grit. Prepare a piece of material that snugly fits inside the box, glue this to the laminated lid, glue it on with a little PVA and you have got a completely different lid.
A completely different way of doing something with this "raw" box is to cut it up! I took one of these boxes and using a band saw made two angled cuts. I then sanded the raw ends using a disc sander and using rectangles of wood as dividers reassembled the box. I tried this with the pieces of the box not quite in line and produced a "fault" box — because it reminded me of a geological fault. I tried making a longer basic box, using discs of wood and ended up with a "caterpillar" box!
A good reference book would be "Celebrating Boxes" which has pieces by about eighty of the worlds best boxmakers. There is also a book recently published called 400 Wood Boxes.
This article was first published in Routing magazine issue number 62