Keepsake Box Barre VT
Build them in bunches and avoid gift shopping this year.
by Mac Wentz
As the holidays approach, my thoughts turn to how I can weasel out of gift shopping. And this year I have the perfect scheme: While the malls are jammed with poor saps, I’ll be in my shop blissfully building these boxes for everyone on my list.
When they marvel at the elegant keyed joinery at the corners, I won’t mention how fast and easy these boxes are to make. Making the jigs and resawing lumber takes a few hours, but once you’re set up you can churn out three or four boxes in a day. There’s no need to mention how cheap the materials are either. If you stick with common species like oak, cherry or maple, each box will cost only $10 to $15.
Tools and Materials
The box shown at left is made from 3/8-in.-thick wood, so I used a bandsaw for resawing and a planer to take the wood to final thickness. For more information about resawing, check out “Bandsaw Resawing”.
If you don’t have a bandsaw and planer you can also mail order 3/8-in. wood (see Sources, below). You’ll also need a tablesaw, belt sander, router table, 1/8-in. and 3/4-in. straight router bits and some 3-in. spring clamps.
Start With Grain Selection
Grain pattern has a big influence on the appearance of a small project like this box, so don’t just rip up boards and leave it to chance. Begin by making paper windows that let you preview the look of the box parts (Photo 1). I generally use finer, straighter-grained material for the ends and sides and a more dramatic pattern for the top. This is not a hard and fast rule, so experiment until you get something you like. Grain pattern for the bottom isn’t critical, since it doesn’t show. For the keys I use a different color wood so they contrast with the box.
Cut the Sides
I strongly recommend you miter the box sides on a tablesaw using a tablesaw sled (Photo 2). The every-time accuracy of a well-made tablesaw sled is hard to beat. In fact, I built a small one just for building these boxes. For more information on making a sled, see “The Ultimate Shop-Built Crosscut Sled,” AW #75, October 1999. Cut the parts for the ends and sides and make an extra set to test your machine setups later on.
Next cut the dadoes in the ends and sides for the bottom (Fig. A, page 55). The dadoes should be wide enough to provide an easy fit for the bottom.
Now select two ends and two sides that have the least attractive grain and mark them “GP” for guinea pig. These GP parts are the first to go through each step in the machining process and hopefully the only ones to suffer from setup mistakes. Beginning with the GP parts, rout the relief in the bottom of the ends and sides to form the corner feet using a 3/4-in. straight router bit in your router table (Photo 3).
The Bottom and Top
Cut the bottom for the box next.