Boxland: Work Stations and Boxing Tips #11: Making Indented Finger Lifts

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Blog entry by Boxguy posted 07-16-2013 09:19 PM 10042 reads 27 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: Adding Splines To A Box Part 11 of Boxland: Work Stations and Boxing Tips series Part 12: Making Tea Box Dividers Of Venetian Blinds »

How To Make An Indented Finger Lift

In short, you use an oscillating spindle sander set on an angle to sand away the center indent, and a spacer jig set over the locking guide to sand away the two smaller indents.

If you are just making one or two boxes, at the end of this tutorial I will make suggestions for how to do this same task much more simply if you don’t want to make the jig, modify the table top, or buy a locking straight edge.

Thanks to Maplerock aka Jerry for coming by the shop to help me with these pictures.

This year I have been using a three-part finger indent for my boxes. As requested, this is a how-to tutorial for how I make these lifts in my shop. Skip to the end if you want a scaled down version of this technique. When this process is finished, it looks like this.

The Goal: We want to cut a centered finger lift in the front of the box. The process starts with an Oscillating Jet Table-Top spindle sander like this.

Like some of you, I bought a spindle sander some time back for another project. It has been just sitting around the shop with nothing much to do since. So once I came up with this design for my boxes it had a job, and we both were happy again.

Modifications: If you are just making one box, you could use the original top of the tool, but there is not much room to work. The same steps are used if you are working on the original tool’s top.

Since I make a lot of boxes, I modified the tool. I added a bigger, half inch plywood top. On the back side of the top, it has a frame around the tool’s original metal top and is fastened down securely with a tapped-in threaded knob. I also added a line drawn from the center of the spindle down the board.

There is a removable cleat on the left hand side that comes in handy when the table is slanted. The next modification is a clamping straight edge. I would also recommend an accessory such as a wide jaw or added squaring attachment. (Pictured below) It helps to keep the clamping edge square to the line and will add accuracy.

Measuring For The First Cut: Now lets get to the actual work. Find the front-center of your box. Marking is more accurate than measuring. So, use a combination square to do that job. (We need to set the square’s blade to the box’s center anyway for the next step.)

Make a guess at the center of the box and hold the combination square on one side of the box like this. Mark the end of your blade.

Now flip the combination square to the other side and mark the end of the blade. Like this.

It is difficult to judge the center of a 12 inch box. It is easy to judge the center between two marks an inch or so apart. (This method works if your guess is long or short.) Move your blade to the center of the two marks (the center of the box) and draw a dark mark at the center. Be sure your blade is set at the center mark. Keep your blade locked down and use it for the next step.

Using the spindle center line as a base, and your combination square as a guide, set and lock the straight edge so the spindle will cut right at the center of your box-front.

Making The First Indent: Slide your box up the guide being sure it is touching all along the guide and is square to the center line. Lightly touch the box to leave a small mark. Check to see if it aligns with the center mark you added to the box.

If the spindle is not aligned with the mark, you can still make changes and sand away your mistake at this point. Now sand your center finger lift. A steeper angle on the sander will give you a shorter, deeper lift. A more shallow angle will give you a longer lift. There is no formula here, but bigger boxes generally look better with longer lifts. Don’t sand so deeply that you go through the thickness of your box.

Hooray! The center cut is complete. You can stop here or you can add the two small indents at each side.

Cutting The Flanking Notches:

I use a simple jig to space the three notches evenly with no measuring. Look closely at this shot of the jig that lays over the guide.

The right-hand walnut spacer is 5/8 inches wide.
The light maple wood spacer is 1 1/4 or 10/8 inches wide.
The center piece is as wide as the guide.
So, the maple spacer is twice as wide as the walnut spacer.

How The Jig Works: We can use this jig to move the box into three positions. When the narrow spacer is between the guide and the spindle, the box is centered on the spindle. When the wide spacer is between the guide and the spindle, the box is moved 5/8 of an inch further from the guide. When we take the jig off the guide entirely, the box slides 5/8 of an inch toward the guide. There is no measuring and the three notches are in the right place every time.

Doing These Steps In Pictures:

Remove the spacing jig from the guide

Add a steeper angle to the table top, move the box over to the bear guide and slide it to the spindle. It just takes a slight touch here, and it will look like this.

Now, put the thick side of the spacing jig over the guide and make sure the thick side is facing the spindle.

Bring your box up to the spindle for another quick touch. It should look like this.

As long as you don’t move the guide fence, you can go back and re-sand any of your lifts and make them even or deeper by using the spacer jig.

Added Hints:

I use a 1” spindle with a 100 grit sleeve for sanding these. You may be happier with a larger or smaller spindle and a rougher or smoother grit. I find it is quicker to use the rougher grit and do just a bit of hand touch up when I am done.

A wide variety of shapes and sizes can be achieved by changing the angles and the depth of the notches. Have fun with that. I also sand the outside edges of the notches, the top lid edge above the lift, and the internal ridges of the lift so it feels good to the touch when you open the box.

Even with the set-up time, I can create a three part finger lift for most boxes in about 5 minutes…certainly less time than it takes to explain how to do it in this forum.

A Simple Method: If you are just making a box or two I have a less elegant, but accurate way of doing this. I used this method while I was developing what I have shown above.

Draw a line on your sander table from the spindle center down to the front edge of the table. (No spindle sander? With some set up, you could use a sanding drum in a drill press to do this job as well.)

Use a combination square to set a locking or clamped straight edge as I described above, but tape a 5/8 piece of wood to the side of your guide before you set your guide in place.

Slant your table and cut your center indent.

Remove the tape and 5/8 strip and cut the new indent at a steeper angle.

Add a 1 1/4 inch spacer taped to the side of your guide. At the same angle as the last cut, sand out the other indent on the side of the center cut.

This method uses no jigs, no table modifications, and you don’t have to have a clamping straight edge.


As always, thanks for looking and all comments and suggestions are appreciated. Keep boxing and keep posting.

-- Big Al in IN

13 comments so far

View captferd's profile


180 posts in 3730 days

#1 posted 07-16-2013 09:41 PM

fantastic jig. takes the sander to another level.

-- CaptFerd

View Dave777's profile


303 posts in 5406 days

#2 posted 07-16-2013 10:05 PM

Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

-- the stone rejected by the builders will become the capstone

View ellen35's profile


2750 posts in 4769 days

#3 posted 07-16-2013 10:34 PM

Great tutorial! i’ll be trying this soon… thanks to you!
also… love the boxes, as usual

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View Blackie_'s profile


4883 posts in 3849 days

#4 posted 07-16-2013 10:40 PM

Big Al, I like your method, when you move to the hand sanding stick, what do you think about using a dremel with a sander on the end, the Dremel is what I use to make my finger lifts.

I do similar what you do, I find the center, then I measure out 1/2 on both side of the center line then make a pencil marks then using my dremel I start on the center line slowing digging it out while moving back and forth to the outside marked lines but I would like to incorporate the triple finger lift.

Thanks for sharing.

-- Randy - If I'm not on LJ's then I'm making Saw Dust. Please feel free to visit my store location at

View  woodshaver Tony C   's profile

woodshaver Tony C

8455 posts in 4690 days

#5 posted 07-16-2013 11:20 PM

Nice job on you tutorial Al. I learn a few things here.
Thank you for sharing your expertise!

-- St Augustine FL, Experience is the sum of our mistakes!

View Roger's profile


21055 posts in 4141 days

#6 posted 07-17-2013 12:00 AM

Very kool BigAl. Appreciate the how-to.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View moonls's profile


412 posts in 4323 days

#7 posted 07-17-2013 12:42 AM

Another great use for my spindle sander! Thanks for the tutorial.

-- Lorna, Cape Cod

View Boxguy's profile


2905 posts in 3604 days

#8 posted 07-17-2013 01:37 AM

Thanks for the feedback. If you have questions or problems, feel free to send them my way. Keep boxing and keep posting.

-- Big Al in IN

View Francois Vigneron's profile

Francois Vigneron

263 posts in 3656 days

#9 posted 07-17-2013 12:41 PM

Thanks Alan, that’s a great tutorial. And I like that you thought about those (like me) who don’t have a spindle sander but only sanding drums on the drill press…

-- Francois Vigneron, Gif-sur-Yvette, France & Altadena, CA

View dustyal's profile


1322 posts in 4812 days

#10 posted 07-17-2013 01:27 PM

Thanks for doing this… Don’t have the oscillating spindle sander yet, so will try some set ups on my drill press with drum sander… but got the idea…

Much appreciated…

-- Al H. - small shop, small projects...

View Scott Oldre's profile

Scott Oldre

1128 posts in 4768 days

#11 posted 03-27-2014 01:02 PM

Just spent most of my morning going through your blogs. Enjoyed every one of them and appreciate your attention to detail and no nonsense, clear and concise explanations. Pictures are all great and like you suggest mostly self explanatory. Look forward to more when you have the time.

Thanks again


-- Scott, Irmo SC

View jm82435's profile


1286 posts in 5079 days

#12 posted 08-09-2014 01:06 PM

Hmm I always thought you did those with a forstner bit at the drill press…

-- A thing of beauty is a joy forever...

View Gregg M.'s profile

Gregg M.

224 posts in 3019 days

#13 posted 08-12-2014 02:13 PM

Great info Al. Thanks for taking time to post your tips, tricks and expertise. I know I will use much of it on future projects.

-- Marvel Woodworking, West Chester, PA -

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