Making a Small Wooden Box #6: Confessions of a Box Maker

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Don posted 09-12-2007 09:49 AM 21237 reads 3 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: More Detail Part 6 of Making a Small Wooden Box series Part 7: The Fiddly Bits »

Quote Bwillie:Looking at these dividers reminds me that I always struggle here to get the dimensions spot on. Especially since I use felt on the ends that touch the sides of the box, I have to account for those. Usually on every box on some portion of the dividers I compound an error, and before I know it, I’m all out of whack.

When I read this comment in my last episode in this series, it caused me pause. What Bill was describing was exactly my experience; small errors compounding each other until the divider grid was nowhere near perfect. I don’t know if Bill could observe these errors or just being honest about his own experience.

However, as I hold him in high esteem as a box maker, I decided to re-make my divider grid. And to be honest about this second attempt, it was no more successful. There it was again, not quite perfect, joints that didn’t quite fit, and segments that were out of square. Now I’m not talking about large errors, in fact they were so small, I couldn’t photograph them for this blog – when I tried, they didn’t show.

Some of my best wood working is done in bed. I normally fall asleep at night thinking about my current project. Often I rehearse in my mind the steps I need to take next in a project. That’s when it occurred to me. It I cut all of the half-lap dadoes at the same time with each like piece ganged up against the next, make one pass over the dado blade, move to the next cut, (ie. notch), then each would have to line up with the next. So that’s exactly what I did and it worked.

Below I have lined up all of the component parts for the lower dividers to test for fit and accuracy.

I still found it easy to make a mistake during assembly, because, although each piece in theory was the same end for end, I found in practice this wasn’t quite the case. A discrepancy of .025mm is enough to throw things out and that is the kind of mismatch I’m talking about when you flip a piece end for end – not much, but enough to spoil a good fit.

To avoid this, I drew arrows and made notes on the bottom of each piece. I needed to be certain that the advantage gained by cutting all of the dadoes together wasn’t lost by inadvertently swapping one piece end for end.

Close-up showing markings to avoid confusion.

The fit is so exact and snug, I only glued up the perimeter pieces.

Here’s the third and final attempt. If I do say so myself, it’s a perfect fit, and absolutely square at all intersections of the dividers.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

18 comments so far

View Tony's profile


995 posts in 5195 days

#1 posted 09-12-2007 10:43 AM

I did not think it would be so difficult to make a divider, but I guess when you are looking at 0.025mm (1 thou) accuracy, I do not think I can measure less tha 0.01mm on my vernier. you certainly are a perfectionist.

By the way love the work on your web sites – Keep it up

-- Tony - All things are possible, just some things are more difficult than others! - SKYPE: Heron2005 (

View mot's profile


4928 posts in 5201 days

#2 posted 09-12-2007 12:11 PM

Anything worth doing is worth doing right, eh Bob? This is one of the reasons I haven’t tackled the small box a whole lot. My desire for detail exceeds my skill at attaining it. Nice blog entry!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6875 posts in 5144 days

#3 posted 09-12-2007 12:17 PM


With guy’s like you running around loose, working to that kind of tolerence. I might have to go back to the plumbing business, where they only have two rules.

Nice work and photo’s!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View MsDebbieP's profile


18619 posts in 5325 days

#4 posted 09-12-2007 12:43 PM

well done!! Great determination.

Tom, I love that quote – here is the second part: anything that is worth doing, it is worth doing wrong. (For those people who don’t try because they know they won’t get it right.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5127 days

#5 posted 09-12-2007 01:07 PM

That’s pretty tight tolerances. I guess that’s why you’re the “Box Master”. Good blog by the way. We are learning a lot.
You forgot rule #3 in plumbing; payday’s on Friday.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View snowdog's profile


1179 posts in 5147 days

#6 posted 09-12-2007 01:58 PM

“My desire for detail exceeds my skill at attaining it” Mott – that is a keeper

I know what you mean Don, most of my problem solving (at least the problems that I can not solve off the top of my head ) is done in bed before sleep. There is a lot of science to back that idea up but I wont drone on with the details since it has to do with rats and mazes <laugh>.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View Obi's profile


2214 posts in 5402 days

#7 posted 09-12-2007 03:18 PM

First of all, if it was easy, anybody could do it.
Secondly, I make all the mistakes I possibly can on the first one so I can hopefully not make them anymore.

When I first started making these magazine tables, the original was a wreck. ( I recently sold it for $50.00 to someone who wanted one, but didn’t want to pay the full price.) And I learned that by sanding the rough spots out of the legs I clamped the four legs together. I used the bench mounted belt/disc sander and found a new mistake. A little out of level and the legs got smaller and ended up looking bow-legged. Since I found out by individually sanding them to the point of “Fine Furniture”, they were niether bow-legged nor perfectly the same but the differences were so minute they couldn’t be seen. And when the craftsman can’t see the differences, then chances are niether can anyone else.

View gbvinc's profile


629 posts in 5111 days

#8 posted 09-12-2007 03:59 PM

Nice series! I am learning a bunch. Keep them coming.

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 5257 days

#9 posted 09-12-2007 07:08 PM

Don, I’m in the process of finishing up the carcasses of a couple of new boxes and begining the insides. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the thickness of the wood you use for the compartments. I was thinking of making them a bit thin and more refined but notice you keep yours fairly thick. Is this because experience has taught you they will hold up better of just a personal preference? I can understand it on the trays but was just curious about the permanently set components.

Thanks for any feedback you may have and, as always, your work is terrific.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View cajunpen's profile


14578 posts in 5231 days

#10 posted 09-12-2007 11:53 PM

Thanks Don for sharing your wisdom. I suspect that I’m not the only woodworker here that has improved their craft because of your work and wisdom.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View Bill Cowan's profile

Bill Cowan

110 posts in 5271 days

#11 posted 09-13-2007 12:36 AM

Ah Don…from eyes so far away,

not the smallest of details go unoticed.

Yet to the Masters hands and eye to detail

my friend from down under, has had a good day!

This is a great and inspiring work at the bench that we all can learn from. I love seeing how you progress through the steps, and your thoughts on how to take each one. I promised not step through showing my wifes J-Chest, but I’m almost finished and will post the pictures when done. Keep the chin up, and next time you lay down to sleep…just sleep, you work too hard and are tiring me out :-).

Your friend

-- ICN, Bill, (

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 5342 days

#12 posted 09-13-2007 12:49 AM

Chip, you are correct, the dividers for this box are minutely over 1/4” thick. They do look a little on the heavy side, and perhaps I should have gone with something closer to 1/8” stock. I settled on this size because that is the narrowest dado cut I can get from my dado set using both outside blades with no chippers in between them. Remember, in a half lap joint, it’s this cut that determines the stock thickness.

My other choice would be a single blade curf cut but that just seemed too thin to me. I could also have cut the dados for the half lap joints on my router table, but again, the smallest router bit I have is a 1/4” router.

Also, the design of the lower dividers is such that the front and back rail support the upper trays. You will see that these two components of the lower dividers are higher than the others. To have made these narrower than 1/4” would provide very little surface on which the trays would sit, although I suppose I could have left these two parts at 1/4” and the rest at 1/8”.

Just thinking out loud here, but it gives you an insight into how I approached this project.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Bill Cowan's profile

Bill Cowan

110 posts in 5271 days

#13 posted 09-13-2007 02:12 AM

Master’s hands (Don’s)

-- ICN, Bill, (

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 5257 days

#14 posted 09-13-2007 03:48 AM

That makes very good sense to me Don. Appreciate the reply.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View itsmic's profile


1419 posts in 4283 days

#15 posted 02-08-2010 08:52 PM

Thanks for sharing your work with us all, I am new to the site, and have immediate respect and admiration for all I see, and the woodworkers doing the projects. Great job explaining your work, I will keep all of this info in mind when I make my first jewelry box, I still need to gain more experience and info for doing the job the right way, all the help I have gained from all the great people on this site is truly an inspiration, thanks

-- It's Mic Keep working and sharing

showing 1 through 15 of 18 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics