Making a Small Wooden Box #7: The Fiddly Bits

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Blog entry by Don posted 09-18-2007 09:46 AM 25732 reads 16 times favorited 21 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Confessions of a Box Maker Part 7 of Making a Small Wooden Box series no next part

When I get to this stage of a project, I have to work hard at not becoming impatient and rushing the final details. If one is not very careful, it’s here where everything can go pear-shaped.

In this episode, I have finished the wood with a three coat shellac base and a light sanding with very fine wet & dry between each coat, and then four coats of sprayed clear lacquer, again rubbing out each coat including the final coat. (I should also mention that I had previously pre-finished the body and lid of the box using burnishing oil and a ROS as per Rob's instructions.)

Even though the instructions with the lacquer state that I should wait 20 minutes between each coat, I like to wait more like three hours in a 72 degree room. I find it gives each coat more time to cure and makes the rubbing out process more effective. If you do this too soon, it’s possible to cut through the hard surface skin and dig into the softer uncured finish making a real mess. I didn’t take any pictures of applying the finish, I thought it would be like watching grass grow.

The pictures here show the box with the final coat of spray before rubbing out and applying a coat of traditional wax polish. When I post this in my projects page, you will see the effect of applying the wax.

Now for the fiddly details.

This picture shows how I lay out the material for a padded interior insert which will sit under the lower dividers. I’m using a faux suede with a thin layer of padding mounted to a cardboard backing. The padding gives the suede a plush feel. The backing board is cut 1mm shorter than the inside dimensions of the base to allow for the material, yet making a snug fit.

I spray a coat of adhesive to the backing board and press the material against the sticky surface which holds it in place.

The finished padded insert.

This shot shows the lower divider with a ring-role. The ring role is made from a piece of high density foam cut exactly to the size of the compartment. This is then slotted (cut almost all the way through with an X-acto knife. I spray this with an adhesive then stuff the suede into the slots. If you try this, remember to cut the material to more than twice the surface dimensions of the foam. The excess material is folded and stuffed into a cavity below the ring-roll. I added a retainer in the bottom of this compartment to hide the untidy look of the underside of the ring-roll (not that anyone would see it).

The following one shows how this is retained in place. You will also note that I have applied two felt pads to the back rail of the lower dividers to keep it snuggly in place.

Here’s the box with the padded insert and the lower dividers in place. If you look closely, you will notice four rare earth magnets have been installed; two in the outer corners of the lid and two in the corresponding surface in the front corners of the box.

[I took some pictures of the hinge installation, but somehow these failed to record to my flash card, so a brief description.] The hinges are Brusso, 11/4” x 7/16” from Lee Valley. Brusso make the finest box ‘jewelry’ available. It makes little sense to me to spend hours on a box only to spoil it with cheap big-box hardware.

I used a router set-up for my Dremel. I first scribed the outline of the hinge with a sharp knife after carefully measuring the location on the box walls. The Dremel was hand held as I cut out the hinge mortise gently easing the bit up to the scribed line. The scribing reduces any chip-out. Then I cleaned out the mortises with a sharp chisel. Next, I inserted the hinges into the mortise and positioned and clamped the lid in place. I then scored a nick with the tip of my knife where the hinges met the lid and repeated the above steps using the ‘nicks’ as a reference point.

Here’s a hint; when you install hinges, it looks tidier to have all the screws lined up with the slots pointing in the same direction. Always drill a pilot hole. Because brass screws are relatively soft, it’s all too easy to twist the head off the shaft. To prevent this happening, I pre-thread the hole using a steel screw of the same size and thread. I wax the screw which makes it easier to drive home, and lubricates the thread being cut into the wood. Then I remove the steel screw and drive in the brass screw, also with some wax applied. When lining up the screw head, use care not to turn the screw too far into the hole for the sake of alignment. You will run the risk of snapping the head off. It’s better to go just tight enough and back off a quarter turn to align the slots, rather than too far and breaking the screw.

You will notice that the screw in the lower left is not perfectly centered. This is not easy to correct, but can be by drilling out the hole and inserting a hardwood dowel glued in place, then re-drilled. The problem with this is you are drilling into end-grain. Perhaps a better but more difficult fix is to cut a mortise and insert a piece of wood so you are drilling into face grain. Or you can do what I did; nothing.

This shows one of the upper trays sitting on the lower divider rails.

And still another with both trays in place. The second tray doesn’t have the padded insert installed. You can see that I decided to cover the 3mm MDF base of the trays with more American Maple veneer to keep the forces the same on both sides of the bottom of the trays. (The trays started to warp a little and I put this down to the fact that I had originally applied the Maple veneer to only the underside surface.)

Almost finished.

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

21 comments so far

View Bill Cowan's profile

Bill Cowan

110 posts in 5568 days

#1 posted 09-18-2007 10:14 AM

Don, this is a very pretty box. I think I missed who it was for, but it sure is special and I know they’ll be overjoyed to receive it. I like the scallop in the front to allow the thumb to help open the box.

Your right about the warping. It’s probably better to balance the wood by using the same veneer on both sides. I even thought once that I would use a lesser grade on a side that would get covered, but then thought against it since I didn’t want to chance the warping.

Great Job!

-- ICN, Bill, (

View 's profile

593 posts in 5434 days

#2 posted 09-18-2007 12:25 PM

Absolutely gorgeous Don. As always when it’s you the maker of those small boxes, I should add. I love the contrasting wood colors and the final touch that the suede provides.

View snowdog's profile


1184 posts in 5444 days

#3 posted 09-18-2007 01:40 PM

Thanks for the details, really nice. I also like the scissor, handy to have a can opener on the back <smile>. I can only imagine how many hours something this nice would take. You see a jewelry box , I see a humidor and cigar box :)

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

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 5464 days

#4 posted 09-18-2007 01:42 PM

Don, As has been said many times, this box is just beautiful. I truly appreciate the patience and attention to detail that it takes to produce such wonderful boxes. When are you going to write a book? I know its been done several times but I believe you could put perspective into to the writing that others have failed to do. I look forward to each and every “issue” you give us. Thanks for being a Lumberjock!


Doug in AZ.
p.s. down to the double digits, on 98 deg. F. yesterday. :)

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5867 days

#5 posted 09-18-2007 02:59 PM

great blog Don, as always. You continue to be a great contributor to this community, thanks for being there for us all.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 5424 days

#6 posted 09-18-2007 03:01 PM

Another great blog with lots of instruction. When I get around to making another box it will be a lot better for your help. Thanks.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View mot's profile


4928 posts in 5498 days

#7 posted 09-18-2007 03:29 PM

Great, Don. Just great! I eyeballed some maple and walnut last night that would be perfect for a little box. Then I saw how messy my shop is and went to bed. A very impressive series and as always, impressive outcome.

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

View Obi's profile


2214 posts in 5699 days

#8 posted 09-18-2007 04:12 PM

Calling this box great is like calling a Fine Painting a nice picture. It’s like callin a Rolls Royce an average car. Like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch. This, my friend, is a work of art. Absolutely beautiful. Between the woods used and the joinery, one could just stare at the box for the box itself.

And watching the grass grow is how one learns patience.

View David's profile


1969 posts in 5601 days

#9 posted 09-18-2007 04:26 PM

Don -

WOW! What a beautiful jewelry box! Your passion for boxes is evident. Thank you for the wonderful details in your blog – this will feed the thoughts of fellow jocks that will make a box project in the future. our work is impecable!


View Don's profile


2603 posts in 5639 days

#10 posted 09-18-2007 11:56 PM

Thanks for the very generous and supportive comments everyone. It’s a little embarrassing to be praised for something I do that I enjoy so much.

Quote Snowdog: ”You see a jewelry box , I see a humidor and cigar box.”

When I made this box, I kept in mind that future owners of this box might want to use it for a purpose other than a jewelry box. The dividers are easily removed. The padded liner is not glued in place, and the ring-role and the retainer under it is simply force-fit into the cavity. Remove all these and you have a box that can be used for any other purpose.

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

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6883 posts in 5441 days

#11 posted 09-19-2007 01:04 AM


Your work is to be regarded as that of a MASTER, as you are a master, my friend!

From design to finish, all details are superbly executed.

I too, have trouble keeping patient at the end of a project. That for me is where I know everything is going to work out fine, (engineering wise), and I know the the final product will be beautiful, as I can see it as though it were finished.

At that point staying focused is tough. It’s what seperates the men from the men. LOL

Great job, Master Don!


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View TomFran's profile


2964 posts in 5456 days

#12 posted 09-19-2007 03:09 AM

Beautiful work, Don. A lot of work goes into one of these as you have shown.

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View Karson's profile


35300 posts in 5862 days

#13 posted 09-19-2007 04:14 AM


Great job. Beautiful Box. You are to be commended on the details that you’ve presented and given to us.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View Bob Babcock's profile

Bob Babcock

1823 posts in 5548 days

#14 posted 09-19-2007 06:41 AM

Fantastic…..I better get the wife’s jewelry box started. Thanks for the inspiration!

-- Bob

View Andy's profile


1726 posts in 5370 days

#15 posted 09-21-2007 02:47 PM

Don,Thanks for taking the time to share your construction details.Thats alot of work in its self.
I really like your choice of woods and accents,great contrasts without being garish.This is a very beautiful piece of craftsmanship,your attention to detail is above par.I salute you mate!

-- If I can do it, so can you.

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