It's a ... Box (Part 2)

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Blog entry by DonGriffith posted 06-17-2013 04:12 AM 1748 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Having successfully milled my board to four square, cut in a dado, and cut it to size, I worried that all that had been accomplished would be for naught once I learned I had to miter the corners to 45° and use splines for added support. I nearly panicked when they told me I had to use a “spline miter jig.” Now there were three words I was practically unfamiliar with individually; put them together to make a compound noun and I had recurring nightmares of failing 5th grade sentence diagramming.

But first, the mitered corners. For a novice like me, a miter saw immediately came to mind. Here though, the philosophy was, set up the table saw so that each board will be exactly the same size after the 45° cut. So after setting up the saw to 45° and setting up a cross-cut fence with a board clamped to it as a stop at the correct length, each board could easily be ran across the blade for perfect cuts. Here’s the result:

I then learned probably the most profound thing I might ever need to know as a woodworker: the versatility of painter’s tape. Turns out the stuff is magic in the wood shop. Although it was used in nearly everything we did, not once did paint come into the picture. We used it on fences when we needed just a little more thickness to get a board square. We used it around a finger when sanding by hand to prevent splinters and scratches on our delicate digits. And here, we used it instead of clamps. It is truly a miracle tool. As you can see, the trick is to lay out your boards side-by-side, tape them together and them simply fold them up. That trick alone was worth the price of the workshop.

With my box now looking very, well, boxy, it was time to turn to cutting the 1/4” plywood bottom. Suffice it to say, it was back to the table saw. The real challenge here was that I hadn’t actually tried very hard to see if the plywood would fit the dado (oops). I had tested the plywood in it as I cut, but I’ll have to admit that once the plywood fit snugly in the slot, I stopped, figuring a little sanding would loosen it up just enough … Nearly 1/2 hour of hand sanding later, I was worried that if I had to sand any more, I would sand through the veneer and possibly into the workbench below. Fortunately, just before I hit bone, the darn thing slid right in. Lesson learned: don’t assume the wood you measured will fit the pretty little dado you spent so much time planning out and cutting.

I added a little glue to the corners, retaped to my heart’s content, and now I was steaming along:

Finally, the last major challenge to my woodworking metal had arrived—cutting the spline joints. And like much of my life, it turned out to be … anti-climactic.

Notwithstanding my trepidation, the spline miter jig is a simple, but ingenious little jig. They’re easy enough to make and if you’re ever going to make a box with splines, this is definitely the way to go. Needless to say, there are countless videos on how to make this jig and once done, you’ve got a friend forever. If I could, I’d take my spline miter jig on vacations with me if I wasn’t afraid some unscrupulous airline baggage handler might recognize its value and abscond with it. In any event, once the jig is set up, cutting the joints is just a matter of getting the blade depth right. Then you get to cut corners, which is yet another story of my life. And here’s the result:

After that, it’s pretty much manual labor to chisel out the triangular splines and sand it all down.

Cutting the cherry top was fairly easy. The fun part was using the router table on the underside of the lid to create the indentation so the top sits snugly and then beveling the top edge. The trick for getting such a wide cut on the underside was using just the very top (or bottom, depending on your perspective) of a bullnose bit. Leave it to woodworkers to again use something designed for one purpose for an entirely different one. You go from this:

To this:

And with that, my box was complete. I worried over what kind of finish I should put on it. Thought about lacquer, shellac, poly, some exotic oils I couldn’t pronounce, then looked around my basement and settled on the tung oil I didn’t want to go to waste. Three coats later and a coat of bees wax for good measure and voilà:

I brought my finished masterpiece to my wife and held it up, much as a father might his new-born son to the gods and said “Behold, I give this to thee.” She took one look, sniffed, and said “All that and it’s a … box?”

Anyway, until next time, remember: somewhere in the world is the world’s worst woodworker, and you just read his blog.

-- Cut first and ask questions later.

9 comments so far

View jumbojack's profile


1690 posts in 3357 days

#1 posted 06-17-2013 05:28 AM

Good blog and a fine box. Now you must post it as a project. Don I dont know you but I hope you do not have an addictive personality. This the first of many. Nights awake in bed working through a problem with a design element, how to fix an error, which hinge, mortises, on and on and on.
Welcome, I look forward to watch you grow as a box maker, furniture maker, or where ever the dust takes you.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View getlostinwood's profile


224 posts in 3336 days

#2 posted 06-17-2013 12:37 PM

I suspect your wife will be bragging to her friends this week about the wonderful gift you created, or if like most wives she’ll phrase it closer to ” it keeps him busy”
Great box

-- The basis for optimism is shear terror

View DonGriffith's profile


8 posts in 2578 days

#3 posted 06-17-2013 01:55 PM

Thanks for the comments. I’ll add it as a project and make sure my wife appreciates all the work that went into it by buying another tool.

-- Cut first and ask questions later.

View robert triplett's profile

robert triplett

1566 posts in 3838 days

#4 posted 06-17-2013 02:16 PM

Thanks for the entertaining blog. That is a nice box. I think you need a more appreciative audience to show it to, instead of your wife!! Post as a project. We will ooh and ah over it.

-- Robert, so much inspiration here, and now time to work!!!

View SPHinTampa's profile


567 posts in 4419 days

#5 posted 06-17-2013 03:25 PM

looking good

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

View helluvawreck's profile


32116 posts in 3600 days

#6 posted 06-17-2013 04:22 PM

It looks really nice. Congratulations.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Diggerjacks's profile


2325 posts in 3872 days

#7 posted 06-17-2013 05:22 PM

Hello Don

I agree It’s a BOX

It looks really nice and thanks for this blog

-- Diggerjack-France ---The only limit is the limit of the mind and the mind has no limit

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 3218 days

#8 posted 06-17-2013 06:50 PM

I was entertained with the entire blog, and the last line got a few gleeful cackles from me. And no, you’re not the worst woodworker in the world. I’ve seen their material both online and in the real world, and I simply don’t comment whenever I see it. That’s keeping in the spirit of how my parents taught me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.

Good show.

-- Brian Timmons -

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 3423 days

#9 posted 06-18-2013 12:57 AM

Very entertaining blog! Your first box turned out well. I had no idea there was a “box making school”. People pay money to attend?

Maybe I should start a box making school in my area to supplement my income. LOL

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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