Boxes for Cremains Internment

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Blog entry by Donna Menke posted 11-13-2012 07:23 PM 3677 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Kind of a sad topic, but so it is. A good friend of ours died a couple of months ago and her husband commissioned me to make some cedar boxes for her and her sister. The sister died 2 years before, also from breast cancer. They were both still in their 50s.
He provided the wood and asked for plain wooden boxes. Humph- I don’t DO plain, so I figured I’d do what I wanted and just charge him for plain boxes.
These are the pieces of 1’ x 1” boards after I planed, sawed them, and then squared them up.

One of the reason’s I was particularly pleased to tackle this project is because it uses the table saw- not the band saw with which I am so comfortable. I’m going too be teaching a woodworking basics class in Florida in a couple of months so I needed a refresher on using the tools. Also, I quickly decided to use the box joint jig I bought 10 years ago and never used. I like the look of the extended fingers, so I will do that. If I change my mind I can always cut/sand them off.
The first joint was a bit tight- you cannot get these apart . . . and there is no glue.

So I learned how to adjust the jig after 2-3 more trials and got it just right. It is the Woodsmith jig and required a bit of assembly, but I think it is a swell tool and I’m looking forward to using it again- now that I know how.
Here are the boxes during a dry fitting.

I read this tip about using painters’ tape to make clean-up easier and it worked a charm. I squeezed glue into the open joints just like this and then closed up the 3 sides with the 4th not glued in place but just as a spacer. Checked for square and then let the glue dry. Then I could do the other 2 corners with assurance that the boxes would be square. And they were.

Got clamps! Thank goodness (and foresight) that I have enough clamps for a job like this. btw- difference in color of wood due to flash or not. The wood is aromatic cedar and is a rich red color.

There were a lot of defects in the boards so I had to cut around a lot to get usable wood. I just barely managed to get enough wood to make each top and bottom out of just 2 pieces of wood. Here is some more clamping. I love my clamps.

After some very careful measurements and a few passes with the dado blades to rabbet the lids I have fairly tight boxes.

I drilled holes for the 8 brass screws that will hold down each lid, and then I designed each lid to reflect the interests of the women. Wood burned the designs and then colored them with artist acrylic paints.

Then I applied just one coat of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, my favorite finish.

Doesn’t that look pretty! It all sank it rather nicely, and I decided that more coats would probably look blotchy, so I left well enough alone.
These are the finished boxes.

In a couple of weeks they will be buried, but I could not have done them with less finesse. They will be viewed for 2 hours and then never again. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.
Oh, one more thing I think you would be interested in- haggling over the price. Note: we have known this couple for 25+ years, on and off. We are sorta friends. On and off. The customer insisted I charge him a going rate, so I told him (all in emails) that I refused payment for the wife and friend, but I would accept $100 for the box for the sister. I never met the sister. I spent the greater part of 3 weeks on the project, but that was mostly due to my incompetence- and I don’t charge for that.
Well, he wrote back that he expected to pay $1,000 and wanted no argument from me.
I wrote back that if he insisted then I could go as high as $250 and not feel guilty.
He said that was too steep for him and that $900 was his limit- and to stop arguing!
Well, I said that my final offer was $440- splitting the difference.
So, I haven’t received the check yet and I don’t know what it will be, but it doesn’t much matter. I will be there for the ceremony on their property with friends and colleagues and I am satisfied that I did as good a job as I could and I’m proud of my boxes. No matter what I’m paid.

-- "So much wood. . .so little time!"

8 comments so far

View Karson's profile


35300 posts in 5893 days

#1 posted 11-13-2012 08:41 PM

Beautiful Boxes and nary a turned lid or sliding drawer.


-- 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 Grumpymike's profile


2504 posts in 3808 days

#2 posted 11-13-2012 09:36 PM

Beautiful, ... simply beautiful.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

View Sandra's profile


7207 posts in 3568 days

#3 posted 11-13-2012 10:52 PM

Nice boxes. And I love the thought put into them.

-- No, I don't want to buy the pink hammer.

View casual1carpenter's profile


354 posts in 3968 days

#4 posted 11-13-2012 11:30 PM

Donna, first let me say that the boxes are definitely well thought out and constructed. But what really makes them stand out is the inspired artistic details, the softened box joint extended fingers, the beautiful wood burned and painted art work. You best watch out, you will be getting order requests, LOL.

If you really feel that your friends husband is insisting on paying too much, how about telling him that if he insists on paying a realistic price then anything above your asking price could be donated to a Breast Cancer type charity. Your box building was a labor of love and it really shows in the finished product. Perhaps he could understand that payment above materials and incidentals could detract from that labor of love in your mind and heart, and that it was not an imposition but a blessing to be asked to build these boxes. I am sure that you will have piece of mind in knowing that you helped provide such a beautiful resting place, and thank him for honoring you with his request.

Did I say all that? Well it might get you off the hook with taking higher than your asking price.

View Blackie_'s profile


4883 posts in 4005 days

#5 posted 11-14-2012 12:05 AM

Donna a sad story it is at such young ages, Beautiful boxes the detail on top looks awesome.

One thing that I’ve been using on my small boxes instead of clamps are ratchet straps, they work on all size boxes as well. What I did, I bought a 4 pack set from harbor freight cut the hook end off and then tired the strap back to the ratchet it self so all I have to do is just loop the nylon strap around the box and squeeze it tight.

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

View Donna Menke's profile

Donna Menke

617 posts in 5759 days

#6 posted 11-14-2012 12:38 AM

Dear Casual Carpenter- what wonderful thoughts and ideas. I think I will do that. It should make us both happy.

-- "So much wood. . .so little time!"

View ~Julie~'s profile


623 posts in 4527 days

#7 posted 11-14-2012 05:44 PM

Nice boxes, Donna, you did a wonderful job with the box joints.

It’s great to see your projects on here, please post more!

-- ~Julie~

View Donna Menke's profile

Donna Menke

617 posts in 5759 days

#8 posted 11-14-2012 06:29 PM

Thanks Julie, my newest buddy. I enjoy posting here and reading the responses. The joints are so easy and repeatable once you learn how to use the jig. I spent a day or two just working on the set-up, but now I could do it much faster. I’m not one much for jigs and fixtures, but I am getting to really appreciate tools like this.

-- "So much wood. . .so little time!"

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