Complex Curve Veneered Box Series #2: Making the box Carcass and veneering

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Blog entry by Matt Nudi posted 12-06-2014 06:35 PM 4837 reads 4 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Making The vacuum bag Part 2 of Complex Curve Veneered Box Series series Part 3: Making the Inlay Lines »

So for the box itself, this is the basic sketchup model for what I’m going for. I am trying to model this after one of “RogerBean’s” projects, hi maple burl box. However I am adding a drawer into it so it will differentiate a little bit from his process. The hardest part will be the two meet ups of two curves that occurs on the front of the box.

After some thinking, I came up with some basic dimensions and my thought process for how I was going to be able to add in a drawer and updated my model a little bit.

The first thing I didn’t mention is that I’m kind of cheating on this project for the curves. I came home from the summer and the shop got a shopbot cnc machine just weeks before. I wasn’t planning on something like that when I first started but wow this thing seriously reduces the amount of hours needed in “traditional” woodworking and will allow me to have more time working on the veneer side of things during the course of the semester. Not only that, but that accuracy is unreal and once you learn the software, the results are very nice. Now, one thing is that the software is NOT intuitive at all. I know how to use various CAD programs but this is very different. The problem with Vcarvepro is that you have to generate 3D designs using only 2D vectors which makes you have to completely change how you think about constructing your project.

So, after many many hours of fumbling with the software and learning how to screw things up, I came up with this prototype using some cheapo plywood in preparation for a final design for some good quality baltic birch ply. The results are really good and once I increase the pass overstep on the machine the lines will be extremely smooth for the lid top.

Now, you can see there are few things wrong with the model, the top curve doesn’t go all the way to the ends and it’s pretty rough but I’ve made some changes to the vcarvepro file and this next cut should really fix things up on the baltic birch plywood. Here is how I had to jerry-rig a set up to hold down the piece during cutting.

I got some baltic birch plywood and remade sections for the box top and for the box front from some quality plywood. The CNC cut really well on this ply and I upped the overlap in the cutting patterns so the cuts are pretty smooth on the inside. I screwed in a ¾” piece of plywood to the table top and then had the CNC route out a pocket the same size as my piece, and then cut again around the corners so that I didn’t have to clean them out and make them square by hand; and then using a wedge to keep it tight to the corner I designated as my zero point.

Here is the result of the cutting for this section. It came out super smooth and really barely needs any sanding before it’s ready to be veneered.

The next step is to make the shaped front for the box in order to be able to put this shape and transfer it to the box top. This cut out of the lid has to be done by hand because the CNC can’t cut corners from the cross sectional view of the lid and it is just more reliable to do this portion by hand.

The CNC started acting funny towards to end of flattening out the wings here, so I cut it off just to make sure it didn’t cut too far down. I’ll clean up the rest of these by hand with a plane hopefully tomorrow. Then, transfer the shape of the front onto the lid and cut out the design. Then finally, I will be able to make the arched top for the box.

Well things worked out pretty nicely. The first thing I did was mark up the lid top from yesterday with the box front design that was cut out. Then I cut the shaped front out and got things sanded pretty close for the box design. After that, I got it rigged up in the CNC and oriented properly for the cut.

I had to use two wedges here since the box front lost some stability in the form and it was necessary in order to keep the lid situated hugging the x-y axis. After the cut was completely done I took it off of the CNC and started some light sanding. It still needs some work, but this box lid is very close to the original design and dimensions and I”m pretty pleased with how it is looking. For the next few hours I’m going to start picking my veneer sheets and getting the pieces taped with veneer tape ready for the press when the time comes.

The next step was to prepare the 4-way book match for the lid. The veneer is a really nice set of redwood burl veneer.

After that got the other two pieces sectioned up and taped together. The edge where these two pieces will meet is not perfectly straight and will need to be cut and trimmed with a veneer saw and then taped together. Looking good so far!

Well finished cutting and joining the edges of the two sections I had last night today. For the life of me, I couldn’t find a single good straight edge in the apartment. I had a couple pieces of wood I had jointed recently but they really just weren’t working out, had some minor warping. So, being a college kid I did what any good college kid would do and came up with an improvisation that worked with about the same results. I went to our coffee table and took off the glass top and laid it over the veneer. It actually worked perfectly since the glass was so heavy the veneer didn’t budge. I just added two clamps on one edge to prevent the glass from rotating and set up the cut.

I’m using a two cherries veneer saw pre-sharpened and purchased from the veneer suppliers site. I didn’t mention this yesterday but I’m following the same general process as he outlines. On the bottom face that will be adhered to the panel, I am using a stretchable painters blue tape to initially hold the veneer tight. Then the piece gets flipped over and a regular veneer tape is used. This one is not the type that needs to be wet prior to adhering to the veneer, but the own of the Joe woodworker site highly recommends it for it’s strength and for it’s lack of leaving glue marks after pressing.

So I was pretty fortunate that I was able to cut the exact same amount off of both sides, it made the cutting to line up the veneer much much easier than trying to match the pattern. I’m sure there is a better way to get things lined up properly but hopefully I’ll learn as I go.

Well went to the woodshop last night and spent probably a good hour completely evening out the top from tool marks. There was a little tear out in the middle that had to be puttied and sanded but the top was really smooth. Came back to my apartment and got the veneer I was using centered for the size of the box and shaped appropriately for the glue up. Got my painters tape lined up and then rolled on the titebond cold press glue and laid my veneer on top and then realigned everything for pressing.

Now, I made a little mistake in that I didn’t cut the veneer close enough to the border of the box and there were a couple issues with the edge of the veneer being chipped off during pressing. The couple little spots that were affected though were ones that will be removed later anyway during edge banding so it’s not “that” much of an issue, but something to learn from the future. Here it the press setup during gluing.

So I let it press for like an hour and a half. I probably could have taken it off a little sooner but I wasn’t really sure how long it needed to be pressed. So, took it off the press, got all the tape removed from the veneer and then I took an xacto knife and cleaned up the edges to get them flush. Overall, pretty happy with how it worked out, not bad for my first attempt. Hopefully but the time that I’m done with this project I’ll be pretty good at working with the veneer.

Well I got some more done this evening. I went to the shop today and spent a while preparing some blocks for glueing up the veneer on the inside of the lid as well as making my front piece have a thicker border to on the ends. The front can be seen here and the line separated by red is the section that was added today in order to make the ends thicker for the wood joints.

The next thing today was making the wood cauls for laminating the veneer to the inside of the lid. First thing here are the results, pretty dang good in my opinion for the ghetto way that I glued the thing up, lol. You can see some of my engineering work in the background, I used the taking this out of the press as a nice break from school work.

So the glue lines are pretty close to the edges and overall I’m really happy with the clean glue up. So what I did, I basically filled the basin of the lid top in with a curved piece of ply, a cut out of the first lid that I made for this project so the curved matched perfectly. I took that piece to the belt sander and sanded a little off the sides making this wood piece just slightly steeper of a curve than the curve in the box lid. Then, I put that piece in the lid cavity, and place a rectangular flat piece of ply over top, so as the press would compress everything, that flat piece of ply would push down on the arched piece, and create a LOT of force along the whole length of the veneer in the lid, making a good glue up. Here are a few pictures to show what I’m talking about.

This was probably going to be the glue up in terms of veneer involving the most thinking for the setup other than the front of the box, so this is a good step in terms of the overall progress. Next will be veneering the insides of the bottom of the lid, and continuing work on design the main box carcass.

Well I did a little work on the inner sides of the box lid underside. I will say that there has definitely been some challenges working on this portion of the veneering. The ends have a piece that has a curved edge that has to be cut prior to inserting it and cleaning the edges making it essential to get a close fit. I ended up making a wood form and using that as a guide for my veneer saw, here’s generally how I clamped these veneer pieces to the side, and I had pretty good success with it in my opinion.

To get the veneer flush with the lid bottom, I simply took the veneer saw and ran it parallel with the lid base while the clamps were still holding pressure on the back side and cut off the overlap creating a nice clean line for the next set of veneer to adhere to. I had one instance where when clamping the piece, it slid a little and the glue dried, so I just filled the gap and glued another layer over top of it. When I do the veneer on the lid bottom it will cover up the mistake and you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The work isn’t perfect but it doesn’t look too bad I don’t think! More updates to come but for now I’m trying to finish up this absurd homework due Tuesday. It sounds like a long time but I definitely plan on taking until then to finish it.

Well doing the bottom has definitely been a challenge. There are a few scattered spots that there is some chipped out veneer around the inside edge. This is probably the last time I’ll need the veneer press for the lid and the rest will just be clamps. The next step for me will be to actually make the box carcass for the bottom, and then start veneering that. I’m still deciding on whether or not I will be making a drawer in this piece or not but I’ll be deciding that later. Thanks for looking!

So here’s the shape of the box now. Things aren’t quite right because I still have to cut off part of the ends of the front and create the rabbit joints on the side panels but the side panels are at their proper length. I veneered the outside since I am trying to get as much as possible veneered before the box is glue up to make it easier for me in the long run. This way I can just plop the pieces in the veneer press and have a nicely veneered panel afterwards. This could be done with clamps but it’s infinitely easier with the veneer press! Here’s a couple more pictures.

Well it has really been a crazy few weeks at school. Things have been hectic and this past weekend over fall break when I finally have a little bit of time off the shop was closed so I didn’t get to work on it at all! I did get to veneer all the inside faces of the box carcass. The reason for this step is simply so that after things get put together the inside gets harder and harder to do so veneering first saves time and irritation down the line.

I decide to go with a simple rabbet joint for this box, mostly for the fact that it makes the process of creating a drawer insert fairly easy and also it is PLENTY strong enough for the use this box will receive. So that was the next step. The shop doesn’t have any flat cutting table saw blades so I have to cut it close on the saw, and then come in afterwards with a lie nelson shoulder plane to clean up the bottom. It does a good job and if you’re careful you get nice and clean corners.

Ok so got a little more done. The box design for the bottom may not be apparent yet but it will as I keep working through. The first thing I did here was make a little dado in the bottom of the box to create a groove for an insert. In the end, this will actually be recessed but as it stands now it appears as the bottom.

The next thing I did was create the dado for the divider that will separate the bottom from the top section of the box. This divider will end up going past the edge of the box, in order for it to eventually be matched up with the shaped front. This will make more sense later on.

Right above is just the box starting to come together on the inside. The extra piece in the middle is necessary to extend well past the box as it will eventually be glued to the shaped front and be veneered over. You can see the spots inside the rabbit on the left where this will be visible as the drawer is removed. That’ll have to be veneered. Here’s another picture with the lid on it.

Today, I went to the shop just for a little bit and got the space inside the rabbet veneered in order to make the space visible from the drawer to not show any plywood. It’s hard to see here but if you look closely you can see the veneered space inside the rabbet. I went in yesterday and took off enough wood in the rabbet cut to make up for the additional thickness coming from the veneer.

I was originally thinking I was going to cover all of the inside with a fabric but I’m really liking the contrast between the jatoba and the burl veneer, so that part will be a decision later on. I think I might be able to get all of the veneering and general box construction done in the next 2-3 weeks if I’m careful. Then after that, I’ll be moving on to the most complicated part of this project doing the edge banding around the box, and also the part where things can go wrong the quickest.

Well got a good amount of work done on the box today. First thing was for the bottom. I have a piece of cuban mahogany that I’ll be using for the bottom. This piece will be exposed when the box is done, and it will partially cover the the recessed piece of jatoba. In the picture below you can see the mark that got cut out, it’s hard to tell but this was cut out today and I didn’t take a picture of the bottom but I’ll have some pictures later. The jatoba will later be veneered with some nice bird’s eye maple veneer to have a good contrast with the mahogany.

With this bottom piece laid out and shaped, it was then possible to measure the front and see where the front piece was going to need to be sliced. I took two cuts to the table saw and ripped it right down the line. Here’s a picture of it fitted in but the middle divider still needs to be fitted in.

You can see that the top sticks up just a little bit and it will need to be sanded down a little to be flush with the rest of the sides. The next step was to file down the middle divider to fit the shape of the box front. This divider will later be glued to the upper section of the front and veneered over, appearing as one solid piece.

I left a little room past the front for both the very bottom and the middle divider in order to allow shaping to be done to match up perfectly with the front shape. You might wonder about why I didn’t veneer over this bottom later, since as right now it can be seen all around the box. The reason for this is that when I do the edge banding in boxwood, the edge banding will be just thick enough to completely cover this section, allowing only edge banding and veneer to be seen. Here’s one final shot with the top on for some perspective.

It’s been an incredibly busy couple of weeks for me. Some family issues and other things have been happening and with school I haven’t had a ton of time for woodworking. I did get some work done on my drawer though and the main drawer is glued up and now just needs some “fine tuning.” The drawer frame is made from cuban mahogany I got from one of the older guys at the school shop I work at. The process of routing out the front pocket of the drawer was seriously a huge pain, but in the end it worked out and all is well. I still need to veneer the inside of the pocket wells in order to make all the plywood be not visible. After this I’ll have to install the runners inside the box and then everything will pretty much be ready for the first glue up. I’ve still been doing some thinking about how I’ll go about this but I’m hoping to get that done very soon, I can’t stand this thing being in pieces any longer!

Well yesterday was a good day at the shop! First thing I did was cut some rails for my drawer using some sort of oily rosewood. I got it from one of the guys at the shop and it seemed pretty oily which would help for it sliding. I didn’t really know how to measure this out, so I simply lined up my drawer and marked the lines out. Before glueing I wiped the rails with lacquer thinner to remove the surface oils and that the wood could properly adhere to the surface.

Here’s a picture of the drawer sitting in the box. This is the dry fit so it’s just sitting loose right now but the fit feels ok, once finish is added and to allow some room for expansion it should fit together nicely. I’m really glad the drawers lined up so well.

So here’s one of the big steps for the project. Glueing up the main frame of the box. The key here is that I’ll still have complete access to the top and bottom so I can so some more sanding, and apply sanding sealer etc. as I continue working on the box. I had to get creative with this glue up in order to not apply pressure on the lower front and warp the box out of shape while the glue sets. The hardest part was getting the shaped front section attached to the middle divider without a.) getting glue everywhere and b.) making sure the divider ends up being parallel with the drawer front after the fact.

I painted on the titebond 3 using a small paintbrush in order to minimize the amount of squeeze out and not get glue everywhere. In the end, the box is nice and square, and lays perfectly flat on the base ready to accept the box bottom. Thinks are going well and the next step will be veneering the back side of the box and starting to clean up the front for veneering!

Got some more time in today. The main focus of the day was simply getting all of the front to align again. I oversized the divider just slightly in order to be able to allow myself to have a little wiggle room and not “undershoot” it. So after a couple hours of filing and frustration, I was able to reshape the front of the box, then take the lid and sand and make all the necessary adjustments in order to make the box sides line up perfectly with the lid sides, which will be absolutely crucial with these veneered box sides to give it a crisp clean look. I didn’t really know how to demonstrate this work but I did take a quick top down profile view. A lot of careful work with the file really paid off in this case and the front now matches up really well.

The drawer thankfully slides out and in really nicely now and just needs a small amount of tinkering to snug it up a little bit. I got my hinges in the mail today and wow they are awesome. I got them from “the Smart box maker” site and these are seriously quality hinges. They auto lock at a 95 degree opening and are extremely solid hinges. These guys will get the slots made for them after all the veneering has been completed, including the boxwood edging that needs to be done as well. I would highly recommend these and it is apparent that they have a great build quality.

Today at the shop I had to work, but while I was there I had the chance to get a little done on my box so I got the clamping cauls cut up and was able to veneer the back side of my main box carcass. The surface on the box had a couple small trouble spots where the saw blade had cut through doing the dados’ for the middle section of the box, which were puttied up in preparation for the veneer. The overall “look” of the box is finally starting to come together now!

Well the real fun has begun on the veneering. First thing was laying out my veneer and figuring out the sizing. It needs to be continuous in order to make a nice continuous design across the box front. I was trying to figuring out how to measure the length of the arched section of the box so I figured I could just put two pieces of tape down and then cut it at the corners, then place it on my veneer sheet in order to accurately cut the pieces.

The above pic doesn’t include the far edges of the box front, or the small ½” side pieces. I am making these out of a different piece because their absence would ruin the nice book matched view from the front of the box that this method will retain. So in order of veneering the front and keeping visible edges to a minimum, I will be veneering the arc first on all four sections (two box and two drawer), than I can veneer the edges touching these arced pieces and then finally the front piece. This should only leave one completely visible veneer edge on the first sides of the box front, which will eventually be cut off for the edge banding.

I made some clamping forms for all of the sections of the box front. The first two are for the box arched pieces. In between the wood form and the veneer to be glued is a small “foam” mat that is there to make up for the fact that my mold doesn’t perfectly match the curve. This was just some kitchen cabinet lining material that was solid and didn’t have all the little holes in it. The two clamps together apply the first just perpendicular into the veneer face and glue everything down just right.

4 glue ups later I have one section of the front glued up. The curves came out better than expected and no major chip out of the veneer! The process goes quick but I still have a total of 12 more pieces of veneer to attached for the front of the box. Lots of small pieces but I can finish this in a day or two hopefully to move on to the remaining pieces of veneer!

This side veneering was somewhat of a pain but it came out alright. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the box will look like once all the veneer is done for the front and you can’t see any ply wood anymore! This is a pretty lengthy process since you can only really apply one piece at a time realistically to make sure that everything lines up nicely.

Made a little more progress last night as I was working at the shop. Glueing up the top veneer was definitely a challenge and I realized after that I really should have veneered the top before starting to veneer the front of the box. This will leave a thin line on the top between the box frame and the lid, but overall it shouldn’t show through that much. The next step is finishing the last bit of veneer on the front and then doing all of the veneering for the lid sides. After that I’ll have to start cutting out the sides for the edge banding from the boxwood.

At this point, The external veneering is done on the box. The next installment to be put up will be in a few weeks and it’ll be me working on my edge banding portion of the project.

-- - Still a new guy to the craft, but always striving to learn more

9 comments so far

View sras's profile


6127 posts in 4214 days

#1 posted 12-06-2014 07:37 PM

Thanks for the thorough description – very informative!

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 4187 days

#2 posted 12-06-2014 07:55 PM

Wish I had more patience.
Looking forward to your finish…....................

-- mike...............

View JacktheLumberjacker's profile


6 posts in 2353 days

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

WOW! I can’t even imagine the time and effort if took for the pictures to be taken to perfectly and to write this post.. Thanks for the brilliant information. (Y)


View jmartel's profile


9183 posts in 3235 days

#4 posted 12-06-2014 08:45 PM

I saw your thread over on Woodbarter. I’m making a pair of similar boxes right now as well, but one only has a curved top, and the other only has a curved front. Also, no vacuum press for me.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4419 days

#5 posted 12-06-2014 08:50 PM

Looks great so far. I love the burl, it has a very rich color and the box design is also very nice.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4389 days

#6 posted 12-06-2014 09:22 PM

wow matt, you have gone for it …this is a great project, so much to learn and you have done great, cant wait to see more and i know this is going to turn out great.

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View oldnovice's profile


7702 posts in 4453 days

#7 posted 12-07-2014 04:27 AM

Outstanding work and description Matt!
I like all the photos too.

-- "It's fine in practise but it will never work in theory"

View abie's profile


922 posts in 4856 days

#8 posted 12-08-2014 04:21 PM

I Echo Oldnovice
WOW and how great are the pictures..
Nice to see someone take the time to record all of this.
That in and of itself is a small but vey useful task.

-- Bruce. a mind is like a book it is only useful when open.

View Matt Nudi's profile

Matt Nudi

121 posts in 3076 days

#9 posted 12-08-2014 04:54 PM

I Echo Oldnovice
WOW and how great are the pictures..
Nice to see someone take the time to record all of this.
That in and of itself is a small but vey useful task.

- abie

I’m glad the pictures are being enjoyed! It sometimes can be a pain to try to document the process along the way but it’s nice to be able to look back at your own project as well to see what you did in the future. Some of these are taken with my iPhone and some of these are taken with my Canon EOS-m, so the quality was dependent on whether or not I had my good camera on any given day.

-- - Still a new guy to the craft, but always striving to learn more

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