Yin Yang Keepsake Boxes

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Project by Calmudgeon posted 10-24-2015 07:33 PM 1681 views 2 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I made these boxes as a gift for other black belts in my karate club. The construction is simple enough: mitered corners with splines. Constructed of maple with walnut accents, these were meant as general-purpose keepsake boxes, but after they were done, I got to thinking maybe I’d worked on too many funeral urns lately, because the dimensions are vaguely suggestive of that function instead. Ah, well, they’re free to use them however they see fit. ;-)

Each box is made from a single maple board, so the grain wraps around on three corners. I’m still waiting to find that board with grain that will match from one end to the other, so all four corners would be continuous.

These are sprayed with satin, pre-cat lacquer. I sprayed the inside surface of components before assembly. In fact, with the sides, I sprayed each board’s interior surface before I even broke them down into four pieces. I do this for a couple reasons:

  • I’m no fan of lacquer blow-back when spraying interiors.
  • It’s difficult to get even coverage by spraying, particularly in such tight quarters.
  • Wiping up glue squeeze-out raises grain, which can be difficult to sand properly in such a tight space.
  • With the inside pre-finished, cleaning up glue squeeze-out is a simple as wiping with a damp rag.

In the past, when gluing miter joints, I’ve wrestled with clamps of various types with mixed results. So this time, for assembly, I opted to clamp the sides using only masking tape. I aligned them perfectly with the outer face up, fixed them together with tape, then flipped them over, applied glue and folded them gently together to allow time for the glue to distribute before fixing the fourth corner with tape as well. The results were as good as or better than any I’ve ever achieved with clamps. For projects of this size, I will never use clamps again on mitered corners.

This was my first attempt at inlay. The work was done with a template I purchased and a Whiteside 1/8” router inlay kit. The template wasn’t absolutely perfect in its alignment of the components of the yin yang symbol, but I resolved it was probably good enough for most people, even if it didn’t entirely satisfy me. I just found it frustrating that something as geometrically precise and simple as a yin yang symbol wouldn’t be perfectly rendered on a CNC machine.

When it comes to sanding down this much inlay, I’ve never been so happy to own a drum sander. It was a huge time saver, and produced a consistent, flat surface.

In truth, I only needed about 6 of these, but since I was tackling something new, and with limited time to re-start if I flubbed up, I opted for some redundancy. In the end, there were no major screw-ups, so I may try to sell some of these to recoup some materials cost and make up for some of the time they took away from my paying work.

Finally, the way the light bounces off the lids makes it appear, in some of the photos, like there’s a colour mismatch between the box and the lid. This is not the case.

-- "As are the things we make, so are we ourselves." - Lin Yutang

5 comments so far

View Redoak49's profile


5188 posts in 3046 days

#1 posted 10-24-2015 08:06 PM

The boxes look very nice.

In reality, you can make all corners match grain. If you take a board and resaw it you can then get all four corners to have wrap around grain.

View Calmudgeon's profile


460 posts in 2484 days

#2 posted 10-24-2015 08:12 PM

The boxes look very nice.

In reality, you can make all corners match grain. If you take a board and resaw it you can then get all four corners to have wrap around grain.

- Redoak49

Thanks for the tip. In this case, these are overbuilt with 5/8” sides, so I would have had to burn through a lot of 8/4 maple to achieve that effect, but I’ll keep that in mind for the future.

-- "As are the things we make, so are we ourselves." - Lin Yutang

View shipwright's profile


8705 posts in 3855 days

#3 posted 10-24-2015 11:29 PM

A marquetry approach to the Yin/Yang symbol will easily render the motif with sharp points. If you are thinking of getting into inlay anyway it is a lot less frustrating than the router route. I started with router inlay but would never go back.
Here is a post I did a while back with similar Yin/Yang boxes using marquetry.

Anyway these turned out very nicely, good work.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View oldnovice's profile


7702 posts in 4425 days

#4 posted 10-25-2015 04:06 AM

Those boxes are beautiful!
The Yin/Yang on the top is one of my all time favorite symbols.
The lacquer finish is beautiful.

I think that Martyn, the BritBoxmaker, folds his boxes in the same manner you described. His E Z mitter technique makes them easy to make and to fold!

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

View SirFatty's profile


547 posts in 3269 days

#5 posted 10-25-2015 10:27 AM

Very nice work, I like the attention to detail!

-- Visit my blog at

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