Boxguy Makes A Splineless Decision

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Project by Boxguy posted 12-29-2015 07:12 AM 2808 views 2 times favorited 33 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Thanks to everyone who took the time to look at this posting. I enjoy responding to comments so check back for feed back.

Pictured is a small jewelry box (10” L x 5 1/2” W x 4” H) The top is spalted maple, the sides and the tray are Black Cherry, the bottom is Black Walnut.

Story: The woods I used here have a story to tell about Southern Indiana, my area of the country.

The top is from an ancient spalted maple burl. This tree was a survivor. Looking at this small piece you can see the ravages of fire, fungus, rot, healing, and time. After 200 years this tree died and was cut down. Because it was mentioned in the survey describing the border between two large farms, this tree was left alone as a marker. When the last branch died a few years ago, and the current owner was sawing it up for firewood, I asked him for the “bump” on the side of the tree. He chain sawed it off and said, “It’s mighty poor firewood,” I agreed and threw it in the back of my pick-up. After letting it dry for a couple of years, I band sawed it into small boards. And this is what it looked like.

The cherry board for the sides came from a mansion built 100 years ago by a local man who made his fortune in the veneer business. Every room in his large two-story home was covered with 5/8” wooden planks. Some was cherry some was butternut, and not a knot to be seen. I salvaged a few boards before the trackhoe tore down the once grand mansion.

This Black Walnut bottom board was scrap from one of the last remaining veneer mills in New Albany, Indiana. It was a “backer board.” This is what is left of the log after the veneer has been sliced from it. It is usually from near the center of the tree and has to be let dry for several years before it can be used. (Hey, does this look like a waterfall or what?)

So in three boards used to make one small box you have an encapsulated story of forests of trees cut down for farms, hillsides of trees harvested for veneer mills, and now all the veneer mills are gone as well as all the trees they sliced into wood for cabinets, TV cases, and tables, sold around the world.

Technical Details: Those of you who have seen my other work will notice that this box does not have my signature corner splines. On this small box, I wanted to keep the look simple to accentuate the top. Any splines seemed to complicate this look on a 4” box. I also flipped my usual technique. I often attach the top board to the sides and inset the bottom. This time I attached the bottom to the sides and inset the top. The fragile spalted wood will be much stronger set into a dado that surrounds it.

The top board has been floating around the shop for a couple of years. It was just too pretty to throw away. Most of you know about such pieces of wood. The problem was that it had a big hole in one corner and a doty section in another corner. Making it fit into a hexagonal box solved both those problems.

This is another project where the wood dictated what was going to happen.

Well, I hope your new year goes well. Keep boxing and keep posting.

-- Big Al in IN

33 comments so far

View Tichomir Toth's profile

Tichomir Toth

88 posts in 2055 days

#1 posted 12-29-2015 07:44 AM

Awesome! Congrats! You’re my idol.

-- Tichomir Toth, Slovakia,

View Jim Rowe's profile

Jim Rowe

1124 posts in 3325 days

#2 posted 12-29-2015 09:29 AM

Great story behind the wood pieces and a beautiful box as well.

-- It always looks better when it's finished!

View Ivan's profile


16626 posts in 3880 days

#3 posted 12-29-2015 09:56 AM

I like the design of the box here, also the wood on top is very beautiful in it’s imperfections.

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

View turnkey47's profile


315 posts in 3705 days

#4 posted 12-29-2015 11:11 AM

great looking box!!!

View bannerpond1's profile


397 posts in 2911 days

#5 posted 12-29-2015 11:52 AM

Thanks for such a detailed post, Boxguy. I, too, live in IN and have been using spalted hickory for years. A giant shagbark hickory had to come down. The biggest log was too big to move without machinery, so it was left for a couple of years. The resulting spalted wood has been used for inset lids, panels, and for entire boxes. Some of it is like your spalted maple, and some is just black lines on the white sapwood. I saved virtually all the scraps and even made a butcher block table with the spalted hickory, surrounded by maple. It’s only used as a prep table and not for a cutting board.

I took great care in the end grain glue-up so as to form a design with the hickory. This table is in the kitchen of a friend in Washington State.

-- --Dale Page

View jeffswildwood's profile


4844 posts in 2990 days

#6 posted 12-29-2015 01:32 PM

Al, what a beautiful box. That “bump” may be poor firewood but is breathtaking as a box lid! Great find on that and great job on this beauty.

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View david38's profile


3518 posts in 3356 days

#7 posted 12-29-2015 01:33 PM

great story nice box

View Roger's profile


21051 posts in 3817 days

#8 posted 12-29-2015 01:55 PM

You are not only “boxguy”, I believe you’re thee box king. :)

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View horky's profile


319 posts in 3944 days

#9 posted 12-29-2015 02:09 PM

Boxguy, great project and excellent narrative. Thanks for sharing.

View Boxguy's profile


2894 posts in 3280 days

#10 posted 12-29-2015 02:54 PM


Tichtoc, thanks for the kind words. Throughout my teaching career, I have always taken pride in any of my students who have grown to exceed my abilities. You are someone I can take such pride in. I really like the boxes you make. If anyone missed Tichtoc's latest box, here is a link to it.

Jim, I really like it when a box has a story to tell us. That is the beauty of saving historic scraps of wood. It pleases me when I can take cast off pieces of history, weave them into a box, and make them new and shiny, beautiful and useful again.

Ivan, you are right. Using imperfect wood is one of the fun parts of box making. If I were making cabinets, or furniture, or a house, wood this blemished would probably get thrown away. But, if you are making a box you look for the the beauty in wood that has survived and shows his history. It is like looking at the face of my grandmother. It is no longer glamorous, but it is still beautiful.

Turnkey, I wish you luck in your retirement. Thanks for the nice comments.

Dale, what a lovely table. It is always good to hear from a fellow Hoosier. I especially liked your box with the spalted top and the molding shape surrounding it. Spalted wood has a special kind of beauty.

Jeff, thanks. It is easy to see the beauty now, but when it was a rotten lump chainsawed off a decaying tree it was a risky proposition. What beauty was lurking in that lump.

David, thanks. The wood did have a nice story to tell. I didn’t originally put these woods together for the tale; I chose them for the colors. The story came after. I liked seeing the wide variety of projects you posted. Boxes and building, and boards…Oh My!

Roger, thanks, but about as close as I am likely to come to kingship is a royal flush. I’ll leave out the details about that. Have you been turning out those beautiful pens lately?

Horky, thanks. I guess I enjoy writing and boxmaking in almost equal portions. So writing about boxmaking is sort of double dipping! Hey, that circle jig can turn a circle how big? I especially liked the furniture you posted.

-- Big Al in IN

View Randy63's profile


252 posts in 3905 days

#11 posted 12-29-2015 03:20 PM

Interesting stories about the wood. The spalted maple for the top is wonderful. Glad you did the box without the splines.

-- Randy, Oakdale, Ca.

View Mr M's Woodshop's profile

Mr M's Woodshop

426 posts in 4080 days

#12 posted 12-29-2015 03:44 PM

Finding what the wood will give you is one of the highest parts of the art we practice. Great story and a fabulous keepsake.

-- Henry Mowry, Santa Clarita, CA,

View jumbojack's profile


1691 posts in 3637 days

#13 posted 12-29-2015 04:39 PM

I like your newest design, very appealing. I know what you mean by letting the material dictate the project. From wood to hinges it seems I am working around what is in the shop. I have a ton of Birch burl and Spalted lumber that has just reached an acceptable moisture content. I cant wait to start using it.
Here’s to another FINE project.

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

View DonSol's profile


249 posts in 2255 days

#14 posted 12-29-2015 05:13 PM

Beautiful wood-beautiful box.

-- Don Solomon, New Castle, IN; Quality is not an act, it is a habit. Aristotle

View DocSavage45's profile


9043 posts in 3855 days

#15 posted 12-29-2015 05:48 PM


You spin a great tail sir! This one is Wabi Sabi! LOL! You and the other folks who have made an art out of boxes are in my list of mentors. Don’t know how much snow and cold weather you have there, but I’m now driven indoors. Might have to open the project book and your blogs.

Have a great New Year!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

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