Sgian Dubh Presentation Box

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Project by Ethan Sincox posted 12-29-2006 06:43 PM 5470 views 14 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Dana and I had an Irish/Scottish themed wedding, complete with a piper playing at the ceremony and an Irish band playing at the reception. Probably more importantly, however, my best man and I both wore kilts – he was in his family’s tartan, Montgomery, and I was in Dana’s family’s tartan, Campbell.

My best man was my best friend, Matt. I’ve known him for most of my life – my dad delivered him, even! We’d gone through everything from pee wee soccer to little league to being roommates in college. I was the best man in his wedding five years ago. So I really wanted to do something to honor him.

So for my best man’s present, I had a pair of sgian dubh custom made for us. A sgian dubh is the small knife traditionally worn in the kilt hose. It means “black knife”; the meaning of the name is attributed to the fact that often the handles were made out of bog oak, which is extremely dark in color due to the reactions of the tannic acid with the chemicals in the bog. After a bit of internet searching (didn’t I say you could find pretty much anything on the internet?), I found a guy in Scotland, Rab Gordon at Rainnea Graphics (, who makes sgian dubh using bog oak for the handles and Damascus steel for the blades. After some negotiating, we came to a price agreement and I purchased two sgian dubh.

This was also about the same time I’d aquired the bog oak from England, so I thought I’d try to make a presentation box for Matt, using some of the reclaimed white oak from the farm and some of the bog oak.

This is the end result. It is a sliding lid box, about 6” x 11” or so. The insert is made with four layers of hardboard. To get a good fit, I traced an outline of the sgian dubh onto the first layer and cut it out with an inward bevel. Then I used that to trace the pattern onto the next layer. I cut it out with a slight bevel, as well. I repeated these steps for the final two layers, so that when you stack them up together, you get an opening that gets smaller and smaller until it just fits the exact shape of the sgian dubh. I added a final solid layer for a bottom (the insert is an extremely tight fit, but it does slide out) and applied a layer of cork shelf liner to the flat surfaces of the insert (so that the surface had a little “give”) and then covered the entire insert in suede cloth. The silver insert is engraved with the serial number of the sgian dubh. Matt has SG105A and I have SG105B.

I had originally planned on making a bog oak carving (a medallion, maybe?) and inserting it into the lid, but I really liked the look of the knot and thought they might compete for focal point attention, so I left it out. Instead, I inlaid a strip of bog oak into the end of the lid.

I was very happy with how it turned out – I love the look of the reclaimed wood with the nail holes and stains. And I love the way the bog oak polishes up – almost like ebony.

Again, you can see my focus is on clean, simple lines, which lets the nature of the wood become the main design element.

-- Ethan,

19 comments so far

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4682 days

#1 posted 12-29-2006 11:36 PM

I like the simplicity of this box, Ethan. I particularly appreciate the use of re-cycled wood with the nail and knot holes. What what are these filled? What is the finish applied to the box?

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4679 days

#2 posted 12-29-2006 11:56 PM

No filler! You can see right through some of the nail holes. The knot is solid, though I did run some thinned CA glue through it, just to make sure. I’ve actually never used a filler of any kind (unless you call a solid wood plug a filler…); I’ll let the type of finish I’m going for help me to determine what kind of wood I use. If I want something that can give me a glass-like surface, I’ll use a naturally tight-pored wood, like maple or rosewood.

I’m a big fan of showcasing the character of the wood; the nail holes, the knots, the mineral streaks, whatever. In general, I avoid stains and dyes, though I’ve used some on occasion. One great way to get ‘black’ wood, for example, is to dye walnut with black india ink. A $5 bottle of india ink at a craft shop works much better than any expensive woodworking dye I’ve tried! Great way to ebonize something… but I digress.

The finish is General’s Seal-A-Cell and Armor-Seal combination, of which I’m a big fan. I did one coat of each, rubbing out with 0000 steel wool, and then I applied a nice coat of Renaissance wax. I don’t remember life before Renaissance wax… I’m sure it wasn’t as much fun.

This box was just before I started looking into fuming white oak, which is why it is the lighter color. I’m going to give the traditional Arts and Crafts finish a try the next go around (ammonia fuming, a coat of BLO, two coats of 1lb cut shellac, and then a coat of wax) and see how I like it.

-- Ethan,

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4832 days

#3 posted 12-30-2006 03:09 AM

What a fantastic gift for your best man! But, then again, nothing less for a lifelong best friend. You made the right call skipping the medallion. Thanks for sharing the story.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4682 days

#4 posted 12-30-2006 03:17 AM

Thanks, Ethan. I couldn’t agree more re allowing the natural features of the wood show. When I have a knot that looks like it won’t stay in place, I use an epoxy tinted with black graphite to provide the integrity I want. I’ve also use brass filings in the epoxy. Cheaper than gold which is what I’d like to use.

How about doing a step-by-step post in you blog on fuming. I haven’t tried that yet.

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4911 days

#5 posted 01-02-2007 08:05 PM

Beautiful project, great story, thanks for posting, eventhough my Kansas tongue can’t figure out how to pronounce those two words! ha,

great project,

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4679 days

#6 posted 01-02-2007 10:06 PM

“skin doo” is the most accurate way, Mark.

Gaelic is definitely a hard language to get a grasp on; their alphabet uses the same letters as English, but some of the letters are pronounced completely different. A “g” has a “k” sound; a “th” has a “d” sound, etc.

For example, my name, Ethan, was spelled quite differently 1000 years ago in Ireland. It was spelled Aiden, but pronounced “Athan” (almost like Nathan without the “N”).

-- Ethan,

View WayneC's profile


14358 posts in 4603 days

#7 posted 06-30-2007 03:41 PM

Great box. It came up on the new home page and I had to comment. I agree with your decision not to put a medallion on the box.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Karson's profile


35201 posts in 4906 days

#8 posted 06-30-2007 04:19 PM

Great presentation Box Ethan, I guess I skipped this one when it was first posted. I’m sorry I did.

Great gift. Did you make a box for yours?

-- 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 Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4679 days

#9 posted 07-02-2007 02:38 PM

I have not yet done so, Karson. That is on my short-term list of woodworking goals – things I’d like to accomplish before the end of the year. I figure that is going to be the best way for me to “force” woodworking time.

You wouldn’t think it is something you have to force yourself into, but with so many other projects to work on (the project list we generated covers three pages of legal pad paper), I could work every day for the rest of the year and not touch a woodworking tool.

(Ok, that’s not totally true. I changed out the locks on the house this weekend and I got to chisel some mortises for deadbolts. It felt good to have a chisel and mallet back in hand, even it if was just for a few minutes… I’m glad I grabbed what I refer to as my “utilitarian” chisels, though, because some schmuck ran some finish nails into the wood right where I needed to be mortising. I would have been a lot more upset had it been one of my more finely honed woodworking chisels.)

Anyway, back to the box… I’ll probably do a similar design, just to give myself some more practice with the locking rebate joint and sliding lids. Not sure if I’ll stick to the reclaimed oak or if I’ll use something else. Most likely, I’ll use the reclaimed oak again.

-- Ethan,

View mot's profile


4926 posts in 4542 days

#10 posted 07-02-2007 03:32 PM

Beautiful box, Ethan. Elegantly stated. I have shied away from box making because of a genetic predisposition to over complicate things. This box is favorited. (new word) Thanks for posting and congrats!

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View oscorner's profile


4563 posts in 4816 days

#11 posted 07-02-2007 03:38 PM

Superb gift and great story. Really nice!

-- Jesus is Lord!

View Andy's profile


1713 posts in 4414 days

#12 posted 09-25-2007 02:31 PM

I really enjoy simple boxes and designs in general.Such as the Arts and Crafts/Mission styles.Your box has those elements.And I must add that White oak is my favorite wood,which resembles English oak a fair bit. So Ethan,your box is a winner with me.Nicely done!
And I enjoyed the story behind its evolution.A good friend you are.
I also wear the Campbell Tartan, but stay off ladders when in a kilt :)

-- If I can do it, so can you.

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4679 days

#13 posted 09-25-2007 04:15 PM


That is really where I get a lot of my inspiration from – the Arts and Crafts movement. My other presentation box is drawing on similar features, as well. I have a few blogs on it now; this one, in particular, has some images of the box in progress.

Unfortunately, I’m not terribly limited by my inhibitions when it comes to kilt wearing. I’d climb a wall in one if someone dared me… I wouldn’t think twice about the ladder. ;)

-- Ethan,

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4468 days

#14 posted 09-25-2007 09:23 PM

Great story, Ethan. I could wear the MacPhearson if I chose to. But I ‘ve always thought a kilt in the saddle would take a real Scotsman. My lone Macphearson is in a bloody great gaggle of Deutschmen.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Chris 's profile


1880 posts in 4496 days

#15 posted 11-29-2007 05:37 AM

What a great box and great gift for a friend.

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

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