Candle Box

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Project by Alin Dobra posted 10-05-2007 04:39 AM 2482 views 2 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is a traditional dovetail candle box that I truly enjoy making. The joinery is hand-cut dovetails, the lid and the bottom part (which is solid cherry like the rest of the box) have hand-planed bevels, the indentation in the top used to open the box is hand carved. The box is sanded by hand and finished with linseed oil.
As the name suggests, this type of boxes was used to store candles (before Edison’s time). The proportions on this box are not similar to the candle boxes of 1800. I opted for proportions using the golden ratio since it looks better (does not look boxy).

If you look carefully, you will notice that the top is book-matched (so is the bottom but it is not visible in any of the photographs). The sides have continuous grain at all 4 corners (a cute trick I’ll explain below). The whole box was made from a single board that was re-sawed with the bandsaw. To obtain the continuity of the grain at all 4 corners, see the sketches at:

One thing I like to do in general when I cut dovetails by hand and is easy to exemplify on this box, is to place the pins by eye. I do not draw any kind of layout lines and I guess the angle of the dovetails as well. Since I mark the tails from the pins, any positioning of the tails and any angles can be copied on the tails and accurately cut. By placing the pins by hand with the above method I achieve two things:

1. I significantly speed up the process. I was spending 20-30 minutes only to mark very carefully the position of all the pins before. All this time is saved now

2. By placing the pins by hand, the final result looks unmistakably hand-cut. While most people cannot tell the difference necessarily, the box looks very natural without machine-induced symmetries that might suggest mass-production. The combination between the hand-planed bevel on the top and the hand-cut dovetails make the box look unique, warm and inviting.

If you plan to cut some dovetails by hand, summon the courage to abandon the dovetail marker and just mark with the saw. Do not worry about not getting the strongest joint for two reasons: (a) this joint if executed perfectly can take 2000lbs to break, (b) the size of the pins does not matter that much (Fine Woodworking has an article about this few months back). If you bother to cut dovetails by hand, also make sure you make the pins small (strength is actually slightly better than large pins; same FW article).

While a lot of people will tell you that you need an expensive dovetail saw to cut good dovetails, I found that the saw I like the most is a relatively cheap dozuki Japanese saw that Lee Valley is selling for 23$:,42884
The kerf of this saw is tiny and it cuts very aggressively. It gets some used to but then it is a pleasure to use.

I hope this will inspire you to cut some dovetails by hand soon,

-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

10 comments so far

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4773 days

#1 posted 10-05-2007 04:44 AM

Unlike a lot of people, I really like seeing all of the mark lines, etc. on a hand done piece. They tell a story about a journey I think. Beautiful piece Alin and thanks for sharing it with us.

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View David's profile


1969 posts in 4819 days

#2 posted 10-05-2007 05:10 AM

Alin -

What a beautiful piece and a wonderful story. I like your option for proportions using the golden ratio!


View Corey's profile


68 posts in 4762 days

#3 posted 10-05-2007 05:26 AM

I love the craftsmanship in this box. Very nice Alin!


View cajunpen's profile


14578 posts in 4746 days

#4 posted 10-05-2007 11:41 AM

Alin, first Welcome to the Lumber Jocks community – I think that you will find this group of guys and gals among the friendliest hand helpful of any of the Forums.

I think that I read in another of your posts that you have only been woodworking for about 1 1/2 years? If that’s true, you have learned well and accomplished much skill. Your work is beautiful and this box is no exception – it’s beautiful and well executed.

-- Bill - "Suit yourself and let the rest be pleased."

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 4569 days

#5 posted 10-05-2007 01:08 PM

Hello Bill,

I started about 3 yars ago but I was a DIY’er. 2 1/3 years ago I bought the first serious tool (Grizzly tablesaw). I made the first dovetailed box for my wife in Dec 2005. The first bandsaw box in March 2006. I started turning in March 2006 but, since I did not have a good sharpening system, I gave it up until Sept 2006 when I started more seriously.

I have to admit though that I do have a hand for it and I learn very fast. Since I am an university professor, it is easier for me to just read anything that I lay my hands on for a given subject and only then start working. I remember borrowing about 50 books from the local library when I started and going through them in a matter of weeks. The nice thing about all this is that I never had any idea that I can do anything else except computer stuff.

Thanks for the welcome to the LJ community. The more time I spend here, the more I like it.


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View WayneC's profile


14358 posts in 4778 days

#6 posted 10-05-2007 01:22 PM

Great box. Thanks for the tip about the Saw.

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

View TomFran's profile


2964 posts in 4675 days

#7 posted 10-05-2007 05:25 PM

Nice work! I’ve been getting the bug lately to do some hand-cut dovetails. This post helped to further that growing desire.

Welcome to LumberJocks!

-- Tom, Surfside Beach, SC - Romans 8:28

View mot's profile


4927 posts in 4717 days

#8 posted 10-05-2007 05:27 PM

Nice box. It’s nice to see handcut joinery.

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

View bryano's profile


546 posts in 4614 days

#9 posted 10-06-2007 03:54 AM

Beautiful box and joinery Alin

-- bryano

View Dan'um Style's profile

Dan'um Style

14182 posts in 4664 days

#10 posted 10-06-2007 04:04 AM

nice work. beautiful wood selection.

-- keeping myself entertained ... Humor and fun lubricate the brain

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