Dovetailed octagonal box for 2018 box swap

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Project by Dave Polaschek posted 05-04-2018 10:08 AM 2731 views 0 times favorited 28 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I wanted the box I built for this swap to be different. I looked through nine-hundred-some boxes on LJs and saw that octagon boxes, while not common, weren’t entirely rare either. But none that I saw were dovetailed. What the heck, I had just learned to cut dovetails this year, so how hard could it be?

I started with some sketches. As you’ll see, the design diverged a little from the sketches, but some things stuck all the way through.

I started out with experiments in cutting 135 degree dovetails and built a jig to help me get them right.

I also started resawing the wood I was going to need to build the box. I had some ash that had nice grain, plus some walnut that would look good for the corners. I also had a piece of bocote that I planned to use for the lid. First step, resawing the ash.

Once that was done, I made a template for the corner / feet and printed out a half-dozen copies of it. I would only need four, but I figured a spare or two might prove handy along the way.

I glued the templates onto the walnut and cut out the corners. Took them to the miter jack to put 45 degree ends on them. Then basing the height of the sides on those templates, I cut the sides, using the usable lengths of ash I had (my resawing wandered a little, as it usually does, so I had about half the length of the boards that was actually usable).

Then cut the pins in the walnut. Not everything went perfectly, but I figured the worst case was that I’d cut the ends off and try again.

With all the dovetails cut, I tried my first test-fit. It wasn’t great and the dovetails were gappy in spots, but the box felt pretty solid, so I’d done well enough.

Now it was time to get started on the top. I glued up the bocote with some basswood on a piece of 1/4” birch plywood. I had originally planned to use some holly around the bocote, but the pieces I had weren’t large enough to work with the box-sides I’d cut, so I had to switch to something larger. I lined up the bocote to make the grain pretty to my eyes, then put the basswood around it. I forgot to take a picture of trimming it square and then putting on the end pieces. Oops.

Next up was the bottom. I cut the angled cut-outs for the corners with a coping saw, leaving the flats plenty long, then trimmed them to size with the plane. I’ve found this helps me sneak up on a good fit slowly. I just wish I’d been able to think of a way to do that for the corners too, since they ended up with gaps between them and the corners when I test-fit everything. Oops.

With the top and bottom cut, it was time for the initial assembly.

I glued everything together and crossed my fingers. Since I could see that the top wasn’t a great fit, and I’d have the edges of the plywood exposed, I got online at and ordered some banding. I figured that could cover the edge of the plywood nicely, and also could dress up the top of the box.

While I waited for the banding to arrive, I planed the top down, essentially freeing the top from the dado (or turning it into a rabbet). But as the top was glued in, it held, and I wanted a level surface to attach the banding to.

I glued the banding to the edge of the plywood, but the banding I’d picked was 3/8” so it extended beyond the 1/4” plywood and almost covered the groove I had put in the ash sides.

I also realized that I needed a way to cut the miters for the top. I built a guillotine for cutting the banding using some scraps and a utility knife blade.

With the banding on, it was time to fill the gaps. I used sawdust (mostly ash) to pack the gaps, and then wet it with CA glue. I’ve found this a pretty good trick for filling small gaps. I also dripped CA glue into the tiny gaps in the banding and then went over it lightly with a sanding block while the glue was still wet, pushing dust into the gaps. That filled the gaps in the banding reasonably well, too.

I put five coats (two of platina, then three of orange) shellac on the outside of the box at this point. I wanted to get to the final color before cutting open the box, and it was a lot easier to pad on the shellac with the box intact.

Next up was sawing off the lid. I had never done this before, and we were getting close to the end of the swap, so a mistake at this point would have been catastrophic. I carefully applied blue tape to the box where I wanted to cut, and then started sawing. It all went well, but I was sweating up a storm in the 45 degree shop that day.

With the lid off, all that was left was applying the hinge and latch, putting a couple coats of shellac on the inside, and then gluing in the felt bottom with contact cement (handy tip: do one half of it first, then once that’s in straight, do the second half). I had done it.

Thanks for looking!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

28 comments so far

View Kelster58's profile


759 posts in 1317 days

#1 posted 05-04-2018 10:17 AM

WOW, that is an amazing box Dave. GREAT job!!!

-- K. Stone “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” ― Benjamin Franklin

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 1424 days

#2 posted 05-04-2018 10:20 AM

Good looking box, Dave. The dovetailed corners are awesome. Kudos!

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5424 posts in 1359 days

#3 posted 05-04-2018 10:21 AM

Thanks, Kelly! Took me most of the two months to build it, but I think it was worth it in the end.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5424 posts in 1359 days

#4 posted 05-04-2018 10:27 AM

Thanks, Ron! I’ll almost certainly revisit them, since I’m pretty sure I can do better, and I might change the way they go together a make them more solid. But I’m happy with this box. And glad to be done!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View TomGrin's profile


89 posts in 911 days

#5 posted 05-04-2018 10:28 AM

Awesome box Dave! Hand cut dovetails are next on my list of skills to learn. Thanks again for running a smooth swap,

-- Tom, May your safety glasses never fog,

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5424 posts in 1359 days

#6 posted 05-04-2018 10:34 AM

Thanks, Tom! I started cutting dovetails early this year. I still have a lot to learn, but this project sure helped!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View EarlS's profile


3736 posts in 3125 days

#7 posted 05-04-2018 11:21 AM

Roy Underhill would be proud of your hand made box. Hand cut dovetails on an octagonal box was pretty ambitious, as were the hand cut edge profiles and feet. Making a box with nothing but hand tools is definitely outside my skill set. Well done!!

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Oldtool's profile


2958 posts in 2967 days

#8 posted 05-04-2018 11:23 AM

Wow, that’s taking box building to a new high level of skill sets, nice work. I especially like the walnut corners with the feet built in, gives this box a nice feature.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View hairy's profile


3075 posts in 4309 days

#9 posted 05-04-2018 11:26 AM

That little box has a lot of imagination as well as skills built into it. I like how you think. Very nice work!

-- Genghis Khan and his brother Don, couldn't keep on keeping on...

View jeffswildwood's profile


4451 posts in 2754 days

#10 posted 05-04-2018 11:46 AM

Dave, making an 8 sided box is challenging, making one with dovetails is over the top! Nice job and a beautiful box. Thanks for running a great swap!

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

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5424 posts in 1359 days

#11 posted 05-04-2018 12:00 PM

Thanks, Earl, Tom, Hairy & Jeff. Yeah, it was ambitious. I kept hearing Jeremy Clarkson in my head saying “ambitious… but rubbish.”

Think I avoided being rubbish. The “hand cut feet” were just a brace and 1” diameter bit. I only broke one of my spare corners drilling the holes for the feet (the lead screw on the bit would split the 3/8” thick walnut if I didn’t drill a 3/16” pilot hole), so that was good.

I’ll probably end up making another at some point, trying to avoid all the things that went wrong on this one. But not for a while. I need a couple simple projects first.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View poospleasures's profile


857 posts in 3261 days

#12 posted 05-04-2018 12:54 PM

An amazing creation from our leader. We could not have expected any thing else. With your thoughts and ambition you showed us what is possible. I hope we can all appreciate your en divers as much I do.

-- I,ve had amnesia for as long as I can remember. Vernon

View doubleDD's profile


9478 posts in 2820 days

#13 posted 05-04-2018 01:00 PM

I very much like this box Dave and may use some of this design in a future project. I see the learning process wa well worth it. Nice job.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5424 posts in 1359 days

#14 posted 05-04-2018 01:23 PM

Thanks, Vernon & Dave. Copying and adapting my ideas would be very flattering.

Weird to think I made my first box just for last years knife swap. First dovetail was early this year, I think. And this one was the first box I built by sawing the lid off and then adding a hinge. Crazy!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View doubleG469's profile


942 posts in 1221 days

#15 posted 05-04-2018 01:50 PM

well done Dave fine job there and some new ideas on the dovetails I have never seen.

-- I refuse to edit the photo orientation for this website any longer. It’s an issue they should address and correct. Gary, Texas

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