Plumwood Pencil Box

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Project by RogerBean posted 10-16-2010 03:42 AM 3954 views 7 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch


This little box, #2 in a series of three; an experiment looking for a “simple, beautiful box.” It’s made of plum wood from a dwarf plum tree on my property. I really like this wood …but it’s proven to be a real stinker to work with.

It’s small (trunk was only 6” in diameter), hard, brittle, and warps when drying. On the other hand, the warm color and graining is attractive, and it polishes to a really silky touch. It looks a lot like the nicest European olive.

Box #1 was relatively easy, being walnut and walnut burl. This box is more about how to use this small but quirky wood (plum). I nearly tossed it when it became apparent there was not enough wood to get a continuous grain match on all four sides. Then I get it glued up and find that a big chunk of bug poop falls out to reveal a hole on the bottom edge. But, for some reason I was committed to making this thing work, so I kept going. So far, I’ve fixed splits, cracks, chips, and now holes. Any more fixes, and it will be a match box. It has become a contest of wills between me and this piece of wood. I’m not sure who’s winning, but I’m really becoming attached to this little box.

The interior is lined in leather. Because it’s a bit smaller than the pencil box posted in my last project, I omitted the divider. (due to the reversed lid for a recessed look, and a cut-down of the sides to fix a chip) This makes the interior slightly more spacious. The inlay is walnut burl, bordered with a band of cocobolo. The brown leather is warm, and tactile, complementing the solid wood exterior. Because it is a pencil box, I chose a dark color lining, so ink and lead marks wouldn’t be intrusive. The finish is Sutherland-Welles tung oil over a light coat of boiled linseed and polished back with 0000 steel wool and waxed.

Despite having more fixes than the Detroit City Council, it is wonderful to hold and to touch, the wood is lovely, and the leather provides some texture counterpoint to the hard wood. So this one is #2, and there’s one more to go. Maybe I can do better on the next (cherry) box.

Thanks for taking a look.


-- "Everybody makes mistakes. A craftsman always fixes them." (Monty Kennedy, "The Checkering and Carving of Gunstocks", 1952)

14 comments so far

View freidasdad's profile


144 posts in 4279 days

#1 posted 10-16-2010 04:03 AM

That’s a beautiful box….and I admire your perseverance and tenacity….very nice job.

-- My goal in life is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am---author unknown

View CharlieM1958's profile


16292 posts in 5510 days

#2 posted 10-16-2010 04:27 AM

The final result was well worth the effort. Another great little pencil box, Roger.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 5384 days

#3 posted 10-16-2010 04:32 AM

I like it Roger. Your perseverance payed off. Finicky wood is a pain but the payoff is usually worth the effort… like with this beauty. I really like the simplicity of this series of boxes, they let the wood speak for itself, and the small inlay is perfect. Another gem Roger. Am looking forward to the 3rd…

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

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4961 posts in 4400 days

#4 posted 10-16-2010 04:37 AM

LEATHER-lined? And here I was complaining about using felt! Though I must say that the leather looks a whole lot better. I’ll have to look around for a reasonable source.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 5384 days

#5 posted 10-16-2010 04:45 AM

Jack, car detailing shops are a great source for really nice leather and you don’t usually have to buy a lot of it. Just a thought.

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

View Patrick May's profile

Patrick May

24 posts in 4101 days

#6 posted 10-16-2010 05:06 AM

great job Roger. Glad to see you stuck with it. I think it was all worth it

View NormG's profile


6574 posts in 4295 days

#7 posted 10-16-2010 05:14 AM

Looks great.

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View Donn Busby's profile

Donn Busby

8 posts in 4413 days

#8 posted 10-16-2010 05:23 AM

Roger, I’ve clipped several of your boxes to go in my inspiration file.

-- Donn,

View Randy63's profile


252 posts in 4183 days

#9 posted 10-16-2010 07:25 AM

This second box in your trio is very nice and the color of the plum is mellow. Some woods are more difficult to work, but I’d bet on you if I had to bet on whether the wood or you would persevere. Your work with the inlay is excellent. I appaulde your showing how wonderful even a less demanding box can look very elegant when time is taking with details.

-- Randy, Oakdale, Ca.

View CiscoKid's profile


362 posts in 4165 days

#10 posted 10-16-2010 10:31 AM

I love it. Thanks for preserversing through the issues.

-- Al, Culpeper VA

View Maveric777's profile


2694 posts in 4368 days

#11 posted 10-16-2010 03:15 PM

Very cool work Roger. I really like the top and the lining. Good stuff!

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View DonFaulk0517's profile


132 posts in 4778 days

#12 posted 10-17-2010 01:32 AM

Great looking box… I like the slider tops and your slider blends in beautifully! Love to see some plans on it!

-- [email protected]

View tomd's profile


2222 posts in 5062 days

#13 posted 10-17-2010 04:00 AM

Great box, I’ve never seen plum but it looks beautiful. It was interesting to learn that I’m not the only one who has boxes that give them fits. Very nice piece Roger, it’s the tough ones that realy build skill.

-- Tom D

View Triumph1's profile


938 posts in 4371 days

#14 posted 10-21-2010 11:44 AM

I heard that the wood from many of the fruit trees is hard to work with…but you came through in the end. I love the fact that you used wood that was on your property. Cut it, dry it and then build a box from it. Makes it much more personal. The plum grain looks beautiful. After reading your description I just want to pick it up. Great craftsmanship again Roger. Thanks for sharing it with us.

-- Jeff , Wisconsin Please...can I stay in the basement a little longer, please!

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