Locking Cipher Box

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Project by woodenwarrior posted 10-13-2019 07:55 PM 776 views 8 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve stated it here before…I love Christmas.

I do my best every year to make a production out of giving gifts. Perhaps its to prolong the enjoyment of the moment, perhaps I like to build the suspense and excitement of opening them..who knows.

This year I wanted to make a special box/container to house my daughter’s big Christmas gift from Mom and Dad. I was watching “The Davinci Code” on TV a couple of months ago and came up with the inspiration for this cipher box.

The idea being, that my daughter will open a small box with a written clue inside that will lead her around the house to the next clue and so on until she gets to this cipher box with a final clue that will give her the clue to the code to open the box and get to her present.

Now to the build…
This is easily one of the most ambitious and complicated box builds I’ve ever done, so bear with me as this requires some explaining. I didn’t make any plans for this box, nor could I find anything online that would point me in the right direction. I did this all by the seat of my pants and with a lot of experimenting on the side.

The box is made of walnut, maple and a bit of blood wood for the cipher ring alignment arrows. The central column is 6” PVC and the locking bars are made of 1/4” and 1/8” brass rod.

Each ring is made up of 26 segments that I cut with my wedgie sled. I previously made an MDF template ring that I made to fit around the PVC pipe. I use that template to bring the rings to the right size at the router table. The top and finial were turned at the lathe. The topmost ring I built oversized with a grove that matched the PVC pipe diameter to enable the whole thing to be locked together…this was critical to making the box work. The letters on each ring were burned in…that was a trick in and of itself.

I asked a question on the forums a month or so ago about lubrication for rings for this box. I got a lot of great answers from you guys but mechanically most of them wouldn’t have worked with this design. It took a lot of staring at the box to come up with the answer…..turn the rings into bearings. I just happened to have a 1/4” core box bit in my stash. I routed a shallow groove a hair over 1/16” in both faces of each ring, 1/4” from the edge. I purchased 750 3/16” ball bearings from Amazon (about $20) and placed them in the grooves. It works like a CHAMP!!! The rings spin with just a flick of the finger and the PVC column keeps them from moving out of alignment.

I decided early on what the code would be for the box..DOOTS. Its my daughter’s nickname. I made a vertical groove in each ring at the corresponding letter so that the brass locking bars with the small brass nibs soldered into them could slide downward. The second, smaller brass rod catches on the second ring from the top and nestles under a rabbet i routed under it. It prevents someone from spinning rings from bottom to top and just waiting until it hits the assigned groove and opening the box. Only the proper code will open it and with five rings and 26 letters per…that’s a few million combinations.

The box was sanded to 220, hit with two coats of BLO, shellacked with 6 coats finish sanded and then waxed and buffed with clear Briwax. The interior of the box was flocked with brown flocking to hide the PVC.

This box is measures a touch over 8” in diameter and is 13” tall to the top of the finial. The interior is just under 6” wide and 9” tall

I know she’ll be more excited by what’s inside the box than the box itself. But it was a fun build that really tested my capabilities.

-- Do or do not...there is no try - Master Yoda

15 comments so far

View mikeacg's profile


1147 posts in 1593 days

#1 posted 10-13-2019 09:38 PM

Looks like a lot of thought and work went into this but it is totally amazing! I’m sure she will love it!!!

-- Mike, A Yooper with a drawl,

View woodchuckerNJ's profile


1355 posts in 2169 days

#2 posted 10-13-2019 09:55 PM

great job. Lots of work, lots of love went into that.

-- Jeff NJ

View woodenwarrior's profile


255 posts in 2730 days

#3 posted 10-13-2019 10:17 PM

I hope she loves it. My wife looked at it and said, “It looks great! So you made your daughter a safe??”... I suppose every kid needs their own safe. Hehe.

-- Do or do not...there is no try - Master Yoda

View MrWolfe's profile


417 posts in 659 days

#4 posted 10-13-2019 10:23 PM

Both the concept/design and the execution are topnotch.
What a wonderful gift and your daughter will absolutely love it.
Thanks for sharing.

View Bill Berklich's profile

Bill Berklich

934 posts in 924 days

#5 posted 10-13-2019 10:39 PM

That is super cool!

-- Bill - Rochester MI

View Redoak49's profile


4232 posts in 2524 days

#6 posted 10-13-2019 11:13 PM

Absolutely amazing…

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

4200 posts in 1117 days

#7 posted 10-13-2019 11:38 PM

Crazy inventive! She’ll love it!

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View swirt's profile


4313 posts in 3507 days

#8 posted 10-14-2019 01:28 AM

Wow! Looks great and mechanically soooo cool.

-- Galootish log blog,

View doubleDD's profile


8728 posts in 2578 days

#9 posted 10-14-2019 02:37 AM

Very talented in the making. A gift that will be cherished forever. Well done. Watching t/v does have its benefits.

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

View Ivan's profile


15192 posts in 3403 days

#10 posted 10-14-2019 04:10 AM

Very smart project…very good idea

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

View Underdog's profile


1406 posts in 2571 days

#11 posted 10-14-2019 10:55 AM

The precision alone is astounding. Well done!!

-- Jim, Georgia, USA

View PaulDoug's profile


2215 posts in 2239 days

#12 posted 10-14-2019 03:59 PM

It would be an amazing box even if it was “just a box”. But what you made is a masterpiece. Congratulations! That is awesome.

-- “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

View HokieKen's profile


11296 posts in 1674 days

#13 posted 10-16-2019 02:34 PM

Excellent! So creative and so well executed :-) Great idea with the ball bearings!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View stefang's profile


16803 posts in 3869 days

#14 posted 10-17-2019 02:59 PM

Great work on this beautiful box. There are plenty of plans out there for Da Vinci code boxes from various woodworking magazines, but yours is by far the best one I’ve seen and you have the satisfaction of having successfully designed it yourself, all to your great credit.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Calmudgeon's profile


297 posts in 1963 days

#15 posted 10-19-2019 02:50 PM

Very impressive to arrive at that finished product with no concrete original plan but only your own creativity and experimentation. I think you’re wrong. I think whatever you put in that box will play second fiddle to the container itself. Bravo!

-- "As are the things we make, so are we ourselves." - Lin Yutang

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