Tea Box and Serving Tray

  • Advertise with us
Project by HokieKen posted 07-29-2020 12:57 PM 1618 views 5 times favorited 31 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I was pretty well decided that for my mom’s birthday this year I was making a tea box of some kind. She loves her tea. And while she uses some fancy ball and loose leaves to make her own, she always keeps a bunch of bags around for company. So I felt like she should have a nice way to present them.

I did my usual google/ljs/pinterest searching for ideas to steal. And Mike Pekovich's said “try me!” So I did :-) I got the plans from FWW but I didn’t pay for the accompanying article. The plans are good for most of the dimensions and that’s about it. But that and some pictures were enough to get me through. The biggest hurdle for me was making the stupid rope latch but stubborn persistence won out :-)

Pekovich suggests Wenge for the box and then he wire brushes it for a unique look and feel. While I do like the look of his boxes, I wanted something a little more “polished” and I also didn’t have any Wenge and didn’t want to buy any ;-) So, I used Walnut for the box. I resawed and planed it down to about 5/16”.

Dovetails. Oh those damn dovetails. I’ve never used hand-cut dovetails in a project before. I just haven’t ever cut dovetails good enough that I was happy with them being a focal point. But, in browsing tea boxes, somewhere I stumbled onto a method using painter’s tape to layout the tails. This was my first time doing that and the first time I’ve tried to hand-cut dovetails since I got my glasses. Either the tape, the glasses, or the combination did the trick. They aren’t perfect by any means but they’re good enough that I didn’t feel the need to fall back to proud box joints instead (which was my plan B).

The dovetails set about 1/16” proud. This was one of the features of this box design I really liked so I copied it. Another detail I really liked was how the top and bottom of the box also sit proud of the box sides by the same amount. So, I went with the plans on that too. The tops and bottoms are captured in slots in the sides of the box but not in the ends like so:

I made sure that was a good, tight fit so nothing felt loose but there is also room for the wood to expand/contract without issue.

The box was fully assembled with the top and bottom in place and the dovetails glued. The top was then cut off on the bandsaw. The inner dividers were made from some spalted Hackberry I’ve been hoarding for a few years that my buddy Gary sent me from TX. It was resawed and planed to 3/16” thick. The corners are mitered and the middle pieces have the ends cut to a point and slip into corresponding v-grooves milled into the side pieces.

The base of the box was done per the plans as well (dang, I think I followed the plans completely!) with the two cross pieces capturing the stretcher in (half-lap?) joints.

The end pieces are attached with wood screws through the bottom of the box then a 1/8” thin piece of Walnut is laid in under the divider part to hide the screws. This will allow expansion of the pieces running cross-grain to the bottom without any issues. The stretcher has a hole and a slot for the rope latch to fit through. I made two angled wedges to fit in the slot so that when the tag ends of the rope were in the right position, the wedges were opposed and driven in to secure the loose ends and lock the position.

As I said earlier, the rope latch gave me some grief. I had never wrapped small rope around bigger rope before and there were no instructions in the plans so I just winged it. The first time, I tried wicking super glue into the ends of the cording to secure it. Well, it wicked right into the hemp rope as well and when I tried to bend it, it snapped like a a twig. Grrrr. Second go was a little better but I wrapped the cording too high and the whole thing just looked awkward. Third time’s the charm though. If you plan to undertake this, I have two words for you: whipping knot. You’re welcome.

I kinda wish now that I had gotten some more refined rope. The “rustic” look of the jute isn’t ideal for the piece I don’t think. But, if there wasn’t something I didn’t like, it wouldn’t feel right ;-)

The wood latch blocks are Katalox. There are two 1/4” diameter rare earth magnets epoxied into the adjoining faces then I resawed and hand planed a strip to about 1/64” thick and glued pieces to the faces to hide the magnets. Thanks to the color and extremely tight grain of the Katalox, the glue lines are dang near invisible, even when you know they’re there.

The finish on the Walnut is a coat of BLO followed by 3 coats of Arm R Seal with the last coat buffed out with steel wool and paste wax. The finish on the Hackberry is two coats of shellac. I stopped there. I didn’t want to alter the color at all because I really liked the contrast with the Walnut. I did give it a coat of paste wax. Poly would be the smart choice since the lid is a sliding fit on it but it’s my project and I’ll do what I want ;-) The finish on the Katalox is… Katalox. Sanded to 400 grit dry then wet sanded with some thinned BLO to polish it to a glass-like texture. I love that wood.

About the time I started working on the tea box, Woodsmith decided to give a free plan to all their subscribers. So I was browsing and saw the Curved Handle Serving Tray and immediately knew I wanted it to go with the box. Not sure why, the two styles are kinda at odds with the hard lines of the box and the gentle curves of the tray. But, I did and it’s my project so I’ll do what I want ;-)

I build the tray exactly like it’s laid out in the plans except I made it a little shorter. Why? It involves cutting a 3/4” slot for a 5/16” thick handle. And that’s all I’m admitting. I had a piece of Birdseye Maple I got from Charles Neil’s estate sale that I decided to use for the tray and I had planned to put Walnut handles on it to tie it into the box but then I saw a stick of Bocote that’s been hanging around for a long time and really didn’t feel like I had a choice because it would look spectacular :-)

The plans were great but I don’t like how the end pieces are attached so if I do this piece again, the end caps will be housed in dadoes in the bottom and sides. The 22.5 degree joints between the sides and bottom are kinda tricky but the plans do a great job of walking you through cutting them on the table saw.

Not sure how I feel about the joinery being left exposed on the ends. It’s not hideous but I’m not sure it’s not distracting. I’ll see if it grows on me. The plans also call for the side pieces to be cut flush to the bottom. I like the look and functionality of leaving them proud to act as “runners” for the tray to rest on though. Easier to eliminate wobble that way.

Finish on the maple is 3 coats of shellac followed by 3 coats of Arm R Seal. The final coat was wet sanded with 600 grit using thinned BLO as lubricant. The finish on the Bocote is the same but without the shellac.

Thanks for looking! Comments and critiques welcomed as always :-)

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

31 comments so far

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

8270 posts in 1791 days

#1 posted 07-29-2020 01:17 PM

Nice result, Kenny, even though you went a little off the reservation in spots. ;-)

I think a whipping knot is one of the few things I learned in Boy Scouts that stuck. Go figure.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View GR8HUNTER's profile


8834 posts in 1921 days

#2 posted 07-29-2020 01:32 PM

this is and will be a very beautiful gift for mommy’s birthday you made fantastic wood choices it all works together very nicely also like the rope latch GREAT JOB :<)) GRATZ TOP 3 not yet but its coming LOL

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN :<))

View therealSteveN's profile


8609 posts in 1783 days

#3 posted 07-29-2020 02:17 PM

IIRC Pekovich did this with the new Tommy Mc on the new Rough Cut a few years ago.

Your pics look EXACTLY like Pekovich’s box did. you even got the rope work down. FWIW I think Wenge sux, ever since a splinter of it invaded my body the last time I used it. OWWWWwwwww. Anyhow I think your Walnut creation looks better.

-- Think safe, be safe

View Steve's profile (online now)


2607 posts in 1791 days

#4 posted 07-29-2020 02:30 PM

Box and serving tray turned out awesome Kenny. Looks like nice work on the dovetails as well.

Did you cut the hackberry in half after drilling the hole? Or just drill half of the hole out on each piece?

View HokieKen's profile


19048 posts in 2347 days

#5 posted 07-29-2020 02:32 PM

Thanks Dave. I guess I shoulda been a boy scout. Then maybe the rope wouldn’t have whipped me (see what I did there?) ;-)

Thanks Tony! Mom’s birthday was this past Saturday but we’re having dinner with her Friday so we’ll see what she thinks then :-)

Thanks SteveN. I did read several places that there was a Rough Cut episode on building this box. There’s also a FWW article and a FWW video. I couldn’t find any of the above available without paying for them though so I just worked off the drawings. Thanks for the compliments. I think the Walnut was the right choice too, even neglecting the malevolent splinters I’ve heard Wenge wields ;-)

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View HokieKen's profile


19048 posts in 2347 days

#6 posted 07-29-2020 02:35 PM


Did you cut the hackberry in half after drilling the hole? Or just drill half of the hole out on each piece?

- Steve

The Hackberry wasn’t wide enough to drill the holes then cut the pieces to width or that’s what I would have done Steve. The stock I had was only about 1/2” wider than the final width though. So I left it wide, drilled the holes, then trimmed to length. That did at least eliminate any tearout at the corners.

-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View Combo Prof's profile

Combo Prof

4671 posts in 2486 days

#7 posted 07-29-2020 02:48 PM

Nice design!

-- Don K, (Holland, Michigan)

View Karda's profile


3344 posts in 1762 days

#8 posted 07-29-2020 02:52 PM

Nice box ken

View Brit's profile


8366 posts in 4051 days

#9 posted 07-29-2020 03:06 PM

That’s fantastic Kenny. I love your choice of woods too. Congrats on the dovetails and I’m sure your mum will love it.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Woodknack's profile


13584 posts in 3588 days

#10 posted 07-29-2020 03:24 PM

Good stuff Kenny. I really like Peckovich’ work.

-- Rick M,

View Andre's profile


4676 posts in 3014 days

#11 posted 07-29-2020 03:31 PM

Your Ma is a very lucky Lady. To copy something “exactly” while takes skill usually hinders the creative process IMHO. What we, some may call imperfections is what Krenov called Finger prints and shows the makers hands were on the wood and not a machine. Now I can see that you truely do deserve the 07 and the #10, perhaps some day I too can learn the skills to own and use these special tools:)

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View HokieKen's profile


19048 posts in 2347 days

#12 posted 07-29-2020 03:35 PM

Thanks all!

Andre, the #10 touched every piece of this project other than the Bocote and the Katalox (and the rope) multiple times. And, just for you:


-- I collect hobbies. There is no sense in limiting yourself (Don W) - - - - - - - - Kenny in SW VA

View MajorDallas's profile


4 posts in 421 days

#13 posted 07-29-2020 04:26 PM

Ken, I’m new here to LJ—been “lurking and admiring” quite a bit. I love what you’ve done with these projects! Wood choices, craftsmanship, and especially the changes you made to the original plans, all of which make them unique and excellent gifts for your Mom. I’ve added this to my favorites in the hopes that someday I can use it as a starting point for a similar gift for my wife—who also loves tea (and fine woodwork). Thank you for sharing!

-- "The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there." -Henri Nouwen

View theoldfart's profile


12824 posts in 3660 days

#14 posted 07-29-2020 04:36 PM

Kenny, that’s a really refined piece. The wood choice just adds to the great workmanship.

I also learned to whip the ends of rope in Boy Scouts, this brought back good memories.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View mikeacg's profile (online now)


2026 posts in 2266 days

#15 posted 07-29-2020 05:31 PM

2 thumbs up from here in the UP! Amazing detail work!
You are a good son…

-- Mike, A Yooper with a drawl,

showing 1 through 15 of 31 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics