Boxguy Crosses The Finish Line

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Project by Boxguy posted 11-29-2012 06:38 PM 8603 views 44 times favorited 43 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Pictured: A teabox (10 3/4 x 6 x 4 1/2) that will hold about 60 teabags. The top is Movingui from Ghana and the sides are Black Cherry from a board I have had around the shop for almost 30 years. It features a mortised, full-length hinge, carved finger lift, corner splines, and lift-out dividers made from a wooden Venetian blind.

As you can see my shop is stocked with lots of potential boxes. Storing dried wood on end lets me leaf through it to get at boards. 14 foot high ceilings help.

Finish Steps: For me, one of the most exciting steps in making a box is the instant where I apply the first coat of finish. For the first time you can really see what the box is going to look like. I call it crossing the finish line. The wood shines, and the depth of the grain pops out. It is magical.

Like all finishes, preparation is the key. I don’t think you can rely on the finish to make rough wood smoother. You have to sand it.

It is quicker for me to have several sanders than to change paper. The steel plates and edge boards let the router spin down while I pick up the next grit.

First the boards are planed. Then run through a dual drum sander. Once the board is cut to width, rough length, and has the dado cut for the bottom board of the box…final sand the side of the board that will be the inside of the box. You can’t sand the inside of an assembled box. Start sanding with a random orbital sander using 80 grit to 120 grit to 220 grit to 320 grit to 800 grit. That is the sequence that works for me. The 800 grit is on a pad sander because the pad sander is easier to manipulate. The power strip plugs into a relay that automatically turns on the vac whenever any sander is turned on.

Once the box is made, I sand the outside surface through all the grits above, blow it off with an air hose, and wipe it off with a soft cloth to remove all the dust I can. Finally, I can apply the first coat of finish.

First Coat: Minwax Tung Oil. It is applied with a 1 inch foam brush. Allowed a couple of minutes to soak in and then wiped off with a paper towel. If you let it get too dry, it will grab the towel, just recoat the box lightly and wipe down. Allow at least two days for the oil to dry and harden.

Second Coat: Minwax Wipe-On Poly. Make a quick pass with 800 grit over all the flat surfaces and lightly rub all curved surfaces with 0000 steel wool. Blow off and wipe off dust and apply a coat of wipe-on poly with a new 1 inch foam brush. Dry the brush on a paper towel and very lightly go over the vertical surfaces with a dryer brush to pick up any runs. Let dry for one day.

Third Coat: Sand, rub, dust, coat with Wipe-On Poly for the second time. (I seldom need to do this step a third time, but if the wood is especially porous or rough grained I may.) Again, use a new foam brush.

Fourth and Final Coat: Johnson’s Paste Wax. I keep a pad of 0000 steel wool inside my can of wax. It won’t dry out and I can simply remove it and put a coat of wax on the box. Rub fairly firmly, but not enough to go through the finish. Don’t over do it a little wax will go a long way, and you are going to rub most of it off anyhow. You want to let the wax harden for about two or three minutes. If you wait too long the wax is harder to buff out. Rub the box with a rough cloth like a towel or sweat shirt. The goal here is to spread the wax evenly and remove any extra wax. Finally use a soft cloth to polish the wax. Rotate the cloth and wipe fairly vigorously to let the friction help smooth the wax. You’re done, and I am exhausted from writing this.

Thanks: As always thanks for looking. A special thanks to all of you who take the time to comment or ask questions. Check back, I will respond to all of your comments in batches usually three or four times a day for the next couple of days. Keep boxing and keep posting.

Questions and response:

Good morning Al,

I was reading your finishing tutorial and have two questions to ask before trying out your method. First, you mention applying the wipe on poly but not wiping it off. I’ve seen where some folks wipe it on AND off for each coat and wanted to make sure that I’m reading your tutorial right. Secondly, your tutorial reads like you apply the paste was with steel wool. Is that correct?

Thanks a bunch! I can’t wait to see how ‘crossing the finish line’ goes.

Have a good one,

—Stephen – Georgia

I apply all the finishes with a throw-away foam brush. I do wipe off the first coat that is Tung Oil. This oil will never dry if it is applied too thickly. I use a paper towel to wipe it off. If you wait too long to wipe it, the oil will get sticky. You can solve this by wiping with a towel that has some oil already on it. Better is to wipe it off before it sets. Do your project in parts. Apply and wipe the top, then the bottom etc. It still takes a day or better two for the Tung Oil to dry properly and penetrate into the wood. The reward is that the oil deepens the color and grain of the wood. It also fills pores better than poly.

I do not wipe off the two poly coats. It takes too long to build up a finish if I wipe the poly off. I do apply the coats thinly. You must check for runs. It works better to check this in daylight. Wipe runs with a foam brush that you have squeezed the finish from with a paper towel. The finish must be wet when you brush out the runs. If you can’t get away from runs when you apply finishes, then you can wipe the poly off, but you will probably need more coats. Say…four instead of two poly coats.

Yes, I do apply the last coat of wax with 0000 steel wool. Keep the wool in the can when you finish using it. Use Johnson’s Paste Wax. I have tried some of the others, but they tend to be too thick and work better on raw wood than finished wood. Apply the wax with moderate pressure. You need enough pressure to smooth the finish, but not so much that you remove or cut through the poly finish.

I still use Minwax poly, but lately they have raised their price; so I have been mixing their floor finish with mineral spirits in a 50-50 mix. Mix smaller quantities … say a pint or two and the product will be fresher than the mix from the store. It applies more easily and dries more quickly. I mix it and pour it back into the used wipe-on can.

If there are other questions, be sure to write back. Let me know how it goes.


-- Big Al in IN

43 comments so far

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4541 days

#1 posted 11-29-2012 06:49 PM

very nice box, and i enjoyed the pictures of your set up, your wood collection is looking like mine…you might need to come down here and load up..ive got to much…lol…...keep on boxing there guy, grizz

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View AffineCreations's profile


28 posts in 3496 days

#2 posted 11-29-2012 07:01 PM

I love the rounding over on the edges, and that it is echoed inside. It gives this box a nice sensual look. Top notch!

-- - Nicholas, Silver Spring, MD

View GrandpaLen's profile


1652 posts in 3510 days

#3 posted 11-29-2012 07:07 PM


I enjoyed the science of your finishing technique, it’s no wonder why they are in such demand.

Best regards. – Len

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View lumberjoe's profile


2902 posts in 3486 days

#4 posted 11-29-2012 07:53 PM

Another amazing box! Do you have a blog on how you cut the finger lift?


View Lenny's profile


1721 posts in 4765 days

#5 posted 11-29-2012 09:23 PM

This is beautiful all around…beautiful wood and beautiful craftsmanship.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View miggy's profile


6 posts in 3256 days

#6 posted 11-29-2012 09:35 PM

great box. Thank you for sharing your finishing techniques. I learned alot.

-- ferrer

View a1Jim's profile


118240 posts in 4815 days

#7 posted 11-29-2012 09:37 PM

Very attractive box, I like your idea about different grits on many sanders,very cool.


View Boxguy's profile


2901 posts in 3505 days

#8 posted 11-29-2012 09:53 PM

Replies to first set of comments:

Griz, a woman can’t have too many shoes, like a wood worker can’t have too many boards.

Nothing like the burden of great potential. I keep thinking I don’t need more wood then friends give more beautiful stuff that I can’t pass up.

Nicholas, I do love rounded corners on my wood working projects, and wheels on my tools. My little sister keeps telling me that everything I make looks like a used bar of soap! Ouch.

Len, Christmas sales have been good. Always good to hear from you.

Joe, I cut them with a Jet spindle sander that I modified a little. I’ll try to do a blog on that. Thanks for the reminder.

Lenny, you have a great looking shop and some fine taste in tools. If you would like, I can send you some sawdust to decorate that super clean floor in your last picture. :) Thanks for the nicely phrased compliment nice writing. Oh, by the way…Go Colts.

-- Big Al in IN

View Surfside's profile


3389 posts in 3411 days

#9 posted 11-29-2012 09:54 PM

Perfect ! Outstanding draftsmanship!

-- "someone has to be wounded for others to be saved, someone has to sacrifice for others to feel happiness, someone has to die so others could live"

View jbschutz's profile


615 posts in 3929 days

#10 posted 11-29-2012 10:02 PM

Beautiful box….the lid is spectacular. You are the master of the tea box… anything for us coffee drinkers? I really like the form and the use of the blind slats for dividers.

-- jbschutz

View Fishinbo's profile


11362 posts in 3413 days

#11 posted 11-29-2012 10:13 PM

That is one ravishing box !!!

View WoodenFrog's profile


2737 posts in 4151 days

#12 posted 11-29-2012 10:15 PM

Really really nice box Al.
Thanks for the info, are the dust collection hoses on the sanders CPAP hoses?
I don’t think any of your boxes look like used soap!!
Great work and thanks for sharing.

-- Robert B. Sabina, Ohio.....

View Blackie_'s profile


4883 posts in 3750 days

#13 posted 11-29-2012 10:28 PM

Big Al once again another jaw dropper, and really like the follow up.

-- Randy - If I'm not on LJ's then I'm making Saw Dust. Please feel free to visit my store location at

View Boxguy's profile


2901 posts in 3505 days

#14 posted 11-29-2012 10:35 PM

Next Few Replies:

Miggy, you and Jim slipped by while I was composing the last set of replies. Miggy, thanks, and welcome to Lumberland. If you have questions about boxes you have only to ask.

Jim, I kept having to replace the disk pads as the grippers were wearing out. At $16 each, it was expensive. So when Porter-Cable put these on sale at the last Wood Show for $35 I bought four. Since I now change paper just once a week or so they don’t wear
out so fast. I knew I would be time ahead, but now I think I am money ahead too. The steel plates on the side let me put the sander down while it is still spinning, and I can just grab the next grit. Hey, how is the pie crust sanding working out?

Surf, I know what you meant, but the typo “draftsmanship” made me smile. Thanks for the compliment…and the smile.

Joe, thanks, this piece of Movingui is really wonderful. I have given it some thought, but I can’t come up with a good coffee idea. If you get one or anyone else comes up with a coffee idea…let me know.

Fish, thanks.

Frog, they are indeed CPAP hoses that lead to an electrical fixture box which in turn leads to the Fein vacuum hose. The CPAP hoses work great. They are flexible, well made, and almost eliminate the sawdust I was eating. I will be forwarding your soap comment to my sister.

Blackie, always good to hear from you and to have writing complimented as well. Bandsaw on.

-- Big Al in IN

View WoodenFrog's profile


2737 posts in 4151 days

#15 posted 11-29-2012 11:35 PM

Thanks Al, I use a CPAP thought I knew what they were:)

-- Robert B. Sabina, Ohio.....

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