An Automated Box

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Project by Brice1 posted 12-02-2013 12:15 PM 5132 views 31 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This box was inspired by the work of George W. Betjemann and Sons who were prominent case makers in London in the mid-19th century. I want to mention also Daniel Lucian, proprietor of Daniel Lucian Antique Boxes in London, who was kind enough to share valuable insights and information about the Betjemann design and cantilever mechanism. Daniel restores and sells phenomenal one-of-a-kind cases. He is exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about high-end antique jewelry boxes, their construction, and the master craftsmen who designed and created them. Visit his sites if you have time, they are a visual treat and quite educational. and

The box is automated in that when you raise the lid, the front lowers automatically and two opposing interior drawers simultaneously rotate outward to expose the center tray. There is a spring-loaded center drawer, which opens by way of brass button on top of the rear wall. When the lid is closed the side drawers swing in and the front automatically rises up and latches. I have not figured out how to get the center drawer itself to retract mechanically as the lid is lowered – I am still working on that one… If you have any ideas on how to do this – I would really like to hear from you.

The box is 13.5” wide, 8” high, and 10.5” deep.

Materials and Sources: Core: Baltic Birch ply and MDF – local vendor

Veneer: Burled Laurel – (Joe always has great stuff and service)

Metals: Brass & Aluminum – (great vendor, super service)

Velvet: Emerald Green – (good selection and prices)

Lock: Neat Lock – (a clean, nifty little lock)

Shellac: Platina Flakes – (Ron Fernandez is a very knowledgeable and friendly guy. He offers a wide selection of shellac flakes.

Glues: Various CA mixtures – , PVA – Tight Bond III, Veneer Glue – Better Bond Cold Press –

Mirror: Beveled Mirror – Hooker Glass and Mirror Co. – (very slow service – ‘nuf said)

Mechanicals and Hardware:
Aside from the engineering issues – making the mechanicals was the most challenging aspect of the build. I made the hardware and mechanical movements with the exception of the lock, which I purchased from Ian Hawthorne. In all, the box required 81 pieces of fabricated hardware not counting the brass edging pieces. Since I do not own a mini-mill, the parts were cut on the bandsaw and refined with a jeweler’s saw and needle files. The brass pulls on the mirror’s frame were turned on a Shopsmith by using needle files. Tedious work, but it eventually gets the job done.

Getting the drop front, top, and side drawers all operating in correct sequence required constant adjustments to the linkages, gear pitch, and quadrant arcs. So I elected to build the box so it could be disassembled after construction should further tweaking be required (which it was). That led to assembly and veneer sequencing issues and occasional chin scratching laced with colorful language. After several failed attempts and some wasted materials, the mechanisms operate smoothly and the box can be disassembled.

The three-way mitered corners on the brass edging were difficult and are not as tight as I wanted… more practice is needed. The depth of the mechanism and therefore the placement and arc of the quadrants that raise and lower things required the thicker sidewalls. They look dimensionally out of place to me. What I was trying to achieve is to make the walls appear too thin to house any type of mechanism. I have since figured out how to redesign the mechanism to reduce the wall to as thin as 5/8” and still hide the mechanicals. So, I will try that on the next one.

My intent was to hand-engrave all of the interior hardware with a rococo pattern. Roger Bean, , was kind enough to loan me a very helpful collection of videos on engraving to get me started. If you think accuracy counts in woodworking, you should try metalwork and engraving. Folks, we’re talking hundreds, or in some instances, even a few thousands of an inch making a significant difference. I now understand why the old masters typically sent-out their metalwork to master engravers. Yes, it’s learnable – but as I’ve come to realize, I likely will not live long enough to master this unique art form, but I can get better with practice. Roger was right – “metalwork is a deep well”.

Finish and Interior:
The burled laurel was given three coats of boiled linseed oil as a base treatment to give a richness that I could not manage to get with the Platina Flakes alone. The Platina shellac flakes were mixed at both a one and one and a half lb. cut with twenty two sessions over six weeks, and one spiriting-off session followed by buffing with Novus #2.

I wanted to ruch the velvet in the lid, but quickly discovered that that skill also is above my current pay-grade. My best efforts looked like the badly wrinkled shirts I used to wear in the 60’s, and occasionally still do. (If you claim to remember the 60’s – you probably weren’t there… think about it) I opted instead for the removable beveled mirror. Ruching was a technique widely used in the 19th century in Europe to hold decorative pins and brooches in a jewel box or dressing case. Nice look but tough to do.

In Closing:
This was a very gratifying build and in general, I am happy with the results. I learned a lot through the process and enjoyed the challenge of doing something new. Now that it’s finished – I see many things I would do differently, but I think that’s half the fun – isn’t that one of the reasons that we do what we do – looking for a new challenge and a finding better way of doing something?

Photography is not my long suit, and so I will apologize for the focus, lighting, composition, backdrop, and twelve other things…. I tried quite a few times to make a video that shows the box opening and closing – but that frustrated me even more than taking the stills. I am working on enlisting the aid of fellow LJ friend Randy, who knows these mystical secrets and has offered to help produce some better pics and a short clip. More on this later.

Thanks for taking the time to look and, as always, I look forward to your critiques, comments, and suggestions.


-- Brice, Philadelphia

20 comments so far

View Phil277's profile


302 posts in 3662 days

#1 posted 12-02-2013 01:03 PM


-- The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. From a sign on a surfer bar in So. Calif.

View rustynails's profile


958 posts in 3868 days

#2 posted 12-02-2013 01:29 PM

Not only does the wood working and finish of the box look great but the mechanicals are a work of art in themselves.

Great job Brice.

View 489tad's profile


4118 posts in 4350 days

#3 posted 12-02-2013 01:31 PM

“all the parts were cut on the bandsaw and refined with a jewelers saw and needle files”. My hero. What a beautiful box and an awesome creation. Very well done Sir, very well done.

-- Dan, Naperville IL, I.G.N.

View Bluepine38's profile


3393 posts in 4424 days

#4 posted 12-02-2013 02:41 PM

You have just made patience a wonderful virtue. This box shows a great level of craftsmanship, skill and
long hours spent doing something that you really enjoy. Thank you for sharing.

-- As ever, Gus-the 83 yr young apprentice carpenter

View PeteMoss's profile


214 posts in 4809 days

#5 posted 12-02-2013 04:52 PM

Holy cow! That thing is awesome in so many ways.

-- "Never measure......cut as many times as necessary." - PeteMoss

View kenn's profile


813 posts in 5059 days

#6 posted 12-02-2013 09:12 PM

Beyond impressive, if we had a “Yearly Top Three”, I predict this project would take the prize. As it is, you’ll have to be satisfied with the compliments that are and will be coming your way. Superb project, well done!

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View jcwalleye's profile


306 posts in 4412 days

#7 posted 12-03-2013 05:03 AM

Stunning. Simply beautiful in so many ways. Well done.

-- Trees, a wonderful gift --Joe--

View Ian Hawthorne's profile

Ian Hawthorne

297 posts in 3988 days

#8 posted 12-03-2013 06:44 AM

Well thought out!

Well engineered!

Well made!

And most of all well done Brice!!! I tip my hat to you sir.

-- Worlds Best Box Hardware!

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1351 posts in 3274 days

#9 posted 12-03-2013 02:49 PM

You obviously put a ton of time and effort into that. Kudos on your persistence and I hope I have that sort of will to finish something beautiful someday. WELL DONE!!!

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3667 posts in 5051 days

#10 posted 12-03-2013 05:25 PM


As we have come back to admire your box again today, we are wondering how it is opened. We don’t see a keyhole or any knob. What’s the secret? (Or is it just that our old-age eyesight isn’t working!?)


-- Voltaire: “Those Who Can Make You Believe Absurdities, Can Make You Commit Atrocities” There are 112 genders (not including male and female)

View steve54uk's profile


11 posts in 3147 days

#11 posted 12-03-2013 07:36 PM

Just stunning Brice!! I can only dream.

-- Steve, Aylesbury UK

View dclark1943's profile


270 posts in 3526 days

#12 posted 12-05-2013 02:01 AM

Brice, Nice job posting. I like your detailed explanation. AND a nice job on building this challenging box! Thanks for the links, I really enjoyed looking at all the eye candy! Will take me a couple lifetimes to reach this level of creativity! Keep up your great work, you are an inspiration to those of us trying to elevate our games ! Have a great Christmas; and I look forward to seeing more of your great work next year and beyond

-- Dave, Kansas City

View OakwoodVeneer's profile


6 posts in 2897 days

#13 posted 03-10-2014 08:03 PM

That is an engineering feat! And the Laurel Burl Veneer just makes it. Nice job!

-- Oakwood Veneer, Metro Detroit

View mat0302's profile


24 posts in 2848 days

#14 posted 04-14-2014 06:18 PM

This is awesome. One thing tho, how come u have the knuckle of the hinge at the back protruding so far?

View mat0302's profile


24 posts in 2848 days

#15 posted 04-14-2014 06:25 PM

Also a diagram of the mechanism would be amazing :D

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