How to make an Art Box
by Andy Campbell
Be safe! Guards, etc…may not be visible in the pictures. This is written for woodworkers of all skill levels.
But, please keep in mind that this is not woodworking #101. I am writing this in a step by step manner that should be easy for a beginner to follow, but some basic understanding of tools and terminology is required.
I ask that the more advanced woodworkers be patient and not be offended. I don't wish to test your patience or appear to be condescending…just helpful to a mixed audience. I have my own way of doing things, but as a self taught woodworker, some of them are unconventional. I am not trying to teach you how to do things my way, but just showing you how I do things. Do each step in a way YOU are comfortable with.
Definition of Art Box -A box with a medallion in the lid that resembles a picture in a frame. The body and lid may be shaped or not.
Let's take a look at a few styles, each with a slightly different lid and hinge set up. Note how the shaping varies on each one.
1) The first one hinges on brass pins allowing it to swing down into the box.
2) The main difference here is that the lid sets into a lip of the box body on only three sides. It uses barrel hinges so it does not drop into the box at the back.
3) This box is very different from the other two. It has a frame and panel style top, uses butt style hinges and does not set into a lip at all. The lid is sliced off the box after assembly. It uses butt style hinges. The shaping is very different and the bottom was raised up enough to allow cutouts to add a footed look.
The construction is very similar for all of these boxes, but at a certain point they head off into their own direction.
The Chapters will cover the following:
#2- Wood Selection
#3- Making the Box
#4- Corner Splines
#5- Cutting the Lip of the Box
#6- The Lid
#7- The Medallion
#8- The Handle
#9- It all Hinges on This
#10-The Pin Hinge
#11-Butt or Barrel Hinges
this is a great tutorial!Making the box
Size and proportions are important…to a point.
We will be building a box that will start out at 11 1/8 W x 7 D x 4 1/2 H. (After shaping it will finish out at about 10 3/4'' x 6 3/4'' x 3 1/8 h depending on how much shaping is done.)
I like the proportions of this box, they just look good to my eye. They are loosely based on the Golden Ratio which is a ratio of 1.618. There is much more to it than that, but simply put, here is how it works in relationship to this box. We multiply Height x GR= Width.
The height is 3 1/2 plus the lid and medallion add another 3/8 each, for a total of about 4 ¼ for the overall height. We multiply x 1.618 =6.875 and if we multiply that x 1.618 we get 11.125''.
As you can see this box is very close to the Golden Ratio. After shaping it is going to be a little more off of that ideal, but it is only a guide. It will be up to you to decide what pleases your eye, and for the intended purpose of the box,and the material you have on hand.
But just so we are all on the same page from start to finish, lets work with these dimensions.
Lets start cutting some wood.
Make sure your board is flat. Any twist will not allow your mitered corners to come together.
Start by milling the board to 3/4'' thick.
Rip a strip 3.5'' wide and 38'' long minimum.
Orient the grain direction from left to right and mark out your pieces just to be sure you cut each piece in proper order. Its easy to flip the board front to back and miter the wrong side.
Make sure and mark the front and top of the board for the lid and set it aside for now.
Next step is to cut a dado to receive the bottom. I use 1/4'' plywood and size the kerf to fit the actual thickness, since it varies. I make the kerf about 1/4'' deep which will allow for more shaping.
Next step is to miter your 4 box sides. I prefer to use a miter saw with a simple jig to make repeatable cuts.
There are many ways to get the same results, including a table saw with a sliding cutoff sled. I just prefer this setup because I get great results and its simple.
The photo below shows cutting a miter using the first stop.
The saw is always kept at the same position for every cut.
Then flip front to back and trim away just enough to get a full miter, that ensures the grain on the face will continue unbroken.
The flip front to back for the next cut using the second stop.
Its a good idea to use backer boards to prevent tearout, but you will need to take that in to account when setting up a jig like this. They will push your board away from the fence which will change where the saw enters your board,making each piece longer. I prefer putting wide masking tape on the entire back. I did not use any here because I just had this 96 tooth sharpened.
As you can see in this last picture, my cuts dont land on my orientation marks. They are only there to keep me from doing something boneheaded. The preset stops are what determine the length of each cut.
Here are all four sides ready to assemble.
Next we want to temporarily tape the box together so we see how well we did with our miters.
I either use my table saw fence for a backstop or a board screwed to by bench to keep all the pieces in line for taping them together.
I use 3/4" yellow masking tape, it really takes the strain and doesnt leave a lot of gunk behind to clean off. I personally dont like blue tape, it doesnt allow me to get enough pressure on the joints, and it will often slacken off without me realizing it. Some people use duct tape or clear packing tape. Find what works best for you.
This photo is simply showing the faces taped tightly together, edge to edge. The orange highlighted circle shows how I let the edges ride over a little bit, so when its folded it up to form the box this really pulls it tight since its trying to stretch the tape even more. But, just a little overlap is plenty, or the tape may break.
This photo is of the inside after its all taped together.
we are going to measure for our bottom and fit it, then we will glue and tape up the box.
Cut the bottom so it fits snug but wont interfere with the closing up of the miter joints.
I allow about 1/8" gap. I glue in the bottom, its plywood so its dimensionally stable and wont cause the box to split. You dont need to glue it in if your joints are tight and especially if you add corner splines. I just prefer to, for the added strength and the solid sound the bottom makes when tapped on. Its a personal thing-)
NOW is the time to tape the box up tight and see that everything fits nicely together, the miters should be snug and the bottom should fit right and it should be square. If not, you will see if you can tweek it where needed or recut everything.
When you have your bottom prefitted, add two new bands of tape to act as your clamps. The bands of tape you have been sticking and un-sticking for your dry fitting, are getting pretty sad looking but are ok to just leave on for the actual glue up.
This all needs to be done fairly quickly! The glue starts grabbing within a few minutes, so work fast. If its very warm, you will need to move quickly or the glue will start to skin over and your joints will not close up tightly. This will cause them to be very noticeable. I use Titebond 3 because it has a little longer open time.
If the miters dont pull up tight you will need to coax them a little with some screw clamps, so have them handy.
Have a damp rag at hand for drips.
Brush a thin layer of yellow glue on each miter face and while that soaks in, brush glue into the dado groove for the bottom if you wish. Then go back and put another coat of glue onto each miter face if has soaked in all the way. This will of course depend on the woods porosity and the glue you are using. Move quickly but dont be sloppy.
Now you can slip the bottom in and fold up the box pulling it closed with the tape.
Check your miters and add more tape as need to tighten it up.
Flip the box over and check the top edges of the miters too. Clean any excess glue off and place the box on a perfectly flat surface, like your table saw and make sure it doesn't rock. If it rocks much at all, then it is out of square. I use a block of wood and a mallet and smack it hard on the high corner to level it out. You will then need to put another band of tape around it to tighten up that joint and keep it in that position. A little rocking is acceptable as long as your joints look good. I will show you how I get the bottom flat later on._
Check from corner to corner with a tape measure to double check that its square. But be sure the miters are tight!
good thing you have us the heads up-by the photos you would think that they are all angels… devils in disguise… good thing you go them peggedShaping
This is the fun part!
Its scary too!
The idea of taking a nice crisp box, one you have spent countless hours making, and attacking it with a tool designed for slag removal is…well…its a little disturbing. Maybe I was influenced by old Hitchcock movies more than I know.
Seriously, what I enjoy is the freedom this gives me. Everything up to this point has been tied to measurements and careful setups. This is where we can cut loose a little. But slow down Hotrod!
A little care must be used or you will wind up with a ruined box. That has happened to me more than once when I first started playing around with this concept. Just go slow and you will be fine.
I like to mount my box to a stool or a low bench to keep it from moving. This places it at a comfortable height and allows me to shape the top, front and both sides. To shape the back, I remove the box and reset it facing backwards.
( An adustable stool with a top a little smaller than the box would be perfect since you could get at the top and all four sides, and raise it as needed.!)
I simply screw it to the stool right through the bottom, about center. The hole will get covered on the inside with a liner and a tag with the name of the box, woods, etc., will be pasted over the bottom hole.
The tools needed:
First of all, get a Moaning Stool or chair or something so you will be comfortable if you mess up. If you have been a woodworker very long you no doubt have a contingency plan.
I use a 4'' angle grinder with a flexible sanding disc. I use a 50 -80 grit disc depending on the wood. A flap sanding disc works good too but they tend to burn or gum up so I use it after the heavy work has been done with the sanding disc.
The guard was removed for the picture.
You can use a random orbit disc sander from start to finish, though it will take longer,and inhibits freedom of movement, at least to me. I like the way I can get wide sweeping strokes by using the angle grinder, because it removes material faster, I can move faster,with a more natural fluid flow.
You could also use a Dremel or a Foredom with different attachments.
Or the old fashioned tried and true tools, chisels and gouges are an option.
Even a stationary sander with a disc and belt will give nice results.
(I used the radiused edge of my stationary belt sander to do much of the shaping on the sides of the "Deco Box" I used the grinder to establish the top details though.)
I recently bought a Merlin long neck angle grinder and I like it for detail work.The chainsaw works very well for hogging out small bowls and spoons. The carbide disc last forever and is great for recontouring edges and the flap sander eases it all together. Very nice tool for light work with good control.
My wife got a hold of it and made twenty spoons in a row.
What you use will determine how much control you have and the contours you want. Obviously a small handheld disc sander will allow much more freedom and will cut a tighter pattern than a 12'' stationary sander. Feel free to use what you have, but experiment with it first on some scrap to see what profiles you can get.
How I do it:
I always start at the top and remover the edges of the medallion and then the lid, shaping a dome.
Be careful around the hinge area and the handle. You should still have the temporary pins in so they are a reminder of where to keep an eye out.
After the top is domed I round off the corners. The rest of the shaping depends on what I want to express, how I am feeling, what kind of mood I am in or the music I am listening to. (This is one of the few times I have music on.) So, I cant really explain how to shape a box, its personal. I aim to shape in a way that looks natural, an organic flow, like driftwood has. Thats my style though and may not be yours.
Here are some pictures of how the shaping developed on this box.
Then I took a 4" random orbit sander with a 100 grit disc and smoothed it all out.
Here is a picture with just the morning light filtering through a side window. It casts the rest of the box in shadow but really brings out the shaping in the lid.
Notice how I left a ridge of wood at the hinge location.
Next is the finishing.