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"Art Box" Tutorial

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The tutorial is under construction.
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Updated 1/15/12

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:
#1- Introduction
#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

Thank you!


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Wood selection

Updated 1/15/12

The "Art Box" concept came about when I was looking for a way to use small pieces of some figured Myrtlewood I had leftover, not large enough for a box, but not something I could not throw away either. I decided to feature it in the lid of a box, like a picture in a frame.
Keep that picture frame in mind when selecting the small piece for the medallion. You might select that picture piece first and then find a less figured wood to use for the lid and body, one that sets it off.


A) What YOU find appealing, which is totally subjective.
B) How you want to do the top, e.g., medallion or not, and type of hinges.
C) What material you either have on hand or have access to.
Here are two different approaches.
A) Contrasting the color or grain, or both between the body and the medallion is very eye catching.
B) Alternately, a tone on tone approach can evoke a calming effect, or in the right combination, it might even feel masculine.
Some suggestions
• A light colored wood such as maple for the sides and top and a figured piece of myrtle for the medallion is stunning.
• On the other hand, a darker body out of wenge works well with ziricote for the medallion.
• For a tone on tone effect, try using plain walnut for the body and figured walnut for the medallion.
To see how two woods look together, wet them with mineral spirits and lay one over the other, this brings out the color and does not raise the grain like water. Just lay one on the other to see if you like the effect.

Grain Matching
The body and top should to be out of the same board if at all possible so the color and grain match closely.
If you are using a figured wood and want the grain to appear to run contiguous from the face and up over the top, then you will need a wider board of about 11''. (That's how I did the Bad Moon secret box)
This isn't always necessary, as when using straight grained lumber, or when a lot of shaping is done, the shaping grinds away the top layer of matching grain anyway.

A. Body - For a contiguous look, matching the grain of the body with the top,
you will need a board about ¾ × 11×40.
B. Body - To grain match the body only, select a board about ¾ x 4 × 40
and a separate piece for the top about ¾ x 7 × 11
Medallion- ¾ × 5×8
Corner splines - I often rip these out of the same board as the medallion. You may wish to go for a stronger contrast. Play around and see what works best with your woods.

E. Handle - This will often come from the same board as the medallion or a scrap of wild figured wood.

F. Dividers - After I have completed the box, I work on the design for the dividers. I prefer to make a visual statement by matching them to the medallion or contrasting them with the body color.

There will not be a typical cut list for this box. You will cut parts for the body and size the bottom from that, and after you assemble the body, you will cut and fit the lid, and so on…
A sacrificial box
Depending on your skill level, and how clear my instructions are, I recommend making a second box out of an inexpensive wood, such as poplar or clear pine. This will give you a test subject for each set up. There are several steps where you may feel more comfortable practicing on wood that is less dear to you.
The first thing I do is mark out each part, showing its relationship to the others. This insures that each one gets cut in the proper sequence and is reassembled in order.

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You may skip this part if you are using an even grained/colored wood or making a test box. However, it's a good idea to get in the habit of paying attention to grain orientation.
I will be using this piece of bubinga for the body and lid of my box.
...gett'n ready!


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The Medallion

Updated 1/15/12

Now we need to cut a recess in the lid for the medallion to set down into.
DONT cut your medallion until you have routed out the home for it.
I typically make the medallion about 1" to 1.5" smaller on all sides than the lid depending on the box size and the piece of wood I have for the medallion.
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We are now going to make a simple jig for a router to set on and run back and forth making several passes of incrementally deeper cuts. There are a several ways to do this next step and it will depend on the router bit you use and the thickness of the material you have to make your template.
Here is how I made this one:

#1-The photo below shows two layers of strips of 1/2" melamine butted tight to the lid. This will hold the lid in place and make a flat base for the next layer of strips. I used scraps about 3'' wide, running one end past the other, all the way around the lid.

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#2- Next I mounted a block of wood the exact size of the medallion, centered in the top of the lid in the exact spot I want the recess to be.
You can use double stick tape, but I prefer screws so it cant get bumped out of place. The holes go away with the milling.
Now add the last layer of strips, rotating the joints so they are offset with the ones below. Butt this layer up to the center block, making sure its snug, but remember you will need to be able to remove the block.

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The height will depend on the pattern bit you use. My bit was 1 1/4" PLUS THE BEARING so I ended up with a template stack of 1 1/2". ( 3 layers of 1/2" melamine )
Thats on the extreme edge of reach for most routers to travel, so If you are buying a bit for this project just get a shorter one and make your jig accordingly.
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Make it smooth on the inside or you will get bumpy sides. You need to allow the bit to ride on a perfectly smooth face down the sides of your jig, for about 3/8'' of travel. I always do a practice run on a scrap just to be sure the quality of the cut is smooth.

Its a good idea to remove most of the material in the center using a forstner bit, that way the router bit is only cutting one edge instead of two. If you just plunge into the center of a hardwood like bubinga the bit will chatter because it is trying to cut on all its edges at the same time. Thats not so bad as long as you stay away from the edges, but it can break a 1/4 shank bit. Its hard to believe but this chattering and even chips bouncing around can cause small uneven cuts along the edge that will show up. The only way to fix it is to reposition the jig and recut the recess.

The best way to prevent this from happening is to:
Work from the center out
Work at a slow and even pace
Keep the chips cleared as you get closer to the sides
Wet the edges with a damp rag
Make multiple passes

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And here is how the test block fits into the recess.
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This photo shows the lid nestled into the rim of the box and the medallion setting in its recess. The medallion doesnt need to be this thick, it can be flush with the lid. It all depends on how you want to shape the top. Sometimes I will split a 3/4 board in two pieces and use it for two medallions and just shape a gentle dome on the top.

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The handle comes next.
Super! Super good job! Ok when are you going to start your video series on PBS? ; ) Really, I do thank you for this blog, it's great!


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