Basic design considerations in making a boxThere are, of course, endless varieties of boxes- in this series we are focusing primarily on highly decorative boxes that will contain things of value. We prefer that such boxes connote this value by using materials, styles and techniques that enhance the effect!
Our materials should always be the best obtainable figured hardwoods, if you live in a metropolitan area, sources for such lumber are generally available. There are good lumber sources that can be found on the internet- which can provide exceptional materials. Since a box uses a limited amount of lumber, it pays to buy the best you can afford! The difference between average and exceptional lumber for a box may only be $20-$35, the result will easily justify the small extra cost! Our favorite domestic (North American) timbers are Cherry, Walnut and Maple, especially the soft curly variety from the northwest, I love curly Birch.
We also have employed a number of timbers from tropical sources. These woods are often very colorful and have beautiful grain patterns that will make your box a prized possesion of the recipient! Generally, you have a bit more trouble locating sources for these, maybe later we will add a list of dealers that can help you, my favorite dealer often calls me when he recieves boards that may be of interest to me.
I prefer to start with a concept that utilizes the best features of my lumber, my boxes are seldom built to an exact pre-determined size. Instead, I prefer to use the best features of the boards that I have. Of course, there needs to be a general idea of size, but your materials must determine the final result. Many published plans call for diminsions that are very precise, and, often not easy for the budding woodworker to achieve. My method allows you to get close to published plan sizes, if you desire, while gaining pecision and beauty by not trying to slavishly follow their plan.
Most plans have a "cutting list" that tells you how big to make your pieces, ignore this! Beauty comes from using one continuous length of board for all four sides of your box. The board needs to be cut to guarantee that the grain will flow around all sides in a continuous pattern. This idea does not work well trying to use a cut list. The greatest problem is in cutting the wood to achieve the above goals with precision. There are two methods that I use to get this desirable result- they will be illustrated in the next tutorial on layout.
The other aspect requires a decision about the top. On all but the very smallest boxes, the top must be fitted into rebates (grooves) in the sides, this is required because the grain of the top will be at right angles to the sides, and, as wood expands and contracts with the seasons, there is a great possibility that a joint will open and ruin the hard work you have done. The variety of tops is endless, but, the basic types are a raised panel, a flat surface made with resawn wood, or, a plywood panel veneered on both sides.
It is possible to build an entire box using only a well adjusted table saw. A router can be a great advantage for making some sorts of cuts of a decorative nature, but fine work can be done with only a table saw. My saw is a 15 year old Sears Contractors saw. I use only thin kerf blades of the best quality, I prefer blades made by Forrest Mfg Co, as they use a very high grade of carbide that will give cuts are as smooth as glass! A good dado head set is also of useful, but not essential. Other than a good blade, the only need for making accurate cuts is that the blade be very precisely adjusted to be parallel to the miter guage slot. Also, the fence must be exactly [parallel. You really cannot achieve good miter joints without these requirements! Our book store lists books that will help in achieving a very well tuned saw. It's impossible to get results without accurate tools!