Planning and Layout of your Box SidesThe first consideration in planing is to get the best from our lumber. My general method in designing the sides is to locate the most beautiful section of the board. I design the box to feature this section as the front. The best way to study your wood is to wipe the board with a cloth dampened with denatured alcohol. The alcohol will intensify the color and grain creating the effect of finished wood. While it is wet, you can locate the most beautiful portion, study both sides of the board. It often happens that you will wind up using a portion from the center of the board, the rest may be suitable for secondary purposes, maybe just great firewood! The next step is to roughly mark with chalk or a pencil where the front side will be located, there needs to be enough left on the end of the board for side"A". The best effect is achieved by cutting the board so as to have the grain flow continuously around the sides. I prefer, generally, to mark the sides on my board like this:
The "A" side will be the left end, and the "B" portion will be the front. Think of the "B" also meaning "beauty", brcause you have picked this as the best part of your board. It may be neccessary to discard some of the wood in order to do this, but the end result is what matters here.
Having found the "sweetest" part of the lumber, it's time to lay out with some precision the line between section "B" and "C". For this I always use a newly sharpened #2 pencil, We will be making two lines that represent the width of your saw blades' kerf, if you use a thin kerf blade- these lines will be 3/32" apart. You want to use a very good square here to have these lines parallel. Once this cut is established, you can work back to define the cut between A-B. First, layout the desired "B" length, then the kerf width and the length of side "A".
Cutting the SidesNow we're ready to make some sawdust! Our first cut will be the one at the juncture of B-C, be certain that your miter guage is exactly square to your saw blade. Go ahead with this cut and then cut off the far end of "A". DO NOT CUT A-B APART AT THIS TIME!!
OK, now we have a nice piece of wood that represents the left side(A) plus a kerf and the front(B). We can now use this piece as a template to cut the other sides to exactly the same size. First place the next section of the board(C+D) on your table saw against the miter guage, then, put the "A-B" piece in front of that and align the left ends of both boards, clamp them together out past the miter guage so that the ends meet precisely.
If you have never tried the next step I will describe, practice it with scrap before proceeding. You should be able to move a board across the miter guage up to a moving blade so that you can sense the contact by a change in the sound only, but, contact must be so light that the blade will not mar the board end. OK, now we can get on with cutting sides C+D , we have the two pieces clamped carefully, if you can now slide the A-B piece over until you just sense that sound of contact with the blade- you can push both pieces past the plade and cut off parts C-D.
We now have two boards of exactly the same length, these should now be stacked so that "A" is over "C" on the second board, you can raise the blade to the combined heigth of both boards and make the final cut in this phase. Before doing this, double check the alignment to be sure that you are cutting sections "A" and "C" together from the rest of the sides. If you were careful, you will have two ends that match- and a front and back that are precisely the same length. This is really important, any unevenness of length will prevent creating a square box. The hallmarks of a finely made box are squareness and miter joints that fit perfectly.
Mitering the sides of your boxBefore we go on to the mitering operation, you can save a lot of effort later if you do the final sanding on the inside surfaces of each side now. You'll probably want to work up to 220 grit paper here. Remember! Sand paper lasts about as long as sex, it's important to use fresh paper that can still cut!
It's important to get the angle right on the money, the user of your box will appreciate your careful craftsmanship, and, you will rightly be able to take pride in your work. I generally seek to make several boxes at once to take advantage of getting my saw exactly set to cut really great miter joints. Usually, I will make at least one utilty sort of box from pine, and cut it first to check my 45 deg. setting. I use a good drafting triangle to set the blade, be sure that you measure between the teeth on the flat part of your blade. When it looks right, cut out your pine box miters to check it out- these sides should be cut in the same fashion as your good box.
I use the miter guage and the fence to make these cuts. I make the first cuts so that maybe 2/3 of the miter is removed and, then, sneak up on the final cut so that you are removing no more than 1/16 inch, you will avoid splintering the edge by doing so. Do the same cut on all four miters of the ends (or) front/back at the same time. When you are using good hardwood, be careful, these edges can cut your hand like a sharp knife if they are right on!
We've arrived at the moment of truth about our miter joints, we need to assemble the sides dry to check our work. Here's a neat trick that I use in assembling boxes- I use giant home-made rubber bands to hold the parts together! The rubber bands are made from 5/16" medical/surgical tubing, I buy a big piece of this and cut into three foot lengths. If you tie a square knot in the ends, making a loop that would be a snug fit around just the "A" and "C" sides, you'll find that it will create a nice snug fit around all of the assembled sides. You will now be looking at very square box and sides with well fitted miters!
Now that we have sides, we will need to design and make a top that will add a "Wow!" look to our box, and we're gonna do that in the next section.