Logo 1 #topThe Poor Man's Fix-it shop.[not for the proficient craftsman] . . . .Logo 2

TUMBLEWEED HANDYMAN CORNER

 
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...MAKING A BOX
(click image for picture)



 

 

    I'm in the process of making several Native American style flutes, and I want a way of presenting them to some special people. My problem is that in order to make the boxes strong at the corners require tools I don't have. And these boxes are so small, such tools wouldn't do me much good anyway. Well, like any poor craftsman.... Um, that doesn't sound right does it? Why would you want to pay any attention to a poor anything? Let me rephrase that, a craftsman who is poor. Now we got it, even though the first way was right as well. Being poor doesn't have to stop me from doing what I want to do as long as I can do it poorly... Oh well, I'll let that one slip by without comment.
    My first problem was in what material to use in the building of the box itself. I found that at the lumber yard I can buy a bundle of furring strips, nice pieces of cedar just the size I want as far as thickness and width are concerned, rather cheaply. This negates me having to saw the boards to width.
    Now that I, or in this case, you, have the width out of the way, what about the length? Measure your flute, or whatever you're building your box to house, and cut some lengths of furring strip about a half inch longer (even more if you want to allow for error). Cut the lengths with a miter saw, making the cuts as smooth and as even as you can get them. I have a special guillotine cutter just for this purpose, but not many of you will have this kind of thing on hand. But even with it I have to cut all the pieces so they're close to finished size, for which I use a cut-off saw.
    It's assumed that you're desire is to build a rustic box that doesn't look like it's made of expensive material, because it won't. The furring strips are designed to fit behind some other surface as spacers so the poorest of lumber is used to manufacture them. But with good selecting you can find some (almost all mine are) pieces that will suffice for the job. The labor involved will be even more than if you used some exotic wood from the rain forest. If the one you're building this box for doesn't appreciate your labor of love, they don't deserve it in the first place. Anyway, that's the way I look at it.
    To make your box more presentable, and for ease of handling, run the boards over your belt sander until they have a nice appearance, and choose which side is going to be outside, and which is only  worth covering once complete. The outside will have to be sanded again when your through with the box, but this way you have the inside ready because you won't be able to work on it once the box is put together.
    Once you have your pieces ready to be glued, set them up on the table the way you'll want them to be when finished. I suggest laying a piece of wax paper on the working area so you don't have to pry your box from the table when the glue dries.
    Spread some glue on the edges and clamp the corners together. Having trouble keeping the box in place? Does it go catawampous on you and fall apart? I had the same problem, and when the box was fully dry, I found it to be far from square. Now to put the creative juices to work. If you look closely at the photo above, the first one, you'll see I've got something in the middle of the box holding the pieces in place. I'll explain this in a moment. 

 


 

 
    Ignoring the jig I made for the moment, notice that I have two clamps in use at this end of the box, one small one to hold the sides together, and one long one to hold the long pieces against the end pieces. This works very well, and once you develop a rhythm (and you have the jig made) it only takes about 5 minutes per box to assemble them, whereas without the jig it took me a half an hour of frustrated effort to produce something I had to tear apart and redo when it was finished.

 



 



 

 


 


    Did you try gluing the box without a jig? Did you tear your hair out so your head looks like mine? Ok, now to show you how to build your jig, now that you know why you need it.

    The width of my boxes happen to be exactly the same as two of the furring strips laid side-by-side. You might have to add or cut some from the  wood to create the base of your jig. Glue the pieces together as shown in the picture, keeping in mind that what you're making right now is only the base of the jig and not the jig itself. If you already have your sides cut, make sure the pieces fit around your jig (and this base), leaving just a hair all around for possible error.

    You only need a support at the very ends of the jig. using a small piece of wood about the thickness of your box, in my case 4 inches since that's twice the width of furring strips. Work the blocks until they fit exactly in the box your making, again leaving a slight bit of room for error. Once you have that, glue (or nail) the blocks to the ends of the base, making sure the sides fit as precisely as the ends. If you make the jig too big somewhere all is not lost, you'll just have to cut some more furring strips and miter them the size of your jig.

    Make sure your jig is square or you'll end up with a bunch of crooked boxes. Also, remember that the glue you put on your box will likely go on your jig causing them to be one unit. I glued some wax paper to the corners of my jig to help limit this from happening. You can also staple the wax paper to the jig, or tape it with something like scotch tape. Or you'll probably come up with some better idea then these. It's all a work in progress.

   

 


 

     Now for the fun part, the assembly of your treasure. This is the portion of the job that caused me the most grief, and the most cause for searching for an answer to my dilemma, how to reinforce the corners. You might have to do a little soul-searching yourself if the problem isn't as apparent as mine happens to be.

    I needed to find something that would connect both the sides and the ends together, something strong like tongue and groove, but cheaper and littler. There's always the option of gluing little triangular pieces of wood to the inside of the corner, which would work. But I wanted something a little more unique. I have a whole bunch of ice cream sticks, what they sell as craft sticks at the store (you might have to follow one of the kids around until he finishes his lollipop, I decided to buy my own at the local thrift store.) My problem was finding a saw blade that fit these many ice cream sticks I have. All the blades I have, even the finishing blade set up on my table saw, and my hand saws are too wide, or they're too thin (like a hacksaw blade). I did find that stirring sticks (for paint) fit the notch made by the table saw, and that was going to be my option of choice until I recalled having a little table saw I bought for 5 dollars that didn't work right. With some adjusting to the table and breaking off a tooth that was already cracked and hitting against the table as it came around, I discovered the blade was exactly the width I wanted. The sticks fit tight, which is what I want, yet not so tight they crack the furring strips.

       

 



 

      In the picture above you can see what  the sticks look like when in place, and how the notches are cut. In this picture you can see how I set up the fence (a chunk of wood) and the distance I set it from the blade. For my application I think it was 3/8 th's of an inch I offset the fence, making sure the fence was perfectly straight with the blade. The blade protrudes from the table just high enough to reach the open part of the box when turned on edge. If I recall that was also about 3/8 th's of an inch as well.

    I suggest you attempt this next step with the worst of your boxes if you made more than one. I made 15 all the same size, with a couple smaller practice boxes so I have plenty to work with, and to choose from when the finishing process comes about. I like to take advantage of a set up, such as this, all at once rather than have to go through the set up and the cleanup again and again. For instance I made 30 flutes so far all to one degree of completion or another. But all cuts are made. And for fetishes I made 50 of them, all done but the finish. Some fetishes are fancy, but most are what I consider to be more on the common side (though they look fancy to the untrained eye).

    When you pass the corner of your box over the saw, make sure it moves forward without twisting or bending forwards or backwards. If this happens you'll understand why I say this. It takes some practice, so again, start off with your worst box.

    Hold the box so the edge of the box, as it touches the table, makes a perfect "V"so the sticks will be the same from every angle. Again, this takes practice. After ten boxes I still made some flubs. They're reparable if not too bad however, but try your best.

    I found an interesting way to correct notches that aren't as straight as they should be, or that cut a little wide. I use some plain old typewriter paper and place a little glue along the edges of the paper, then work the piece of paper into the gap in the notch. I've used as much as two pieces of paper this way, and they repair is unnoticeable. I suspect even more can be used without any problems. Paper is just wood in another form, so I see no reason the joint would be compromised by the use of it in this manner.

    Now, turn the box over so your making exactly the same cuts on the other side of the box, hitting all four corners.

    Of course you might be using a hand saw rather than a table saw. If this is the case than you'll have to turn your creative juices to full blast to figure out a jig to use in order to make all the cuts the same. I can't help you there, you're on your own. I do suggest however that you make several extra boxes to practice on, using the same one to make all your mistakes on if at all possible..

   

 


 


    The finished product from the end.

   Did you notice how in this picture and in the preceding picture the wood, after sanding, looks quite decent? A cheap cedar box, that not only has a decent appearance, but has an interesting corner reinforcement. Remember to refer to your box as "rustic," that way people won't think anything of the flaws.

    By the way, keep this in mind: you want the worst edge of your box to go for the bottom, not the top of your box, and the worst edge (and side) to go to the back, not the front. This just in case I happen to forget to mention it later. I'm tired and my brain is turning to mush.

 

   You're now ready to install your ice cream sticks or whatever you've chosen to use for corner reinforcements. Turn your box on edge, dab some glue to both sides of the stick (I cut a bunch of pieces on a band saw before I started this phase of assembly), then lightly pound in the pieces with something like the rubber mallet I'm using here. Remember, your corners are very weak at this point so don't pound very heavily on the sticks. You just want to set them, not drive them in to the hilt. Besides, you're working along the length of the stick, so it's just as liable to break on you as not.
    If your box falls apart on you, no problem, you'll just have to glue it over again. Go ahead and finish the other corners, then re-glue the separated corners.
   I just thought of this, but if the corners break, set the box up over the assembly jig you made and set the sticks while it's in its logical place. You already have your cuts, and that's all you need to assemble your project to completion.

    Back to the assembly of the box. Notice in the picture I have the box turned at an angle to the work bench. This is because once the sticks are in, the box no longer lays flat and the ice cream sticks will pull out of place if they hit the table. So I let the finished end hang over the table while I work on the unfinished end.
 



 

   Now to cut the sticks so they're flush with the box (assuming you've let them dry sufficiently, overnight or at least half a day is preferable I find). Here you see a Japanese flush saw designed for this very purpose. But the easiest and fastest way to cut these is on a band saw. Don't cut into the saw as you normally would, set the box along side the blade with the long end facing toward (past the blade) the back and the sticks against the blade. The side then acts like a guide and both sticks are cut flush with the box at one time, having only moved it a couple inches or less. 10 boxes were cut in about 3 minutes this way while with the flush saw the job, though easy enough, would have taken closer to a half an hour.



 


 

   A stack of boxes ready to be cut, and in fact in almost the perfect position on the saw to make the cuts (one box at a time of course).
    Once the box is together you can run the sides over your belt sander again (or whatever you use for this purpose) and sand the sticks flush with the box. Be prepared to be surprised at how attractive this simple technique appears. And don't worry about the gaps and holes in the box and where the stick didn't seat all the way. I'll give you suggestions regarding this in a moment.
 
Box top glue.jpg    Now you're ready to install the top to the lid.... But wait! You don't have a lid yet, unless you want the lid to be the same width as the bottom of the box. Here's what you do for a lid. Set your table saw so the fence causes the blade to cut exactly down the middle of you box. I suggest you use a piece of furring strip and cut it, turning it over sideways, until the blade hits exactly in the same place whichever way the wood sample is turned. But if it isn't exact, not to worry as long as you follow the steps to come. I didn't on some, and I came up with a couple messes I almost couldn't;t correct.
   Set your blade so it barely cuts through the furring strip, by not more than a half an inch. This way if your box tilts it won;t take too much of a gouge out of the box.
    You have so many boxes ready, how many is up to you. Your lids will be half the size of the bottom, at least mine are. This means if I cut one box in half I have two lids. Two lids will cover two full boxes. This means three full  boxes (frames) give me two complete boxes. If I have 9 boxes ready, I can cut 3 of them in half and make 6 boxes.
    Keep in mind that you want the top of the box (bottom half, where the edge mates with the lid) and lid (that mates with the bottom) and the top of the lid to be as clean and attractive as you can get them because that's what people will see. So choose box frames with clean edges on both sides for your lids, and the worst for the bottom since the bottom edge will not be seen. Some correction can be made after all is assembled, which I'll describe in a moment.
   When you cut the boxes in half, hold them straight up and down and don't let them tilt or the blade will make a gouge into the edge of the box. Cut the box in half, one side at a time, making sure you turn the box end-over-end rather than flipping it to the side. This way the cuts will be exactly the same all around the box, even if the blade isn't hitting exactly in the middle of the box. This is where I made a mistake and almost ruined a couple boxes.    Remember, be prepared for failure, use your worst boxes first and learn on them.
Box top glue.jpg    You saw this image before, but I interrupted telling you this so I could tell you that. Now it's time for this. You have your lids and your bottoms. By this time you should also have some idea as to what you want to be the top of the top, and the bottom of the bottom. Let's take the bottom first because you'll need lots of practice before you start messing with the top. Use some scrap pieces of veneer, even pieces pieced together will do, and set the bottom of your box on the piece of veneer, making sure the bottom of the box is truly the bottom, resting on the piece of veneer so that it fits the say you want it to when finished. If you keep this orientation correct the finished product will fit perfectly into your box even if your box is a little catawampous.
   Hold the box tight against the veneer, pressing the edge of the veneer tight against the edge of the box unless the edge of the veneer is not clean or otherwise unsuitable to serve the purpose. Using a very sharp pencil, trace the very edges of the box so the line is clearly detectable. Angle the pencil so it gets the very edge of the box, especially at the corners. The middle isn't that important for this application. Remove the box (that hopefully you've marked so you know which edge goes to the front, and marked the veneer accordingly. I learned this by trial and error, mostly error). Now use a straight rule and mark a line from one end of the box to the other. Don't count on your line because the sides of your box will have bowed to some degree, but the ends at the corners will not have.
   Cut along this line. I use a metal straight edge clamped to the veneer and the board it rests on while I cut, using a mat cutter with a sharp blade. It takes a lot of cutting to do it this way, but for me it seems to work the best. I'm still looking for an alternative however, maybe the table saw in the future.
   Once your center piece of veneer has been cut, lay it on a table (making sure you have some wax paper to rest it on) and place the box over the veneer. Now using something to make like a liner to hold the glued veneer to the box (I use string or nylon cord for this, but strips of veneer would be even better), lay a bead of glue all around the base of the box. Into this bead lay whatever you want to use for the purpose. I've used both string and cord and it words well. Where the joint fails to hold I just lay some more glue over it and wait, and the bond becomes as good as new. You can see the string as applied to a lid in the picture to your left. Remember, your box is not going to hold TNT or a jet plane, so it doesn't  have to have the strength of a dumpster.
   Clamp the sides of your box forcing the veneer against the sides with a few clamps. I have a bunch of cheap plastic 6" clamps that I use quite frequently for lighter work like this.
   
   Once you've cleaned up the edges of your box parts and chosen which top goes best with which bottom, and which edge looks best to the front and which goes to the hinge side, you're ready to finish your box. Clamp the box and lid together as in the photo, then go to your belt sander or whatever you're using for the purpose and sand the edges to they're all the same. If one part of the lid for instance sticks past the bottom, sand it until they're uniform.  If you have a corner that didn't cut or glue smoothly, round off the corner until if looks nice, and do the others, at least in the front of the box, until they all have the same appearance. Now reposition your clamp so you can get to the other end of your box.
   If you haven't done so already, make sure the parts of the box that comes together are flush and clean. If one part stands up too high it can be sanded until it matches the other part. As you can see, once you have the parts assembled and matched, it's just a matter of cleanup and  finishing.
   What if you lack a belt sander? This is much slower of course, but you can lay out a piece of sand paper on a table (you might have to weight it down or tape it in place) and run your project back and forth on it. Also you can make your own sanding pad like the one described here.
   I line all my boxes and that's why I'm not concerned about how they look inside during construction. If you're interested in lining yours the same way, check out this page on making cases for the details.
   A semi-finished box, one of my samples. I'm just beginning to work on my better boxes. This is one that I cut wrong on the table saw and had to make some drastic corrections to the mating surface. That's why the lid is so thin, I had to grind so much off the lip that some of the ice cream stick support has been sanded away. Still redeemable however, but just barely so. It's in my mistakes and figuring out how to correct them most of my learning comes. (I rarely discard my mistakes but instead use them to figure out how to work past the problem created, then I discard it if needs be.)
   My storage area. One shelf holds ten boxes (2 rows of 5 each) all cut and ready for their tops (and bottoms), and the other shelf hold 5 boxes yet to be cut in half. I wanted to make sure I had some backup pieces prepared just in case what I've done so far was not all I had cracked it up to be. Apparently it is, and I can cut these at any time.
   Making repairs to flaws in the finished product. I used to be, and I suppose still am, a framer by trade. I'm used to having to repair expensive frames that were either assembled a little wrong, or that in some other way needs to appear in pristine order. Two particular products are used by framers for this purpose. One is a clay type (putty) substance that never dries and can be easily mixed. You can buy something like this from your local supermarket in the paint department. This is what they use to fill in gaps where frames or other such things don't come together as they should, and holes that tend to come about, which your box is very likely to have plenty of. What you might try is, instead of paying 5 bucks for something you only need a small dab of, taking a child's crayon and filling in the gap, such as where the ice cream stick didn't quite seat all the way. I have lots of these on my boxes. A bit of whitish crayon should do the trick. Make sure you've varnished your box or whatever before you try this. Paint won't stick to a waxy surface.
    Another trick you might use either here or elsewhere there's a fading spot that needs to be recolored is to use some colored pencil and try to imitate the surface around the bad spot. Again you're working with wax (which you also are with commercial products of this kind), so if you're thinking of covering the area with a protective coating, it's liable not to stick to the new addition. 
 

 


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