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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
|| 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
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
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.
|| 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.