Build a Timeless Jewellery Box
With a small piece like this, wood selection is all the more important. I needed any figure in the wood to have a fairly tight, dense pattern so it would show up well in this small box. I dipped into my stash of figured and exotic woods and pulled out all the pieces I thought would be appropriate to use, but I wasn’t satisfied with what I had. I was going to purchase that perfect piece, but decided to take a quick look at the veneers I had. I came across some curupixa that had a fairly tight figure, and it also went nicely beside some bubinga solid I had. There are probably more than 1,000 species pairings that would also work well, but I was lucky to have a nice combination on-hand.
When it comes to designing and making your box, please feel free to make some adjustments – that’s half the fun. Using different feet, modifying or omitting the fan carving and selecting wood species with your aesthetic in mind are just a few things you can do to make this your own piece.
Bevel the Ends
Brown first cut bevels on the ends of the parts, then used a stop block to trim the front and back to length.
To cut the small ends, he used a hold-down clamp so he could keep his fingers away from the blade.
Rout the Grooves
Add pencil marks where the grooves will be located, then center the groove in the L-guide on those marks (Above) and clamp it in place. A stop block is added so the grooves are all the same height (Below). Usually, making this cut would force the router away from the L-guide if the router was pushed towards the clamped stop block, but because only a shallow groove is being routed there is little chance for movement.
Cut a piece of curupixa veneer large enough to easily cover the upper edges of the main box sides, then apply glue to the edges and clamp the parts against the veneer using small cauls.
Trim the Edging
With a notched sacrificial fence attached to his router table’s fence, Brown sets its surface flush with the router bit’s bearing and trims the long edges of the four workpieces. He uses a climb cut to reduce tear-out.
Finish the Inside
Once the main box is assembled, it will be difficult to apply an even finish to its inside surfaces, so Brown pads on a few coats of shellac before assembly.
Wrap it Up
Apply masking tape to the outer surfaces of the parts while they are face-down, then flip them over, add glue, wrap the four pieces together and add some tape to the last corner joint.
Add the Bottom
With the bottom cut to size, and the felt added to its upper face, Brown applies glue to the rabbet and the edge of the bottom and clamps it in place.
Once the tray is fit to the center opening, Brown dishes the middle of it with a carving gouge, leaving a textured surface.
Position the hinges near either end of the main box and score a line at either edge. Carefully remove enough material between the scores to let the hinge into the box.
Rub Out the Finish
Once enough coats of shellac were applied, and cured, Brown used wax and #0000 steel wool to smooth the surface. A quick wipe with a clean cloth and the finish is complete.
Two Feet to Stand On
Brown finished the two feet, then glued them to the underside of the box. He made sure there was no finish where the glue would be applied. The masking tape is to assist in locating the feet.
Because the main box portion and the base were fairly straightforward, I decided to start with the lid. I was going to add some sculpting to the top surface of the lid, and wanted to sort that out first, then build the main section and base around it.
I grabbed some 2×6 spruce stock and started to experiment with a fan-like shape. My first try turned out awful, but I got some good ideas from it. A few more test pieces later, I was onto something. With all but the final details sorted out, I was confident enough to reach for the bubinga. I planed it to 3/4″, cut it about 12″ longer than needed, and left it about 1/2″ wider than the finished width. Generously oversizing the blank allowed me a little wiggle-room when it came to shaping the fan pattern, and gave me some waste to screw through, fixing it to my work top; clamps sometimes get in the way of shaping. I also made sure to select a piece of bubinga that would allow me to center the fan on the slightly curved grain, giving it a balanced look.
My router did most of the initial shaping, then hand tools faired the curves and finished the carving off. For all the details on how I made the sculpted fan carving, see the Finer Details column on page 28. This is just one way of adding character to this box. Experiment with scrap (spruce construction material is cheap and works quickly), and don’t get frustrated if your first design looks horrible, because that’s exactly what happens to all of us. Designing something takes time and effort.
When the carving was complete, I left the blank oversize. I always like to have as many options as possible, and would cut the lid to size once the main box was complete, just in case any box details changed on the fly.
The Main Box
Step 1 was to adhere the curupixa veneer to both sides of the solid that would be used to construct the main box. I cut a piece of maple to 6″ wide x 22″ long x 5/16″ thick, which gave me a blank with ample material to work with in both directions. I then cut the face and back veneer to the same size as the core and applied it using my vacuum press. You could also use clamps and cauls to press the panel.
Once dry, I trimmed the veneer off the edges of the panel and straightened one edge on the jointer. I then ripped the parts to width. On the table saw I cut a small rabbet in the bottom edge of each blank to accept the bottom. It’s much easier to do this before the parts are cut to length, as these sides are much too small to machine safely. When cutting the rabbet to accept the bottom, be sure to take into account the thickness of the felt that will be adhered to the bottom. When in doubt, make the rabbet slightly wider; you can always sand everything flush afterwards.
Using my table saw with a mitre sled, I mitred the longer front and back to finished size, then mitred the shorter sides to size. I used a stop to ensure the matching parts were exactly the same length. When cutting the small end pieces, I used a hold-down clamp to keep my hands a safe distance from the blade.
I opted for three inner compartments, with a removable tray that fits over the center section. Feel free to lay yours out in a way that suits your needs and aesthetics. The solid dividers slide into grooves that need to be routed in the inner surfaces of the front and back. I set up a 1/4″ diameter straight bit in my trim router, and set it for a cut slightly shallower than 1/8″. After laying out the grooves directly on the front and back I aligned an “L” guide with those marks and sandwiched the back piece between the “L” guide and my work-surface with a clamp. I also attached a stop block to the “L” guide to stop the grooves at the same place – about 5/8″ from the top edge of the workpiece.
Once the grooves in the front and back were routed, I carefully trimmed any fuzzy grain with a sharp chisel. This ensured that any figured curupixa wouldn’t chip off while working on the rest of the box.
I then thicknessed some bubinga for the dividers so it fit nicely in the groove, and ripped it ever-so-slightly wider than needed. A round-over would have to be added on the top edge of the dividers once they were cut to finished size, so they would mate with the rounded groove perfectly, and I wanted to make sure they didn’t come up too small.
The length of the dividers was determined by adding the inside length of the face of the sides, and the depth of two divider grooves. I cut the dividers to length then sanded a finger recess in the outer face of each divider with a medium-sized drum sander. This recess was to allow the tray, which would eventually rest on top of the dividers, to be easily removed with two fingers. I marked the dividers so they would go back into the same grooves they were fit for.
Curupixa veneer has to be added to the upper edge of the sides, front and back. I cut one piece of curupixa large enough to easily cover all four edges, applied glue to the edges then turned them upside down on the veneer and lightly clamped them into place. I made sure the parts were square to the work surface and left them to dry overnight.
When they were fully cured, I carefully used a knife to separate the four parts from each other; figured veneer wants to crack then run with the grain when you’re slicing it. I then set up a flush trimming bit in my router table, added a piece of scrap 1/2″ plywood that I notched to fit over the bit, and adjusted my fence so the sacrificial plywood face was flush with the bearing. I trimmed inner and outer edges then used a sharp chisel to take care of the mitred ends, trimming them perfectly flush with the 45˚ ends.
Finishing: Part 1
Because the inside of the box would be difficult to finish once the box was assembled, I sanded its inner surfaces and the dividers now. I padded on a few coats of shellac, making sure to not get finish on the top edge of the sides, front or back. The dividers were coated on all sides except the bottom.
I laid the four box parts face down on a smooth work surface, applied masking tape across the mating edges and flipped everything over. I first applied a light coating of glue to the mitre joints and rubbed it in, so the end grain pores would soak up some glue. I then applied a regular coating of glue to the mitred ends, folded the four parts together and taped the last corner joint tight. I then added a bit of glue to the divider ends and their mating grooves and gently slid the dividers in place. With a damp cloth I wiped any glue squeeze out off the inside corners and let dry.
Once the box was dry I fit the 1/4″ plywood bottom and added some adhesive-backed felt to its upper surface. You can get felt in many forms in craft stores and Lee Valley. I had to locate a joint in the felt below one of the dividers, as it wasn’t long enough to run the entire length of the bottom. A bit of glue was then applied to the edge of the bottom and the rabbet, then the bottom was clamped in place.
With the main box together, I cut a bubinga blank to size, rabbeted its underside to fit over the dividers and fit it to the center area of the box. Each end overhung the divider by about 3/8″ and an arc was sanded into the middle of each end to welcome fingers. I then used a carving gouge to remove some material from the center of the tray, creating a recess to hold small jewellery items, and adding some texture at the same time.
I used small butt hinges to secure the lid to the box. I marked the hinge mortise locations on the box, then used a chisel to first cut the left and right side of each mortise then to remove the material creating the cavity for the hinge. With the hinges attached to the box, I positioned the lid on top of the box and marked where the hinges met the lid, then used a chisel to create the mortise in the underside of the lid. I positioned the lid so that when it was opened the rear, lower corner touched the back of the box, holding up the lid. A simple ball chain could also be used to support the lid.
I tried many different options for the base, and eventually settled on one. I machined the blank to final thickness, but kept it slightly oversize in width, and very oversize in length. With a large cove bit I shaped the inner edge of each base foot on either end of the blank, then cut the two base feet to finished length. Instead of using a router on these small pieces I used a block plane to produce the outer edge profile for each foot. After a good sanding I was ready for some finishing.
At this point I placed the main box on top of the feet, and the lid on top of the box, to see how the proportions looked. The only thing that was off was the thickness of the top, so I removed about 3/16″ from the underside of the lid.
Finishing: Part 2
I used shellac to finish the outer surfaces of this box as well. After everything was sanded I padded coats onto the main box and the lid. I also added coats to the two feet, but kept the bottoms free of finish for now, for simplicity sake. I needed the bottoms to be finish-free while I held the feet in my hands as I finished them. I also kept a large portion of the top of the feet unfinished, so I could glue the feet to the underside of the box once the finish was applied. Generally speaking I applied a few coats then let them dry for a few hours, then repeated the process until there was enough build. At this point, I sanded with 400 grit paper and applied another coat, leaving a very smooth, glossy surface.
Once fully cured, I rubbed the finish out with #0000 steel wool and wax, glued the feet on, drilled the base for press-in bumpers (Lee Valley #00S21.04), applied a few light coats of shellac on the bottoms of the feet, inserted the bumpers and attached the lid. I also added two small, clear plastic adhesive bumpers so the lid would contact the main box quietly.
At this point, the only thing left to do was find this box a new home, as my wife has never worn jewellery. Actually the only one in my family who wears jewels is my four-year-old daughter, who has a small collection of plastic jewellery. Somehow I don’t think this jewellery box would stand up to the abuse she would throw at it though.