Canadian Woodworking

Childhood Memory Box

Author: Michael Kampen
Illustration: James Provost
Published: February March 2009

Children love playing with messy, gooey things and adults love to preserve those early childhood memories. This project is great for both.

Mounted in this memory box along with a photo taken on the day the handprint was made, this project will preserve childhood memories for a lifetime. Make one every year to have a record as they grow up.

The construction of this memory box is straightforward. Basically it’s a simple box with mitered and reinforced corners topped with a mitered face frame. The construction process is made easier with some of the jigs featured in our ShopJig series in past issues: the miter sled (Dec/Jan ‘09, Issue #57); and the spline jig (Aug/Sept ‘08, Issue #55), which uses a biscuit joiner to reinforce miter joints with feathers. These jigs make the construction much easier and are well worth the time it takes to build them. Begin by carefully choosing the wood for the project; because the pieces are all narrow it is best to choose straight-grained wood for a clean appearance that won’t distract from the contents. I chose red oak for this project as it is readily available, and with careful selection, the stock can be cut to show vertical grain on the faces of the frame pieces. Walnut presents a nice contrast to the oak for the feathers.

Mark out all of the pieces on the stock for best appearance, and then cut out the individual pieces. The box sides are shaped to hold the contents and the glass cover. When milling the sides, the bearing surfaces are cut away, and without sufficient surface area to register on the router table it can be difficult to keep the piece stable. To avoid this, and to keep you working safely, leave a ‘foot’ on the back edge when making the second cut. This will support the piece and keep it level during the routing process.

Feathers in place

Close up of box corner 

Frame and box clamped for assembly

Drive pocket screws into face frame

Steps in cutting center divider

Back inscription

Milling the Sides

• Start by cutting the long sides (A) and short sides (B) to size.

• Use a Pocket Hole Jig (, to drill a hole for a screw 3 ½” in from the end of each piece. Place another pocket screw hole offset from the center by 1″ on each of the long sides.

• There are four basic steps involved in cutting the sides, as shown in the accompanying illustration. First, install a spiral bit in your table mounted router, set the fence to make a ⅛” x ¼” cut, and rout the rabbet for the glass on the front inside edge of the side pieces. Second, move the fence back and rout out most of the main section that holds the contents, leaving a small foot in place. Third, move to the table saw and cut a groove along the length of each piece to define the bottom of the rabbet for the back. Fourth, tip the pieces up on edge and run them through the table saw, making the cut to complete the rabbet for the back.

• Use the miter sled on the table saw to cut the miters for the four corners.

• Mix up some five minute epoxy (, and lightly butter both sides of the joint to ensure adequate epoxy coverage on the end grain. Carefully assemble the frame and apply a band clamp, applying pressure to keep the joint tightly closed until the epoxy hardens.

• Mitered joints are not very strong, and although this project won’t be subjected to any stress, adding the feathers to the corners reinforces the weak glued miter joint as well as providing an interesting design element when contrasting woods are used. When the epoxy has set, use the spline/feather jig and a plate joiner to cut the slots to slip the feathers into.

• Mill material to thickness for the feathers (C). Slip a piece of cardboard into the slots and trace the corner of the box onto it, staying about ⅛” away from the surface; cut this out to serve as a pattern for the feathers. Use this pattern to mark the feathers onto the stock and then cut the individual feathers free using a scroll saw or bandsaw.

• Use an artist’s brush to apply glue to the inside of the slots and then press the feathers into place. Be sure that the feathers bottom out completely in the cut or there will be visible gaps after sanding. Set the frame aside to dry.

The Face Frame

The miter joints in the face frame are held together with epoxy. Cleaning up this messy adhesive on profiled edges can be problematic and cause finishing problems later. To avoid any potential problems with the epoxy interfering with the finish, or the finish from interfering with the epoxy, follow these simple steps for a perfect hassle-free result.

• Cut the long sides (D) and short sides (E) to size and sand the top and outside edges for finishing.

• Insert a beading bit in your router table and cut the bead on the outer edge of the frame pieces.

• Use a classic cove bit to profile the inner edge of the frame pieces on the router table.

• Sand the profiles on a drill press equipped with a sanding mop, ( This is the easiest method available to sand routed surfaces without noticeably altering their profile.

• Apply a coat of Watco Oil to the frame pieces and follow this up with a couple of good coats of wax.

• Cutting the miters after finishing ensures that there is no finish on the end grain to interfere with the epoxy. Use the miter sled to cut the miter joints at the four corners.

• Mix up a batch of epoxy and assemble the frame with a band clamp. Be sure that the frame is square or it will not fit on the box properly. The epoxy may make it a little tricky to tighten up the band clamp as the pieces will want to move and spring apart as the clamp is tightened. Another option is to use corner clamps, but this will raise the pieces off the bench making it more difficult to get a perfectly flat result. You can use some straight edged wood fastened to your workbench at 90º to each other to act as fences, with bench dogs and wedges supplying the clamping force on the other two sides. This keeps your pieces level on the bench, ensuring a flat result. Use a 23 gauge, 1″ headless pin driven in from each side of the joint to provide some mechanical strength.

• Clean up any epoxy that squeezes out of the joint; the wax will keep it from sticking to the surface.

The Box Content

The medallion is mounted on one side with a photo on the other side. A divider is installed to provide a separation between the two. In profile this piece looks like a ‘T’ with the top section notched to accommodate the rabbet for the box contents.

• Cut stock for the center divider (F) longer than required; it is safer to perform the following operations with a longer piece than with a short one.

• To cut the rabbets into both sides of the divider you will need to make only one change in the fence setting on your table saw. Set the fence on your table saw to make the first cuts on the inside of the piece. Make the first cut and then simply reverse the piece, running it through for the other side. Move the fence out enough and repeat this to remove the remaining material.

Prepare a blank for the medallion surround (G). The medallion will be too thick to fit on top of the ¾” thick piece that serves as the background on that side of the box, so you will need to rout a depression into the surface to be able to recess the medallion. To accommodate the thickness of this particular medallion, I had to cut a round mortise that was 5 ⅝” in diameter and almost ⅜” deep. Your dimensions will likely vary from this.

I used computer software to design the depression in the medallion surround and then passed the file on to a CNC router to carve it out while I went for lunch. Alternately you can mount the blank on a lathe and turn the depression. When mounting the blank be sure to use short screws that do not penetrate into the area that you are turning. Alternately you can fasten a sacrificial block to the back of the blank with a glue and paper joint to provide the added depth for the screws. Another option would be to use a circle cutting jig (, to cut a circle into a piece of plywood and then use this piece of plywood fastened to the blank to guide a dishcarving bit to carve the depression.

• Cut a piece of Baltic birch plywood to size for the back (H). Because the contents will cause the shadow box to be heavier on one side than the other, it is best to hang it on two nails spaced several inches apart. Install a keyhole bit (, in your router table and set the fence back about an inch. Run a stopped keyhole slot across the top of the back.

• Sign and date the back for a positive record of the date. Suzie was too young to write when she made this hand print, so I used the CNC router to engrave a message marking the occasion. As the children learn to write, have them use a felt pen to write the message themselves.

Sand and finish all of the visible wood surfaces now, before final assembly. Take the box in to a glass shop and have them measure the opening and cut a piece of glass to fit.


To avoid shifting the face frame on the box as the pocket hole screws are driven in, it is best to clamp the two solidly together. I use a Kreg Klamp Table (, which makes it simple to clamp them together and hold them solidly in place with only two clamps.

• With the box and face frame clamped together and securely clamped to your bench, drill a pilot hole into the face frame for each pocket hole screw. If you don’t drill a pilot hole, the screws are likely to crack the narrow frame stock.

• Separate the two pieces and insert the glass and then clamp it again. Drive in the pocket hole screws to hold everything together.

• Use epoxy to fasten the medallion to the surround and when cured, set it in place.

• Set the divider in place and snug it up to the medallion surround. Use a couple of 23 gauge pins driven at an angle through the surround and into the box sides to hold it in place.

• Measure the opening and cut your matted photograph to fit; cut a template to fit the opening using card stock and then center this on the mat to mark your cuts. Cut cardboard filler pieces to size to fill the space behind the photograph.

• Set the back in place and drill pilot holes for some #4 x ¾” screws. Fasten the back in place being sure to recess the screw heads below the surface.

This box provides a window to the past. Make one every year as your children grow and they’ll be treasured for generations.

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