Canadian Woodworking

Freeform bandsawn box

Author: Jack Wallace
Published: February March 2004

Boxes don’t always have to be rectangular and hinged.

In fact, some of the most visually appealing boxes are just the opposite. Their curved lines and original design add that special, unique appearance. Such one-of-a kind boxes make ideal containers for your jewelry or other treasures.

For this project you will need a thick piece of stock. The thickness of stock will determine the height of the finished box. The maximum thickness you can use is determined by the clearance of the scroll saw that is used to cut out the center of the package.

If you have a thicker piece (either in the whole or laminated) then removal of the core will need to be done by drilling and filing the piece. You could also use a hand coping saw for this thickness.

To make this particular box, I searched through my offcut pieces until I located a piece of 2″ rough walnut. You know the kind of piece I mean, something that catches your eye and you just know that there is a special look/pattern that you want to display.

Cut Out Rough Block

Cut the rough block out at about 8″ long. I started with a 6 1/2″ wide plank, so I cut it into 2 equal sized blocks (each about 8″ x 3″ x 2″).

bandsawn box


Dress Rough Block

With this project, given sizes are very flexible. Use a jointer to dress the two faces of one block, then sketch a random shape on the face.

The shape I developed suits my taste. You can come up with your own shape. Once you have determined the exterior shape, carefully draw the interior shape following the same shape, but making it 1/4″ smaller all around. Be sure that the interior curves have a large enough radius to accommodate your smallest spindle sander. Too small a radius (or sharp inside corners) become a nightmare to sand and finish.

bandsaw box

Drill Starting Hole

Drill a starting hole in the center section in a corner, through which to feed your scroll blade. I used a 1″ bit for this.

bandsawn box

Cut Out Interior

Tip the table of your scroll saw a few degrees (approx. 2-5º). By tipping the table, the center section becomes slightly tapered allowing it to easily slip out when you have completed the cut. Be sure that you cut in the direction that will make the wall at the bottom thicker than at the top. Use your coarsest blade.

freeform box

Rough Cut Exterior

Rough cut the exterior on your bandsaw (or scroll saw). Once any wood is cut, the internal stresses tend to create warpage, twisting, and cracking. (Witness how ripping a board will often pinch the saw blade – due to stresses that have changed in the board). So, to avoid stress twists and cracks in the wood, cut the exterior oversize by an 1/8th” and set the blank aside for a few weeks to allow the wood to acclimatize to the new conditions. At the end of the settling period recut the exterior to the outline.

freeform box


To start finishing the project use a spindle or drum sander to follow the shapes on the inside and out. Start with a grit of 80 to 100 and progressively work through the grades of 150, 220, and then 320. When sanding, be sure to remove all the sanding striations. (If you can see them at all at this stage they will definitely show in the finished work.) The 80 grit paper in this step will true up the interior wall that had an initial taper from the rough cut.

freeform box

Trace Box Bottom

The interior and exterior shapes are now set. Use the second of the two rough blocks that you cut previously. Split this into 3 pieces (each 3/8″ thick). Dress and fine sand one side of each of these pieces. Select one piece for the bottom of the box and use the shape of the piece you have made to trace the shape of the interior base onto the sanded face.

freeform box

Fit Base into Box

Cut this pattern out slightly larger than the pencil mark and sand it to fit into the bottom of the box as snugly as possible.

freeform box

Make Lid from Two Pieces

Repeat this process for the second 3/8″ thick piece, except use the top of the box side as a pattern and trace onto the rough surface. Cut this pattern inside the line and sand for a nice sliding fit into the top. Glue this piece to the center of the third piece, gluing sanded face to sanded face. When this assembly sets, place it onto the box top and trace around the outside. Cut this out slightly large and clamp to the side section. Sand the curves to match the outside of the box. Sand the two top and bottom faces of this assembly.

freeform box

Glue in Bottom

Leave it slightly high and when the glue sets, sand the top and bottom. You may wish to sand the edge of the lid to break the sharp corner. Alternatively, use a router with a rounding bit to obtain a uniform curve or design on the perimeter. Sand everything well. Before you apply any finish, all traces of dust need to be removed.

An effective method for this is tack cloths. These are resin-impregnated cloths with a sticky surface that easily picks up all the dust, without leaving any sticky material. These are available from paint stores in small packages. When I don’t have one handy I substitute a cloth dipped into shellac that has been diluted 50% with methyl hydrate, or alcohol. When rung out this, too, becomes a very good dust cloth. Depending on the desired look, you can choose to apply a stain at this point.

freeform box


A gloss finish takes a lot of care. Any flaw at any stage can ruin the final product. To apply this finish you need a very clean brush. If necessary, purchase a new brush. With brushes, you get what you pay for, so pick the best brush you can afford. It can be disastrous to a gloss finish if a hair falls out of the brush as you work, or some old paint flecks break loose. Once you get a new brush, use only for clear finishes.

Apply a coat of sanding sealer to raise any hairs and grain on the wood. A light sanding with 350 grit sandpaper will clean this up. Avoid cutting through any stain. Using a bright lamp, examine the box with the light reflecting off the surface towards you. At this angle you can easily see any grain depressions or defects in the surface.

Carefully sand off any high spots. Any depressions will require another coat of sanding sealer. Repeat sanding and sealing until there are no more depressions in the grain structure. On an open pored wood like oak you may need as many as 5 coats of sanding sealer to fill the grain. A gloss finish needs a very mirror smooth base surface. Use the lamp to re-check this frequently. Do not count on the final finish to fill any voids.

Once the base is complete, apply 2 or 3 finish-coats of varnish, polyurethane, or high solids satin lacquer. Varnish and varathane can dry with small bubbles that are very hard to remove. If not removed as you go they will show badly in the finished product. Lacquer dries so quickly that this is not a major problem.

Sand between coats with 400 grit waterpaper. Be sure to keep the surfaces wet as you go. Check for flaws by looking across the surface into the lamp. After the last coat use a very light sanding. Buff it with a power polisher and use some carnauba wax to really bring up the gloss.

freeform box

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