Make a hexagonal box
Boxes are a lot of fun to make. They also don’t take up much time to complete and you don’t need a lot of materials. Try your hand at this hexagonal box for a change of pace.
When designing a box, I like to include at least one aspect that’s unique. Whether it’s a technique I don’t often do, a shape that’s a little different than the standard or a material other than wood, it doesn’t take much to bring something new to a box project and make it stand out. Also, it’s a great time to practice a technique you just learned or challenge yourself to learn a new one.
I opted for a hexagon shape for this jewelry box. I also wanted to include a removable tray, which provided some functional challenges. I like power carving and other methods to shape wood, so I included a bit of that in the tray. Not only is it fun but dishing out the centre area of the tray provided the function of sides to prevent jewelry from falling off the tray when it’s removed.
Crosscut, Then Bevel
Brown crosscuts all six sides to length, then tilts his table saw blade and cuts both ends.
Imperfections Add Up
Once all the sides were bevelled, Brown taped them end-to-end and wrapped them together. Even being off by a fraction of a degree causes small gaps in the joints, but you’ll only know if you’re off once you wrap the six sides together. You can see small gaps at the inner edges of a few of these bevel joints.
Bore the Holes
A fence helps align the parts so the holes are drilled a consistent distance from the top edge of the side, but a piece of masking tape with some pencil marks on it is fine for positioning the workpieces side-to-side.
First Coat Before Assembly
It’s easier to apply a finish to the inner faces of the sides before assembling the box. Brown used shellac because it dries quickly, buffs smooth and looks great, but other finishes will work well, too.
Tape, Glue and Wrap Together
With the sides taped together end-to-end, Brown applies glue to the joints and wraps the sides together. Any glue squeeze-out is easier to clean up with the inner faces of the sides pre-finished.
Rout the Cavity
A dish carving bit chucked into a router will make quick work of most of the waste in the centre of the tray. Freehand the router as close to the line as you can, though hand tools will be used to further smooth the cavity.
Trace the Top
Place the box on top of the material for the top and align the box so the grain looks good. Trace the shape of the box onto the top material.
Mark for the Bevels
Once the top is cut out and sized, put it in place and mark a line 1/4" above the sides so you can cut the top bevels to this line.
Make a Simple Jig
This jig will not only help you machine the bevels on the top, it will come in handy for many other projects down the road. The most important aspect of making this jig is that it slides freely, but not loosely, on your rip fence.
Bevel the Top
With hold-down clamps in place and the top secured to the jig, set the blade angle and rip fence to cut the bevels.
Add Some Grip
Add some texture to the underside of the lid in the area it will be grasped when removing the lid. This helps with grip, and it also looks attractive and feels good on your fingers.
Before you adjust the bevel setting on your table saw, adjust the rip fence so it will cut a slight bevel into the top edge of all the box sides. Depending on whether your saw blade tilts to the right or left, you will have to place the rip fence on the correct side of the blade.
A Final Finish
Once the box is made the last step is to add a finish on the rest of the box’s surfaces. Ensure the final surface feels smooth, as the box will get touched a lot.
Break out the wood
Break out a length of wood 32″ long × 2-3/4″ wide × 9/16″ thick. I used a fairly straight-grained piece of curly black cherry, as that simplifies the overall look and keeps the focal point on the design, rather than a busy wood grain. Having said that, the light curl in the cherry is eye-catching. And with the straight grain, there’s a better chance of having the grain match up nicely at all six joints when the box is assembled and finished.
When dealing with small parts it’s a lot easier and safer to do as much machining as possible to the large blank, as opposed to breaking the blank up into smaller pieces and then trying to machine them. Machine a 1/4″ × 1/4″ rabbet to accept the bottom. Sand the inner face of the blank, then mark a long “V” on the other face. This allows you to re-assemble the six parts in order once they’re all cut from the blank.
Crosscut all the pieces to 4-1/8″ long. Set your table saw blade to 30° and set a stop on your mitre gauge to trim one end of each piece at an angle. When you’re setting your stop be sure to set it so the cut doesn’t remove much length on each piece. The more material that’s removed at each end, the less likely the grain will match when the parts are reassembled. Once the six parts have been trimmed on one end, move the stop in ever so slightly and trim their other ends. I found these pieces were large enough to comfortably control them with my hand, but if you felt the blade was too close for comfort you could set up a clamp-down device to hold the workpieces in place during the cuts.
Check your angle
To ensure the 30° angle is set correctly, tape the six parts together with masking tape, wrap them together and see if there are any gaps. I had slight gaps on the insides of the joints, so I recut the joints at a slightly lower angle. Make any adjustments if needed and recut the parts if you have gaps.
Prep for assembly
Drill the six holes that will accept the brass pins in every other one of the sides. The tricky thing is that three of these holes will be located towards the tops of each side, and will support the lid, while the other three holes will be located towards the centre of each part and will support the removable tray. On top of that, each level of three holes must be located on alternating sides to provide proper support.
I used 1/8″ diameter brass rod, so that was the diameter hole I drilled. A drill press set to the proper depth will ensure you don’t drill through any of the parts. I bored the holes a little deeper than 1/4″. Make sure not to go any deeper than 3/8″.
Because it’s harder to apply a finish to the inside surfaces of the sides after assembly, I applied a few quick coats of shellac to those six surfaces now. You could also use any other wiping finish. If you’re going to spray a finish on you can likely hold off on finishing the surfaces at this stage. Either way, make sure the surfaces are sanded smooth before assembling the box.
Bring it together
Lay the six sides down on a flat surface with their inner faces down. Apply masking tape over the five mating joints. Flip the assembly over and apply a bit of glue to the end grain of all the parts. Too much glue will make a mess, but too little glue will cause a starved joint. If you did apply a finish to the inner faces already, that will help you with removing any squeeze-out afterwards. Wrap the entire assembly together and apply more tape across the last joint. Put it aside to dry.
Shape the bottom
When it’s dry, place the box on top of the bottom material. I used 1/4″ plywood for the bottom. Trace the shape of the bottom by referencing off the inner edge of the bottom rabbet. Cut the bottom to size with a bandsaw or scroll saw, then use a block plane to fit the bottom to the box. Because it’s unlikely to be perfectly symmetrical, I marked a line on one corner of the bottom and the corresponding corner of the box to make sure I was fitting it the same way each time. A sanding block or sander will also work well to remove small amounts of material to fit the bottom to the box. Don’t install the bottom yet.
Shape the tray
The tray can be sized the same way. Place the box on the tray material. Reference the inner surface of the box while tracing the outer shape of the tray. If you want to play around with the shape of the tray you can use cardboard. This will also allow you to see how much clearance you need on three of the sides of the tray for your fingers.
With the outer line marked on the tray blank, I added the curved edges on three of the sides. These lines will be the outer shape of the tray. Next, I offset these lines by 1/4″ towards the inside of the tray. These lines will guide me while I shape the cavity in the tray.
With the tray workpiece still large, I secured it to a work surface. I chucked a dish carving bit into my router and set the depth of cut to about 1/4″. Moving the router freehand, machine up towards the inner line, leaving about 1/16″ of material on before routing the line off. I started in the centre and worked my way towards the line as that provided better support for the router over the operation.
I used a combination of carving gouges, sanders and hand sanding to smooth the surface and even out the outer edges. When I was happy with the cavity, I cut the tray out and shaped it to fit the inside of the box nicely.
Cut six brass pins to length. They should protrude from the face of the sides no more than 1/4″. I cut them with a hack saw. Once cut, chuck them in a drill. With your belt sander on its side, turn both the drill and belt sander on and ease and round one end of each pin. This will only take a couple of seconds. To buff the tips of the pins further, grab a sanding block with fine sandpaper and, with the drill rotating, further ease the tip. Make sure to create a domed end on the pin by holding the sandpaper at an angle. The final step to create a nice-looking pin is to grab some steel wool and hold it against the tip of the pin while it’s rotating. You can even buff the end 1/4″ of the pin, as that will be the only part that’s seen.
The pins will be fixed in place with epoxy, but first I used coarse sandpaper to give the opposite ends of the pins some tooth so the epoxy would grip the pins better. You can insert the pins to check the fit of the tray and top, otherwise put them aside for now.
Cut the top
With the box on top of the material you’re going to use for the top, adjust the location of the box so the grain looks nicely balanced. Trace the outline of the top by referencing off the inner face of the box sides. Cut the top to size on a bandsaw then shape it to fit the opening. A neat 1/32″ gap around the edge is what to aim for.
With the top sitting on the three pins, use a pencil to mark where the top bevel should end. It should be about 1/4″ above the sides. This line will give you something to shape the top to.
Although it might seem like a lot of work to bevel the six sides of the top, I think the finished look is worth it. Also, the jig that needs to be made to help you with this will be useful in the future.
Make a jig
This jig fits over your rip fence and slides forward and backward smoothly and with minimal effort. The trick is ensuring the fit isn’t too snug or loose. I used 3/4″ particleboard to make this jig, but plywood would also work well. The two outer faces are about 14″ x 20″ and the three centre pieces are the exact width of your rip fence and are cut to be flush with the top of the jig. When cutting the centre pieces to width, sneak up on the final dimension by making a cut, clamping it between the two outer pieces and checking how it slides. Fit is very important for this jig.
Once the jig is made you can attach some clamp-down devices to its face so the top will be held in place securely for the cuts. I set the blade angle to 10° and adjusted the rip fence. A few test cuts helped me dial in the correct location, then I made the six cuts to bevel the top. Sand the top smooth.
Bevel the box
Using the same bevel angle as you did for the top, set up the table saw to bevel the top edges of the box sides. This helps to visually unify the box and the top. You could try your hand at using a block plane for this, but I find the table saw accurate and the tear-out it produces is minimal. A plane could blow out the edges of the adjoining side if you’re not careful.
Sand the box and ease all the edges. Apply a finish of your choice. The good thing about a jewelry box is that it won’t get a lot of heavy use, so wear and tear isn’t a factor when choosing a finish. Shellac goes on smooth and dries fast. I applied many coats in an afternoon and the finishing process was done. It also buffs smooth with wax and #0000 steel wool. How the finish brings out the grain and colour of the wood you chose is also a strong factor when selecting a finish.
At this stage the bottom was still not attached. I applied a finish to it after I taped off the glue surfaces, then installed it with glue.
To install the brass pins, mix up some epoxy and put a bit inside a hole, then press in the brass pin. If you put the right amount in the hole, no epoxy will squeeze out and make a mess, but enough will be in the hole to hold the pin securely.
Finally, drill holes for 5mm press-in soft bumpers in the six corners so the box will sit nicely on a surface and resist sliding around when in use.
To open the lid, press on one of the three areas that doesn’t have a brass pin underneath it and grasp the opposite end of the lid.
Cutting Dadoes, Rabbets and Grooves
While you can cut dadoes, rabbets and grooves with a standard blade making multiple passes, it’s a lot easier, faster and more accurate with a stacked dado blade set. This set includes a blade for the two outer sides, as well as a series of chippers to allow you to adjust the width of the cut. Thin shims will allow you to further dial in the width of the cut. Read our in-depth review of the five top dado blade sets for 2022.