Canadian Woodworking

Make a Lily Pad Box

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: December January 2015

Similar to a bandsaw box, I made this small box with the help of my scrollsaw. It can be crafted in many shapes inspired by the natural world. Leaves, flowers and stars are a few options if you want to design a similar box.

  • COST

I started by selecting quarter-cut material I could dress down to a blank 1-1/4″ thick, 4″ wide and about 15″ long. I was able to get three boxes out of this one blank. I wouldn’t suggest starting with a shorter blank, as cutting on the table saw will get dangerous. Use a blank no larger than twice the height that your table saw blade protrudes above its surface, as the lid and bottom are removed using the table saw. You could use flat- or rift-cut material, but you might encounter warping down the road. The piece I used was a piece of rescued curly maple firewood that had been drying for about seven years.

Overall Shape
With the lid, main and bottom layers temporarily fixed together, cut the shape of the boxes out on a scrollsaw.

Create the Walls
After marking the walls at 3/16" thick, Brown drilled a pair of insertion holes in the main section of the box and cut the cavity.

Stop Squeeze-Out!
Brown cuts shallow V-grooves in the upper face of the lid locator before cutting it away from the waste.

Split it in Two
With the waste from the cavity removed, mark a line 1/4" from its upper edge, and cut it off with a handsaw. The resulting surface will be rough, but can be cleaned up later.

Locate the Lid
While working on his first box, Brown double-sided taped the lid locator offcut to the lid locator and clamped it in place, to help disperse clamp pressure. He didn’t bother doing this for subsequent boxes. Notice the masking tape around the outer perimeter of the box to keep the parts aligned.

A Small Bead
To fix the bottom to the main section of the box, apply a small bead of glue to the lower edge of the box wall (above) and apply some clamps (below). You don’t need to tighten the clamps much, but you do need even pressure around the box.

Tight Spaces
Brown used a piece of folded sandpaper and a small file to smooth the surfaces inside the V-groove.

Remove the lids and backs

With your blank cut to size, set your rip fence to 3/16″, raise your blade so it will cut at least half way through the blank, and remove a layer that will be the bottoms of the boxes. The blank will be cut while on its edge. Because the first cut only reaches half way through the blank, you’ll have to flip the blank over to complete the cut.

This is where a longer-than-needed blank comes in handy, as you can keep a good grip on the piece, and keep your fingers a safe distance from the blade. Next, flip the piece around and remove a 1/4″ thick layer for the lids. It’s a good idea to mark the blank with cabinet- maker’s triangles before making any cuts, so you can ensure all parts go back together properly.

Layout and cutting

On the upper surface of the lid, draw the outer shape of the boxes. Though double-sided tape would likely work, I tapped in a few small brads to keep the sandwich of parts from shifting during cutting, making sure the parts were flush on all outer edges. With a scrollsaw, I first cut the narrow Vs from the boxes, then trimmed their outer edges to shape. I again marked mating parts.

After putting the lids and bottoms away for now, I drew lines about 3/16″ away from the outer edge of the center section of the box. On the drill press I drilled two 1/16″ holes in each piece, located at the corner of the rounded edge and the start of the V, so I could insert my scrollsaw blade. I then carefully cut the outer wall of the boxes out and hand-sanded its inner surface.

With the center off-cut from the previous operation in my vise, I cut a shallow V-groove inside its outer perimeter, on the surface that would be glued to the lid. This groove would help contain any glue squeeze-out during assembly.

I now drew a line on the center section’s edge, about 1/4″ from its top surface. The 1/4″ piece I was going to cut off would eventually be glued to the underside of the lid, and locate the lid during use. Because this piece was round, my only option was to remove it by handsaw. Using a bandsaw was tempting, but would have been dangerous. I clamped the piece in my vise and cut off the upper 1/4″ of material. The resulting surface was rough, but would be smoothed later.

Start to re-assemble

Align the lid with the center section of the box and wrap masking tape around the outer edges, to keep the two parts firmly, and temporarily, together. Flip the pair of parts upside down and grab some glue and clamps. Apply some glue to the V-grooved lid locator and put it on the lid. There should be a small, even gap between the lid locator and the main section of the box. Clamp it in place and let dry.

When dry, apply a small bead of glue to the bottom edge of the center section of the box and position the bottom in place with the help of some masking tape. Don’t over-tighten the clamps or you may split the wood.

Sand the surfaces

With the bottom on, and the lid in place, squeeze the lid tightly with your fingers and sand the outer edge of the box. I used a belt sander standing on edge. Ensure the lid doesn’t move while sanding or you will end up with uneven finished edges. A chisel, file and sandpaper will help smooth the outer edge of the lily pad’s V.

Heavily ease the outer, top edge of the lid. This can be done by hand, though I again opted for my belt sander, standing on its edge. The belt sander works quickly, but the downside is removing too much material or sanding your fingers; neither make for enjoyable woodworking. Once the basic shape was roughed out I hand-sanded the lid to even the rounded edge.

Those little details

Check the lid fits evenly on the box. If it doesn’t, you can adjust the upper edge of the box to mate nicely with the lid. If you want to give this box a more life-like quality you can add some shallow V-grooves in the upper surface of the box, to mimic the vein lines of a lily pad.

Sand all surfaces, and gently break all sharp edges. Options for a finish are numerous. I wiped on some polyurethane, but shellac would be another great option. If you wanted to paint the lid green, and the rest of the box a different colour you would have a more naturally coloured box …but please, please don’t paint your figured exotics.

What shapes from the natural world are you going to make your box? Post a comment on our website, in the comments section below this article.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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