Canadian Woodworking

Make a recipe box

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Illustration: Len Churchill
Published: December January 2023

Boxes can be functional and aesthetically pleasing, and this design is a great example of that. Whether you use paper, paint, figured wood or another approach to adorn the top and bottom panels, your project will be unique and personal.

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recipe box
recipe box list

Editor’s Note

This is part of an ongoing series of woodworking projects made by kids. These projects are great fun for both adults and kids. I helped guide my son and daughter while they built the recipe box in my workshop.

As always, it’s smart to begin by collecting the hardware before starting this project. All you need is a pack of index cards and a pair of hinges. Depending on who you’re building this with, it might be helpful to draw the project out with a few basic dimensions. The index cards we bought were 8″ × 5″.

Adhere the Paper
Spray adhesive will allow you to adhere the paper to the top and bottom panels.

Adhere the Paper

Trim the Excess
A sharp knife will trim off any overhanging paper once the adhesive dries.

Trim the Excess

Small Dado
One kerf of a standard saw blade is enough to create the small dado for each of the four corners. These dadoes are only machined in the front and back panels.

Small Dado

Machine the Tenons
Machine the tenons on the sides so they mate with the dadoes in the front and back panels.

Machine the Tenons

Fine Tune the Joint
A shoulder plane will allow you to fine tune the fit of the joint.

Fine Tune the Joint

Finish First
It’s easiest to apply a few coats of finish to the interior of the box before assembling the parts. Shellac was applied to this box, as it dries fast and is easy to apply.

Finish First

Assemble the Parts
A bit of glue is carefully applied to the joints before bringing the parts together. Too much glue will create a lot of messy squeeze-out.

Assemble the Parts

Off with the Top
Four careful cuts on the table saw will remove the lid.

Off with the Top

Clamp, Then Mark
With the top and base aligned and clamped together, Brown lends a helping hand for this part of the build. If the location of the hinges is marked and cut accurately, the lid will be positioned nicely on the base.

Clamp, Then Mark

Start Small
Bevels cut into the rear edges of both the top and base will allow the lid to properly balance in the open position. You can always remove another few passes, but adding wood back on is difficult.

Start Small

Final Test Fit
Once the hinges are reinstalled the lid can be tested to check the fit and see if the bevels need to be enlarged.

Final Test Fit

Finish the Outside
A few coats of finish on the outside of the box will protect it for years to come.

Finish the Outside

The top and bottom

Break out the plywood for the top and bottom panels. For now, make sure they are at least 1/4″ oversize in both direc­tions. Although we decided to cover both sides of the top and the upper face of the bottom with machine-made Japanese paper, there are many other approaches. You could use fabric, paint or the plywood could be left bare. You could even try your hand at veneering, as the small size of these panels lend themselves to being very forgiving when trying your hand at a new technique. The reason we need to make the top and bottom panel first is so we can use the panels to size grooves and the other workpieces to the correct width.

We used spray adhesive to affix the Japanese paper to the top and bottom and then trimmed the overhanging paper with a sharp knife.

Breakout and joinery

Break out a workpiece at least 30″ long by 7″ wide and dress it to 5/8″ thick. Because it’s harder to machine some joinery on smaller workpieces, machine the grooves to accept the bottom and top panels on the table saw. You’ll probably have to machine the grooves with a couple of passes. The width of these grooves should be sized to accept the top and bottom panels.

Next, add two chalk lines to the outer face so you can keep the grain continuous during assembly. Rip the blank to 6-3/4″ wide. The finished box is 6-5/8″ high, but this is because once the lid is cut away from the base of the box we will lose about 1/8″ due to the thickness of the blade. Cut a side, the front, another side and the back to length in that order. Set up the table saw to cut the dado in the front and the back for the four corner joints. We used a standard 1/8″ wide blade to cut this dado. The inside edge of the dado should be equal to the thickness of the work­pieces so the parts sit flush once they’re assembled. Raise the blade so you cut one-third of the way into the workpieces. Machine the dado grooves on the insides of the front and the back panels.

Attach a sacrificial fence to the rip fence and adjust the rip fence and the height of the blade to cut the mating portion of the joint on the sides. Sneak up on a good fit as opposed to trying to get it perfect right away. Use a shoulder plane to fine tune the fit of each joint. At this stage, you can mark each joint with numbers to keep the parts organized.

Sanding and prep work

Sand the inner surfaces of the four parts. Apply shellac to the inner faces of the four parts. We applied two coats, sanding between coats. You can use whatever finish you prefer. Before assem­bly, cut one long length of wood that can be used to fill the two gaps at each joint that were cut while machining the grooves to accept the top and bottom panels. Crosscut eight 1″ long strips from this piece and ease their ends so they can more easily be inserted into the rectangu­lar holes. Put these strips aside until the box is assembled.


Dry assemble the six parts to ensure every­thing fits together nicely. Ensure you have the parts labelled and organized so the grain on the outer face continues. Once you’re sure of the fit, add a small bead of glue to the corner joints and to the grooves that will accept the bottom and top. Assemble one corner joint, insert the top and the bottom panels, then position the last two parts. Add a few clamps and ensure the box is square.

Before the assembly dries, add a little bit of glue to the gaps and to each of the 1″ long pieces and lightly tap them in place with a hammer. Set everything aside to dry.

When dry, use a hand saw to trim the eight wood inserts flush to the box. Use a sander to flush the joints and smooth the outer faces of the box.

Cut the lid off

Adjust the height of your table saw blade so it’s slightly higher than the thickness of the workpieces. Adjust your rip fence to remove the lid. Machine a kerf in both of the sides first, then in the front and the back panel. This will remove the top from the rest of the box.

Installing the hinges

Clamp the box together so the hinge edges are back to back and flush. Lay out hinge loca­tions with a square. Mark the locations with a marking knife and either use a router or hand tools to create the four hinge mortises. Sand the freshly cut edges of the top and bottom of the box. Cut 1/8″ chamfers on both of the hinge edges. A block plane works well for this job. Don’t chamfer these edges too heavily now as we will fine tune them after the hinges are installed to cause the lid to properly balance in the open position.

Position the hinges in place and mark the centre of each hole with an awl. Drill pilot holes in one leaf of each hinge. We’re not drill­ing all the pilot holes now just in case we need to adjust the hinge location slightly down the road. Install the two hinges and check how the lid fits.

There are two aspects to making the lid fit properly. The first will be to ensure it sits evenly on top of the box. Drill more pilot holes and offset them in the hinge screw hole if needed. This will slightly adjust the position of the lid on top of the box.

Next, we can increase the size of the chamfers so when the lid is open, it sits at about a 100° angle to the box and doesn’t want to fall closed.

Add a finger hole

Mark the centre point of the front of the box where the lid and box meet. Clamp the lid shut and use a drill press to bore a finger hole.

Sand and finish

In order to properly sand and finish this box, remove both hinges. Sand all the outer surfaces of the box and lid and ease all the sharp edges. We applied three coats of shellac, but just about any finish will work. When the finish is dry, reinstall the hinges.

Rather than giving this box to someone with nothing but blank index cards, we wrote some of our favourite recipes on a few of the cards and put them in the box.

While Rob’s 11-year-old son did most of the operations, his 13-year-old daughter often helped out. She took notes regarding the steps to build the box as we built, then wrote the article afterwards.

If you know of any keen kids who would like to have a project published, please have them contact [email protected].

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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