Simple Box

Last Updated: 13/02/2004
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A box always makes a nice gift. Whilst showing off both the wood and your skill, it is normally usable by the receiver. The challenge with a box is to get the lid to have a tight fit, without being stuck on permanently. Ideally, you should be able to hold the box by the lid without the bottom coming off, yet be able to free the lid with a gentle tug. Further to that, the box should have a consistently good finish inside and out, as well as on the bottom.

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Materials

Any suitable hardwood or even softwood may be used. The box will be turned in end-grain, i.e. with the grain running parallel to the bed of the lathe. Check for splits or cracks in the wood since this will spoil the project! For this box I started with a piece measuring more or less 200mm x 80mm x 80mm.

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Tools

The following tools will be required:

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Approach

butblue Mount the blank between centres. Using the roughing gouge, rough the blank to a cilinder. Between Centres Roughing Gouge
butblue Once the blank is completely round, mark out the dimensions of the box. The lid should be more or less one third of the overall length of the box. Note that I have marked an additional section that is waste (headstock side). Use the parting tool to partially cut in the lid section. Create a small dovetail at both the top and bottom of the box that will fit your chuck. Finally part the lid and body on the bandsaw. Initial Markout Mountings
butblue Mount the lid in the chuck. Using a small bowl gouge, start hollowing the lid. Once partially hollowed, clean up the bottom edges of the lid. I use a small steel rule to check that the edges of the lid is slightly higher on the edge than on the inside. This ensures that the lid will sit perfectly flat on the base. Lid Hollow Lid Sides
butblue The secret to a tight-fitting lid is that the inside edges of the lid should be absolutely parallel. I use inside calipers to measure the sides along their full length to ensure they are parallel. I use a flat scraper to square them up if needed (almost always!). I use a round-nosed scraper to finish the inside of the lid to as smooth a finish as possible. Callipers Finished Turning
butblue Once the turning is done, the inside of the lid must be sanded. Do not sand the inside edges of the lid as this may take them out of square! Once you have worked your way through the grades of sandpaper, apply your finish of choice. I have used button polish, with a wax stick as the final finish. Lid Sanding Lid Polish
butblue Using a home-made depth guage, I mark the depth of the inside on the outside of the lid. This will later help in determining where to part off the top of the lid, ensuring you do not end up with a holy lid! Now mount the base section in the chuck. Using a parting tool, create a shoulder over which the lid will fit. Do this in small increments, constantly offering up the lid to ensure that it just fits over the shoulder. Mark Depth Shoulder
butblue Once the lid only just fits over the shoulder, hold the lid while fitting it over the spinning body. A small friction line will be created on the shoulder which indicates the exact point where the lid fits. Be careful not to push too hard, as this will create a burn mark that can't be removed. Put the lid aside, you need to now hollow the body section. Fit Lid Burn Mark
butblue Hollow the body, taking care not to damage the shoulder already created. A combination of the bowl gouge and round-nosed scraper should give a perfect finish. Sand the inside, and apply your finish. Once done, mark the exact depth of the body on the outside using the method shown. Body Hollow Depth Marked
butblue The hollowing may cause the wood to move slightly. It is now necessary to fine fit the lid, so that it gives a decent suction fit. Using the skew as a scraper, take the lightest possible cuts grom the shoulder, only just removing the friction line previously created. Offer the lid up to the body very frequently during this step to ensure you don't go too far! Once the fit is perfect, use some tissue paper between the lid and body to create a tight fit, and push the lid onto the body. Make sure it is seated right on the shoulder. Refining shoulder Toilet paper fit
butblue Secure the lid with some masking tape. Note the two lines indicating the depth of the lid and the body. The top of the lid can now be turned down to the desired thickness. The top should be more or less as thick as the sides to give the box a balanced feel. Finish turning the top of the lid, including any decoration you may wish to apply (e.g. rings, chatter work, etc). Taped up Lid top turned
butblue Remove the tape from the box, and start finish turning the outside of the box. The lid should be carefully blended into the body, taking very light cuts. Remember that it is only held by toilet paper! Using a parting tool, make a shallow cut that defines the bottom of the box. Now sand the outside of the box to the desired finish. Support the lid during sanding, as it may come off. Finishing sides Sanding with support
butblue Apply your finish to the outside. I use 0000 steelwool to rub down the finish. Completely finish the outside of the box. Steelwool Outside completed
butblue Widen the parting cut at the bottom of the box, and cut it down to a small spigot. At this point I prefer to saw through the last bit, minimising the risk of a flying box! Parting off Sawing through last bit
butblue Using the reverse of the technique for fitting the lid, turn a jam chuck in the remaining piece. Make sure the box (reversed) fits tight into this. As before, I tape it up with masking tape, and bring up the tailstock for additional support. Jam chuck Tailstock support
butblue Finish the bottom of the box. Leave the smallest possible nib where the tailstock supports the box until as late as possible. Finally remove the tailstock, and turn away the nib. It could also be removed by hand. Tailstock supporting Finishing bottom
butblue Sand the bottom to the same finish as the rest of the box, and apply your chosen finish. All that remains is to sign your work! Sanding bottom Completed box

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Samples

Proj-Box-S01 Proj-Box-S02 Proj-Box-S03
African Rosewood African Rosewood Others
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If you would like any info regarding these pages send mail to Chris O'Connell (chrisoco@icon.co.za).