Friday, November 12

Keepsake Box - Box Construction

Welcome back woodworking fans!

Today I’m going to be completing construction of the box part of Brian’s Keepsake Box.  I’ll start by setting up to miter the ends of the box parts.

There are quite a few ways to make corners of boxes.  Some, like dovetails or finger joints, are quite elaborate and decorative as well as strong.  Some, like a rabbeted butt joint are fairly quick and simple, but not so pretty.  Because I’ve chosen the wood for this box because of its dramatic graining, I will use splined miter joints on this box.  The miters allow the grain to flow around the outside in a nearly uninterrupted pattern, the splines reinforce the joints by locking them together.

I start by zeroing my digital angle meter to the bed of the chop saw, then attaching it to the saw’s blade (it has magnets in the base) and setting the saw to 45°.

Rather than testing the set-up on the box parts, I cut a piece of scrap wood with this set-up, flip one piece over and hold them tightly together while I check the angle with an engineer’s square.  This looks good.  If this single joint does not come out to exactly 90° then when I build the box, some or all of the joints will have gaps.  Gaps are not our friends.

Then I set up a stop block on the chop saw to set the length of the cut.  I’ll make the first cut, flip the piece end for end and make the second cut, place the other short end piece on the saw and repeat.  Reset the stop block for the longer pieces and cut the front and back pieces.

Viewed from the back side of the table saw.
Next I set up the table saw to cut the spline slots.  To do this I set the table saw blade at 45°, place the rip fence on the “wrong” side of the blade and use it to serve as an end stop.  This determines where the cut will be made along the face of the mitered end.  Blade height determines the depth of cut.  Again I use my scrap pieces to test the set-up before cutting into my box parts.

When all four box parts have a spline slot cut on each end I cut the spline stock to width.  These splines were cut off yesterday when I was trimming the blanks to width.  They are just a hair thinner than the saw blade, so they slip snugly into the saw kerfs.  I need to have just a smidge of play between spline and box parts because the glue will cause the splines to swell up a bit.  If they are too tight they will bind and getting the box to come together while gluing will be an exercise in frustration.  Too loose and there will be gaps in the spline joints. Gaps are ugly; we don’t want gaps.

Now I  reset the saw blade to 90° and set up to cut a slot ¼” up from the bottom of the box sides and 3/16” deep (to avoid interfering with the spline slots).  I’ll use 1/8” Baltic Birch plywood for the box bottom.  The BBP will slide right into the slots I just cut.  Once the slots are cut, I take careful measurements from the slots and cut a piece of BBP to fit.  I want a snug fit between edges of panel and bottoms of the slots as the panel will strengthen the box and prevent racking.

Lunch time!  Don’t you just love a sandwich with fresh from the garden lettuce?  Yes, I’m still picking lettuce from our garden and it is mid-November.  Gotta love that!  Today I’m having Peppered Turkey and Muenster Cheese on whole grain bread with a touch of brown mustard and low-fat mayo.

During my lunch break I lay in a bundle firewood at the house, walk down to the hard road and the mail boxes, then drop in on Mom with her mail to see how she’s getting along today.  Dolly and Zadie go with me, but get indignant when I just drop the firewood in the box on the porch and head on down to the road; they wanted to go inside.  Their snuggle beds in the house are more comfy than the blanked on the floor of my office at work.

OK, back to work.  I sand the inside surfaces of the box sides.  Just the inside faces because the outside faces will get dimpled up a bit by the clamps and I’ll have to sand those out anyway, might as well do all the outside sanding after the glue dries.  Sanding the inside faces will be difficult once the box is assembled; it’s much easier to do a good job of it now.

Before the glue goes in I do a test fit and check to be sure all the joints will draw up tight and the edges will line up flush.  Once I’m satisfied all is well, I set the box up on one side, take the top side off, apply glue, insert the spline and slip the side back in place.  Flip the box over and repeat.  I have to do a good job, not so much glue that it gooshes out all over: especially not inside, but not so little that the grain of the wood will suck the glue out of the joint and leave it starved and brittle.

Then I work quickly to apply clamps.  Lots of clamps.  Enough clamps to be sure all four corners are pulled snugly together from bottom to top.  I’ll leave these clamps in place overnight.

The rest of the afternoon will be spent prepping lumber to make the top of the box and writing and posting this article.  I also have about 6 articles I need to write, but they are not about woodworking, so I won’t go into that here.

Please drop in again on Monday and we’ll make the top for this box.  One more thing: if you were among those considering purchasing the half-completed walnut steamer trunk - that has been sold and is no longer available.  I'll be detailing the completion of that trunk on this blog in a few weeks.  The completed oak steamer trunk is still available.  Thanks for reading!

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