2x4 Enchanted Treasure Box





Introduction: 2x4 Enchanted Treasure Box

About: Engineer by trade, amateur woodworker and author in the off-hours. Most commonly, I build flag boxes for retiring military members and occasionally gifts and furniture when the opportunities arise. Outside o...

Well now you've done it. It's almost Christmas and you forgot "someone's" gift. Before your hang your head in shame, refuse to accept defeat. Take a walk to the garage. Can you find:

-a 2x4

-an inch of 1/4" dowel

-a square bit of 1/4" plywood

...Seriously, $3 worth of leftovers and a little determination can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat but therein lies the trick: This, at all costs, cannot resemble a stained-up and screw-riddled 2x4 that you've been using to prop up a shelf. Since 2x4 pine doesn't have much in the way of color or grain, we'll have to fake our way to both.

For this project, you'll need a tablesaw and joiner to prep the lumber. More importantly, you'll need a carving wheel and a 4.5" angle grinder. I used the Galahad from King Arthur's Tools alongside various rotary tool carving and sanding bits.

** One note about safety: Remember, we are going to be turning about half the mass of a 2x4 beam into powder. You don't want to be breathing all of that and/or tracking it through your house. This is a great project to be attempted by the open garage door with the vacuum running while wearing an apron, respirator, gloves and goggles. Any dust you can avoid ingesting is a good step so use your best judgment.

Let's get started building our enchanted treasure box!

Step 1: Making the Box

You've built some sort of a mitered box before, right? Well this isn't going to be too much different. Select your finest 2x4 or drag the rattiest one you've got back in from the porch. Cut four pieces with mitered corners to build the sides of the box.

Use a joiner to smooth off the top of each piece, then move to the tablesaw and rip them to the same height by taking a tiny bit from the bottom.

Next, plan the notches on the inside. You'll need 3. One will be the recess for the lid. The second will capture the plywood bottom and the last will be an offset to make the legs appear less chunky. Trim away the excess until you get the look you want.

Finally, you'll need a slot for the handle (Which you'll add to the lid later). Use a crosscut sled or miter gauge to cut the slot away.

Dry-fit all parts and cut your plywood to fit in the slot.

Use a sander or hand plane to clean up the inside and the areas that you hit with the tablesaw. Don't worry about the outside. We'll be doing plenty of carving at that later on.

Add biscuits, dominoes or dowels to the mitered corners for reinforcement. I placed mine as close as possible to the interior so that I wouldn't risk carving into them from the outside.

Step 2: The Lid

Like the sides, we'll use some more 2x4. Resaw a board, joint the ends and glue the edges of the board up. After drying, plane and sand it smooth and fit it to the box.

Add four small felt pads on the inside for the lid to sit upon and use a drill to bore the holes for the dowel hinges. I used 1/4" dowels, so I also enlarged the inner holes (the part on the lid) to 1/64 over, allowing it to rotate easily (the bit is 17/64"). If you don't have the bit, simply rock the drill back and forth a little to ream the sides.

Use half-inserted dowels to keep the parts together but don't insert them all the way, as you'll want to be able to separate the parts later. Keep at least 1/2" exposed and use Vice Grip pliers to remove them if needed.

Step 3: Carving Pt 1...

Since we need to change the shape of the 2x4, routing the edge simply won't do. I found a number of examples of similar boxes made from exotic lumber but as this is pine, we can call it practice.

I started with marking a spiral from the middle of the lid with lines that swept out around and over the edges, ending near the base. I wanted the ridges to not start or stop anywhere on the surface so they'll need to branch and merge as they travel around.

Use a bright pen to mark the tops of the ridges. You'll use the grinder to remove material from each side but keep the lines intact.

Remember, this is a 2x4. It's THICK so don't be afraid to carve it deep and really bring out the three-dimensional look of the shape.

Step 4: Carving Part 2...

The downside of the Galahad is that it's big and leaves some serious scratches. Give it a break; it's built to carve everything up to landscaping stone. To fix this, switch to a flap sander on the grinder and start removing some of the major cuts.

If you want to add more intricate turns, you'll have to switch to a Dremel or other rotary tool. Keep the theme with the rounded features and make them wrap around the box. As you get to the end, gently round over the ridges themselves and remove any remaining 2x4 surface along with the pen marks.

Step 5: Sanding

So now you should have a rough sculpted box. To get rid of the major scratches, I used a flap sander on the angle grinder. For the tighter corners and more intricate details I used my Dremel with a variety of sanding drums.

As this was my first attempt, I realized too late that there would be no way to remove every trace of the Dremel scars and give the box the flowing look I originally envisioned. Had I done it again, I think I would have made a design that could be completed 100% without the smaller rotary tools. Maybe in the next revision...

Step 6: Dyeing, Staining, Painting and Varnishing

Since pine doesn't have much in the way of grain, it'll take a few layers to give it some color.

Start with aniline dye mixed with denatured alcohol and brush a thin coat over the entire project. Be very careful to not slop multiple layers, as that will build up the color.

After it dries, use a random orbit sander with 300-400 grit paper to sand halfway through the dyed layer. This will add depth to the finish and will make the tops of the ridges a little pale.

On top of the dye, brush on a coat of dark walnut or kona/Jacobean stain. Again, let it dry and sand a bit through the highlights. Repeat with other colors until you reach the mix you're looking for.

After the staining, I used a very light coat of paint to further extenuate the tops of the ridges.

Once everything is dry, I used a urethane topcoat to apply a thick, super-high-gloss finish over the entire project.

Step 7: The Very End!

Once all the finish is dry, add felt feet to the base and to the underside of the lid. You can also cut a felt sheet to cover the bottom of the box. If you've got time and/or effort to spare, you can also add dividers to the interior.

As it stands, your 2x4 box could look at home in your workshop or in any necromancer's abode.

The end! If you made it, Congratulations! You've saved the day and have something to bring out on Christmas morning! No one needs to know it started life as a 2x4 that you had previously used to prop up your workbench. ;)

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    18 Discussions

    MissionSRX, great job on the enchanted treasure box. Your instructions and pictures will make it easy for anyone to build a box. Any tips on maintenance of the box? Good luck in the contest.

    1 reply

    Thanks CSM! Good luck with yours as well. As far as mx on the box, it comes down to just keeping it clean and not spilling anything on it. I went overboard with the heavy-duty tabletop finish just so I could hide my mistakes but a normal interior poly or wax should protect it just fine. The biggest concern is in the lid; since it's fairly thin and made from pine, you'd need to seal it well on all sides to keep it from warping with humidity changes. You could take more care in selecting the grain pattern from the board or add braces to the bottom but that'd go overboard pretty quick... it's still just a 2x4. :)

    Really nice concept!

    I am not a fan of high gloss finishes but it works here.

    Well done.

    the grayed edges make it look like a natural piece of driftwood! A treasure box- or a box to be treasured! Well done!

    I'm seeing a guitar body in this style :-)!!!!!!!!!!!

    awesome job, I've been making boxes out of a crafting ply wood but was only wood burning them since they don't offer the same thickness. going to try your design out on my own haha

    Very pretty

    I love boxes and this is an awesome idea to put a little magic back in gift giving! I can't wait to get started.

    1 reply

    RadioRhino- yessssss! I just rebuilt a chunk of privacy fence less than 24 hours ago on an unseasonably warm day, even for Texas. This AM I angrily hauled the leftovers into my garage bc rain is coming... Now I'm actually EXCITED for these 2x4s intruding into my garage! Rainy day Christmas project shall commence! Awesome idea, and absolutely beautiful!!!!

    Great idea!! I don't have all of those tools, but this gives me a reason to get them. I thought that you can add the small "bumpers" that are used to silence cupboard doors as feet or even cut small dowels 1/4" to 1/2" and glue them on (after staining).

    3 replies

    Thanks! All things considered, it doesn't take too many tools. If you can get a grinder on clearance you can always start by just hacking up a piece of firewood for practice. The feet are invaluable. I normally use 1/4" felt pads on the bottoms/backs of all my pieces to protect whatever's underneath them.

    Thanks for answer. You did such a fantastic job on the carving and design; I'm really impressed with your work. I'll try to copy the design with pencil and paper off the picture of your finished box. Yes, the pads are good for protecting funiture is sets on, I could put those under my little dowel feet too.

    No worries! Good luck and let me know if you need any more guidance. For your first attempt you might want to make the design simple enough to carve without the Dremel at all since that's where I had most of my issues. Also if you're short on tools, you can swap the Galahad with some really coarse flap sanding discs for the grinder. It'd be a little slower but otherwise do the same thing.

    this is soooo AWESOME!!! you got my vote! looks like this one bunch of boxes I seen on ebay made with scraps of choice pieces of antler but wasn't as awesome as your boxd! designs just looked a tiny bit on the same line ( instead of twists & circle semi's there was a antler strips), I LOVE THIS!!!

    1 reply

    Thanks! I'm glad you like it so much. It's nothing like what I was planning when I got started but I think it came together. Those antler boxes are pretty epic too!

    I really like your box. I think it looks great! and I would be proud to tell everyone that I made this from old scrap 2x4's!

    Very cool... The details are great and you would never know it was a 2x4