Introduction: Laser Cut Hinged Wooden Box (4"x4")
My wife makes a lot of her own jewelry so every so often I have to make her another jewelry box. Since the craft plywood I usually use is so thin, adding metal hardware is impractical, so I designed this one to have a flip-open lid. The etched design was based on one I found in an old woodworking book and it appealed to my preference for antique styling, so I reproduced it, as best I could, in Illustrator.
Step 1: You Will Need
- The Cut File and Access to a Laser Cutter. I utilize a 50 watt laser using Adobe Illustrator, so the file I created is .ai format. It is color-coded for the laser's software but can be easily adapted for another brand, I'm sure.
- One 12" x 12" sheet of 1/8" (3mm) thick Craft Plywood or MDF
- Wood Glue or Superglue
- 120 Grit Sand Paper
- Masking or Clear Tape
- Orange Hand Cleaner
- An Old Toothbrush
- Paper Towels or a Shop Cloth
Step 2: Parts Inspection and Cleaning
You should have a total of six pieces: two Sides, the Front, the Back (shorter piece), the Lid and the Bottom (with my maker's mark).
Inspect all of the parts for flaws with the material (or the cut). Whether plywood or MDF, my experience is that the parts are sticky, especially the edges, and I usually wait a day until the sap/resins re-harden.
Clean the edges of all the pieces with a Shop Cloth or Paper Towel dabbed in Orange Hand Cleaner. Clean any burn marks on the etched surface with an old toothbrush dabbed in Orange Hand Cleaner.
The Hand Cleaner will leave some residue behind, so blot it off with a damp cloth or paper towel so the residue will not interfere with the finish later. Don't use too wet a cloth or it will cause the wood grain/MDF to swell and possibly warp your parts. When finished cleaning, set the parts aside to dry.
Step 3: Dry-Fit the Parts Together
When all of the cleaned parts are dry, try dry-fitting them together to see whether or not all of the tabs/slots and finger joints fit or need adjusting, and If the parts fit together thickness-wise.
As I've mentioned in my other Instructables, even if the material is labeled as 1/8"/3mm thick, it is often times thicker, in my experience. How much the thickness differs depends on the manufacturer and the material you're using. Dry-fitting will help you determine how much surface area you need to remove (if any).
MDF is usually more accurately labeled for thickness. I recommend it only if you plan on doing a metallic finish as it will give you a smoother surface than wood.
Step 4: Keep a Lid on It!
The lid on this box is designed to fit into holes on either of the side panels. The two tabs on the lid are cut to the same size as the diameter of the holes, so it will be a VERY tight fit initially. The kerf of the laser and the grain of the material may not allow it to fit without some finessing or some filing/sanding. Try fitting the tabs into one of the side panels and see if you will have to round over the edges of the tabs or enlarge the holes for it to pivot freely. I have not enlarged the holes on the design because some people like the lid to stay partially open and it's easier to sand it off if you don't want that feature than it is to add material. :) Pictured above, I am using a small file to round over the edges of the tabs, but a small, folded piece of sandpaper will work for this as well.
Step 5: A Kingdom of Sand(ing)
Sanding is not my favorite part of any project, but it is very necessary. If, after you've dry-fitted your parts, you find that you only need to lightly sand, you are ahead of the game!
As I've stated in other tutorials, I don't modify the plans to allow for variations in the thickness of material (wood especially). I have found that there is so much variation from different manufacturers and even from batch-to-batch that I'd be forever changing the file. But I certainly don't discourage any of you from modifying the file to allow for thicker material.
If your material is a bit too thick and you have to sand the material thinner, sand equally from the front and back surfaces and make sure to keep checking the fit as you go. Also, be careful not to sand off the etched detail.
If you choose to use an orbital sander, make sure you have a steady hand and a very strong grip to avoid accidentally sanding off your fingertips. This has happened to me more times than I'm going to admit. It's safest to hand sand the surfaces by laying a whole sheet of sandpaper on a flat surface and sliding the material back-and-forth on it.
Step 6: The Bonding Ritual
Once the surfaces are all sanded and the parts fit together nicely, use an old toothbrush to clean all of the sanding dust off of the surface and edges of the parts.
Note: I use wood glue to glue wood, and have only had success gluing MDF with Superglue.
As mentioned in my first Instructable, if you plan on staining your wooden box later with wood stain, any drips of wood glue can be chipped off or sanded away after it dries; Superglue tends to spread into the surface and can act as a barrier that doesn't allow stain to penetrate properly. So for Superglue, I recommend Thick or Medium, at the very least, to minimize the threat of soaking into the surface.
Start by fitting the Bottom into place in the slots of either one of the Side panels. Do not glue it, so it can expand and contract. Then glue the Front to the Side and snug it all together, adding a piece of Tape to the side joint to hold it.
Now glue the Back in place and secure it with tape.
Next, fit the Lid into place (no glue). Now you should have a nearly complete box with just one Side missing (as seen in the 6th picture above).
Now glue the last Side panel to the edges of the Front and Back, fitting the tab of the Lid as you assemble and secure it with tape.
Once it is entirely assembled, I tape the front edge of the Lid down as well, to keep it from warping while the glue dries.
Step 7: The Wrap Up
Once the glue has dried and you've removed all of the tape, you are ready to finish it however you like. I also recommend lining it with felt or velvet after painting/staining.
I can add tutorials on different finishing techniques, from metallic faux finishes to stained and varnished wood finishes, if there's any interest, or you can make one and share your finishing tips here!
Once you've made it, what you do with it is up to you! As always, just stay safe and have fun with it!
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