Over the years I've been given several wooden boxes to hold my treasures. My grandfather even made me one with brass inlay. When my nephew was born I knew I wanted to give him a special and unique gift for his first Christmas so I decided to make a memory box.
Step 1: Select Your Wood
I don't have access to a bench planer or jointer so I purchase wood that is milled and ready to use. My best source of wood is Rockler which has a variety of hardwood types, lengths, widths, and thicknesses. I chose walnut for the top and sides and curly maple for the bottom of the box to add some contrast. For the sides I selected 1/4 thick and 3 inches wide because I wanted to make the box a little larger without adding too much weight. For the top and bottom I selected the widest available pieces of wood (5 inches) since I plan on making the box 10 inches wide.
Planning ahead and drawing out your box dimensions is a recommended way to make sure you only make one trip for wood. It also doesn't hurt to buy a little more than you need, since you can always cut the pieces smaller.
Step 2: Cut to Length
Decide on the dimensions of your box and cut your wood to length. I wanted the box to be big enough to hold cards and other notes so my sister and brother in law could use it to save notes as my nephew grows up. I decided that my box would be 12 inches x 10 inches.
Step 3: Making the Box Top and Bottom
As I mentioned earlier the widest wood available was 5 inches, but I also wanted the box to be 10 inches wide. I need to glue each set of 5 x 12 inch pieces together make the 10 x 12 top and bottom. You'll need to apply clamping pressure to press the edges together but also apply pressure from the top and bottom. To do this use two extra pieces of wood and put parchment paper between the support wood and the pieces you are gluing together. I think the pictures show this better than I can explain. You can see the piece of scrap 1x4, the piece of parchment, then the two pieces of walnut in the first picture. There is parchment paper and scrap wood out of view on the other side as well. Using parchment paper keeps you from gluing the support wood to the project wood.
Step 4: Making the Box Joints
I have an older Craftsman router and table and I bought Rockler's box joint jig. I used an upcut router bit to widen the hole in the jig before I secured it to my router table. The most important part of making the box joints with the router jig is to make sure that the bit size, the wood thickness, the router depth (protrusion), and the distance between the bit and the jig guide are all equal. Since I am using 1/4 inch thick wood all of the measurements need to be 1/4 inch. I also purchased a set of the brass setup bars. These are particularly useful in getting the router depth set accurately. The third photos shows what happens when the depth isn't set correctly - the joints will tear out and ruin that piece of wood.
Step 5: Sand the Pieces
Before you start putting the box together, sand all of the pieces. It is much easier to do the majority of the sanding before it is all put together. You'll still want to give it a final sanding before adding the finish.
The wood I started with is already very smooth so I only went over with 150 and 220 grit.
Step 6: Gluing
I used a piece of paper as an applicator to get wood glue into each of the box joints and then added painters tape around the corners to give it some support. The box joints are probably snug enough to hold the box while the glue dries but I wanted some extra security. Since the bottom of the box will be fixed I also glued this on but used Nexabond upon recommendation because I want the bottom to be very secure since it could be supporting weight.
Step 7: Inlay on Box Top
I wanted to add some decoration to the box that commemorated my nephew's November birthday. I originally ordered some small tumbled pieces of citrine (one of the November birthstones) and planned to use them as leaves on a tree. Because of the irregular size and thickness of the stones I found that it was a little difficult to create a consistent look.
I've had a Dremel rotary tool for years and because of the small size of the design I picked up a router base for the Dremel. The depth stop on the base was frustrating to use so I can't recommend it for precision work but I just needed to route some depth and didnt need to stay uniform for my design.
I found a tree design and used carbon paper to modify and draw the design on to the wood then used the Dremel and a 1/8 bit to cut out the design. I'd read about using coffee grounds as an inlay and wanted to try that. Keep in mind that you only need enough depth to hold the coffee grounds but you also need to cut deep enough so that when you sand/scrape the excess off later you don't sand/scrape off part of the design (I made this mistake on a trial piece of wood).
After you route the design, fill the space with coffee grounds, pack them down, and scrape off some of overflow with a stiff piece of paper. You'll want some extra grounds on top because the glue will settle the grounds into the routed area but the more you leave, the more you'll have to sand off later. After the coffee grounds are in place, you'll want to take thin set CA glue and soak the coffee grounds. There are several types of CA glue and the thin set is the most fluid and thus the best option to soak into and through the coffee grounds.
After the glue dries you can use sandpaper, or an electric sander to flatten out and remove the excess glue and coffee. I used a card scraper but didn't take any pictures of this process. Card scraping isn't too difficult and there is plenty of information available (probably on Instructables) if you want to try this method.
The final step I took was to take a few pieces of citrine, trace them, then route out a space so that I could glue them into a recess in the lid.
I think it ended up as a nice effect. A leafless fall tree, with a pile of leaves on the ground.
Step 8: Routing the Edge
To give the lid a nice finish I used the Dremel router base and a bit to round over the edge of the lid. To do this right you want to move against the rotation of the router bit. It gives you more control and the router won't try to run on you. Honestly the Dremel doesn't have a ton of power so if you are using this type of tool you probably won't have any problem with control but using a more powerful machine and you'll definitely want to work it this way.
Step 9: Adding Polyurethane Finish
Before staining or top coating make sure all of the dust is removed from the wood. First just wipe all of the loose dust remaining on the box surfaces. Then you can use a slightly damp cloth to wipe down the wood. This can sometimes raise the grain and expose rough spots so you may find that you need to go over again with the final sanding grit. Another option is to use a tackcloth for cleaning up the remaining dust.
You can choose whatever finish or stain you want or you can leave the wood natural. I really like using polyurethane because it keeps the natural color of the wood while also protecting the surface.
Wear gloves for easier cleanup and apply the finish with a foam brush or scrap of clean rag. You don't need to use much finish, just enough to cover and work into the wood. I also recommend wiping off the excess stain or polyurethane after letting it dry for a few minutes. Another tip is to pick up the yellow painters tripods you see in the picture. They provide a tiny touch point and allow you to finish both sides in one effort.
After my first coast dried, I sanded lightly, per instructions on the can of polyurethane, with 220 grit, and applied a second coat.
Step 10: Adding Hardware
I chose stop hinges so the lid could be opened and would be held up. Stop hinges only rotate to 105 degrees rather than 180 degrees. The hinges and hasp came with screws that were too long for my 1/4 thick wood so I had to pick up some shorter screws at my local hardware store.
Use the hinge holes to mark your spots and then drill a hole to match your screw size and length in the side wall and underside of the lid.
I also wanted the box to have a latch so I found a basic hasp lock, drilled the holes, and attached each piece with screws.
Step 11: Finished Box
A couple of pictures of the finished box
Step 12: Materials
Wood - your choice of sizes and type
Used and dry coffee grounds for inlay
Hardware for box - hinges and hasp
Step 13: Tools
Saw - to cut wood to length
Box joint jig
Router and table
Router base or rotary tool with base
Various router and drill bits
Card scraper/belt or orbital sander