Introduction: Secret Compartment Jewelry Box
My cousin is getting married this summer and I wanted to make him and his wife a cool, tasteful gift. This is the first wedding I have attended since I started learning to woodwork, so I thought that, with the shop I have access to and the skills I have developed, I could make them something pretty cool.
I just finished my first bandsaw box and wanted to try another one, but bigger and better. I had recently seen a method for making a bandsaw box with square drawers, and decided to apply it to this project. I also wanted to add some sort of surprise to the box. This was where the idea for a secret drawer started formulating, but you will see how that works later.
I documented the whole process thoroughly, and you can click above to see the project video that I created, but for a literal explanation of the process, you will have to read on. :)
Step 1: The Design
My idea was to make a tall, rectangular bandsaw box with a couple drawers and some trim on the top and bottom. The bottom trim would be thick enough to conceal a shallow, secret, spring-loaded drawer. I was intent on flocking the insides of the drawers, so I decided to use the top trim to create a sort of tray that would also be flocked.
A bandsaw box is unique because the entire box and drawers are cut from one big block of wood, which means there are some size limitations. Neither the depth nor the width of the box can be higher than the maximum cutting height of the bandsaw. Also, for convenience, I didn't want to make the box deeper than the spindle/belt sander was going to be able to reach, since this is the primary tool for flushing edges and flattening surfaces.
With these parameters in mind, I determined the final dimensions of this block had to be about 6" x 4" x 10". The final design had four 1.5" drawers, each with 3/8" dividers in between them, and a 1" drawer at the very bottom. The rest of the dimensions unfolded from there.
Step 2: Creating the Block
To make a bandsaw box you need to create a solid block that will be cut and glued and cut and glued in many orientations. Cutting and gluing will be covered in the next step. Here I just had to make the block.
I used the table saw and chop saw to cut three pieces of maple and two of mahogany. These were cut oversized to allow for glue shift and clean-up. I put the best pieces of maple on the front and back and glued them up using lots of glue and lots of clamps. I alternated maple and mahogany, but if you don't want this alternating look on your box you can simple use slabs of the same wood, or better, find a solid chunk of your desired size.
After the glue dried I chiseled off some spill-out and used the table saw and the chop saw to square the sides. Everything then got a rough sand to make sure it was flat.
Then I had to chop it all up...
Step 3: Bandsaw + Glue + Lots of Clamps
There are a lot of cuts going on here, so do your best to try and follow. Throughout the whole process it is easy to get caught up and make the wrong cut, so be careful, and make sure your bandsaw blade is straight.
The first step was to cut the back of the box off. I scribed a line and cut about 3/8" off the back and set that aside. It is best to avoid sanding the cut faces right now because most of them will get glued back together.
With the back removed, the next task was to remove the five chunks from the middle of this box that will become the drawers. To do this, I cut off one side of the box, removing about the same thickness, and set that aside. I then made nine cuts from the side inwards and stopped about 3/8" away from going all the way through. These cuts mark where the top and bottom of each drawer are going to be, so they should be measured carefully and cut straight.
In my design I wanted drawers that were 1 1/2" tall with 3/8" dividers in between them. I determined my final block dimensions anticipating the 1/16" that would be eaten up by the blade with each cut, so I made each cut measurement from the last cut.
If you look at the third picture you can see this set of cuts and which sections are drawers and which are dividers. I spread glue carefully over the ends of the divider portions and glued the previously removed side back on.
Once this was dried I made another cut on the other side to completely free the blocks that were going to become drawers. I removed all those pieces and glued the side back on.
This leaves you with a frame. All the grain is still continuous, but five blocks have been removed from the center of the big block you started with. I then had to rasp and sand all the inside faces by hand. This took a lot of time and effort, and I still didn't get them totally smooth. It's hard for me to say it, but I should have sanded more.
After I sanded I was able to glue the back, which we cut off at the start of this step, back onto the box where it came from. I used the belt sander to flatten the outsides and the random orbital to sand it smooth.
Step 4: Making the Drawers
Now that the case was well on it's way to completion, it was time to start making the drawers. This step will cover the construction of the four normal drawers.
In cutting up the case, you remove a bunch of blocks that will be turned into drawers. To continue the process you have to remove a rectangular chunk from the middle of each block to leave only the front, back, sides, and bottom.
I had labeled every block as it came out of the main box so that I would know which orientation to cut them in to keep the grain continuous on the front of the final box. With these markings I went home and cut off the front and back of every drawer. I labeled these on the inside so that I wouldn't mix them up. I then took the middle section of every drawer and scribed a line that, when cut, would leave me with only the sides and bottom of the drawer. I used the bandsaw to make this cut.
After the cuts had been made I clamped the C-shaped middle sections into the bench vise and did my best to sand and flatten the inside. If you plan on flocking these drawers, as I did, then the inside doesn't need to be perfect.
I then lined up the the fronts and backs and glued them back onto the middle sections. Once dried, I took these four little boxes and flattened them on the belt sander.
When sanding you want to take as little as you can from the top and bottom of the drawers. With the way the main case is glued up, there will already be a gap between the drawer and the case in that dimension, and any sanding you do will just make that gap more noticeable. It is easy to eat up a lot of material on a belt sander, so be careful. On the other hand, you will probably have to sand the sides at least a little to get the drawer to fit into the case.
Once the drawers were hand sanded to about 150 grit, I cut the drawer pulls. To do this I simply cut little rectangles of mahogany on the bandsaw and sanded them by hand. I glued these pulls on with Superglue since their placement is very important and I didn't want them to shift while drying.
Make sure you take time to ensure that all the outside drawer faces are well sanded if you used a belt sander. My drawers turned out very nicely, but my only wish is that I had sanded the sides a little more to get rid of those belt marks.
Okay, we've covered four of the drawers; now on to the most fun one.
Step 5: The Secret Drawer...
To make the locking secret drawer I had to do a couple things. The drawer needed to be cut from the solid block, and I had to make a latching mechanism to keep it in place.
I made the drawer in the same fashion as the other ones. I cut off the front and back, cut out of the middle section, and glued it back together. With this one though, I left a solid area on the right of the drawer. I then flattened it out so that it fit nicely under the case.
The latch system was basically a springy piece of metal that would click into a notch on the inside of the case when the drawer is pushed in. The trick was to find a good piece of metal. As it turns out, plywood is shipped with big metal straps around it, and I found that these seemed to be the right strength to serve as the piece in the latch. Since they usually just throw these straps away, I just grabbed a section of one while I was at the lumber yard.
To make the latch I routed out a shallow rectangular pocket in the solid area of the drawer. I used a chisel to slant the bottom of the pocket back so that, when the little metal strip sat in it, it would extend up towards the front of the box, but be able to be pushed back down into the pocket. The strip was attached with a shallow screw.
I put this whole assembly into the bottom of the case and marked where the latch piece was pressing against the inside of the cavity. I then used a chisel to cut a notch into the inside of the case where the latch was hitting. I drilled a hole through this notch to the inside of the case.
This way, when the drawer was pushed into the case, the latch would be forced down, but then snap up into the notch to keep it from being pulled open. The only way to open it is to insert something, such as an alley key, into the hole from above which pushes the latch down out of the notch so that it can be opened.
I also drilled some shallow holes and glued in two springs to the back of the cavity. This way when the key is inserted the drawer pops open automatically.
Step 6: Enclosing the Drawer
At this point the "secret" drawer was just a weird looking, hard to open drawer. To make it a secret I had to hide it, which included a bottom and a false front.
I started by closing the cavity. Up until this point it was important that this cavity have no bottom so I could drill and notch inside of it, but now it needed to be closed. I found a thin piece of mahogany and drum-sanded it down flat. I sealed the inside of the drawer cavity with shellac and glued the mahogany onto the bottom. I cut it large so I could flush trim it against the case with a router.
In the design, I planned for a trim piece along the top and bottom of the box. This trim would also serve as the false front on the drawer. I used a planer, bandsaw, and drum sander to mill some strips of mahogany 7/8" tall and 1 1/4" tall. I then ran them over the router table to put a cove on the trim. I used a chop saw with a homemade fence to cut mitered pieces to encircle both the top and bottom of the box.
I glued all the bottom trim onto the box using pinch clamps and masking tape, with the exception of the front piece. With this piece, I put the secret drawer in and carefully spread glue on the surface so that the trim piece would only be attached to the drawer. I clamped the piece on and, with a little adjustment, the false front blended right into the trim.
I also glued the shorter trim onto the top of the box which both completed the look and created a tray on the top of the piece.
At this point the entire box was ready for a final sand and a lot of finish.
Step 7: Rub, Spray, Sand, Repeat..
They say that 30% of every woodworking project is finishing, and I think that that might even be an understatement.
I started with a coat of clear shellac, which I rubbed onto the case and sprayed onto the drawers. I used clear instead of amber shellac because I wanted the maple to remain more white than yellow. After this I sanded it back with a scuff pad (about 400 grit). I did not bother to sand any of the inside surfaces that were going to get flocked.
I put another coat of shellac on and sanded it in the same fashion. Shellac fills the pores of the wood and brings out the color. Although I stopped after two coats for lack of time, I really should have done at least three. The insides of the case were about 70% end grain, and the color was still uneven after two coats. Luckily the outsides all looked great.
After shellac I loaded a detail gun with polyurethane and sprayed the whole project. I wanted the finish to end up satin, so I used semi-gloss polyurethane. After the first coat I did the same sort of light sanding and sprayed one more coat on. After I let this coat cure, I just ran a scuff pad gently over the surfaces and it came out very soft.
If you have access to spraying equipment, then I highly suggest that you use that for the polyurethane instead of wiping it. Especially in boxes, you really want to avoid pooling and drips, and spraying light coats is the best way to do that.
Personally, I have always thought the toughest part of finishing is sanding back one coat before the next one. It just feels like you're destroying the finish look that you're working so hard to get. Unfortunately, polyurethane will only stick to itself if it has been sanded and it's the only way to get the finish flat. My only advice is to just have faith that the final coat is going to look awesome.
Satin polyurethane has tiny fibers in it that refract light, so if you want a finish with more shine, you should definitely use gloss polyurethane. Even if you just want a really beautiful satin finish, spray a couple coats of gloss and then a final coat of satin. This prevents the finish from looking foggy.
Step 8: Flock It!
I have referred to it several times already, but part of my plan for this project was to flock the insides of the drawers and tray.
Flocking is a technique which creates velvety interior on any surface it is applied to. The first step is to get the materials. You will need flocking adhesive, flocking fibers, and an applicator pump. I was able to order a kit with all the materials from www.flockit.com. I chose black because I knew it would look good with almost any project.
I set up a box and lined it with a plastic garbage bag. I then masked off all the areas that I wanted to get flocked.
With air filtration and a respirator, I spread the flocking adhesive on the first surface, trying to get a solid even coverage across the area. Whatever areas needed flocking needed to be sealed, so that the flocking adhesive would not seep in to the wood. My surfaces were all well sealed from the shellac and the polyurethane.
After the adhesive was on, I loaded the flocking pump and puffed the fibers out at the wet areas. I pumped in plenty of fibers so that there were no visible wet spots. I then did the same for all the other necessary areas and let them sit for a day.
Once the glue had cured I shook out all the excess fibers into the garbage bag and sprayed out the drawers with some compressed air. I recollected the fibers from the bag back into my supply, and I seemed to have about the same amount as I started with, so I think my flocking supplies will last me a while.
Some of the adhesive had seeped under the masking tape in parts, so I cleaned up the messy areas with a paper towel and some mineral spirits.
With that the project was done! ready to be assembled and gifted.
Step 9: Final Thoughts
This project turned out amazing. I can't tell you how long it took, since I worked on it off and on, but it was definitely worth the hours.
If I did this one again, I would put more time into the interior surfaces of the case. If I had gotten them more flat and given them a couple extra coats of shellac then they would have come out smoother and prettier. I also wished that I had sanded the drawer sides more heavily to get rid of marks from the belt sander.
Overall this project was very fun and received rave reviews from many family members. It was also so much more fun to build knowing that I was doing it for someone special. The secret compartment was not only fun to make and operate, but it also makes it a unique, one-of-a-kind piece that people are captivated by. My cousins LOVED the box, were super excited about the secret compartment, and were especially touched at how much time and effort I had put into their gift.
And if you are still reading this then I assume that you liked it too :) If you feel like it, you can vote for this project in the "wood" contest by clicking the "vote" button. I would really appreciate it :)
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