Introduction: Seed Box With Mini Dovetails in Plyboo
I decided to make a seed box after not finding anything that I liked for storing my vegetable and flower seeds. I wanted a nice, larger seed box that could hold our collection of seeds. There were several features that I wanted. First, I wanted two columns with built in dividers: vegetables on one side, flowers on the other. We buy most of our seeds from Baker Creek to support heirloom and non-GMO varieties. Their packets are a little larger in size. The top flaps are sealed with some sort of rubber cement, which makes them perfect for using the seeds you need and then resealing for later use. Second, I wanted a removable lid. For seed boxes, I don't like a hinged lid since they can be heavy and tip the box over. I made a removable sliding lid. Third, I wanted an unobtrusive catch for the lid. I didn't want anything that would snag on things. I decided on recessing magnets into the lid and front edge. Fourth, I wanted to use a more unique joint. I have the Porter-Cable dovetail jig and decided on making mini dovetails. Fifth, I wanted to make the box out of a sustainable material and decided on Plyboo 3-ply plywood. Lastly, I decided to finish the box with Boo's block board cream. It contains only beeswax and mineral oil. It isn't as durable as a polyurethane, but I like that it is much more natural. It is applied by your bare hands massaging it into the wood. It's a better feeling not needing the adequate ventilation required of most finishes. Like a cutting board, this can be reapplied as needed.
I started first with a cardboard prototype to make sure the design fit my needs. It took 10 minutes to pull together and is an excellent way to test out your design. Once the cardboard prototype was complete, I drew out the design in AutoCAD and dimensioned the drawings to assist in making the pieces. I have attached my AutoCAD file for reference. It does not contain the dovetail details since these are decided with the template. It is a final assembly model and is not parted out or fully dimensioned out. I used this as a reference template as I made each part. The final assembly pictures show how each piece should look like before assembly. If there is enough interest, I can take the time to make drawings of each part.
This instructable assumes that you already have some beginner woodworking knowledge. It is an intermediate project. Please keep in mind that power tools can be very dangerous, especially routers with free spinning bits. There are some techniques here that take extra care. Proper care and attention must be given to them at all times. You are proceeding at your own risk.
Step 1: Materials and Equipment
- Plyboo 1/2"
- Plyboo 1/4"
- Wood Glue
- Catch: 2 x Rare Earth Magnet: 3/8" diameter x .100" thick
- Boos Block Board Cream
- Table Saw
- Porter Cable Dovetail Jig with Mini dovetail template
- 2 Routers
- Router Bits
- For dovetails: Amana Carbide 45837: Dovetail 7 degree, 9/32" diameter
- For pins and slots: Whiteside: 1/4" Spiral Up Cut, 2 flute, 1/4" shank
- For finger slots: 3/4" Straight
- For magnet hole: 3/8" Straight
Step 2: Cuts: to Size, Mini Dovetails and Slots and Finger Slots
1. Cut each piece to size on tablesaw:
- 1/2" Plyboo
- Front: 10.0" x 6.5"
- Back: 10.0" x 7.0"
- 2 x Sides: 7.5 x 7.0"
- Lid: 9.5 x 7.25"
- Bottom: 9.5 x 7.0"
- Center Divider: 6.625 x 3.0"
- 4 x Dividers: 4.5 x 3.0"
2. Cut the mini dovetails (This is not a comprehensive set-up and tutorial for making dovetail cuts with a jig, but does cover the main steps):
- Caution: Do not use the router bits provided by Porter-Cable. My initial cuts had an unacceptable amount of tear-out. If you are using plyboo, you will need to buy additional carbide bits. This also applies to the larger dovetail joints as well. I found that either Whiteside or Amana carbide bits performed well detailed in the previous section worked much better.
- Helpful Hints: It is preferable to have two routers for cutting the dovetail joints. There are two different bits, a dovetail bit and a straight bit. Once you have each set-up to the correct depth, it makes cutting the joints easier. Otherwise, you spend a bit of time changing out the bits. It is advisable to have several extra pieces of material available to test out the joints prior to cutting joints in your prepared material.
- Set-up the dovetail jig
- Secure the dovetail jig to your table top. I find that the hand clamps are good for temporarily securing this to a bench top.
- Install the mini dovetail template.
- Adjust tightness of front and top clamps with 1/2" spacer board (I use scrap pieces of my plyboo).
- Adjust the offset guide on the left side to center your material to the joints on the template.
- Set the center of the alignment groove on the template to the edge of your material.
- Install centering bushing into your router base plate.
- Install router bits into your routers. Adjust depth to the depth settings on the template.
3. Cut slots into each piece:
- A router table with a good adjustable fence is crucial for cutting the slots. I measured the distance with calipers and made test cuts to ensure they were in the right location. All slots were cut with a 1/4" Whiteside bit set to two depths. 1/16" for each of the divider slots and 1/4" for the bottom and top slots.
- Since many of the slots do not go all the way through, you will need to make appropriate stops for each piece. Most of the time, I placed strips of tape down to indicate the stop locations. Sometimes, this will mean needing to carefully slide the wood onto the moving bit and cut to the stop.
- After cutting the divider slots, the tops will need to squared off with e 1/4" chisel.
4. Cut finger slots into the left, right and lid
- The finger slots were cut with a 3/4" straight bit. They were cut to 1/4" depth on the sides and 1/8" depth on the lid. After installing the 3/4" straight bit into the router table, I always make a test cut to double check the depth of cut.
- Adjust the fence to control the location of the slot. Adjust stops on the left and right to control the slot. The stops should be snug with the pieces of material.
- Secure piece at a slight angle against the fence between the two stops. Turn on the router and slowly lower the piece onto the bit while keeping firm contact against the fence. Carefully slide the piece along the fence between the two stops to cut out the slot. Hold the piece firmly against the stop and turn off the router. After the bit stops, carefully remove the piece.
5. Cut holes for magnet catch
- The magnets are 3/8" in diameter and .100" deep. I cut the holes so that the magnets lay flush to the surface. Initially, I only used one magnet on the lid and a steel tab on the box. but it did not hold strong enough. Magnets are very strong when you try to pull them apart, but they take much less force to slide across one another. I had to remove the steel tab and replace it with a magnet. From the pictures, you can see that I had to fill in the slot. You will need to use a 1/4" chisel to carefully remove the center nub left over from the router bit.
6.Check for fit and adjust
- Assemble the dovetails partway to ensure that each joint will slide in. Since properly cut dovetails fit snug and plyboo can splinter on the edge grain, it is not recommended to assemble the joints all the way. You will probably cause more damage taking it apart for actual glue and assembly. For the dividers, lid and bottom pieces, I had to taper the ends to fit into the slots. My 1/4" bit cuts a .245" groove, whereas my 1/4" plyboo was about .255". So each of the ends of the 1/4" pieces were sanded down slightly to fit. If you have to do this, make sure to save your sawdust. The fine sawdust will be very useful in filling holes later. Once the pieces seat fully into the slots you are ready for final assembly.
Step 3: Assembly, Sanding, Filling and Finishing
- Prior to final assembly, sand all surfaces at using 120, then 180 sand paper. You can go to 220 grit if desired, but 180 was sufficient for our work. The interior surfaces will be difficult to reach after assembly, so make sure these are finished.
- Starting with the Back, Left and Right pieces, apply wood glue to the interior joint surfaces and assemble. I use a Q-tip with cotton swab cut off to get into the tight corners. Replace when it gets stringy. Next, apply glue to the divider slots and assemble. Apply glue to the joints on the front piece and assemble. Use clamps as necessary to clamp the joints together. I used 8 clamps to pull everything together on this small project. Clean-up extra glue with damp paper towel or baby wipe. Note that none of these joints are relying exclusively on the glue to hold them together, so do not apply too much glue, or you will have a lot of clean-up.
- After glue has set overnight, remove clamps.
- Sand down the exterior, paying special attention to the joints and removing excess glue.
- Filling small holes in the joints: Since Plyboo splinters more easily on the edge grain, there were several areas around my joints that had small holes or grooves after assembly. To fill these, I make a simple wood putty from the sawdust collected earlier. I have never had a good experience with buying colored wood filler. It never dries like the color indicated and it is full of chemicals. So, I recommend making your own. Using the collected sawdust means the color will be a perfect. I add wood glue to the sawdust. Add just enough to give a putty consistency and mix thoroughly. If you add too much glue, it will shrink too much and not fill the holes adequately. Apply to the holes and let dry for a few hours. Sand and repeat if needed. When complete, sand the whole exterior to desired smoothness. I also break all edges and corners slightly by hand with the 180 grit sandpaper.
- Remove all saw dust. I thoroughly vacuum the surfaces. Then I rub them down with a clean old sock (See Handy Tip #3). This will pull out additional tiny sawdust particles. It works just as good as a tack cloth for me.
- Magnet Catch: Glue one of the magnets into the front top of the box. Check the polarity with the second magnet. I made the mistake of not checking the polarities and my magnets ended up repelling each other instead of attracting. I had to dig one out to reverse it. Install the other magnet in the lid with the correct polarity.
- Finish with Boo's Block Board Cream. I apply this by hand and rub it into all the surfaces. For the inside corners, I use a Q-tip to apply the finish. Make sure you use enough, so the wood soaks it in. Plyboo is not a thirsty wood, so it will soak in pretty quick. I used about 1/2 an ounce for the whole box. Let it sit for a few hours, then give it a final buffing with a clean dry old sock. Your box is ready to use!