Wooden Lunchbox





Introduction: Wooden Lunchbox

For the better part of a year, I had been carrying my lunch into work in a plastic grocery bag. This would not do so I started looking into lunch boxes that would fit my style, and being unable to find anything I liked online, I decided to make my own... After all, everything is better when its made from wood, right?

Step 1: Design and Layout

The lunchbox is modeled after those vintage rectangular steel lunch boxes that you see at the antique store. I have never used one of those (before my time) but the shape is good. After doing some online research, and picking out my material, I settled on a box that is 10"x8"x4".

There has been a piece of spalted maple sitting on my lumber rack for about fifteen years, I bought it when I was in high school on my first trip to the hardwood lumber store because I thought it looked cool, and FINALLY I've found a project for it.

The board is just over 8" wide, so I cut a 20" long section that will later be ripped into the sides of the box. I also cut an 11" long piece to be the top and bottom of the box. Unfortunately the best looking part of the board was in the middle, so that is where I took the top and bottom from rather than the end.

Step 2: Cutting the Boards to Size

The pieces came from a rough cut board, so first an edge needed to be straightened on the jointer.

Side Pieces

After the jointer, the board that made up the side went to the planer. It was planed to just over 5/8." The idea was to go as thin as possible to minimize weight and maximize internal lunchbox space, however, I did not want to go so thin that the lunch box would lose structure.

After the planer, the side boards went though the drum sander to smooth them, sand off the planer snipe, and bring it to final thickness of 5/8". (Side note, I have had the drum sander for only a few weeks, and it is already my favorite tool in the shop.)

Then, the side board was ripped on the tablesaw to get 2, 4" wide pieces. These were squared and cut to length on the miter saw. Two ten inch long boards, and two eight inch long boards.

Top and Bottom

After the jointer, the top/bottom piece was resawn in half on the bandsaw. The final thinkness of this board is +-3/8" so I was able to get both boards from the 7/8" thick piece.

Next, the boards went though the planer to make them parallel. No matter how much time I spend setting up the bandsaw, my resaws never seem to come out parallel. After the planer, they went thought the drum sander - first at 80 grit, and then at 120.

Put these boards off to the side for now, they won't be cut to final size until later.

Step 3: Box Joints on the Corners

The box joints for the corners were cut on the tablesaw. There is an easy jig that you can make to cut these joints. Rather than reinvent the wheel in this instructable, here is a link to some great directions on making the jig. I will paraphrase in the pictures above.


It is important to lay out your boards, and mark them so that they don't get mixed up later on. I numbered the corners. Make sure to number them back far enough so that you don't cut your marks off when you cut the joint.

A 5/8" wide dado stack was used to cut the joints.

Step 4: Rabbiting for the Top and Bottom

The top and bottom pieces will fit inside of the side boards on rabbits. For this step most of the set up was done by eye on the table saw.

The outside sides of the box were marked with an x so that I wouldn't accidentally rabbit the wrong side. Learned that the hard way.

Step 5: Glue Up the Sides of the Box

Use a small paintbrush to spread glue on the mating faces of the box joints. I had to raid my daughter's art box for this one.

A rubber mallet helps fit the joints together. This box fit together very tightly, clamps were not necessary. If the joints are a little loose, a band clamp or ratchet strap works well to hold it until the glue dries.

Measure from corner to corner each way to check the box for square.

Step 6: Attaching the Top and Bottom

Measure the opening in the top and bottom of lunch box. Then, cut the boards to fit. Start a little long, and then sneak up to the measurement by trimming a little bit at a time and testing your fit.

Measure once and cut 11 times, isn't that how the saying goes?

Step 7: Details, Details

There are small gaps where the rabbits ran through the edge of the box. I cut some small walnut plugs to fill them. When the box is finished, the walnut matches the black spalted lines in the wood nicely.

Step 8: Sand, Split, and Sand

The walnut plugs are pretty big, and the box joints are a little proud of the surface so they need to be sanded flush. I took care of this on the belt sander.

After the sides are flush, the box was cut open on the bandsaw. Typically, this is done using the tablesaw, but I thought would try it this way since I could fix any irregularities using the drum sander.

Step 9: Turning and Assembling the Handle

The handle was turned from hard maple. I chose not to use the spalted board because I was concerned that it would not be strong enough to hold up to the jarring the handle will take.

Start by cutting two 3/4" square by 6" long pieces. These will be turned down to 1/2" dowels.

Cut one 1 1/4" square by 6" long piece. This will be tapered and made into the handle.

See the pictures for process notes.

Step 10: Drilling Handle Holes

Measure to the center of the box and mark holes for the handle to fit into. The dowels are 1/2" in diameter and 3 1/2" apart.

I drilled 9/16" holes so that the handle slides in and out of the box.

Step 11: Finish Sanding

Finish sand the outside of the box. I used 80 grit with a random orbital sander on the outsides of the box to clean up from the belt sander. Next, I switched to 150 grit with the random orbital sander on the entire thing. 220 grit in the palm sander completed the sanding.

Step 12: Hardware

Lay out the hardware, mark and pre-drill holes.

Step 13: Dry-Fit Handle

Place the handle in the box so that it is at a height that is comfortable in your hand. Make sure that the latch is still operable, since it is underneath the handle.

Step 14: Apply Finish

Start by vacuuming the box with a brush attachment. This will remove any left over sanding dust.

Since this box will be holding my lunch, I didn't want to put a chemical finish on it, so I chose to finish it with mineral oil. Mineral oil is commonly used on salad bowls and cutting boards. It is not the most durable finish, but I can always re-apply it when it wears off.

Step 15: Final Assembly

Attach the hardware. All the holes are pre-drilled, so this should go pretty quick.

Step 16: Eat in Style.

Woodworking is the best!

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    I got it at Smallboxhardware.com They have all kinds of small box hardware...

    that beauty! everything a man needs!

    Beautiful! Instructions are great easy to understand and follow!

    Thanks a lot. It has been a long time in the making

    where is the shop, are they allowed to say?:)

    That's beautiful and will the colour continue to improve too! I heard wood has a natural antiseptic so should be good for food container?

    Probably the most overly engineered box ever but the lessons within the instructable are the SOLID. Great job!

    2 replies

    Overly engineered... no such thing!

    You're right! I loved the whole instructable. I learned (re-learned) a few techniques. Thanks for that!

    Your lunchbox looks awesome! Makes me wish I was back in grade school.

    I'm looking at your last pic and wondering how awesome it would look if the fork had a spot on the inside of the lid? Maybe a small indent with a magnet on it?

    Very nice. Brings back memories of when I was in grade school. I actually attended one of those little white one room school houses with all 8 grades sitting together. It was wonderful, and I loved every second. We had those old black lunch boxes with the top containing a thermos with some milk in the warm months, and perhaps some Cambles soup in the winter (gets cold in North Dakota). Oh that wonderful smell when you opened that box at noon! Never did get one of the square ones, guess the folks never had the money for them back then. Before the lunch boxes, we carried our lunch in a lard can but then dad thought we needed real lunch boxes so he sprung for the black ones.

    Thanks. The only way I was going to start packing a lunch every day was with an awesome lunchbox!

    Very nice lunchbox. I like the grain and overall appearance of the box. Your craftsmanship and detail was great. Your instructions and photos were easy to follow. Good luck in the contest.

    1 reply

    Thanks for your comments and thank you for your service.

    Did you use a wiz bang ruler throughout the process?

    Great step by step directions.

    Absolutely love this! Great design. Very unique and very useful! Love your choice of wood. I voted for you!

    great. if you want to recycle/upcycle, you could use pallet wood... just sand it a fair bit to make it smooth, and you're away!