Introduction: Box on a Budget

One overcast morning I was perusing the yard of my summer residence and I came across this small wood pile comprised of what looked like old fence boards, or at least portions of old fence boards. The boards were in pretty great condition considering they had been sitting unprotected in the yard for an unknown number of years. I decided to use them to make a box. This project had two very important goals.

Goal #1: Make a box with a lid
Goal #2: Spend as little money as possibly (hopefully $0)

With these two goals in mind I began building a box. 

Step 1: Gathering the Materials

The boards I found were narrow - remember old fence boards. So I decided I would use 2 boards on each face of my box. Doing some simple calculations I figured out I would need 12 boards (2 boards for the bottom, 2 for the top, and 2 for each of the 4 sides. 2+2+8=12). I rummaged through the wood pile and found 12 of the better condition boards. I was looking for ones without major cracks and warping. 

Then I began gathering materials I would need. This is where I had to get creative in order to fulfill Goal #2 - spend as little money as possible. I couldn't be picky about what kind of saw I used, type of glue, etc. 

Supplies and Tools:
-Measuring tape
-Skill Saw
-Electric Sander and Sand Paper
-Glue (wood glue or some similar alternative)
-Small Nails or Screws
-Wood Stain

Step 2: Designing the Box

Designing the dimensions of the box required a little thinking. I knew I wanted the sides of the box to be square. I also knew I wanted the sides of the box to sit on top of the bottom boards, rather than being inset. I figured it would be easier to assemble this way. And then for the top of the box, I wanted to use the top of the fence board (the angled portion) and have it overhang slightly (for easy opening). 

The way the sides of the box were assembled was important in determining the bottom and top board dimensions. I wanted the left and right sides of the box to be inset from the front and back sides. Please see the notes on the second photo where I better explain this. Assembling the sides this way makes the top and bottom of the box rectangular, not square. The top and bottom will still be the same width, but the length is now two board thicknesses longer (see photo notes).

For the bottom and side boards I was cutting the angled portion of the fence board off and discarding it. For the top boards I wanted to use this portion of the fence board. I measured the top boards to include the part of the board I wanted to overhang. See the notes on the third photo for a better explanation of how I measured these boards. 

With the design in mind I did some calculations to determine what lengths I needed to cut the boards. 

Fence boards (as is): 5.5" wide X 0.75" thick X various lengths.

8 of the boards were used for the sides of the box.
2 of the boards were used for the top of the box.
2 of the boards were used for the bottom of the box.

8 Side Boards:
5.5" wide X 11" long

2 Bottom Boards:
2 board thicknesses: 0.75" + 0.75" = 1.5"
5.5" wide X 11" + 1.5"
5.5" wide X 12.5" long

2 Top Boards:
5.5" wide X 12.5" long + overhang

After calculating the dimensions of the box I was ready to measure and cut the boards. 

Step 3: Measuring the Boards

Now that I had 12 boards picked out and the box designed, it was time to measure them.

Board dimensions (calculated in previous step):
8 boards @ 5.5" x 11"
2 boards @ 5.5" x 12.5"
2 boards @ 5.5" x 12.5" + overhang

With pencil, I made two marks at 11" and used a square to mark where I wanted to cut the board. It is important to use a square when marking the boards so your cut is at 90 degrees to the sides of the board. If you aren't close to 90 degrees, your boards and box will be very slanty. I marked remaining seven boards at 11". Then I measured two boards at 12.5" and two boards at 12.5" + the overhang I desired. 

For the side and bottom boards I made sure I was marking the boards so I would cut off the angled portion of the fence board. For the top boards I did just the opposite and marked the boards so I would use the angled portion of the fence board. 

After marking all 12 boards I was ready to cut them. 

Step 4: Cutting the Boards

Using a skill saw, I cut all 12 boards along the pencil line marking the desired lengths. A skill saw isn't necessarily the best saw to use in this case. It was the only saw I had access too. A table saw would be a great option and would guarantee much straighter and more accurate cuts. My suggestion is to use what you have access to and are most comfortable with, and to take your time making your cuts as straight as possible. 

Step 5: Sanding the Boards

After cutting all 12 boards I was ready to sand. I used an electric hand sander and 600 grit sand paper. Now, remember it was my goal to spend as little money as possible, so I used the only sand paper I had. 600 grit might not have been the best choice, but it worked fairly well. Some of the boards were a little rough and could have probably used a lower grit paper. But in the end I was happy with the results and did not feel the need to buy other sand paper. 

I sanded all the edges of each board. The two major faces (front and back), all the edges, and the corners. I wanted the boards to be smooth for staining. The boards were also a bit dirty, so sanding removed all of the excess dirt and cobwebs. 

After sanding I used a rag to wipe off the saw dust. 

Step 6: Gluing the Boards

To glue the boards together I used Gorilla Glue. I would have preferred to use a wood specific glue. Gorilla glue expands a lot and is often messy. Wood glue (like Gorilla glue) requires clamping, but it does not expand so its harder to make the mistake of using too much. 

I paired up my boards so I knew which ones to glue together. Starting with any of the board pairs, I lined the edge with a thin bead of glue and pressed the boards together. If you use Gorilla glue be very careful to only use a little. I didn't have proper clamps, so I had to get a little creative with how I clamped the boards together (see the notes on photos 3 and 4 for more detail). I used scrap pieces of wood and two clamps for each board pair. I placed the scrap wood over the seam of the two boards and then placed a clamp holding the scrap piece to the two boards. I did this at each end of the two boards. I only had enough clamps to do this for three of the six board pairs. For the other three I used cam straps (see photo 5). I looped the cam strap around the two boards and tightened it as much as possible, making sure the boards stayed flat. If I tightened it too much they would come apart at the glued seam and fold together. 

Now that all the boards were glued and clamped together, it was time to wait. The directions on the Gorilla Glue bottle said to let them dry 1 - 2 hours. I checked the boards after 1 hour and they weren't quite ready, so I let them dry overnight (it was getting late - you don't have to let them dry that long). 

When I checked the boards in the morning they looked great and only a couple of them had some excess glue that had oozed out. Using an exacto knife and some sand paper I removed this excess glue. It wasn't necessary to remove it, I just didn't like the way it looked and I thought the glue would be more noticeable after I stained the box if I didn't remove it. 

Step 7: Assembling the Box

Assembling the box was the most exciting and quite possibly the most difficult part of this entire project. First, I inspected all the boards  appearance and picked the best looking sides to be on the outside of the box. Once I did this, I decided laid the boards out how they would be assembled, with the inside sides facing up. If you look at the first photo this will make a little more sense. 

I decided it would be easiest to nail the sides of the box together and then attach this to the bottom. If you see a more logical approach to assembling your box, please feel free to take charge and do it differently. 

I decided I would use three nails per side to attach the boards - one in each corner and one in the middle. To start, I hammered the nails into the first board so the tip of each nail was barely poking through. Then, I lined the side board up with the front/back board and started hammering the nails in. This was the hardest of the sides to nail together because it was difficult to hold them in place. Once I had these two fastened together things got much easier. 

Then I attached another side to the two that were already nailed together, again, using three nails. And next I attached the fourth side, completing the square.

Finally, I attached the sides to the bottom. This was definitely the easiest part because with the sides nailed together it was very stable. 

I did not want to get stain on the hinges, so to avoid this I decided to attach the lid after staining. 

Step 8: Staining the Box and Lid

I found two colors of stain in the garage and decided to go with Minwax Wood Finish in the Golden Pecan color. I used a foam brush to apply the stain. I lightly applied the stain to all sides of the box and the inside. I made sure the stain got into all the cracks and crevices.  I was careful not to use too much stain because I didn't want any stain drips on the box. I also stained the all sides of the lid. When the stain was mostly dry I turned the box upside down to stain the bottom. Its helpful to have a rag on hand when you are staining in case you spill or use too much and need to wipe up any drips. 

After I was done applying the stain I looked over the entire box to make sure there were any drips, and if I saw any I wiped them up. The directions on the stain said to let it dry for 8 hours. Because I did the staining in the afternoon, I let them dry overnight. 

Step 9: Attaching the Lid

I wanted the hinges to be slightly inset into the box, so I used a Dremel to sand out where the hinges would go. I laid the hinges on the box and traced around them so I knew exactly where to Dremel. I used a Dremel bit that looked like rough sand paper and it worked really well to create the hinge indents. I did this to both the box and lid, being very careful to Dremel exactly where I wanted the hinges. After dremeling, I used a little bit of stain to touch up the dremeled area. 

I ended up buying 1.5" hinges. The hinges came in packages of two and came with proper screws for attachment. Using the screws that came with the hinges, I attached the hinges to the lid. Then I attached the lid with hinges to the box. To line the lid up with the box I balanced the lid on some random boxes to make for easy attaching (see picture 8). Then I screwed the hinges into the box. Hinges are tricky to use and I had a bit of trouble getting mine to line up properly and allow the box to close all the way. Through some problem solving I came to the conclusion that if I tightened the hinges too much the lid didn't close all of the way. This could be because I bought the wrong hinges or maybe because I dremeled the hinge divots too deep. I'm not sure, but I do know that they just took a little fiddling it before I had found their sweet spot.

Step 10: Finished!

Now the box is complete! I was very satisfied with the way it turned out even through all of the hinge frustrations. This was a really fun project and I enjoyed the challenge of spending little to no money. In the end I bought hinges, nails, and a paint brush. I kept my spending under $7 and that was great! Best of luck with your box building adventures. Get creative with wood scraps and the tools you have available to you. 

Now I just need to figure out what to put in my box!