Introduction: Elf Quarantine Box

About: I am an engineering educator and mother of two little makers who loves developing new projects - both personally and for my children and students to work through.

This year my son had some anxiety about what would happen if our family's holiday elf got sick. He mentioned that his friend's elf was actually currently quarantining and seemed to be reassured by this idea, so I thought I would use some scraps I had laying around from other projects to whip up a quarantine box for our Elf on the Shelf just in case.

This box is quick and easy to make and could easily be put together in a single evening if your elf is experiencing any symptoms that may make him need to quarantine for a couple of days.

No elf? No problem. This Instructable could also be used to make a cheap and easy shadow box that could be used year-round.


  • 1/2" plywood (made with scraps; the specific dimensions needed are explained in the subsequent steps)
  • 1/4" plywood (made with scraps; the specific dimensions needed are explained in the subsequent steps)
  • 2 - 8 1/2" x 11" transparency pages
  • 2 - 4" segments of a small dowel
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • circular saw (or another wood-cutting tool like a jigsaw or handsaw)
  • wood stain and rag (optional)
  • knob (optional)

Step 1: Cut Out the Wood Pieces

This project was designed so a standard 8 1/2" x 11" sheet of transparency film could slide in to act as the front window for this quarantine box. The box has a depth of 5", which seems to nicely work if you are planning this as a retreat for an elf. These dimensions could easily be modified to fit your circumstances or materials, but for the box shown, you will need to cut the following pieces:

From 1/2" plywood (for the basic box):

  • 1 - 9 1/2" x 12" board
  • 2 - 12" x 5" boards
  • 2 - 8 1/2 x 5" boards

From 1/4" plywood (for the front frame):

  • 2 - 7 1/2" x 1" strips
  • 2 - 12" x 1" strips

Sand the edged to ensure there are no sharp pieces sticking out where the wood was cut, especially on sections that were cut perpendicular to the grain of the top layer of the plywood.

Step 2: Stain the Wood (optional)

Staining the wood is optional, but does give the final product a much more professional look - particularly if you are not using an appearance-friendly piece of plywood.

I almost always get stain somewhere I don't intend to when using it, so I recommend throwing down a drop cloth or old newspaper/cardboard before you begin this step.

Once your wood is sanded and any residual sawdust has been wiped away, begin staining the pieces by dipping a rag into the stain and rubbing it along the grain of the board. Do this for all sides of each board.

Step 3: Decorate the Inside of the Box (optional)

If there is anything you want on the inside back wall of the box, make sure to add that now before the box is assembled. Since my box is decidedly for our elf to quarantine in, I used some letter stickers to make this habitat more formal. That said, a snowy winter scene or something similar would also probably help the elf feel comfortable if and when he needs to use this habitat.

Remember: You won't see anything anywhere along the outer inch of the board (due to the front frame), so plan your designs accordingly.

Step 4: Assembly the Box Base

I have never used hot glue to hold wood together before and was a little hesitant to try it, but I didn't want to see screw heads and didn't want to wait for wood glue to dry, so I decided this was a good project to test it out on since it is a lightweight, purely decorative box. It worked great and made the project come together in a snap!

Begin by laying the (decorated) backboard down. Glue the edge of the first wall (as shown) stick it down onto the base, making sure the outer edges are lined up. Hold the piece in place for at least 30 seconds before moving on to the next piece. Work your way around the three walls lower walls, gluing as shown in the images.

Step 5: Attach the Front Frame

Similar to how the base was assembled, glue the matching frames onto the lower three walls of the box as shown in the images above.

Step 6: Assemble the Lid

Glue the two remaining pieces of wood together to form the lid as shown above. Carefully align the front frame with the box lid to ensure it fits cleanly in the box.

Optional: I had a knob sitting around and thought that would match the lettering in the box nicely, so I drilled a hole in the top, middle of the lid and screwed in the knob to make it easier to open and close the box.

Step 7: Attach the Lid Support Rails

If I was making this again, I would probably have made the lid piece larger than I did in this original design (so that it simply sits on top and does not need to be supported). That said, this design works perfectly as long as something small is inserted to be help support and hold the lid in place. I selected to use small dowels (4" long), glued along the edges as shown in the images, but you could also use part of a pencil or another small strip of the 1/4" plywood for this as well.

Step 8: Assembly the Front Window

In this step, you will be putting the front window piece in your quarantine box. I selected to use transparency sheets for this, but you could easily use the plastic/glass from an old picture frame or any other glass/plastic you have around. I taped two sheets together for a bit more structure (and a little bit of a cloudy, cold look) and then put a glue dot in each corner of the frame of the box before inserting the "window".

Note: If you don't use a standard letter-sized sheet of paper, you may need to adjust the dimensions of your wood pieces. For reference, the back of the box should be +1" over the dimensions of whatever window piece you select to use, and the length component for each of the other pieces should also increase accordingly.

Step 9: Finish Your Quarantine Box

Your box is now ready to be used! I recommend putting some soft "snow" in the bottom of the box to keep your elf comfortable in the event that he becomes sick and needs to use this box.

Our elf actually sneezed a couple of times yesterday and decided to use our quarantine box today out of an abundance of caution. Our kids were impressed by his responsibility when they found him this morning and went out of their way to be extra comforting to him during this difficult time. I hope your quarantine box is equally as valuable and well received.

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