Introduction: Make a Note Box With a Japanese Lock

The pictured boxes were a present for a good friend's wedding. He asked for a couple boxes to sit on the guest sign in table, one to hold a bottle of wine and the other would hold notes from friends and family attending the wedding. The plan is for them to open both boxes on their one year anniversary and drink the wine while reading through their notes. This is a really cool idea as the alternative, common tradition would be for them to eat some half nasty frozen cake that's sat in the back of their freezer for a year. We have some funny traditions...

Today, we'll be making the box to the right since it was the most interesting and fun to make.

A little background on the wood I'll be using:

Ever since I was a little kid, I would see this patch of huge sycamore trees off our local highway and never thought much about them, but I certainly remembered them. A couple years ago, I noticed they were all cut down and lying in the grass. I exited immediately and drove into the field to see if they were free for the taking. The guys out there were happy to let me take whatever I wanted as they were mulching everything up to make the nearby billboards more visible. Sad that they were cut down, but happy that I got a truck bed full of various sized pieces. Several of the pieces were left outdoors, covered, but exposed to the elements. This helped create the spalted effect in the following pictures. For spalting information, check our friend, Google.

Enough of the sappy story, let's get to building.


Instagram: @jessemckee

Step 1: Mill the Wood

I axed a stump of the spalted maple down to more manageable pieces and began milling them on my bandsaw at 5/8" thickness. This is so I can plane the pieces down to their desired 1/2" thickness.

I milled enough for the sides, top and bottom. In don't have the measurements. Sorry.

Step 2: Joinery and Assembling the Box

For the corner joinery, I decided to cut rabbets. Before cutting, I scribed a 'knife wall' to eliminate blowout.

For the bottom, I cut a groove and left space for wood expansion. Since this piece is so small, it shouldn't be too much trouble, but it's a good habit to always keep this in mind when working with solid wood.

Step 3: Japanese Lock

First, here's how the lid fits in and locks so what I refer to will make sense. hopefully...

A couple things come into play here regarding the lid. The size of the opening and the thickness of the lid. The lid itself is about 1" shorter than the opening. as the lid needs to angle in, then maneuver around the walnut bottom and top lips. If you look at the walnut components, they are what's creating the lock, not the actual lid.

For the lid and mechanism, I used walnut for contrast. This is why I always keep my hardwood scraps. These 4 pieces are thicknessed to 1/2". and I started cutting everything before gluing. All the angles and fine tuning was done with a hand plane. the smallest shavings really make the difference. Unfortunately, I don't have a formula for this process, but a little trial and error will help you with whatever size box you are making.

The wedge is tapered slightly to push the lid closed. The wedge being long is a design feature, no reason in particular. It's possible that with the seasons, the wedge will go in a little deeper or stick out a little further with wood expansion.

Knowing that there will be a bit of force from the wedge, I added brass pins for support and looks. They're each about 1" long. The picture below is just before hammering them home.

Step 4: The Finish

I used natural danish oil for this box which added a nice warmness.

I did test some stains, just out of curiosity, but my spalted sycamore didn't stain well as I also included the sap wood on this project. Never know until you try.

Hope you enjoyed this project and are inspired to tackle this easy project!

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