Introduction: Combination Lock Jewelry Box

About: I like to fix, tinker, and make things from scratch. I also like to cook. mmmmmm... foooood.
This is a handmade, combination-lock jewelry box. It took me about 3 weeks to design and build. This jewelry box boasts rounded box joints, Victorian hardware, a custom finish, stressed wood (to make it look old) and a hand carved combination lock system that will blow away anyone who sees it. And one of my favourite parts is that the combination can be changed at anytime! 

The box is 14" wide, 8" deep and 6" tall. 

The original idea for the locking mechanism came from the book 'The Complete Boy Mechanic' by Popular Mechanics.  I bought the book about a year ago for project ideas my kids could work on. It is essentially a collection of 'maker' articles that have appeared in their magazine over the past 100-ish years and at a mere $14 I highly recommend it for any Maker-Families out there. (ref: Book link for  Amazon)

When I saw the locking mechanism, I knew I had to build something to incorporate it. And what better way to try out a random cool idea like this than build something equally cool for my wife to win some brownie points... it's a win-win. 

When I built this, we were living at my inlaws for awhile during a house transition, and I didn't have access to many of my tools, so some of the 'box' work was a little rough. For example: I used a regular blade on a 10" tablesaw to cut all of the Box Joints - not something I would recommend. 

I plan on building a v2.0 version of this box as soon as our Canadian winter is over (my new shop is not heated) and will post a step-by-step sometime later in the spring. 

Box Details

I love the whole steampunk genre but have yet to build anything related. I thought this would be a good opportunity to get started and tried to give the box an 'antique' steampunk feel. 

  • The box is made primarily out of 1/2" Birch plywood. I used a ripped down spruce 1x2 for the inside of the lid (to provide a space for the locking mechanism)
  • The finish is a custom stain, I'll provide details below. 
  • Lock combination dials are handmade. I carved the dials out of the same plywood as the box. 
  • Inside lock mechanism is made of 1x2, 3/8" dowelling and carved plywood.
  • The metal knob and lions head both came from Home Depot and cost about $4 for the pair.
First, I made the box. This was the most straight forward job: measure the box joints and very, very carefully cut them on a tablesaw. I have a lot of experience with tablesaws and am very comfortable around them. I do NOT recommend this for most people. Go to home depot and get a fine tooth pull saw to use instead and save your fingers!

For the lid, I ripped down a 1x2 and miterer the corners @ 45 degrees. This is to give some depth to the lid for the locking mechanism to rest within. On the next version, I plan on enclosing this section so that it is 'hidden', but I really wanted to show off the lock the first time around. 

The box is bigger than I really wanted, but it was all to house the lock. Now that I know how to build it, the next version will be a little smaller. 

Once upon a time, I worked with a cabinet maker who built new, antique kitchens and learned how to make wood look old. There are a lot of great techniques and maybe I'll post some instructables on the topic. For this box, I had my kids 'Stress' the wood first. Essentially this consisted of giving them a toolbox full of assorted metal tools and asking them to beat up the new box. They used screwdrivers, hammers, wrenches etc and had a lot of fun.  

After sanding everything down, I applied a custom 'antiquing' stain I make. Essentially the tannins in wood oxidize over time, this is part of what gives old wood a unique appearance. You can speed up this process by applying various chemicals that interact with the tannins. 

The recipe I used for this stain was: 1 handful of rusty metal nails, several used tea bags and some coals from our fireplace - put them all in a large mason jar containing vinegar. After a few days simply rub the dirty vinegar into your wood with a cloth. apply several times. The vinegar smell goes away within a few hours.

The longer you let the metal sit in the vinegar, the darker the stain will get. It looks fantastic - especially around those 'stressed areas'.

Lock Mechanism

I went through a lot of trial and error with the lock mechanism. Originally I bought brass Victorian-esque knobs to use for the combination dials, but just couldn't figure out how to make them work properly.  I also wanted the locking part to be metal, but again, couldn't quite figure it out in time. Having built it once, I have some ideas to improve it on v2.0.

The combination dials on top are two pieces of round cut ply, glued together (originally they were both round, but it looked amateur, so I carved the divots out of the top circle afterwards. I just used a dril with different sized circle cutters for this. 

Once ready, drill a hole through the center and bang through a wooden dowel. Glue these together. On the inside is another circle-cut piece of ply that the dowel fits into. Do NOT glue the dowel to this circle, but the fit should be very snug. Cut a groove into the ply for the locking dowels. 

The rest of the mechanism is simply a piece of 1x2 wood with 3 pieces of dowel glued-in that line up with the plywood circles. There is a small bolt that attaches this piece to the brass knob on top of the box, which slides the locking mechanism back and forth about 1.5".

As you can see in the pictures, there are also two small rectangular pieces of plywood on top of the 1x2. This is the actual lock. These are little stakes, with pointy ends that line up with small holes I drilled on the inside of the box. 

So the concept is, that when the knob is slide towards the outside of the box, those little stakes engage with the holes drilled in the box and the lid will not open. When you slide the knob towards the center of the box, the lid opens, but you cannot do this unless the dials on top are set correctly, enabling the wooden dowels on the inside of the box to slide into the grooves cut into the ply circles inside!

I hope that all makes sense... this is my first 'Picture' instructable!

I used a wood burning kit to burn 'dot' numbers into the dials. 

Also, the reason you don't glue in the ply circles within the box, is so that you can change the combination later. I let my wife pick her own combination for this box, which was pretty cool. To change it later, you simply pop off the ply circles, rotate the dial on top to the new number and reattach the ply circle so that it lines up with the locking mechanism dowel. 

Next time I plan on using smaller metal bars instead of wood dowel; this will enable me to have more numbers on top of the dial. 

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