Introduction: Techniques for Making a Few Simple Boxes

This instructable will show several techniques for making simple wood boxes.

"But Photozz," you say.. "That's just... lame. Cant you hack and umbrella and toaster together to make something that keeps you dry and warm at the same time? "

"But Internet people" I say... "Shadup and stop stealing my ideas....The electric umbrella is not.. ready... yet."

I know.. I know.. boxes are boring. Boxes are dull.. But.. the techniques I'll show can be applied to slightly more interesting things, like picture frames and .. well.. other square things. You will think of something.. I'm preoccupied here.. Come up with your own solutions... OK?

My laziness and unwillingness to spend any money will mean that I'm going to be making smaller boxes. Think about the size of a paperback book. The techniques can be scaled up, but your on your own there.

I never took a shop class after high school, and I didn't have any relatives who were handy. Most of what I learned to do I had to figure out on my own or learn from a book. I mention this because I'm sure the shop-Nazis are going to rappel out of the clouds and tell me everything I'm doing wrong, but this is what works for me. If you have a recommendation or want to correct something, please be nice. Its better if we can all just get along.

First, some safety stuff.

Step 1:

The safety stuff:

In some sections I'm going to be using some power tools. Big scary powerful power tools. Tools that have neither self awareness or souls. That being the case they are completely unaware of the difference between a nice clean sheet of 3/4 inch plywood and your fibula (Its a bone.. in your leg.. The bottom part of your leg... )

What I'm getting at here is that any power tool will gleefully chew or throw chunks of stuff through you much easier than a piece of wood, so please use all due caution to keep any of your soft bits out of the shiny moving parts.

When using any tool with spining parts such as a Table Saw or Drill, you should remove any jewellery or loose clothing that could get caught up. The only thing more embarrassing than feeding your thumb into a table saw would be to get your heart shaped BFF bracelet caught on the blade and getting sucked in up to your toenails. Then you would wind up being the "Stumpy" friend. No one wants to get on the roller coaster with the stumpy friend.

Wear eye and (when appropriate) breathing protection. I only had to get rust in my eye once to teach me this lesson. Some material can shoot off downright dangerous dust or particles. Plexiglass and a table saw is a good way to take a melted plastic shower, MDF and a sanding wheel will give you "brown lung" and scratch your corneas. Yes, that has all happened to me.

During this instructable I have removed some safety guards on my soulless killing machines in order to better show you the processes I'm performing. I don't recommend doing this in any way, and it's not my ordinary method of working. The manufacturer went to a lot of trouble to mould those little bits of plastic. leave them on.

If it sounds like I'm trying to scare you, I am. I have had my table saw for around 10 years and the damn thing still scares the bejesus out of me every time I turn it on. It SHOULD scare you. I credit the fact I still have 10 fingers to the fact that I do my best to respect and fear the power of these tools and I encourage anyone doing this to develop the same caution.

Step 2: Tools and Materials

Different techniques will require different tools.. I feel just as stupid writing that as most of you think I am for even mentioning it but sometimes things just have to be said.

For that reason, I'll try to break down a specific tool list at the start of each technique. The items below are a comprehensive list of what I used during this project. Many of the techniques can use tool substitution, a hand drill for a drill press or a miter box instead of a miter saw for instance. I'll also be going over the basic explanation, operation and set-up for the tools, so don't get too freaked out over thedetails just yet.


Hand drill and assorted bits
Hand sander
--this can either be straight sand paper and a block of wood or a power sander
speed square
Clamps (few small and few large)
Strap clamp (Or a piece of rope and a stick.. I'll explain later..)
Tape Measure

Table saw
Drill press
chisel set
screw driver
Miter box and saw

"Good" Wood (heh!)
--Most projects can be done with a single 4 foot 1x4. Project three needs a 4 foot 1x2.
Scrap wood, or a piece or two you can sacrifice.
a small 1/8th to 1/4 inch wood dowel
Wood Glue (Gorilla glue is better, if you have the option)

Step 3: Some Definitions First...

This is a basic run down of some of the tools, just so we all know what we are talking about. When I first started building things it was fairly routine to use butter knives as screwdrivers and pipe wrenches as hammers. There is nothing wrong with this right up to the point your mother tells you that Christmas is ruined because all her silverware has scorch marks and twisted tips. Then your all angry and yelling about buying new silver wear for her and she's all like "the department store is closed, its CHRISTMAS" and then you cry. Sorry Mom.

The first thing I learned in health class is that you can't properly use a tool until you know what its for. Yes, that's a vaguely dirty joke. Sorry. I had to get one "tool" joke in here or I would never forgive myself.

If your already familiar with using the listed tools, you can skip this section. I will say that I actually picked up a tip or two when I was researching all this though.

There are a few essentials you should have, and I'll take this chance to explain what they are and how to use them. I'll also link to far more detailed instructions as I won't pretend I have the time to be a comprehensive resource.

What about cordless tools you say? Well let me divert for a little rant here.

If your going to be doing work outside or need to move around a lot, the cordless tools may be a good choice, but I have a thing about batteries running out on me. I hate it. I hate it with an unbridled passion the way cats hate water or the way my hamster hates cats. That's a whole lot. Its just a personal preference.

Speed Square
This is just a simple metal triangle with some markings. Where it comes in supper duper handy is that it includes a 45 and 90 degree angle. If your trying to make accurate cuts across some wood stock, this is the fastest way to make a straight line.

One edge has a lip that fits along the edge of the board, then you can use the other edges to draw either a 90 or 45 degree angle. Speedy! Even if you have a miter box, you should still have one of these.

There are also techniques for marking almost any angle with this tool. I won't go over them here, but I will link to it. Detailed how-to

Tape Measure
The venerable and time tested tape measure. The only thing more common than a tape measure is how often people use it wrong.

One thing people consistently do wrong is to measure from the end of the tape. I know this sounds like crazy talk, but using the end of tape is somewhat inaccurate if your attempting any kind of precision. Look close at that little metal tang on the end of the tape. It moves. it moves up to 1/16th of an inch on some of my tapes. There is actually a reason for this:

The tip of the tape is riveted in place and slides slightly; the length of the slide is the same as the thickness of the tip, to allow the user to make accurate measurements. With a sliding tip you get the same measurement hooking the end of the tape over a piece of lumber or butting the tip into a corner.

In day to day work, it's actually a pretty sloppy operation. If your framing a wall or anything on a larger scale, it won't matter. If your making a box 6' long with tight joints, it matters a lot.

I usually pull out some tape and start measuring from the 1" mark, then just subtract an inch from my final measurement. My projects have gotten a lot more precise since I started doing this. Detailed how-to

There are a boggling number an styles of saws. If your building a full shop you should have several types, but for the purpose of this article we just need what is commonly refered to as a Tenon saw or Back saw. These are the most commonly included versions when you purchase a miter box. The different types of saws require different techniques to use them properly. Popular Mechanics has a great article about some of the types and their use. For this project, just get the one that looks like the picture below. Often you can get these as a combo with a miter box.

hand or power drill
This is essential due to its sheer flexibility and usefulness. I highly recommend a decent quality corded drill. Choosing the right one is often a matter of personal preference. There is a great video Here. You should also get a set of bits. The more the better. I tend to chew them up like bubble gum. There are many types. I found this handy guide. If your on a tight budget, you can just get a standard set of twist bits.

hand clamps
Not much to say about these. There are many types, but the "quick clamp" style have proven to be the most useful as they can generally be worked one-handed. the traditional screw type bar clamps are fine, but you should make sure you have something between the work and the clamp to protect it against leaving marks.

Clamped glue joints are substantially stronger than un-clamped joints. Always clamp if you possibly can.

That should do it for now.. although we make make a jig or two later on..

Step 4: Box With Lid, Living Room Method

Or.. how to do this without power tools. In fact, all three of these could be done in a living room fairly easily.

This is a basic method for making a small box using just a mitre box and saw. I call it the living room method as you can usually get away with this while watching TV if you have an understanding and very attractive wife who is always right (Hi honey! *waves*).

It does not require any extensive equipment and can be done fairly quickly. The corners will be simple lap joints, so nothing fancy just yet.

Tools and material:
ruler or measuring tape
Miter box and saw or table saw
Clamps (small)
wood - one 4 foot 1x4
Sand paper

For this project I'm using standard 1x4 pieces of Pine from the local Home Depot. An astute observer would note that the 1x4 is actually closer to 3/4 x 3 1/2. This is the way things are. The jerks. Its like when I used to be able to get a Slim Jim as big as my arm, and now they are barely the size of toothpicks.

*Note - the boards in the picture are actually 3 x 3/4 inch. I had ripped a strip off the boards for another project. Just go with it. The listed measurements are accurate for your project.

From the end, measure out and cut

4 - 7 inch long boards
2 - 5 inch boards
1 - 8 1/2 inch board.

Try to make the cuts as precise as possible. One tip for this is to measure the next board only after your done cutting the previous board. If you pre-measure all the pieces, a few of them may be shorter than anticipated due to the action of sawing.

A saw does not work quite like a steak knife. The saw actually cuts the wood by removing a thin channel of material. This is where the sawdust comes from. There is no steak dust when you cute a steak as it actually slices the meat... mmmmm steak....

The cutting will be easier if you clamp the piece into the miter box while you are working with it. Trying to wrestle with the parts while your sawing them is a great way to loose a thumb. I usually measure from the 1 inch mark to make it as accurate as possible.

Do NOT sand any of the edges before gluing it up. Its common for people to want to give it a fast swipe to clean off the edges and such, but what will wind up happening is that you will wreck the straight edge of the board, and you will see gaps after you glue it up. If you have any chipped edges, just smooth it off with your finger, then glue it.

Check the pictures for details if something is not clear.

1. Take one 7 inch piece and place a thin layer of wood glue on both of the long edges.

2. Place two more of the 7 inch boards on the glued edges to make a "U" shape. Make certain the ends line up and everything is straight.

3. Clamp the ends loosely, just to hold everything together.

4. Place the last 7" board at the top without glue and apply a clamp to hold it there. This board is only there to assure that the sides are straight and that the top gap is not wider than the bottom. Don't trust your eyes on this one.

5. Tighten all the clamps checking the boards to make sure nothing slid around. If you have a large gluing area, its not uncommon for the pieces to move a little. You should see some glue squeezing out. If not, you either have a freakish ability to use the exact amount of glue necessary, or you didn't use enough.

6. Let it dry. Let it dry for a good hour before touching it again.

7. When it looks dry, remove the clamps being careful with the piece. The joints may still be tender. Set the un-glued 7 inch board aside.

8. place a thin layer of glue on both of the "U" shaped edges.

9. Place both end caps on, being careful to line up the edges as best you can. Don't worry if something is not 100% there, it can be fixed during sanding. The closer you get it, the less you have to sand.

10. Clamp both end caps in place and let the whole thing dry overnight.

**Double clamp technique- My clamps are not quite long enough to reach and clamp the sides. While I do have longer clamps, I wanted to show you how to do this. Take two clamps and hook them together as shown in the picture. tighten both clamps, and it will act like one long clamp. This works great for smaller pieces where you don't need huge amounts of pressure.

*sleepy sleepertons zzzzzzzzzzzzzz*

11. Remove the clamps and admire your work.

12. Take that last 7 inch board and check the fit inside the top.. it should be close, but not overly tight. If its too close, sand the edges until it fits easily. If you have trouble getting it out again after you fit it, just screw a small screw in the center and use it like a handle to pull it out. The hole will be covered when the rest of the top is assembled.

13. Take that last 8 1/2 inch board and measure out and draw a line 3/4th of an inch from each side. That last 7 inch piece should fit cleanly between the lines.

14. Glue up one full side of the 7 inch board and put it between the lines on the 8 1/2 inch board. Clamp tightly, make sure it does not move. It will be prone to slipping around a little.

When the glue dries, un-clamp and check the fit of the lid. Your Done!
Sand and paint to your pleasure.

What I learned:
How to cut pieces accurately.
How to glue up and clamp pieces.
Patience (optional, but useful..)

Step 5: Basic Hinged Box

This is a method for making a small box with integrated wood hinges. It's not as scary as it sounds. Actually, I'm terrified, but don't tell anyone. You could do this one in the living room as well, but wait till the wife is not home. The drill tends to scare the cat, and terrified cats running about the house are not the formula for marital bliss. Especially if you have 5 of the little @$%ers like we do.

This will not require any extensive equipment and can be done fairly quickly. The corner joints will be simple lap joints. This time, were going to throw in a small twist. Or rotation, if you want to be technical.

Tools and material:
ruler or measuring tape
Miter box and saw or table saw
Wood Glue (For this project, I recommend "gorilla glue" for the hinge parts.)
Clamps (small)
wood - one 4 foot 1x4 (or the remnants of the wood from the previous project)
One nail. about 2 inches long.
Drill, with two bits. One bit just a tiny bit larger than the screw and one just a little smaller. .
Sand paper
One spare piece of scrap lumber.

This is where we delve into the risky world of power tools. A few of the steps below will require the use of a drill on small-ish pieces of wood. You should hold the pieces against the scrap of wood and the scrap of wood should be on a floor or table. when drilling, never brace the pieces on your body for several reasons, the least of which is so you do not put the drill through your hand or leg. (in my case.. "again")

Take the board an cut it into the following pieces:

3 - 6 inch pieces.
2 - 4 1/4 inch pieces
1 - 7 1/2 inch piece.

(now the tricky ones..)

2 - 3/4 inch by 3/4 inch blocks
1 - 3 inch x 3/4 inch block. Round one end with a sander or sandpaper.

The construction on this one is a little more jigsaw-puzzle than the last one, but nothing good comes easy. Check the pictures as we go.

Basic box structure:

1. Start with two of the 6 inch pieces. Glue them together in an "L" shape, Making sure you line the edges up carefully. (Check the pictures)

2. Clamp and let fry for at least an hour.

3. Un-clamp the box and glue up the two end pieces on as you see in the pictures.

4. Clamp the ends in place, using the same two clamp technique as in the previous box build. Let dry for at least an hour.

4. Un-clamp the piece and Glue on the last 6 inch piece, making sure to glue all the edges that touch.

5. Give the whole thing a hug with your clamps again, making sure nothing moves. Let dry over night.

Hinge and top construction:
Check the pictures to make sure you understand before you start drilling willy-nilly. I would recommend using Gorilla glue on the hinge pieces if its available. Its just stronger.

1. Take one of the 3/4 inch square blocks and the 3 inch x 3/4 inch block (rounded end) and drill through the center with the larger of the two drill bits.

2. Take the last 3/4 inch square block and drill through the center with the smaller bit.
Now, you should be able pass the screw through one square block, the 3 inch block and then tighten it into the last block (with the smaller hole). Its important to pre-drill these holes in this manner. The wood will split if you don't. I guarantee it.

3. Test fit the screw by passing it through the large-hole 3/4 block, the 3 inch block and into the small-hole 3/4 block. don't over tighten anything. All pieces should still spin freely. As long as everything looks good, move on. If anything binds up, drill the holes out with a slightly larger bit.

leave the pieces assembled.

4. Place the 7 1/2 inch piece on top of the finished box so you have a level surface for the hinge assembly.

5. Find and mark the mid-point of the back vertical piece. It should be at 3 inches.

6. Glue the two square blocks in place. Glue ONLY the bottoms of the blocks. You should do your best to keep the glue off the 3 inch block and the 7 1/2 inch top.

7. Place some small clamps in place and tighten. When everything is settled, gently remove the screw, 3 inch block and top piece. This is to keep any squeezed out glue from sticking parts together that don't belong stuck together. I only wish someone had performed the same procedure (metaphorically) with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

8. After the glue has set up for a while and there are no more wet spots showing, resemble the 3 inch block and top, leaving the clamps in place.

9. Make sure the top is square on the box, and glue the 3 inch block down. Make sure you keep the glue away from the back edge. We don't want it all squeezing out and sealing the top to the back.

10. Let this all dry overnight.

Un-clamp everything and admire. The hinge should work fairly smoothly. Its not uncommon to have a little slop in the fit. It would be better to use two hinges, but .. well.. baby steps people.. baby steps..

If your going to sand the box, I would recommend dissembling the top from the box before you try. Any substantial lateral (sideways) stress on the lid will stress the hinge and possibly pop it off.


What I learned:
Tetris is a fun game
Construction of a basic hinge
5 cats is too much for one house.

Step 6: Box With Mitered Corners and Pegged Top.

Hidley-HO! Thanks for sticking around until the end!

In this section, I will show you the basic construction for a box with miterd corners and a pegged top.

In my opinion, the ability to make mitered corners is one of the core talents that distinguish your wet behind the ears newbie scrub from the polished professional. Professional "what" I won't say, as the rest of the brotherhood would drag me from the house, chain me to a pole and pants me on the interstate.

You can make clean mitres with a miter box, hence the name "Miter box", but in this case I'll be using my miter saw. Mostly out of a sense of laziness and the desire to prove that I don't do everything on my living room floor.

Tools and materials:

ruler or measuring tape
Miter box and saw or miter saw
Strap clamp or rope
wood - one 4 foot 1x2
thin board, 2 squares, 5 inch by 5 inch squares.
Dowel, about 1/8th to 1/4 wide.
Drill and a bit the same size as your dowel rod.
Sand paper

We are going to make a thin, square box this time. The outside dimensions are going to me 5 inches, by 5 inches by 1 1/2 inches.

1. Start by cutting your 1/2 into 4 - 5 inch (on the long edge) pieces, all mitered at 45 degrees. Check the pictures for details. If you have gaps, its better to have the gaps on the inside corners instead of the outside. The inside gaps squeeze shut under clamping a lot easier than outside gaps.

2. Lay the pieces out into a square, frame like structure.

3. Loosely lay your strap clamp or rope around the piece. Its better to have this in place before you have to tighten it. Juggling small pieces of wood with glue on them is not a hobby I like to indulge in.

4. Working on the flatest surface you have, apply glue to each of the mitered edges and clamp them all together.

5. Let the whole thing dry for a good two hours.

6. Un-clamp everything. Check for any squeezed out glue and smooth down the edges

7. Glue up and clamp on one of the 5x5 squares as you see in the pictures.

8, Let dry for a few hours and un-clamp.

9. If your using a hand drill, Place and clamp (no glue) the other square piece on the top, making sure the edges are as straight as possible. If your lucky enough to have a drill press, you can get away with holding the pieces, just go slow.

10. Grab your drill and bit. Measure about a half inch up the bit from the tip and make a mark or put a piece of tape around the bit to mark the depth for drilling.
**I'm using a special wood bit that has a collar just for this sort of thing. You use the small wrench to loosen the collar and move it to the desired depth. Make sure you tighten the nut back on the bit properly.

11. Measure about halfway along one side (should be 2 1/2 inches), and about a half inch in. Drill two holes through the top piece, as straight as possible.

12. Take the dowel and place it in the hole as deep as it will go. It should be a snug, but not tight fit. If its too tight, sand the dowel lightly until it fits.

13. Mark the dowel with a pencil where it is flush with the top.

14. Remove the dowel and cut it just a hair longer than your mark. Do the other hole the same way.

15. un-clamp and remove the top piece. Turn it over and spread a little glue on the dowel.

16 Insert the dowels into the top piece, spinning them a little as they go in to spread the glue.

17. Let the dowels dry for an hour or so and check the fit in the box. Sand the dowels as needed to fit.

18. After its all dry, assemble the box and sand all the edges and the dowels (on the outside) flush.


What I learned:
Basic mitered corner construction
Peg construction

Step 7: Graduation

Well, there you have it.

So hopefully, combining different techniques you can now make all manner of small boxes. This talent is both useful and impressive, although its not quite something ou would see on a resume.

Thanks for reading and as always I look forward to improvement and ideas from the people there on the internets.
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