Introduction: The Shadow Box
As a young boy, I was a cub scout ... the cat is now out of the bag ... add that to the list of things you know about me. Apparently my addictive personality and desire to over-achieve started early in my human development, as can be seen in the form of merits and pins.
While sorting through possessions in the attic, as one does when visiting parents, I found these items from the past. All of the uniform "flair" was displayed in a cheap, plastic shadow frame. The Pinewood Derby trophy was wrapped up in paper, but sadly, the my original Pinewood Derby car was MIA. My assumption is that at some point in my early teens, I decided I was too "cool" for such things and it was discarded ... so disappointed in my young self right now.
I remember making that car with my father, which was a rare event, since my father wasn't what we now refer to as a "maker." Now ... I say we made that car together, but what really happened was very different. One weeknight after dinner, we got into his truck and drove to some guy's house ... a friend from work I guess. Just to set the scene, my father and I rarely conversed during my youth ... and if we did, I was either in trouble or being assigned a task. As you can imagine, this made car rides rather silent. The heat was always blasting with the driver's side window cracked just enough for air to enter with a nice whistling effect. If the radio was on at all, it was talk radio. Not just any talk radio ... oh no ... farm talk radio. I don't recall anything about the destination, other than it was a basement workshop ... something I'd be extremely excited about in the present time. The guy, whom we will call Tucker since I can't remember his name, took a few minutes to pry a design/shape idea from my timid, younger self, and then cut it out on his bandsaw. It was probably 3 cuts and some quick shaping on a sander. He handed me a quarter sheet of sandpaper and we were back on the road ... enjoying the sweet sounds of farm talk radio.
Once home, I painted the car blue with some red diagonal stripes. Father drilled a hole in the top so we could add a few fishing sinkers to get the car up to maximum weight, which he then covered with masking tape. I wasn't really impressed with the finished look of the tape, so his solution was to write on it. I still remember what it said.
Now you know where I get my dry humor ... add it to the list.
I looked a few more times for that car, but never found it, so I decided to recreate it. Once complete, I had all of the contents and it was time to make a proper shadow box.
Step 1: Milling the Parts
Construction is pretty simple since we're basically just making a deep picture frame.
I started with a poplar board from the home center and cut the sides to rough length (longer than the finished dimensions). Next I set a blade height to 1/4" and cut a groove in all four boards to accept the 1/4" acrylic panel. I just moved the fence to widen the groove and snuck up on the cut until I had a snug fit. Using some of the display items, I determined my overall depth, ripped the boards to that width, and then cut a rabbet on the back to accept a hardboard panel.
Step 2: Cutting to Length
If you don't have one of these digital angle gauges, I'd recommend looking into them as they are great. I'd like to get one with another decimal place for increased accuracy, but for most operations, this one does the job.
I cut the miters on the table saw using a sled and a stop block. You could use a miter saw, but I personally get more precise and cleaner cuts on the table saw.
Step 3: Cutting the Plexi and Assembly
To cut the plexiglass to size, I changed to a freud acrylic blade. It cuts smoothly with no chipping. Even if you need to sneak up on your cut, it's very clean.
Once I had a good fit, I glued up the frame with the assistance of three strap clamps and let it sit overnight.
Step 4: Miter Splines
To reinforce the miters, I used corner splines. They serve a purpose and I just like they way they look.
The slots were cut using my spline cutting sled, which can be seen in my Gramophone and Wooden 6 Pack Instructables. The splines were cut from poplar scraps, rough cut into triangles on the bandsaw, and then glued in place. Once dry, I trimmed off the bulk using the bandsaw, sanded closer using the oscillating belt sander, and then sanded flush using an orbital sander.
Step 5: Finishing
All surfaces were sanded to 220 and I then applied two coats of 50/50 boiled linseed oil/mineral spirits. Once that had soaked in and dried (a few days), I applied a coat of wax and buffed it out.
Step 6: Complete
The back panel is made from hardboard and recesses into the rabbet. It is held in place by six small screws.
Once I got all my items laid out in a visually pleasing arrangement, I attached them to the hardboard with hot glue. The trophy and car just sit on the bottom. If that becomes an issue, I can always set them in place with hot glue or double sided tape.
This projects is very scalable. I plan on making a larger version for Father's military awards and decorations.
Top & Bottom: 21 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 3/4"
Sides: 17 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 3/4"
Plexi: 20 1/4" x 16 1/4" x 1/4"
Hardboard: 20 1/2" x 16 1/2" x 3/16"