Introduction: Writing Slope Box
Here's a fun project from which you'll end up with a family heirloom.
A playlist of the whole build can be found here
Plans to recreate my writing slope can be found below, or on my website to purchase.
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Primary and secondary hardwoods for the box and contrast elements
6mm/¼" Baltic birch ply for the top and base
6mm/¼" MDF for the internal slope panels
Box hinges, such as the Brusso ones I use here
Jewellery box lock
Rare earth magnets, at least four for the compartment lids and magnetic lifter
Calico and Leather skiver for the slope
Adhesive backed baize for internal lining
Wood glue, acetone, shellac flakes, denatured alcohol, paper towels and lint free cloths
Step 1: Material Preperation
The moisture content of the rosewood plank should be stabilized within the house to avoid excess movement after construction. If its a little too moist then dry it out a little. Thick pieces take quite some time, so rough cut some boards from it, on the band saw, allowing sufficient thickness to remove any movement as the components are prepared for the slope.
Two boards will be used to make the grain matched box sides.
At the same time, cut the veneers to use for the top and bottom, smoothing the plank's face before each veneer is cut.
The boards and veneers should be stacked with sticks between and weights on top, and allowed to acclimate in the house for some months, until the moisture content stabilized.
Now the boards are flattened and brought to thickness.
Step 2: Full Grain Match
Achieving a full grain match around a box requires re-sawing a board, and using those sawn surfaces as the show faces of the box sides. Alignment marks made before re-sawing to ensure that the two boards remain aligned as the first corner is sawn, ensuring a grain match. From this end of the two boards, one long side and one short side of the box is marked and sawn, making two more grain matched corners with the off-cuts. Sawing to length the final two sides, should result in the fourth corner also being grain matched. Having gone to the length of matching the gain, the only way to show it to full advantage is with a mitred joint...
Step 3: Secret Mitre Dovetail
While loose tenons, such as dominoes, could be used to strengthen a plain mitred joint, secret mitre dovetails make a fun choise. Preparation of this type of joint is described in the video in this step, but I find it useful to imagine a mitred through dovetail joint, covered with thick veneers, mitred at the corner. Once that image is in your mind, you can see that you need to cut the pins and tails without piercing the outside face at all. This is achieved with saw cuts at 45° to the inside face of the sides, and a lot of chopping and paring. The mitres on larger projects can be shoulder planed, but for this box pare them using a clamped on guide block.
Because the box will be sawn open later, layout of the dovetail pins and tails is critical. A mitred area needs to be left within each joint, which when sawn through will appear as a simple mitre: we don't want to saw through a tail or pin.
Step 4: Internal Compartments
The main shelf and compartment dividers are let into grooves in the box sides, as are the top and bottom panels. Use a plough plane and a miniature router plane to cut these grooves, and prepare a tongue on three sides of the shelf. The rising divider slides in a groove. However, to both help disguise it's presence, and prevent it being fully removed, the top portion of it's groove is prepared as a “v”, rather than square. The divider has a tenon each end, the upper portion being “v” shaped to match the groove in the sides. In use, the square tenon section limits the travel of the divider, as it reaches the “v” section of the groove.
Step 5: Top and Bottom Panels
The top and bottom panels are made by veneering over Baltic birch ply.
The show face is veneered with rosewood, and book matched across the narrow width.
The reverse side was counter veneered with meranti, in an attempt to limit any warping of the panel.
Since we are inlaying a banding between the box sides and these panels, the rebate left toward the show side was made large enough to accommodate this, rather than having to excavate it after assembly.
Step 6: Box Assembly
The box is assembled with top, bottom, and all dividers in place. The fixed dividers being glued, and the rising divider having it's sliding tongues and grooves waxed.
Mark on the outside, where the box will later be sawn open.
Starting at one end, and sliding the top and bottom panels in, before tapping on the opposite end, is quite a challenge, so practice without glue a couple of times.
Light use of clamping should bring all the corner mitres tight.
Step 7: Banding
Having left space for the banding, cutting it and planing the pieces to fit is easy.
The mitred corners are shot on the shooting board, after marking directly from the groove for length.
Once glued in, the banding is flushed to the surface with a block plane and card scraper.
Step 8: Opening the Box
Having already installed the internal dividers, it is essential to saw the box open in the right place.
Because the hinged side will open 180°, the cut should start through it's external centre line. The saw cut must proceed at the right angle, to leave the compartments as designed, and pass through the mitred sections of the corner joints.
After sawing, plane around the opening until the two halves can be closed without any gaps.
Step 9: Hinges and Lock
Use either a hand drill and chisels, or a router and cutter, to recess for the hinges and the lock set.
Drill and file a key hole.
Fit the hardware in place with screws.
Step 10: Writing Surface Supports
To support the writing surface, drill, fret saw, and file, a series of arches to the correct length, angle and height.
Fit these, AFTER the internal lining has been installed.
Step 11: Writing Surface
The writing surface is made of two sections, each having an mdf core, wrapped on three sides by solid rosewood, mitred at the corners. The sizes are all taken directly from the assembled box, allowing for the thickness of a single sheet of paper on the three rosewood edges: this should allow for any moisture affects, and for the angled opening once they are installed.
The two sections rest on their supports, when the box is open, to provide the flat slope.
In order for them to behave as the box is closed, and to allow for access to the lower compartments, they need to be hinged.
Calico is glued to the open sections, and to the hinged edge of the box, providing a very effective hinge.
On top of the calico, a leather skiver is glued and trimmed to the rosewood edges.
Step 12: Compartment Lids
The three top compartments need lids.
Due to the box's compact dimensions, these lids don't have knobs, and are cut the from a single, 1/8” thick, piece of rosewood, maintaining a grain match across them.
How are the lids lifted? A small rare earth magnet is attached in the centre of and underneath each lid. A small loose knob, with a complimentary magnet is made, and can lift any lid as required.
Step 13: Finish
The inside of the box receives a couple of coats of shellac for protection.
The outside has several coats of shellac. The top and bottom initially being filled; rubbing with pumice powder and shellac to produce a glass smooth surface.
A baize lining is applied in the large compartments and the pen tray, which was fitted into the central compartment to ease extraction of pens or tablet styluses.
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