If you've taken the first few steps of your journey into woodworking, and wish to try your hand at some finer work, here is a fun and straightforward project with a (hopefully) beautiful result!
I produced this piece in my earlier days of woodworking, to surprise my wife on our anniversary. It was a hit, and if you have a table saw, some basic tools, and a few hours, you can make one too!
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Step 1: Procure Some Wood
First, we will need some quality stock to work with. If you aren't familiar with your local hardwood dealer, now is a great time to get acquainted.
I recommend picking a pair of woods that contrast well. Walnut or cherry contrasted with mahogany or maple is a great place to start.
For this project, I used mahogany ripped to 1/4" for panels and inlay, and 3/4" walnut for the legs, borders, and lid frame. I used maybe 3 linear feet of 6" wide mahogany and 4 linear of 4" wide walnut for this project - that should be enough to get it done with a few learning experiences along the way :)
Step 2: Let's Make Some Legs!
We are going to make square legs - to make a 1.5" square, you will need to rip (8) 1.5" W x 3/4" D x 4" H pieces of walnut, and glue them together to make (4) 1.5" W x 1.5" D x 4" H legs. Sand the faces lightly and glue them together to make the rough leg shape with your choice of wood glue (recommend Titebond II or III) and let them set for at least a couple of hours. Sand excess glue away once drying is complete.
We will then need to cut one slot diagonally in each leg to hold the bottom panel of the box. We will need to pass it over the table saw blade on a 45 degree vertical angle, safely. To facilitate this, I knocked together this basic jig, which worked reasonably well. Not perfect, but well. Feel free to adjust to your own taste here.
Set your blade height to roughly 1/3 the thickness of the leg, and make passes (carefully!) until the notch can fit the thickness of the panel wood with no play. Check your thickness after each cut, and ensure that you are cutting at the same point on each piece. Practice on scrap before getting into your good stuff!
Step 3: And Some Panels!
Now, ballpark the desired size of the box, and what size you'll need the base to be. Since you are early in the process, you can cut a bottom panel and let that guide the rest of the project. Cut your bottom panel and trim the edges at a 45 degree angle to fit the notches in the legs. The diagonal width of the corners should match the diagonal width of the leg notches - see pictures.
Once the bottom is done and you are happy with the dimensions, you will need to cut vertical notches into the legs for the edges of the side panels. The notches can be reasonably shallow, perhaps 1/4". Pass the pieces, laying horizontally, over the table saw blade and adjust the fence with each pass to widen the notch until they are just wide enough to fit the panel wood. Do a pass on all legs before each adjustment of the fence, to ensure uniformity.
Then, assemble the base and legs, measure the necessary width and depth for the side panels, and cut them. Remember that you need to cut them wide enough to fit into the notches. Once they are cut, and it fits together tightly and square, move on to the first glue-up of the project.
Lightly spread wood glue into all notches, and clamp the assembly together and let dry for a couple of hours. Use a contractor's square to ensure it is square!
Note: If I was doing this over, I would use a half lap joint where the side panels meet the legs.
Step 4: The Lid!
Next, we will make the top. I chose to inlay a strip of mahogany in the walnut lid frame, which is completely optional, but an easy way to add some visual interest.
The finished dimensions of the lid should be slightly greater, say 1/4" on each edge, than the base.
Find a pattern that you like for the lid frame. To make the profile pictured, I used 1" of walnut, 1/4" of mahogany, and 3/8" of walnut, ripped, and glued together with a 3/4" height. Tip: I used a 3/4" wide strip of mahogany oriented vertically for the inlay.
Ensure that the total length of the lid frame stock is easily greater than the combined length of the 4 pieces of the frame. Example, for a 10x5 box, you would need 31"+ of length (remember the saw blade removes ~1/10" with each pass, and the ends of the pieces may not align to the saw length perfectly). It doesn't hurt to leave room for error.
Ensure that the contact faces of the pieces are sanded smooth before gluing. Glue, clamp, and set the pieces. Sand to remove excess glue after it dries. You will then have quite a nice looking piece of frame stock!
Rip a 1/4" deep notch into what will be the inside edge of the top, using the same method as the legs, to fit the top panel. Remember to check carefully after each pass over the blade.
Cut the frame stock into the 4 pieces at *exactly* 45.0 degrees (recommend looking into making a basic table saw miter jig, this is a useful thing to have) with the outside edge length being the desired dimension of the top.
Mock up the frame and measure the inside dimensions - remember that the panel will fit into the notch and add 1/4" on each edge to your measurements, and then cut the top panel.
Assemble the pieces and check the fit. Once satisfied, use a band clamp, or a jury-rigged assembly as pictured, to glue and set it. Ensure that it is square and all edges meet nicely. If your corners aren't mitered at 45.0 degrees, it will show here!
Step 5: Bringing It All Together
After the lid is done gluing, give it a once-over with sandpaper to remove excess dried glue, and secure it to the base with a small hinge to each rear leg.
I recommend securing it slowly and carefully, as a misaligned top will drive you nuts.
Use pilot holes for the hinge screws, with a very small bit, to a very careful depth, to ensure you don't drill through the lid. This will keep the delicate threads of the hinge screws from stripping.
I also decided to add some walnut flourishes to the bottom outside edges, and to the inside of the base of the box. The outside edge profile is accomplished by ripping a 3/4" square piece of the walnut to a depth of about 5/8" and a thickness of 1/8" along two faces. The inside trim is simply 1/8" thick pieces. These can all be secured with glue.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
And finally, it's time to finish the box!
I sanded the lid up through 2000 grit for a high polish, and in retrospect this was unnecessary. I would sand it through 220 grit, and if higher gloss is desired, sand with 320 grit. Polishing with #000 or #0000 steel wool will remove sanding dust from the grain and put a beautiful, uniform surface on the wood.
There are many choices for which finish to use - Polyurethane is fine, however I do also recommend trying out Danish oil if you haven't used it yet. I went with Danish oil, and it brought out the character of the wood beautifully.
At this point you will have a lovely, finished keepsake box that will be treasured by the receiver for many years to come.
Thank you for looking and good luck with your very own version!
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