Make a Note Box With a Japanese Lock




Introduction: Make a Note Box With a Japanese Lock

The pictured boxes were a present for a good friend's wedding. He asked for a couple boxes to sit on the guest sign in table, one to hold a bottle of wine and the other would hold notes from friends and family attending the wedding. The plan is for them to open both boxes on their one year anniversary and drink the wine while reading through their notes. This is a really cool idea as the alternative, common tradition would be for them to eat some half nasty frozen cake that's sat in the back of their freezer for a year. We have some funny traditions...

Today, we'll be making the box to the right since it was the most interesting and fun to make.

A little background on the wood I'll be using:

Ever since I was a little kid, I would see this patch of huge sycamore trees off our local highway and never thought much about them, but I certainly remembered them. A couple years ago, I noticed they were all cut down and lying in the grass. I exited immediately and drove into the field to see if they were free for the taking. The guys out there were happy to let me take whatever I wanted as they were mulching everything up to make the nearby billboards more visible. Sad that they were cut down, but happy that I got a truck bed full of various sized pieces. Several of the pieces were left outdoors, covered, but exposed to the elements. This helped create the spalted effect in the following pictures. For spalting information, check our friend, Google.

Enough of the sappy story, let's get to building.


Instagram: @jessemckee

Step 1: Mill the Wood

I axed a stump of the spalted maple down to more manageable pieces and began milling them on my bandsaw at 5/8" thickness. This is so I can plane the pieces down to their desired 1/2" thickness.

I milled enough for the sides, top and bottom. In don't have the measurements. Sorry.

Step 2: Joinery and Assembling the Box

For the corner joinery, I decided to cut rabbets. Before cutting, I scribed a 'knife wall' to eliminate blowout.

For the bottom, I cut a groove and left space for wood expansion. Since this piece is so small, it shouldn't be too much trouble, but it's a good habit to always keep this in mind when working with solid wood.

Step 3: Japanese Lock

First, here's how the lid fits in and locks so what I refer to will make sense. hopefully...

A couple things come into play here regarding the lid. The size of the opening and the thickness of the lid. The lid itself is about 1" shorter than the opening. as the lid needs to angle in, then maneuver around the walnut bottom and top lips. If you look at the walnut components, they are what's creating the lock, not the actual lid.

For the lid and mechanism, I used walnut for contrast. This is why I always keep my hardwood scraps. These 4 pieces are thicknessed to 1/2". and I started cutting everything before gluing. All the angles and fine tuning was done with a hand plane. the smallest shavings really make the difference. Unfortunately, I don't have a formula for this process, but a little trial and error will help you with whatever size box you are making.

The wedge is tapered slightly to push the lid closed. The wedge being long is a design feature, no reason in particular. It's possible that with the seasons, the wedge will go in a little deeper or stick out a little further with wood expansion.

Knowing that there will be a bit of force from the wedge, I added brass pins for support and looks. They're each about 1" long. The picture below is just before hammering them home.

Step 4: The Finish

I used natural danish oil for this box which added a nice warmness.

I did test some stains, just out of curiosity, but my spalted sycamore didn't stain well as I also included the sap wood on this project. Never know until you try.

Hope you enjoyed this project and are inspired to tackle this easy project!

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    24 Discussions

    Nice looking box. I like the idea of opening a bottle of wine and reading notes a year later. The photos, videos, and instructions were easy to follow. I like the natural grain of the wood you chose. I like that you did not stain the wood, just clear coat it. Good luck in the contest.

    Hi, I voted for you and your beautiful box. The japanese lock feature is what caught my interest and is so beautiful in its simplicity. Other posts are right in the brevity of pictures and written instructions make this a tougher instructable to follow, thou not impossible. I just wish I had access to the tools and machines you used! Beautiful, beautiful box, wish it were mine :)

    1 reply

    Thanks! You're right, it is a bit brief as making this project into an Instructable was an afterthought in contrast to my other posts. The voices have been heard and I'll make sure to photograph the progress on all projects coming up.

    Very beautiful work, but as an instructable it was unclear. With just a couple pics of only part of the components and no labeling on the images, I wasn't able to follow the construction steps and have no idea what the other parts look like such as the lock and lid mechanism. Regardless, beautiful woodwork!

    3 replies

    I completely agree. This is called Instructables for the instructions not videolinkables.

    Hey Glen, I wouldn't have included video if it's wasn't an option while creating my Instructable. On the How to Create and Instructable page, they say "Create a new instructable. Explain what you made with text, images, video, and files."

    Here is an animation for a box with similar construction, the lid works the same way.


    2 years ago

    Very nice! I love the way you used the spalted wood. I emailed the url to our son in CA so he can look at the project and vote for it as I did. I also dragged my husband over and made him check out your project and the cool Japanese lock and then vote.

    1 reply

    i remember when spalted wood was rotten kindling. my, have times changed.

    1 reply

    I'm glad you didn't stain it, that would diminish the spalting. That's what really gives the wood its character.

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    Fine work!

    I like the Japanese lock.

    The brass pins are good too.

    Have you seen the pin that knife makers use?

    1 reply

    Thanks! Those pins are really interesting. I may have to look through some for future projects.

    sycamore or maple? Looks like maple but your story was about sycamores being removed. I as because I'm a novice and wish to understand wood and be better able to identify by characteristics

    1 reply

    This is sycamore, which spalts exactly like maple. It's much softer, but easy to work with.

    The only way I knew the wood was sycamore is because I saw the wood as a tree, otherwise, I wouldn't be able to tell based on the grain that this was sycamore due to my limited knowledge of some wood species.

    Couldn't find any animation link...

    Really nicely spalted eucs! Great box project - so simple and elegant. Voted for your project!

    1 reply