I designed these cube frames as gifts for friends and family. The basic idea allows you to make boxes with a variety of different options for faces. You can use glass or acrylic panels for displaying photos, or wood panels for clocks and weather instruments. All of these can be assembled and disassembled inside the wooden frame, which remains intact. Even though the frame holds the panels in, which are pressing out against it, you can still maneuver the panels within the frame to remove and replace them. This lets you change photos, replace clock movements, replace damaged panels, or just change it up for any reason. The key to this versatility is the use of springs inside the box to hold the panels out against the inside of the frame. If you like this project, please click the "vote" button to vote for it in the box contest!
Family photos were used by permission of Staring Down The Sun Studios www.staringdownthesun.com.
- Frame wood: I recommend hardwood. I used 6 inch (125 mm ) x 3/4 inch (19 mm) maple, which was available for me at the local building supply.
- Wood glue
- Springs: I used helical springs with about 1/4 inch (6 mm) inner diameter, cut 5 inches (100 mm) long.
- Dowel: 1/4 inch (6 mm) diameter, cut into 4 pieces, about 1.25 inches (31 mm) long.
- Wooden balls: I found these available online, but you could also make your own. I used 3/4 inch (19 mm) diameter balls with a 1/4 inch (6 mm) hole in them, which fits the dowel. If the hole is smaller, you can drill it out to the size of your dowel.
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Step 1: Frame Plans
I attached drawings of the frame pieces you can print out and use. The pdf version is more readable.
There are units shown in mm and inches, but you really need to pick one or the other to avoid problems with my rounding error.
Step 2: Cut Stair-step Profile
In the drawings, you can see that all the pieces of the frame have the same three-step profile. I prefer to cut this with the table saw. First I rip 30 inch (760mm) long square strips, then clamp melamine to the fence to support the strips on top and both sides. These photos show the same setup from two viewpoints. I push each strip through the tunnel with the next strip, then finish with a piece of scrap. Each time I cut, I set up with a scrap test piece to cut, measure the result, and adjust the setup as needed to get all the dimensions within about .010 inch (.25mm).
Incidentally, if you have a Shopsmith like mine, I wrote an instructable on how I get more precise cuts like these. You can find it here.
Step 3: Cut Lengths and Notches
Cutting the strips to length is easier. Precision still counts here, too. Take time to make test cuts and use stop blocks to make repeatable cuts. For the notches at the ends, I used a homemade crosscut sled (shown in the photo) with a square shaper cutter. There are other options, of course, like a router table.
Step 4: Assemble and Glue Frame
Glue together square sides of the cube first. I made square panels with the corners cut off to hold the square shape without sticking to the glue when clamped together. Once two opposite square frames are glued, you can join them with the remaining four pieces.
Step 5: Sand Faces Flat and Round Edges
The frames are small enough that I was able to sand each face flat with a 12" disc sander. Then I used my homemade router table to round the edges with a 1/4" (6mm) roundover bit.
Step 6: Make Face Panels
As mentioned earlier, you can make all sorts of panels for the cube, just under 4 inch (100 mm) square. You need to make at least one from a piece of 1/4 inch (6mm) thick wood and bore a 2.5 inch (64mm) hole in it with a hole saw. This will be the bottom panel through which you will insert the springs later. I made lots of these panels from cedar closet-liner, which is pretty weak. To prevent them from breaking when I cut the holes. I sandwiched them between two MDF boards with spacers all around as shown in the photo. I used dowel pins to align the Top MDF board (not shown).
As mentioned, the other panels can be clear for displaying photos. Use caution when cutting glass and wet-sand the sharp edges to prevent cuts. Whether using glass or acrylic for the panel, cut a piece of thick card stock the same size to go behind the photo and hold it in place.
Step 7: Prepare Remaining Parts
I glued short dowels into holes in the wooden balls. The dowels fit inside the springs to hold the balls on the ends. I cut the springs 5 inches long, then screwed one into the other at the middle to make an "X". Drill a small hole through the dowels from one side to the other. Insert the dowels into the ends of the springs, then thread a small wire through the holes and twist to tie them onto the spring and keep them from falling off when you're installing them in the cubes later.
Step 8: Assemble
The trick to this design is that four balls hold six panels by supporting each panel at two points on opposite corners. Since each ball contacts three panels, arranging the balls at opposite corners (the corners of a tetrahedron) supports the whole cube. Four balls x three points per ball = 12 points = six panels x two points per panel.
Assemble the cube upside down with the bottom panel up. You can fit all the panels into the frame by turning them to go through the opening diagonally, then putting them in place pressed out against the inside of the frame. While holding the panels in place with one hand (or a friend's hand) install the springs and balls as shown in the photos through the large hole in the bottom panel. This can take some patience and a little practice. For clarity, the top panel in the photos is clear so you can see the locations of the balls.
Now you're done- or are you? You can always rearrange and replace the panels, but your frame is ready to hold your photos, or whatever else you might like to put in it that fits in a 4" x 4" square.
Step 9: P.S.
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Runner Up in the
Box Contest 2017