Wooden Music Box



Introduction: Wooden Music Box

About: My husband spoils me! I spend my life covered in sawdust and paint - I'm the luckiest person in the world!

Alaskan Bev heading out to the wood shop (actually, enjoying a holiday Hallowe'en party with her Boy Scout troop).

Wood and stone are my favorite art media. One can pick up stones and rocks nearly anywhere; one can also spend obscene amounts of hard-earned cash on exotic rocks. This Instructable will focus on wood, which is a very soothing, comfortable material with which to work.

I have a favorite blue box store about twenty miles away and I love their selections of all kinds of lumber. I also received a generous educator's grant from them a few years ago that allowed my students to enjoy countless hours of building and community volunteer donations, so excuse any fond bias that I am at times inclined to demonstrate.

My father owned a hardware/sporting goods store while I was growing up, so a journey through any well-stocked lumber yard is always a happy memory. These music boxes may be made with any good scraps of lumber that you happen to have on hand or you may make your own trip to your favorite lumber yard. The music boxes pictured are made with project-specific quarter-inch hardwood that is inexpensive and very easy to work with and cut. They are 5 7/8" long, 5 1/2" deep, and 2 3/4" tall (not counting the 5/8" feet) but I have made them with many other dimensions and shapes.

They are lined inside with cut-to-size felt "squares," which are actually rectangles 11 1/2" by 9", or about the size of printer paper, and can be bought at craft stores. (I have given up asking store employees where their felt rectangles are located.) I use that on two sides and the bottom just for a decorative touch; one may optionally use none or cover all sides. This helps me avoid the residual odor of the Polyurethane that I use to cover the outer surface of the box. The music box workings may be purchased at hobby stores or ordered online. The wooden pegs lift the box up from its resting place so that the music can be heard more readily whether the lid is left on or off. These pegs came from a large craft store but I have also used river pebbles. When using pegs (or "feet") that may not be absolutely uniform in size I use three rather than four, one on both sides of the front of the box and the other one in the middle along the back edge. This avoids tilting and tipping but adds a very unique decorative touch.

The music boxes that I make for careful adults are just glued together with good quality wood glue. When my students build them they usually prefer to use 1" by 4"s or 1" by 6"s and screw the sides together after they have been glued in place, squared off, and allowed to dry. This allows them to use their math skills, hand tools, and power drivers, which enhances their feeling of power.

A same or matching piece of felt inside the lid makes the lid stay where it is placed and avoids having to add wood strips inside the lid to keep it in place. I like to use a decorative felt inside the box and a same-color piece of plain felt inside the lid, but you may go wild and crazy with your own combinations! Have fun! You'll enjoy creating this gift even more than the receiver does!

Step 1: Materials Needed

Above: side square, commercial T-square, homemade T-square

Cut list: very fluid, as explained in the introduction.

lumber of your own choosing and sizes, including 1-2 small pieces of stopper wood to help hold music-maker in place while winding

abrasive paper (sandpaper, preferred grits)

2 hinges (the lid may be hinged at your option; I usually don't bother)

music box

felt (optional)

scissors for cutting the felt

Polyurethane, aliphatic resin, paint, stain, or other protective material for the outside of the box

small brushes for painting and gluing

nitrile gloves

3-4 pegs or feet, plus one more for the outside top of the box

dental floss to help hold bead in place if you use one on the lid


handsaw or miter box or other wood cutting aids

measuring device


square, for giving your sides nice right-angle attachment to the base

protective gear: mask to avoid inhaling varnish fumes or sawdust, work gloves, hearing protection while using power tools, goggles (you really don't want to be interrupted mid-project to go wash sawdust out of your eyes!)

screws and screwdriver or power driver if you are screwing the sides and bottom together

trusty pocketknife, just because the constant feeling of a pocketknife keeps one in a mindset to work

Step 2: Process - Building Your Music Box! :-)

Above: homemade side square, orange plastic commercial square, yellow plastic speed square

Depending on the wood you are using, decide on the size of your box. The width usually determines the width of the bottom and lid. Cut two pieces of this the length that you want your box. Accomplished box makers will have no problem with this.

Decide how wide you want your box and cut the two sides, allowing for either attaching them to the bottom inside or outside of the length pieces.Be sure your opposing sides are exactly the same length!

Now you have six small pieces of wood to sand. This can be done by hand, with or without a sanding jig, unless you prefer to use a power sander (which my students love). Sanding small pieces by hand, I often hold the sandpaper against the work surface and rub the wood against the sandpaper.

Examine your pieces and see which ones you want to fit where. The interesting grain of your wood may help you decide.

Also decide which sides will be the inside of your lid. If you are adding a decorative handle, use a straight-edge and pencil to mark diagonal lines from corner to kitty-corner. The lines will be covered by the felt if you are adding it inside the lid. If not, you will want to draw very light lines that can be easily erased after your hole is drilled. Where the lines meet should be dead-center, which is where you will drill a tiny hole if you are tying or screwing your handle in place. If you are using a handle with two attachment screws, however, instead measure the sides of the lid, mark the center lightly with a pencil along the inside edge of the side. Do this on the opposite side as well. Use a straightedge to draw a line across the center. Position your handle from the midpoint, then mark and drill your holes.

Sand gently around the hole(s) on the inside and outside of the lid.

Step 3: Assembling

Above: using two types of side squares

Place the base on your flat clean or covered work surface and place the front of the box against the inside or outside edge of the base (whichever method you have chosen). I have tried both with equal satisfaction. With your finger or brush, apply a thin layer of wood glue to the bottom edge of your front side and the matching portion of the edge of the base, affix and hold in place for a moment. Line your square up along the outside if your front side is on the outside of the base, and inside on the base itself if you are positioning it to be in place on the inside. Remember to allow for proper positioning of the sides! If you have a small square or jig that will fit inside of the box, you may now likewise attach the back side. Allow this to set for an hour or so. Check it a couple of times to be sure that the sides are remaining square (at perfect right-angles to the base).

For beginning wood workers, it helps to draw a pencil line along each side that will need gluing. The glue works together with itself so that you need a thin layer of glue wherever the wood meets.

After the front and back are dry, square, and firmly attached, fit the right and left sides into place and glue them as before, being sure to square them up. Few things in life are sadder than having to backtrack and try to match up uneven sides! It is well worth the wait to let the sides dry properly. Go fix dinner, do the dishes, read a good book, or get outdoors for a couple of hours and let the wood glue and squares do their work. It is well worth the wait!

Do any gentle touch-up sanding that may be indicated.

Use wood glue to attach your pegs or feet to the inside corners of the outside of the base, again placing a thin layer of glue to the meeting end of the peg and the place where it will sit on the base. If you are using three pegs, two go in the corners on the front and one in the middle of the back side. Allow to dry completely.

Place the music box right-side-up on your clean work surface and admire it!

Step 4: Making Music!

Two views of the same box. The second box shows the false bottom removed to reveal hidden treasures! A music workings was added later. My students love building "secret boxes."

Decide where you want to place your music box workings. I usually place mine in the back left corner but it can go anywhere, even in the middle if you wish.

Use a pencil to draw around the base of the music workings. If you are going to glue in felt, the pencil marks will be covered. Gently wind the winding grip on the end of the stem counter-clockwise until it falls off in your hand. Put this aside in a safe place where it will not fall on the floor or become a cat toy. With a dark Sharpie, coat the base of the winding stem and press the music makings firmly against the base. This will leave a small dark circle, which is where you will drill your hole for the winding stem.

Position the box on supports so you can drill through the base without drilling on beneath where you did not want a hole! Use a straightedge or eyeball the size of the music workings and draw two lines around the outside of the base so that you can drill three or four more small holes. This will allow the music to be heard more easily.

Now the stem hole needs to be enlarged. I use one or two more drill bits to work up to 3/4" size. If the stem does not fit easily through this hole, adjust it until it does. A countersink used gently on each side of the base is often enough to accomplish this quickly. It is very satisfying to hold the music workings in place with one thumb as you replace the grip for a moment and try it and are rewarded with the wonderful song you have selected!

Gently do a last sanding over the holes if needed.

Now the pegs or feet may be glued to the outside bottom of the base. Apply wood glue to the bottom of the peg and the spot on the base where it is to be attached. Allow plenty of time for these to dry sufficiently. On some boxes I have inset the base by 1/2" or so and then just drilled a couple of extra holes in the back, right behind where the box is positioned inside. Then I do not use pegs or feet.

Step 5: Finishing the Outside

This box with a forced-fitting lid is now ready for the outside finish.

I like plain or satin Varethane because I love to see the wood grain. Use that or whatever protective finish you have selected. I usually use disposable foam brushes because I like the way they work. They make life much easier for special education students, but I also do a proper brush cleaning class with them so they know how to use and take care of hair brushes. I use Nitrile gloves for this step.

I position two drying aids on top of a plastic trash bag in the bathtub, which is a good place (at my house) for finished pieces to dry for a few hours or overnight. During warm weather, what little we have of it in Alaska, I let them dry in my unheated wood shop. My official drying props are two wide-lid household containers.

With outstretched fingers support the bottom of the lid. With a dampened (not dripping) brush, stroke finish around the four facing sides of the lid. Refreshing the brush as needed, stroke finish across the top of the lid. Set down the brush. With just the fingers of each hand, hold the inside of the lid and set it on a prop to dry.

Apply a careful layer of finish to just the thin top edges of the box. Then with outstretched fingers of each hand on the inside of the box, apply finish to the up-side-down bottom of the box, including the pegs. Still holding the box up-side-down, apply finish to the four outer sides of the box. Then set down brush and carefully place up-side-down on prop for drying.

Repeat entire procedure after a few hours if you wish. If you are painting your box, the varnish is a good idea for your second coat. Some people like to sand down the first varnished coat and then revarnish the whole thing. I usually don't bother.

Step 6: Finishing the Lid

Above: slightly blurry, but the lids are complete with attached lifting handles.

With these two lids I used a matching peg and along with gluing it in place I added the stabilizing and decorative colored bead. To do this I ran 8-10" of dental floss through the bead, threaded it through the hole, tied a knot at the bottom, and stretched the remainder out toward the corners, then glued it down by hand with a thin layer of wood glue.

Cut felt to size, just an eighth-inch or so smaller by length and width so it will not need trimming. Apply wood glue by hand or with a brush to almost the edges of the inside of the lid. Press felt into place. Place it up-side-down on a mug or cup to dry, which does not take long.

Now we proceed to the last stage, finishing the inside of the box.

Step 7: Finishing the Box

I am happy with the way these music boxes turned out and I think my friends will be very surprised to receive them this year.

If you are going to add felt to two or four of the insides, cut it to size. The red felt-lined box is 5 3/32" inches across inside; the blue-lined box is 5 5/8" across. I use a paper cutter, which produces fast straight edges. I cut it down the length of the felt rectangle. Fit it to length. Press firmly into both lines where sides meet. Use a Sharpie to poke through the winding stem hole from the bottom and mark the bottom of the felt. Mark the top sides with pencil or push-pins, then cut to length. With scissors, cut a small hole for the winding stem to go through. This does not need to be a perfect, round hole; it will be covered by the music workings.

Lightly coat the to-be-lined sides with wood glue, then press felt into place and set aside to dry.

Press music workings into place, pushing the winding stem through the hole in the felt.

Use small blocks of cut, sanded wood of your choice (scraps work fine) and glue them on the two inner sides of the box against the music workings to help hold it in place during winding. Remind the music box recipient to hold the music workings with one thumb while winding.

If you are placing the box in the center or otherwise inside from the corners, you will need to glue your small holding strips against all four sides. When my students use 1 by 4"s they like to drill holes up from the bottom and screw these strips into place once the glue has dried.

Place the lid on the box and admire your beautiful handiwork! Be prepared for many admirers to make requests or offer to commission special pieces!

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