back to the box

Apart from reading just about every magazine that hit the newsstands since we bought our house several years back, I’m basically a self-taught woodworker. I’ve only taken two classes. One a 5-week lathe class (spindle turning), the other a ten-week intro class – where I designed and built my pub table. (The first project I posted on Lumberjocks). I finished those classes a little over a year ago, and my wife and I agreed that I could continue to take classes as time and budget allowed. Consequently, I haven’t. Partially due to the fact that there aren’t any places offering classes less than an hours drive (oneway).

I’ve tried to stick to my projects list, and try to fit in regular time at the lathe to keep my skills sharp and try to learn new things. As you can no doubt imagine, not having a structured environment and a dedicated block of time is not conducive to such things.

A couple weekends ago, I stumbled across “Box by Box“: by Jim Stack. In this book, the author essentially teaches woodworking through a series of 21 projects increasing in challenge and scope.

Following the premise that just about everything is a box (your house, your desk, your TV), I think this will be a nice, “get back to basics” and class all rolled into one. Something I’ll be able to translate into my other projects. Yes, this is adding to my List, but I think I’ll end up ahead of where I would have been had I kept plugging along doing things randomly.

The first is a small and simple box with butt joinery. The final is veneered chest for your finest silverware. In between there’s a bandsaw box, a shaker style box, a locking safe (which really appeals to me), and even a 20 sided one.

I really liked the layout of this book. Step by step pictures, a little bit of editorial, illustrations, and a cut list. I was impressed that most of these can be built with a modest set of tools (or less). I came home thinking that I’d try to complete these 21 boxes in 21 weeks, but as the projects increase in scope I may not be able to stick to that schedule… but I’m going to do the best I can.

Yesterday I started the first one, and apart from waiting for glue to dry, this box took no more than a few hours. While the box is complete, I have yet to finish it – that process may take longer than all the construction did! If I had the lumber ready, I could have jumped right onto the second project, so we’ll see how the timing goes.

Having completed the first project, I found a couple minor issues with the book, but none to make it worth not recommending. There is a list of tools needed.  Most are optional, at least at first. Part of why I bought the book was because I already had most, if not all the tools listed in each project. For the first project, random orbit or stationary sanders are listed as optional, planes are optional, only a hand saw with a miterbox and sandpaper is required. However, for some of the later projects a router is neccessary, but never seems to be mentioned anywhere except in the step by step. It’s obvious in the pictures… an oversight in the proofing process? Probably.

The other thing is that there is a cut list, but never a mention of how much lumber you actually need. Frustrating for a first timer I’d say (go down to the lumberyard and ask for some yellow pine. How much? I dunno, the book doesn’t say.) Granted I’d be one to doublecheck a cut list against the bill of materials anyway. I can also figure out some ways to get around not having a router for the time being. Being my own “teacher” in this “class” I can certainly do projects out of order!

As I mentioned, I do think the book is laid out very well, and I also like that it has a spiral binding (cleverly disquised as a hardcover book) so it lies flat on the workbench. The author intends this book for all levels of woodworkers, and I think it would appeal to all but the most green (who might need a little more hand-holding), and the master level furniture makers who can make a 20 sided box half asleep.

*The first project:*

The first box is a small cherry box made from 1/4 inch stock. I thought I’d have to make my own, perhaps resaw some oak or maple instead, or use some 1/4” aspen I already had on hand – so I could get started right away.

Fortunately for this project, I remembered already buying some 1/4 inch cherry (for another project (a much more complex box) I still haven’t got around to making. So with that in hand I headed on down to the shop, cut up the pieces for a 5” x 1 1/2” x 3” box. (I told you it was small). I had 4 pieces approx 5×12, and I only needed slightly more than one of them… Something neat, and challenging about making a box of such little material! Glue up was a pain, ended up using tape for clamping, which worked much better than any clamps I had available.

I used my disc sander attachment for my shopsmith to square up the sides, and when I tried fitting the lid, it rocked a bit. Turns out I had 1/32 high spots, which surprisingly only took a little bit of sanding to get everything all nice and even. The only other challenge was getting the glue out of the corners inside the box. I did the best I could during clamp up, and with a chisel after. After assembly, there were two small areas where the sides didn’t meet tightly. A tiny bit of glue and a little sanding fixed that problem perfectly. I had to do something. Such a small mistake looms large on such a tiny piece.

Once I finish the box, I’ll add some new pictures, with something to help give a sense of scale.

Since this ended up taking way less time than I thought it would, I managed to get two other projects done, and off my list! Well, nearly. But that’s another blog.

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