Sunday, February 19, 2017

Too much information?

I got an email from a reader of my new book,  Tiny Boxes, asking for more information about making inlay on pages 20 and 21. He wanted to know the exact thicknesses of the strips to be cut and was curious how the patterned strips could be assembled into the pattern shown.  I provided that information to him via email. In your case, I'll ask that you go to pages 20 and 21 and puzzle out what you can, first.

I can understand that  some readers would like exacting instructions, but there is a very good reason to leave some out. The point in my writing it not to create exact clones of my own work, but to encourage the reader to take steps leading to growth. If everything is laid out in too much precision, where will the reader's own experimentation and growth occur? And is it not better to be puzzled and to work some things out for yourself?

Furniture designer/writer/craftsman Michael Cullen has a box project that my readers will enjoy. He provides just the right amount of information, enabling the  viewer after watching a 5 minute video, to take concrete steps in making his or her own box. The point, of course, is not to exactly duplicate Michael's work. That would be a form of theft, would it not? But to watch over his shoulders as he creates a very lovely band sawn box is a valuable thing. You can watch a video of his project on the Fine Woodworking website.

I am interested in crating a boxmaking 101 news journal. If you are willing to be added to the mailing list, please email me and sign up.

To make something useful and beautiful is to re-create oneself in that same image.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dovetail spline system for boxes...

I'm testing the Infinity Dovetail Spline system for a product review in Fine Woodworking Magazine. Part of my agreement is to make a box that can be used to help illustrate the success of the system.

The system uses a router platform that can either be mounted to the box, or used inverted on the router table. The router table is my system of choice. The platform has fingers that allow it to follow a standard guide bushing mounted in the router base.

The second part of the system is equally important as it allows the box maker to cut tapered dovetail shaped splines or keys that slide tightly in place with glue. To further test the system, I'll nest an additional smaller key inside the larger ones to make an even more interesting joint.

As you can see in the photos, so far, so good. After the glue has set, the keys will be routed flush with the box sides so the next step can be taken

You can find the Infinity system at

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

mesquite domino box

This lovely mesquite box for dominoes was made by my cousin David Bye and submitted for publication.

If you have a box you would like to share with other readers,  send photos.

I am currently making boxes to test an Infinity Dovetail Spline Jig, for a review in Fine Woodworking Magazine. So pictures of a box made with that jig will be available in the days to come.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

For the love of wood...

When I teach I often ask students to bring a piece of their own wood to use in class. It can be small enough to fit in a suitcase. It can be something they bought specifically to use in class, or it can be something they've saved for years. It can be something from a friend, or from family.

The point here is that creativity often starts with wood. The love of wood is why one would choose to make a box from wood rather than any other material, and having each student bring something from their own shop guarantees that at some point in the course of a week-long class in box making, each student will have done work that reflects their own values, their own sense of beauty, and their own sense of relationship.

The question my students often ask, however, is what size does it need to be in order to be useful in class? Of course it depends to some degree on the size of the box the student would want to make. Most of my box making starts with wood that is 1 in. (4 quarter) to 1 1/4 in. (5/4) thick. This leaves the wood thick enough to re-saw  using either the band saw or table saw into box sides of a reasonable thickness.

The other question my students ask, is "How much wood should I bring?" Again, that depends. Not all students will have come from a driving distance away, and whatever you bring, that you can't use can be shared and used thereby to build relationships with new friends in the class.

A third question that my students often ask is 'What woods look good together?" That was the subject of an article I wrote for Woodcraft Magazine for their June/July issue available here.

Make yourself smart and your life meaningful. Try box making.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Does the lid "pop?"

I got a letter from a reader asking about the fit of lids....
I have been following your designs from the book Basic Box Making, and am learning so very much.  Thanks so much for sharing your passion, skill, and expertise.

I do have one quick question about the small boxes with lift off lids.  How tight of a fit do you usually make the lids.  I have been in a bit of disagreement with a fellow beginning box maker, so I was wondering what you have found to be best.  Do you think people prefer a lid to slide off quite easily, or come off with a “pop?”  I know its probably a silly question, but it is one which has kept me worried about how best to cut the lip on my lids.

Thanks so much for all you do to inspire!  
I would remember that wood is a living material, even after its cut and dried, in that it expands and contracts across its width due to changes in moisture content in the air. Build too tight, and expansion can push joints apart under extreme conditions. What may fit with a “pop” today may not even open tomorrow. Part of this is solved by knowing the moisture content of the woods you are using. If the moisture content of the lid is a bit high, you can build a bit tight, knowing it will shrink. If a bit low, leave it very slightly loose in fit. It might "pop" later on but not push the sides of the box loose.

This is also a matter of personal taste. One thing in your favor in making small boxes, is that due to the size of the material, you will not have movement to the same degree as is experienced in furniture making with wide panels of wood.

I hope this helps.

tools for box making

I got a letter from a reader as follows: 
"I enjoy working carpentry as a hobby and  I would like to learn about box making, I recently discovered your blog and its great, but I'm not sure if a have the right tools, of course, have some tools but I would like to know which ones do you consider  are the essential ones to start working in box making and which ones you recommend to get for a better job."
For a beginning box maker, even one with carpentry experience,  I suggest that my reader consider one of my books, or a box making book by another fine author. They will show the kinds of tools that I routinely use and provide all kinds of techniques using those tools that will be useful in box making. I also teach summer classes and weekend classes for woodworking clubs. Having tools is sone thing. Knowing how to use them safely and effectively another.

I was reminded of a reader years ago, who knowing that his father in law was coming from Japan, wanted to make a box to give him as a gift. He chose a box from chapter 7 of my first book, then went through the book from the beginning, buying each tool. When it came time to build the box (two weeks before the arrival of his new father in law) he called me asking how to get started. Having the right tools is not the same as knowing how to use them.

That said, I use the table saw, jointer, planer, router table, clamps of various kinds, whereas the carpenter these days may use a skill saw, compound miter saw, and hammers.

In box making with kids at the Clear Spring School, we use hand saws, planes, hammers, and nails, so the full shop approach is not required, and if a person wants to get going at it, a good solution is to start with what you have and build from there.

The box shown above is by one of my 5th grade students, and made for her teacher, Hannah.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

quadrant hinges

I had cleaned my shop and burned some old templates in the woodstove, but found this one as I was trying to help one of my readers face the installation of quadrant hinges. It is not my latest technique for installing quadrant hinges, as now I do it on the router table using a story stick technique. The pencil markings on the jig are to help my reader understand the making of it.

Readers are a source of inspiration for me. They call on occasion with questions and fresh challenges, that lead me to scratch my head, rethink my processes and attempt to clarify my techniques. Sometimes reader questions suggest articles that need to be written, or things that need to be added when I teach. The point is that we grow together.

I have submitted the idea of installing quadrant hinges to Fine Woodworking magazine, and hope to offer more information at a later date.

Quadrant hinges are complex, interesting and daunting, as my box making readers will attest.

Today students return from holiday break to the Clear Spring School. They will be excited to be in wood shop.

Make, fix, create, and increase the likelihood that others love learning likewise.