Sunday, November 14, 2010

latest box design

since I'm still not bored with my latest box design, I share it again, after adding one more coat of oil, a lining, and felt feet. this will be sent to Fine Woodworking to be shared with readers as part of a router bit review.

Friday, November 12, 2010

testing router bits...

I have been asked by Fine Woodworking to do a small box to demonstrate the use of the tiny router bits, so I am making a small Greene and Greene styled box with box joint corners. First (after resawing and planing the stock to an appropriate thickness) comes the use of the table saw sled to cut the parts to exacting lengths. This requires two settings of the stop block.
Two settings of the stop block gives material for two boxes.

Next, I use a sled on the table saw with a guide pin to cut the finger joints. as shown in the images below. Now the box parts are ready to test router bits.

This technique of cutting box joints becomes easier with practice. Knowing just how tight to hold the stock against the guidepin helps. If you apply a lot of pressure one time, but simply just touch lightly the next, the distance between cuts can be distorted leading to a poor fit between parts. Practice, practice, and practice.

Use a  5/16 in. box joint blade and 5/16 in. drill bit as guide pin.

Trial fitted finger joints... a tight, but near perfect fit.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sander holder

A reader, Roger, sent this idea for holding a sander inverted for sanding small boxes. It is simply a board, some zip ties, and clamps.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Planing thin stock

Reader Ray, asked the following:
I'm looking at one of the plans in your Basic Box Making book - the jewelery box - to find out more about dividers. You use 1/8" stock and that would seem good for the box I want to make. My thickness planer recommends 1/4" as the thinnest cut for material. How do you get material that thin? I've done a quick check at the local stores and they don't have anything like that in stock. I don't want to buy a thickness sander - although it sounds like a great tool.
Lay a piece of 3/4 inch plywood on the table of the planer and attach a cleat at the under side of the board. Use it as a support under the planer cut. Wax it so that the wood slides smoothly on it. At Marc Adams School of Woodworking, the planers are equipped with melamine boards for this purpose. The melamine provides an extra smooth passage for thin wood through the cut. I also rip thin wood on the table saw, and depending on the sharpness and quality of the blade, I can get a pretty smooth cut requiring little sanding. If using the planer to get 1/8 inch stock be sure to support it as it enters and exits the cut. I lift up on in developing some curvature which develops a tension that helps it to not be lifted by the blades during the cut. In the photo, a cleat on the underside of the board secures it in place on the planer table.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

let it begin with schooling

As many of my readers know, my first published articles and books were about box making, and still, after over 30 years as a professional woodworker, a portion of my annual income is from making small boxes to sell through gift shops, craft fairs and galleries. I got the following email on Friday describing the potential for box making in schools...
I teach woodshop at a public high school in St. Paul, MN and wanted to write you and tell you that your box making book is taking my school by storm. I recently was told to teach a reading based woodshop class where the students had to read as much as cut wood. The students found it boring to begin with but when I introduced your DVD and the first section of your book to them, including the introduction, my attendance went up and stayed up and the students loved the simple design of your lift lid box. I am just finishing up my first set of boxes today and I have students, whom I don't know, coming by and they ask to build one!

Thanks so much! It's easy to teach to students with enthusiasm! Your book made it possible.
Box making is such a wonderful way to become engaged in woodworking. The amount of materials required is small. The amount of storage space for materials and materials handling is small and far more predictable. You can learn every form of woodworking skill by making boxes, using every tool in the wood shop and learning what it and you can do. In box making you can make expressive heirloom objects that motivate students to learn.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

tapered sides

Today I began work on a very small walnut chest of drawers with sides that taper toward the top. "How does one make sides that taper toward the top?" You ask.

It is simple, as shown in the photo above. A block of wood attached with double stick carpet tape under one end allows the wood to pass unevenly through the planer, taking off more at one end than the other. It takes several passes through the planer to get this result.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

more on proportion

A reader, Ray asked about the thickness of box sides relative to the proportions of the box. The boxes I make range in wall thickness from 5/16" up to 5/8"depending on size and the particular look of the box. There are no hard and fast rules, but you have to admit that a small box made of thick stock seems rather absurd as there is little available space inside.

Normally, I just make boxes. You get a feel for proportion after you've made a few as to what works and why. A bit of time at a craft show or gallery will give you a lot of information. Check out another box maker's work, and make your own evaluation as to how you would do things either alike or differently.

When I teach, students will invariably ask about proportion, usually leading to discussion of the golden mean or Fibonacci sequence. I ignore most of that regarding it as irrelevant. I have discussed proportion previously on the blog and you can find those posts here.

I prefer to think about these things: Where will it be put? What will be put in it? Who is it for? How will it be used? Those are far more important factors than an artificially derived set of proportions, and so far I think things have worked OK. In addition to the who, what, when and how, your choice of hardware often dictates the thickness of box sides. For instance 10 mm. barrel hinges require thicker sides. But hinges like those fine hinges made by Brusso work best if they are mortised on three sides, and thus require box wall thicknesses of 7/16" or greater.

I have a new article out in Woodcraft magazine, June/July, 2010 about the mixing and matching of woods. The article is illustrated with a number of my boxes from earlier publications and some of my furniture as well.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kästen und Schachteln: perfekt konstruieren und bauen

My book, Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making has been translated into German and published in a hardbound edition. Kästen und Schachteln: perfekt konstruieren und bauen by Doug Stowe is now available for purchase in Germany. The title translated into English means Boxes and boxes: design perfectly and build. Perhaps one of my German readers will help by explaining the difference between Kästen and Schachteln. The book is published by HolzWerken.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

holddown for sled

Dean sent the photo above illustrating an exquisite solution to getting a secure grip on parts while cutting miters on the table saw sled. Thanks, Dean. I know many other readers will be heading to their hardware stores or ordering from, or other woodworking tool providers.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

rugged or beautiful?

Jim asks,
"I have two of your books and I like them very much. My question is about durability. I want to create boxes that are very rugged and durable so they last for at least 108 years. So far, my thinking is that a plywood bottom is not the most rugged bottom for a box with dimensions of 10” x 13” unless you use plywood thicker than 1/8”. Would 1/4” plywood sustain a 250 lb. force from a foot being accidentally placed in the middle? Maybe 3/8” or 1/2” would but then the sides could be compromised by the trench for the plywood. I don’t know. But, I’m thinking that a solid wood panel that covers the entire bottom with an overhang around the edges would be the strongest. What do you think?"
Jim, the most fragile parts of a box are the corner joints and the dado cut into the sides to house the top or bottom. Plywood has been around since the Egyptians, but I'll agree that 1/8" is be thinner than what I would use on a 10" x 13" box. 1/4" plywood should offer sufficient strength except in the case of deliberate abuse.

I make my boxes under the assumption that people will offer them reasonable care. Is there a reason you have to suspect that your boxes will no be offered care? There is a balance point. Most of the things you find treasured in museums are not there because they were ruggedly built, but because they were exquisitely crafted, meaningful and beautiful.

My suspicion is that a box showing the maker's interest in skill and beauty will last longer than a box showing the maker's interest in its rugged longevity. We make things to be passed into the hands of others for safe keeping or disdain. There are lots of things that can happen to a box on its way to 108 years. Like the landfill?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Narrative crafts?

A narrative is a story that is created in a constructive format (as a work of writing, speech, poetry, prose, pictures, song, motion pictures, video games, theater or dance) that describes a sequence of fictional or non-fictional events. It derives from the Latin verb narrare, which means "to recount" and is related to the adjective gnarus, meaning "knowing" or "skilled". - wikipeida
And so in this interesting list of narrative forms you, if you are a craftsman will see a glaring oversight... that of crafts. Are crafts a narrative expression? If you begin to understand that they are, it can change the way that they are viewed. It can change also the way we work as we ask, "what is the story here that I am trying to tell? It is my contention that the physical realities engaged through the making of beautiful and useful objects is more vital, more sincere than those narrative forms dependent on written or spoken words alone. And so it is with making a box. Like a poet, great playwright or novelist, a craftsman is also engaged in narration, revealing his or her own creative soul in material form.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A simple box

A great deal of thought can go into making what might appear to be a simple wooden box. The collection of idea in the image above were gathered from my students at the beginning of my weekend class with the Woodworkers of Western Ohio, WOW. You can click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


WOW, Woodworkers of Western Ohio will be hosting a two day box making seminar in Dayton this Saturday and Sunday, March 6&7, 2010. I will be their guest, demonstrating a wide range of box making techniques. If you are in the Dayton area and would like to attend, please email me for more information. Costs are $45.00 for members of WOW and $60.00 for non-members.
Another wow, John Gasser sent photos of boxes he had completed from my books and also photos inspired by another author. Great job on all counts.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lucy's toolkit

Lucy's tool kit, which I made in response to the near complete absence of tools as she entered college will finally be published by agreement with Woodworker's Journal. This will be the first article I've had in Woodworker's Journal since the late 1990's, and they were the first magazine to publish my project articles. I want to welcome myself back. This is an article they published about my work in in 1996.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

perfect butt hinge installation

This is a cross post from the Wisdom of the Hands, but can be used with large boxes. Butt hinges have been a craftsman's headache for years, decades, centuries. There is the hard way, using, ruler, square and marking gauge for layout, and chisels for carefully cutting the hinge mortise. It is demanding work, and each one offers innumerable opportunities to screw up. Then there is my technique that makes it easy and is featured in the April issue of Fine Woodworking that arrived in today's mail. A simple shop made jig allows you to rout hinge mortise after hinge mortise, each in perfect depth and position. I wrote the article and Matt Kenny, editor, took the photos of my process in the Taunton wood shop.

I believe my techniques for installing butt hinges are my most original contributions to the techniques used in woodworking. I use the router table and story stick on projects small enough to fit on the table, and then this simple router jig for large projects. The April issue of Fine Woodworking will be arriving in the magazine section of your favorite book store this week.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Box Maker's Bonanza

Popular Woodworking Books is selling a CD compilation, Box Making Bonanza, containing my first two books with a third by author Jim Stack for a combined price of $23.99. It's not the same as having real books, but offers the content for a lower price and also allows you to print out pages for more convenient use in the woodshop.

The image below is from my much younger days in the wood shop.

Friday, January 22, 2010

American Woodworker, Feb/March 2010

I have two articles in this month's (Feb/March 2010) American Woodworker magazine, which should be available in the book stores soon. One article is about making a box using the Gifkins jig for the dovetails and wooden hinges. The other is about making a very simple router table, which you will also see in use in making the Gifkins box. Both articles may be useful to box makers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

mounting hinges on the back of the box?

A reader wrote asking if the story stick method of cutting hinge mortises can work for hinges mounted on the back of a box. Of course. You follow the same story stick technique described in my Taunton box making books or in my articles in Woodcraft or Fine Woodworking. The only difference is that you lay the box parts with the back sides down on the router table rather than the inside edges. It is always a test of confidence to do such things. What if you have a finished inlaid box like my reader? You can get a lot more confidence about the process by using scrap pieces to test the method. I happen to be the one who figured out how to do this in the first place and it still amazes me that it works. Cut pieces of wood the same length as the box and use them to go through the motions and test your set-up before you rout the mortises in the actual box.

Another reader asked whether the application of Danish Oil could be causing a 1/16" gap to appear between the lid and base of the box. But no. Danish oil will have no impact on the fit of box parts or the mysterious appearance of gaps. My suspicion is that the top panels are being glued in place, leaving no opportunity for expansion and contraction to take place, so when the top panel dries, it shrinks, applying tension to the sides of the lid, causing it to warp away from the base at the front of the box. Any wood wider than 3 inches should never be glued down to wood going cross grain. It is an invitation to disappointment. Instead, allow wide panels the opportunity to expand and contract with changes in humidity.