Sunday, June 23, 2013

mitered box joint sled...

I got a request from one of my students for further explanation on how to make a mitered finger joint sled. As it was something I'd never made before in my life, and have never  known to have been made by anyone else, I've done a sketch of it in hopes that a few can understand. It seems to be an invention of my own. I've also proposed an article for Fine Woodworking to allow me a better opportunity to explain its use. You can gain some insight into its use from P. 62 of my book Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Making where the joint is cut using a miter gauge on the table saw.

This sled has a single runner so it can be used serially on the left and right miter gauge guide slots, with the blade cutting on one side to cut one corner and the other to cut its mate. The adjustable stop is also used alternately on one side and then the other, and is held in place with a "c" clamp. the fences are attached at 45 degree angles with screws and it is essential that space be left between them to allow for positioning the adjustable stop.

If you don't understand this process, that's understandable. A mitered finger joint is a rather complex box making technique. You will want to start with simple joints and work your way toward greater complexity over time, which happens to correspond with one of the simple rules of Educational Sloyd. Move from the simple to the complex. It is relatively simple to understand a box joint. It is relatively simple to understand a miter. You will want to have both mastered before you proceed to more complex joints involving both joinery techniques in the same corner of a box.

Make, fix and create.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

making the best of things...

Rough wood lids provide contrasting texture.
As I was working on boxes to illustrate proportion, I made the sidewalls of trays too thick, so I made thinner ones and turned the first trays into boxes. These you can see in the photo above. The lids are made with rough sawn wood, still marked by the large blade that ripped it into lumber years ago. I used a wire brush to remove loose material and fuzz. Then I sanded it lightly with 320 grit sand paper, just to make it comfortable to the touch. As usual, these small boxes will be pretty (or at least interesting and useful) when they are sanded and the Danish oil is applied.

I've been making many more boxes than normal. Last September, Crystal Bridges Museum asked me if I would make 300 boxes to serve as thank you gifts for their first year staff. Those had to be completed for distribution at the first anniversary party in November. When the museum founder heard about the boxes, she asked that I make another 500 boxes to give to their first year volunteers. Those I delivered in mid December. Now that the museum has had plenty of time to put 800 boxes into the hands of first year staff and volunteers, I no longer have to keep this box making extravaganza a secret.

The boxes were made with woods harvested on the museum site during the first phase of construction, so each box has a special connection with the museum grounds. I served as a volunteer consultant when the woods were first first processed from logs to lumber, so it was a particularly meaningful thing for me to have the opportunity to make boxes from those woods.

Two bracelet boxes glued at the same time.
 In any case, I am now having some difficulty not making boxes in larger than normal numbers and my wife is wondering what we'll do with all of them.

I also started the 4th project for my new book, this one illustrating contrast through making a small series of bracelet boxes. Each will be different. The primary box in the chapter is walnut and the corners are secured by hidden splines that will be visible only when the hinged lid is opened. These new boxes are made to be glued up two at a time.

I learned that my Master Class making wooden hinges for Fine Woodworking is scheduled for issue number 234, which should come out in July.

This is spring break for the Clear Spring School, so I am getting just a bit of extra time in my own wood shop.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

plus or minus two

Box makers often have difficulty deciding on the proportion to make a box. I'm always aiming toward simplification, in the hopes of removing gumption traps. I want to make things as easy for you as they've become for me through my years of work. Of course the easiest way to make a box with matching grain at the corners is to make a square box. But what if square bores you? What next?

I offer a simple design rule that can be used for making most rectangular boxes, unless there is something special that must fit inside. In honor of cognitive psychologist George Miller who passed away at the age of 92 last July, we can call it plus or minus 2. Miller had written a paper, on the Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two, and whether or not you consider Miller's theory as valid, my own design rule might seem more familiar. A whole set of common proportions are based on this rule which to my knowledge has never been outlined or used as I will present.

3 x 5... 4 x 6... 5 x 7... 6 x 8... 7 x 9... 8 x 10... Are any of these pairs of numbers familiar to you? Some are the common sizes that you can have photographic prints made, and if you want to go buy a picture frame at Michael's to put your picture in, these are the sizes you will find. They just also happen to be handy proportions for box making. And if you look closely, you will see that they follow the rule that if one side is x, the other will be x plus or minus 2.

There may be a simple explanation for all this having to do with the sizes of paper easily cut from larger sizes. Or are there magical qualities to objects designed according to these proportions? In any case, a two inch spacer block works great when making a rectangular box. Put it in place for cutting the short side and then remove it for cutting the long. In other words, you can set up your stop block on the miter sled and make a box and have opposite sides fit perfectly, cutting them one after the other consecutively from the stock

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Price for work...

A retired physician asked:
What to do with the boxes I make? My home is already replete with decorative table items and I've given other woodworking items to neighbors and friends who may not want boxes. Ignoring the differences in skill levels, the diverse complexity of boxes, and the geographic and economic differences between Arkansas and California, what is the approximate range prices a relative novice box maker should charge for boxes being sold at craft and street fairs, etc.?
There are so many variables as to price, I just can't begin to give advice. It depends on how they are made, how well they are made, where they are being sold, how they are regarded by the customer,and how dear they are regarded by the maker. I wouldn't even begin to suggest what another might attempt to sell his work for. A review of boxes on Etsy can show what other craftsmen are attempting to sell their work for. Box making is no get rich quick endeavor. Craft shows are a gruesome way to make a living. If you don't need the money, look for opportunities to give your boxes to charity fund raising events. Even there, the response can be disappointing. For example a friend of mine gave a hand-cut shaker reproduction box to a charity auction and the buyer paid $20.00. She loved it so much she asked my friend if he could please make another for the same price. Folks who have little or no experience making things have no sense of value, and that seems to be a problem when anyone wants to see work for a reasonable price.
On the other hand, boxes do make wonderful gifts for weddings or graduations. They are extremely satisfying to make, allow the maker to use and develop nearly every woodworking technique, and learn fundamentals of design, while using few raw materials. Making something beautiful and useful is never a mistake.