Saturday, April 29, 2017

beginning box making

I got an email from a reader asking the following:
Hi Mr. Stowe,

I am new to box making and find your videos fascinating. Though I am sure you hear that a lot, I just had to say it:-) While I have several of your books and have watched your videos on, I still have a couple of questions regarding equipment. I have all of this nice near top of the line equipment since woodworking has hit me, I still do not know what I am doing most of the time.

I have several orbital sanders, should I invest in a stationary belt sander or can I use my Black and Decker 4" belt sander? It appears that I have everything else.

Lastly, when making your boxes with the hidden splines (really love those), how would you go about making sure the corners of the box really match up. Put another way, making sure all corners are near perfect? Or am I being too anal about it? Which is normal for me. In your video, I noticed the top corners of the box with the hidden spline was not (like) perfect; no disrespect. I just want to know what things I can do to make my boxes a show piece?

Thank you in advance for your advice.
Having top of the line equipment and not knowing how to use it all is a common problem these days. In contrast, I started out poor, learned one tool at a time, and had the advantage of getting to know what each piece of equipment did best. Rather than launch you in the direction of adding one more piece of equipment, I often use self-adhesive sand paper stuck down on a flat board to do what the stationary belt sander does.

I adopted this approach (particularly when teaching) because my students, new to the machine, have a tendency to screw things up, ruining the boxes they have been working so carefully (up to that point) on. I would definitely recommend against the 4 in. belt sander and would go with the sticky sand paper on a board instead. Holding a box while you attack it with a belt sander seems like a formula for injury or destruction.

Matching up the hidden splines requires careful alignment on the jig. If each corner is not carefully aligned on the jig when the routing begins, they will not align as you assemble the box. If they are aligned carefully and well clamped so they don’t shift on the jig as you cut the grooves, they have no place to go but into alignment as the box is assembled.

We all want our boxes to be show pieces. The perfection that we are used to when we go to the store or get something from Amazon is not what we can reasonably aim at as beginning craftsmen. Machine like perfection is an expression of inhumanity. The real show is not about perfection, it’s about learning. It’s about effort. It is also about forgiveness and it also about being human and having fun.

very best, and good luck with your box making.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

a jointer fence

It can be extremely dangerous to pass short pieces of wood across a jointer. For jointing a single piece, a hand plane works best. When needing to accurately join lots of pieces, setting up on the router table gives a way to safely join thin small stock while keeping the fingers a safe distance from the cutter. In this case, the router bit is almost completely buried in the fence and therefore almost completely inaccessible to the finger tips if one was to slip.

The fence itself is formed with two parallel planes with their intersection being at the cutting edge of the bit. This set-up allows shallow cuts to be made, leaving the work-piece true on one edge.

This fence is designed to take passes of just under 1/16 in. at a time. The jointer fence is quickly made from just a stick of hardwood. A through bolt and wing nut secure one end and a "C" clamp the other.

I had tried to interest a magazine in this technique, and may try again.

Make and create.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


For years I've used an accordion style glue applicator and my students have asked, again and again, "Where did you get that?" Now, I've discovered something better. The Babe-Bot glue dispenser is perfect for quickly laying a narrow bead of glue for the assembly of small boxes.

You can apply just enough glue to avoid excess and mess, and extra tips are available. The advantages over the accordion style bottle are readily apparent. The accordion bottle tips need regular cleaning, and the accordion bottles are hard to fill. The steel tips on the accordion bottle can come loose during application, making a mess, and it takes more pressure to apply glue through the old style applicator. The Babe-Bot holds more glue and seals to keep it fresh. Mine was purchased at and I regard it as my new box making companion.

Make and create...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

adapting plans to your own use.

Tray made to fit tools box.
A reader asked my help in locating plans for a hand crafted eyeglass case. He has copies of two of my books, Basic Box Making, and Tiny Boxes, and hoped that I might direct him to plans for what he has in mind.

I would like to take the mystery out of design, and thereby make it easier for my readers to adapt designs to fit their own needs.

So how do you craft a box to fit a particular object? The first thing is to measure it, and then use your common sense to determine the necessary space to surround it, making it easy to lift in and out of the box.  For instance, I am making a tray to fit inside my tool box. Do I need plans for that, or do I simply take measurements and cut my parts to fit? Believe it or not, the same applies for making a case for eyeglasses.

After you have measured the size of the object, what comes next? Choose a box that is made using tools that you have, and in a design you like. Then alter the dimensions so that the inside space will be what you need for the object. It is simply a process of applying math.

One of the problems with plans in books or in magazine articles, is that you begin to think they are necessary. One of the advantages of writing my own books and plans is that I am allowed to simply make things without the interference of set plans.

Make and create...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

edge banding on box sides...

A reader asked how to achieve a particular technique that he'd seen in this February 27 blog post on the Woodcraft site. He referred to the second photo, a sassafras box with the top edge inlaid in contrasting woods.

The secret is to form an banding material from solid woods and veneers, and then to rout the edge of the stock for the banding to fit prior to cutting the joints. That way the veneer traipses seamlessly around the top edge of the box.

The same technique was used in making this walnut box that was recently returned from Fine Woodworking where it was photographed for a hinge review.

Make, fix and create...

tool box progress

I've installed hardware on the tool box I've been making to demonstrate the use of the Woodhaven Portable Box Joint Jig. The hardware is from Van Dyke's Restorers and is forged steel in a natural rusted finish. I applied paste wax to preserve the brown look and prevent more rusting to take place.

The screws that came with the hardware were too long for the thickness of the sides of this box, so I screwed them into a board and sanded the sharp ends on a belt sander until flush with it on the underside. This left the screws short enough so as to not protrude on the inside of the box.

The first photo shows the use of folded business cards to provide a slight gap between the lid and body of the box as the hinges are screwed into place.

I will add a lift out tray on the inside, a turn button to lock the drawer and leather check straps to keep the lid from opening too far.

With the inevitable interruptions, I expect to have this finished in time for my summer box making classes at Marc Adams School of Woodworking and the Eureka Springs School of the Arts.

Make, fix and create.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Used on the router table or clamped to a board.
I have been testing the Woodhaven Portable Box Joint jig. It works as I've proven in the photos below. Because it cuts larger than normal box joints, like those you would use on a very large box or small chest, I chose to make a tool box from wide boards of solid cherry to prove its usefulness to box makers.

The Woodhaven jig can be clamped to a board and used with a hand held router, or on the router table as shown.

At this point, I've assembled the carcass of the large box and am beginning to make the drawer. I've selected and ordered iron hardware to complete the finished box which I intend to use when I travel to teach.

The Woodhaven jig is adjustable for box joints, from 1/2 in. up to 1 1/2 in. wide, an relies on a 3/4 in. Porter Cable style guide and a 1/2 in. carbide spiral cutter.

Check back another time to see the finished box.

Want to see photos of box making? Check out DouglasStowe on Instagram.

The sides are routed for bottom, tray guides and drawer slides
Make, fix and create...
The back of the tool box
Assembly begins.