Don’t box me in

There are some woodworkers out there who know exactly what their next project is. That new workbench. The dining room table. The book shelves in the den.

And, if you do know exactly what your next project is – go forth and build.

However, if you are like me now, you may be finding yourself between projects. I have a few ones on the horizon I need to start on, and after a busy December and January, I’m still sharpening, cleaning and doing other general tidying up. If you are in this situation, you should be building a decorative box.

“But, Tom, I don’t NEED a box.” I hear you out there. What the heck are you going to do with a small decorative box?  You don’t need more knick-knacks to dust, and your desk at work can’t possibly hold another thing.

However, decorative boxes are some of the coolest projects out there, and they can help you hone your woodworking skills like nothing else. Here are some of the reasons why I like them so:

* Reach for new designs. Do you build mostly Shaker style furniture? Just Arts and Crafts? Go out on a limb and stretch your sense of design. Find inspiration in nature, classic pieces of furniture, architecture… wherever. Go with the flow.

* They don’t require a great deal of material. If you have some treasured scrap offcuts cluttering your shop, they are perfect for a decorative box. Besides, if you really get fouled up, you can trim off the bad parts and build a smaller box (been there, done that, got the t-shirt).

* They are easy to move around. Last summer, I spent a lot of time hauling big cabinet boxes around for my friend Paul’s home office. Small boxes can be moved around the shop with little effort, and can be milled, joined, assembled and finished on a corner of your bench. You can also easily put them aside if you get involved in a larger project.

* Embrace your options. Want to try a new form of joinery? Hand cut dovetails. Build a box joint jig for your table saw. Perfect your splined miters. How about a new technique? Veneer. Frame and panel. All hand-tool construction. Thinking outside of the proverbial ‘box,’ you can develop new woodworking skills that can work on all different kinds of projects.

* They challenge you to do your best. Very few people will climb under the dining room table you build to check your joinery. Even fewer will attempt to pull down a wall-mounted cabinet to see how you attached the back. But, people will pick up boxes.  Hold them. Turn them in their hands. Examine them from all angles. Smaller projects with fewer pieces give you the opportunity to really take your time, but still finish before you grow tired of the project.

* They make awesome gifts. Sure, it’s only March, and it seems as if we just came out of a major gift-giving season. But, graduations are coming soon, as is the traditional wedding season in spring and early summer. It’s never too soon to start thinking about building something if you have a big event ahead. Small boxes are perfect for holding jewelry, photos and other small, precious items. Plus, they are insanely easy – and inexpensive –  to ship.

While you may not be a big fan of decorative boxes, there are some very good reasons to give them a go. You might just be surprised how much fun you have building them – and how much you will learn in the process.



7 thoughts on “Don’t box me in”

  1. Good post – I am considering making something for my Mom for Christmas and have thought about a box. Do yoiu find working with small parts challenging in their own way?

  2. Sure, when you scale your project down, the smaller parts do pose their own challenges. Techniques you would use for larger pieces may not translate well into smaller pieces… For instance, when I build larger pieces, I clamp my Keller jig to the workpiece set up in a vise and use a hand held router. But, for small pieces, it makes more sense to clamp the piece to the jig and use a table based router….

    Hey, that’s the beauty of woodworking – you can stretch your skills with each new project. Best of luck, Jeff, and I wouldn’t mind seeing what you build for your mom…

  3. I’m also in between projects and have tons of smaller pieces of stock around the shop. I was thinking about making a box or two and this post, especially the pictures, has put me on course to do just that.

  4. I’m pretty sure it’s maple.

    I figured out that Home Depot has it mixed in with their aspen boards (at the same price too!) I’ve been to multiple stores and all of them have it. It’s labeled white hobby wood, but it sure looks like maple and is much harder than the aspen in the same bins.

  5. Great post Tom.
    Boxes are always fun to make.

    and aside to Ben. very nice box dude!
    (plus thanks for the maple in the aspen bin tip)

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