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Beautiful Boxes, by Doug Stowe

by J. Norman Reid
Delaplane, VA

Once again, well-known box maker Doug Stowe has produced a beautiful book on box making. It follows two earlier books, Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Building and Basic Box Making , which set the stage by defining numerous methods for making attractive boxes. In this new book, Beautiful Boxes , Stowe goes one step further by linking descriptions of eight box-building projects to principles and elements of design that can help turn ordinary boxes into objects of special beauty and delight.

In the introductory section, Stowe briefly considers some design principles that can contribute to beauty: unity, harmony, contrast, proportion, rhythm, balance, and visual illusion or effective surprise. To be beautiful each box will emphasize at least one of these basic principles, while bearing the others in mind so the result is not discordant. These principles are then implemented through the application of design elements, which are the tools of the box maker. These include line, shape, focal point, texture, color and value.

The bulk of the book describes eight box projects that apply these design principles and the elements, or tools, available to the box maker. The projects are presented in increasing order of complexity so skills developed in building earlier boxes are employed in later builds. While many of the construction techniques are familiar from Stowe's earlier books, what's unique in this book is his selection of box designs that illustrate the principles that go into making them beautiful and his discussion about how each principle can be implemented by box builders.

The first box, a simple swivel-lidded box, illustrates the principles of unity and contrast. Its separated lid introduces curved or slanted shapes that contrast with the rectangular shape of the box, yet retains unity by matching when the lid is closed. The second box, also fairly simple to build, is a rectangular lift lid box that illustrates the use of line in design. In his example, Stowe accomplishes this through the use of strongly-grained spalted wood and miter keys of contrasting color. The principle of effective surprise is employed by angling one set of keys away from the dominant lines of the box.

Third is a veneered box Stowe uses to demonstrate how color can beautify boxes. For his example, he chose a textured veneer of lacewood to complement similarly-toned box sides, thus using texture to implement the principle of contrast while maintaining harmony with color. At the end of this chapter, Stowe offers several design alternatives, including inlaid banding to visually contain the contrasting veneer.

Chapter Four, a jewelry presentation box, employs the element of surprise by hiding a ring or pair of earrings within a box that appears self-contained on its own. It is built with box joints and Stowe shows how to build a box joint jig for the router table. Design options such as mitered finger joints and angling the sides further illustrate the principle of surprise. The section concludes by showing ways the box insides can be finished.

A bracelet box follows, emphasizing the principle of rhythm. This long, slender box features hidden splines, and Stowe explains how to make a jig to cut the grooves for the splines. The top of the box is hinged with 5 mm barrel hinges, and Stowe explains how to install them. The box-building technique used differs in that two boxes are built as one, then separated on the tablesaw before the lids are attached.

A finger-jointed chest illustrates proportion in design. Though many box-builders seek to apply the Greek principle of the golden rectangle to box design, Stowe points out that the success of this principle depends on the viewer's perspective and that what looks correct from one angle may look wrong from others. He offers alternative principles for achieving proportionality. Stowe's example uses an angled domed lid and he describes how to construct this, along with the option of adding a drawer or sliding tray.

Next, is a jewelry box, which requires more skill and patience than the boxes preceding it. For this box, Stowe chose to emphasize the element of texture. He created texture in the box top with an angle grinder, but also presents color and other textures, along with a carved top, as options to consider. Stowe gives considerable attention to making the small drawers and dividers that will keep the jewelry separate. In addition, he reviews joining the box corners with hand-cut dovetails.

The final project is a tower of separate boxes attached to each other with rare earth magnets. He uses this box to illustrate balance and symmetry as design principles. A key to success with this box is accurate installation of the magnets, and Stowe provides helpful advice. The chapter concludes with some design alternatives to consider if you are building this box.

The book concludes with a design gallery that presents more options for the design of feet, pulls, hinges, curves and lids, as well as a list of resources that includes Stowe's blog sites where more ideas can be found.

Each chapter of Beautiful Boxes is built around well-illustrated and clearly described construction steps. As is typical for Taunton books, this one is beautifully designed and illustrated. Each example is also accompanied by suggested options for differing the designs.

As Stowe correctly notes, the number of box design alternatives is infinite. What Beautiful Boxes does for box builders is provide a pathway through what might seem a bewildering array of possibilities by linking those choices to essential design principles and their implementing elements. Any box builder will benefit by considering Stowe's advice on box design.

While this book will be useful to box builders of all levels, it will be best appreciated by those with some experience who are seeking ways to enhance the beauty of their work. For beginners, Basic Box Making is the best place to begin. Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Box Building , which somewhat overlaps Basic Box Making , is especially helpful as a structured reference work. Once the basics of box building are understood, Beautiful Boxes will help propel your work from the ordinary to the exceptional.

CLICK HERE to order your copy of Beautiful Boxes

The reviewer is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living with his wife in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who believe they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net .

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