Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 184, January 2021 Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Project: Making Rustic Boxes
By J. Norman Reid

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One of the things I like to make in my woodshop is boxes. I've made many of them over the years and I enjoy the variety of styles and techniques they offer. Exploring new ideas for their design and construction is something I find challenging.

Most have used milled wood so the sides are smooth. Some of the wood I've used is highly figured, such as tiger maple or quartersawn white oak. Recently, a friend was tearing out a fence where he works and saved me a small pile of the boards he recovered. Mostly they are red oak, with a few chestnut oak boards in the mix. Though they had been in place for years, despite rough exteriors the interiors of the boards were still quite solid. White paint remains on some, while on others it has weathered away completely. I've used this wood in the past for several projects, such as picture frames and wine racks, but always I've milled and sanded away the rough exteriors.

Still, the rough exterior of the boards has a rustic charm. So, I decided to put this wood to use making small boxes that display the untouched exterior. The boxes I made are simple in design. They are 6" long, 3" wide, and stand 1-1/2" tall. I chose some boards with the paint fully weathered off for the sides. To get continuous grain around most of the sides, I cut the boards to 20" long, then ripped them to their final height of 1-1/2". Then I took them to the bandsaw and resawed them to 3/8" thickness. This left one side smooth and the other side rough.

Next, I cut a groove 1/8" wide and 1/8" deep, 1/8" from the bottom of the board, the edge that was cleanly cut when I ripped the boards to narrow width. Then, at the table saw, I crosscut the boards into the lengths needed for the sides and ends, first a 6" piece, then a 3" piece, and the remaining two pieces in the same sequence. This way the grain would match on three of the four corners.

Now that the pieces were the needed lengths, I rabbeted the top edges of the sides using a dado blade on the table saw. This produced a groove at the top edge 1/8" deep and 3/8" wide. I also rabbeted the ends of the 6" sides 1/8" deep and 3/8" wide; these cuts house the end pieces for a clean fit. I cut a bottom from a sheet of 1/8" thick Baltic birch plywood, which I sanded smooth. After testing the fit of the sides, ends, and bottom, I glued the pieces together to form a box, clamped it, and set it aside for the glue to dry. After 24 hours, I sanded the bottom of the box smooth on the belt sander. Where the long sides stood out from the ends, I cut them off even with the ends using a flush trim saw.

What remained was the lid. I chose a board with some white paint remaining to give the box a bit of contrast. I cut the board to fit the inside of the top of the box, then resawed the top to 1/2" thick on the bandsaw. The final step was to cut a slight bevel on the underside of one end of the top. That way, when the top is installed on the box, pushing on the beveled end will raise the other end of the lid to make it easy to remove.

I did not sand the interior because my bandsaw leaves a very smooth surface. And I applied no finish to the boxes, which were now complete.

These boxes can easily be built to other dimensions. Because my boards are 6" wide, I can make much larger boxes of this style if I wish.

I'll use these and other size boxes as gifts. And, I may offer them for sale, both at craft shows and online.

You can find a variety of box making project books at Highland Woodworking

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes. He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net.

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