This little jewelry box was crafted for one of the most important people in my life: My dear Aunt Ruth. I would never have survived my teen years without her love and understanding. She raised six wonderful children, so she knew a thing or two about kids.
A few weeks ago my cousin Ralph's wife came up to my aunt with a small cardboard box. The box contained a pearl necklace whose string had broken and Velda was thoughtful enough to have it repaired. Unbeknownst to me, this necklace was given to my aunt by her recently deceased husband, my uncle Pancho, at their wedding. He purchased the necklace for his future bride while he was serving with the Navy in the Pacific during WWII. Obviously, this necklace was very dear to my Aunt.
This set off a chain reaction in me: I felt that my aunt deserved something better than a cardboard box for this dear-to-her-heart necklace. I had no idea what this 'little' box had in store for me. This particular project was brimming with knowledge that was laying in wait for me.
"Good fortune favors the well prepared."
I think Louis Pasteur is the originator of the above quip. This is invaluable advise to those of us who are preparing for a new woodworking project. If our project is well thought out, we should have smooth sailing.
When building a small box which will use good hinges such as the Brusso Butt hinges, which I planned on using, the box sides must match the width of the hinges. If you are not aware of this, you may be in for a surprise when the hinges do not match the sides of your box after it is built. In my case, the Brusso 103's were about 10mm in width. This was my starting point. Once I milled the walnut stock thickness to 10mm, I was good to go.
I knew I did not want a square box. After some 'consultation' and several sketches, the following rough dimensions seemed to make sense for this small box: 6"(L) x 3-3/4"(W) x 2-1/2"(H). I was not overly concerned about the height, but I felt the box interior (not including the interior of the top) should be at least 1-inch in height. When you consider the velour and batting that I had planned for the box interior, 1-inch felt ample enough to accomodate the necklace and the lining. In the end, the dimensions were ideal.
At this point in the design phase, the idea of adding a base to the box never entered my mind. This came later on as the box was taking shape.
I like dovetails and what they do for a piece, so I designed their layout for this small box and off I went. For some reason, I failed. (I will go into detail about why this failure was actually a good thing further on in this read.) I wanted to move on, so I decided to use miter joinery and make the best of it.
I am not fond of mitered joinery because of its inherent weakness: the glue is bonding end grain and that is the weakest joinery we can ever make. Regardless, I knew this was a small box that would only be subjected to my aunt's gentle touch, so I felt that this joinery would work just fine in this case. I did, however, use Gorilla glue as a precaution.
While miter joinery may sound easy enough, if you are a woodworker, you know that all the member miters must be accurate 45's and add up to tight 90-degree joints when done. I had to make a small rig for my TS which guaranteed accurate mitered corners.
The Box Top
A lot of woodworkers that make jewelry boxes make the box as one piece and then saw off the box top. I had never done this before, but thought this would be a good project to try this with. So I made and fitted the box bottom and mitered the upper edges of the box to accept the mitered top. The bottom fit nicely and the mitered top was a good fit. I then glued the top on and let it rest for a day.
I should note -
that if you plan to make the box and cut off the top as just described, then you must take into consideration the kerf width AND the length of the screws required for the hinges. (See next note for more info.) This loss will reduce the height of the box and will vary dependent on the kerf width of your blade.
My intent had always been to book-match the top with walnut veneer. I felt that this would be easier to do before I cut the top off because I would have more to grip as I hammer-veneered the veneer in place. I protected the sides with tape to make clean up easier. Hot hide glue is easy to clean up, but the tape eliminates this clean up altogether.
I trimmed the top with a narrow walnut border as seen above. While this is a book-matched top, it now appeared to be less than impressive and not in any way appropriate for my dear aunt. Veneer can easily become a scene full of multi-eyed monsters. Double that, if it's book-matched. This is what I was now seeing in this veneered top. I began to wonder if I would be able to improve on this later.
I made very sure that the veneered top was as flat as possible, because when it came time to cut the top off, the veneered surface would be riding against my TS fence. The veneered surface had to be perfectly perpendicular to the sides of the box. Care at this point would determine how accurate the TS kerf would be when the last cut was made. If the TS kerfs did not line up the box would be headed for the trash bin. Not what I had in mind.
Okay, time to cut the top off.
Before you cut the top off -
think about this: How long are the screws that you will use to attach the hinges to the top? Are they shorter or longer than the thickness of the top you have planned? If the screws that came with the hinges are longer than your top is thick you will have a problem. Perhaps you can use shorter screws after the fact, but you need to think about this BEFORE you cut the top free. This small detail is very easy to overlook and could cause a major problem when you are ready to attach the top to the box.
I did not want to cut completely through the walnut stock as I freed the top. I wanted to leave about 1/16-inch (or less) all around. Keeping the top secured in this manner insured that the edges would not be damaged in any way while they were being cut. In other words, the box would remain as one piece even after the last TS cut was made. Once all four sides were cut, I used a knive to cut the thin walnut and separate the two halves. This went better than I expected. However, I took a lot of precautions while making this cut. Carelessness can ruin a lot of hard work in a heart beat.
The box top has been cleanly cut on the table saw. Now, it is time to slice through the remaining thin walnut to separate the top from the box.
Voila! Both member's are free and undamaged in any way.
Removing The Veneer
The existing book-matched veneer now needs to be improved. But, just how am I going to do this?
I gave this a lot of thought and decided that the problem was not a great as it appeared to be. If I could make a simple, but accurate router rig, I could slice off the 0.5mm veneer and be back in business in no time. Here is the rig I used.
The rig is two narrow boards screwed to a flat melamine board. Each board is about 1/2-inch taller than the box top. I left just enough room between the boards so that the box top would fit and also allowed some room for the router bit at the edges. I also added two stop-blocks, one fixed, the other adjustable, to hold the box top securely in place as the router removed the veneer. The whole thing was passed through my planer to insure that the support boards were in the same plane and parallel to the melamine substrate.
Here is the top with some of the veneer removed.
And here is the top with all of the veneer removed. The remaining walnut border will not be a problem because it will be overlayed by the new veneer and edging. I sanded the top slightly and it was good to go. Now, I had to find a better book-matched pattern to use.
I went through all of my veneer and was fortunate to find this heart-shaped figure. (I had some help from Up Above.) This looked much better than the original and was much more appropiate for its future owner and contents. Now, I have to heat up the hide glue and veneer-hammer the veneer in place once again.
Okay, the new book-matched veneer has been bonded to the top. The box edge is scribed in preparation for the border trim.
I have decided to use ebony to trim the top with. The ebony will (hopefully) make the heart appear lighter than it is and make it stand out.
Fitting the Brusso Butt Hinges
Before I go any further, this is the time to fit the Brusso hinges.
There are many ways to fit these small hinges. I prefer to use my router bench for this simple, but oh-so-important task. If the fitting is not done precisely there is a very good possibility that the box will have to be scrapped. The last thing you want is to have the box top and body misaligned when the hinges are installed. Heed the details now and all should well.
Here are the hinges as seen from the back of the box.
Prepare For The Ebony Trim
Now it is time to remove material from the box top for the ebony border. This is a simple task on my router bench. However, before I begin, I set the router bit on a scrap board. I also scribe the cut lines to prevent tear-out by the bit.
As seen above, the box top edges have been cleanly routed and are ready for the ebony edging. Now, the fitting begins.
I have found that cutting one strip to its approximate length, taping in place and then fitting the miter joint with the next strip was the best way to go. I also mark each strip so I can put it back in its correct place if it is removed. I keep matching/fitting/taping until I get the best miter joints possible. The strips are all slightly wider than necessary. These will be sanded down after the glue is set. My goal is perfect miter joints and a 10x loupe really helps. I used a Veritas shooting plane and shooting board for all of this fitting.
This fitting process can be tricky. By this I mean that if each strip is not perfectly straight or it has a slight bow and you do not tape it snugly against the box top when testing, it can 'grow' when it is taped tightly ruining your miter fit.
In my case each strip was approximately 1/8-inch x 1/8-inch x length. It is very easy for these strips to bow when you are planing them to size. This is a tedious job to be certain. If you are aware of this and you take the bow or bend out when fitting and taping, then you should have no surprises when you glue them in place.
Once I am satisfied with each joint, I un-tape one of the strips, apply glue and re-tape it very snugly back in place. I repeat for each strip. Done! I leave them taped overnight.
I also decided to add a bit of a local wood to each corner. That is the red square that you see in the above image.
This wood is extremely brittle and cannot be machined other than being sanded. I thought I could shape it using my shooting board plane (with a 30-degree second bevel.) and ended up chipping the edge of the iron. Lesson learned. Sanding is all you can do with this wood.