My First Box


Boxes are an essential part of the craft of woodworking. Most of what you do for just about every project utilizes the same skills needed to make a simple box properly. Which only points out my backwards approach to learning the craft. I’ve already constructed a couple small pieces of furniture and some cutting boards before recently attempting my first actual cube-like object. I also could have chosen to do some practice ones instead of deciding at the last minute to cobble one together to give to some friends as a wedding gift. So, after a good thirty hours spread across three days, I ended up with the above-pictured piece, which was really a container for the real gifts below. My friends are both pipe smokers, and after buying a Turkish meerschaum pipe on a trip to Turkey, I felt these would be perfect for them.

The majority of the box is red oak with the accents in teak. I used simple miter joints, clamped using Tage Frid’s recommended system. I cut the lid by kerf cutting the inside pieces halfway, then cutting again after construction, offset a blade’s width away. The result is a lip for the lid without adding any more wood.

The inside of the box is cedar. I thought I was being clever by using this material as it’s used in just about every humidor you’ve ever heard of, and smells wonderful. However, only after gluing everything together did I do the research and discover that the benefits cedar imparts to cigars are actually detrimental to pipe tobacco, so my imagined tobacco storage space was compromised by my wood choice. I solved this by sealing the wood with shellac and lacquer (along with the rest of the box). The cedar does still give a nice color to the interior so all was not lost.

I picked up some cheap brass hinges from the local big box home improvement store and quickly discovered that not only were they ugly as sin, the screws were incredibly weak and broke with even a little torque. (I’ve not given up on the idea that I might have been heavy handing the screwdriver.) I ended up using (cannibalizing, really) some more subdued rubbed brass hinges and a clasp that I had on an old box I didn’t use much.

All in all, I learned a lot from this build, especially some hand techniques that I’ll carry over into other work, and the sheer amount of time it can take a beginner to make even a relatively basic box like this (about 30 hours). It was very much satisfying to use my hand planes to do some of the smoothing and trimming work. I had to restrain myself from beveling the board edges down too far with the block plane. There’s something really pleasing about the way it softens up a hard angle. I used my table saw quite a bit for this project but I learned so much about what I can do with hand tools that I’d love to attempt another one of these sans machine tools. Even better, create something like this using only restored antique tools. Seeing how elemental one can get, to me, is part of the fun of the craft.


About the pipes: I found the pipes via a company called Meerco on Etsy. Their selection is ample, their customer service is friendly and fast, and the shipping time of 3 or 4 days was impressive to me, given that these were coming all the way from Western Turkey. Shipping prices were very reasonable and they even included a free miniature meerschaum pipe and some meerschaum jewelry.


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