This series of videos is for these pen boxes that I make. I make a fair few of them, about 50 to 100 at a time. They are very popular in the galleries, they have also been featured in the front page of the Australian Wood Review.

Before I start on how to make the box, lets talk about the box. They are easy to make and only require less than half a super foot of timber.

They are designed to hold a letter opener and a pen however you can change the design to hold two pens, one single pen or leave it blank to be just a nice simple box.

The boxes look oriental in design because of the handle that I use. My designs are heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, especially his later works. I studied a lot of his works during Architecture School at university.  His works as well as mine, looks at traditional Japanese and Chinese architecture.

  1. Get your box sides to match
  2. Select and mark the timber
  3. Racking out and flattening the boards
  4. Sand the inside face of the box
  5. Cutting the box sides, base of the box and gluing the box
  6. Gluing the box together
  7. Cut the veneer keys into the box
  8. Sand back the veneer keys
  9. Finish by oiling the wood

Step 1: Get your box sides to match

Before we get into the cutting of the pieces, we have to look at how grain pattern is a strong emphasis on boxes. Its important to get your box sides to match. Book matching your pieces will bring a hand made element to your work. I always try to get the grain on the boxes to match. I can't emphasise it enough. A few seconds in time during preparation will produce dividends later in the process.

Step 2: Select and mark the timber

1st step in making the box is selecting the timber and marking the timber for the box sides.

Select a piece of timber 35mm x 22mm x 270mm long. This piece is enough timber for the box side.

Earlier I spoke about the importance of grain matching the box sides, this is the same when your making pen kits and cutting pen barrels. So to help with the grain matching process later on, we need to mark the timber so we can put it back together in order.

1st mark the centre of the timber where we will split on the band saw. Then mark where we are going to cut the mitres.

Mark 2 X's along the centre line. This centre line is actually the outside face of the box. We then mark them with a A, B, C and D with a line joining them. I do batches of boxes at a time, so I also give each piece a unique number on both side of the centre line. This is because if your making 10 boxes of the same species of timber, it quite easy to confuse yourself with which pairs goes together.

Once the timber box side blanks are fully marked, we can then split the blank on the band saw. You can use any method your comfortable with, like a hand saw or table saw. I like using the band saw because the kerf of the band saw blade is quite small compared to a table saw (3.2mm).

The timber on the video is kiln dried PNG Rosewood. Even though the timber is already kiln dried, after splitting in half, I will let the timber dry for another 3 - 6 months. This just lets the timber de-stress it self out in the racks rather than when it is completed as a box. If the timber moves again after sawing, we can later machine out any warping, cupping or twisting.

Step 3: Racking out and flattening the boards

As you can see in the video, I store the box sides in a dark corner of the workshop. They have been sitting on the shelves for about 6 months now. This is how many I normally do in a batch. I write the date on a few of the box sides so I know when I put them in the shelves.

In this batch I have a few species like, Fiddle-back Mango, silky oak, Tasmanian Blackwood, Red Cedar and Queensland Walnut.

Another thing that needs to be done is to cut the box lids. I cut the box lids to the size of 170mm long x 60mm wide and about 10mm thick. Thickness is not important now - rough sawn between 8mm - 12mm.

Next step - Flattening the boards. 1st step is to flatten out the board. Traditioanly you would use a joiner to flatten one face of the box side, but becuase I am using highly figured timbers, the joiner will want to chip the boards. I am using a linisher to sand it flat, the linisher has a flat cast iron bed which will do the same job. This eliminates any chance of chippping out the boards.

I use 80 grit sandpaper to flatten out the board. I go through and sand all the boards this way.

The next step is thickness all the boards. Again, rather than use a thicknesser machine I use a thickness drum sander. There is no chance of chipping out with the thickness drum sander. We want to bring the thickness of the board to about 8mm thick.

Step 4: Sand the inside face of the box

I start with 80 grit, then move onto 120, 180 and 240 grit.

I have been asked what do I do if I don't have a linisher. Before I had the linisher, I use to use this system where I glued sandpaper to a piece of melamine. Yes it does take a lot longer, but the best you can with what you have. I clamp the melamine onto the bench and work my way through the grits.

Next step is to put a rebate into the inside face of the box. This rebate is to hold the solid base.

We want the rebate 5mm above the bottom side of the box side. I use a 1/4" rebate cutter on the router table. Make a test cut, and if you happy with that then cut all your box sides.

After making the rebate, we move onto the miter saw. My miter saw is fixed in place with the blade fixed at 90 degrees.

When I want to make a miter joint, I use a miter jig rather than move the angle of the blade. I use a home made jig to make these cuts.

Before we start cutting the batch, we always make a test cut on a scrap piece of MDF to ensure the jig is still true. After you have confirmed that the jig is true we can then go through and cut the batch.

Step 5: Cutting the box sides, base of the box and gluing the box

In this video we cut the miter joins on a miter jig.

I use my a miter jig that I have made myself.

With batch cutting, you can do multiple cuts without even measuring the items.

As you can see in the video, its very quick and simple.

Number and marking your box sides now come in again so that the grain patterns runs nicely around the box.

I also cover how to make the box bases in this video.

Box bases are easy to make and easy machined. Again I use jigs to quickly make the bases and cut them to size.

Step 6: Gluing the box together

In this video we glue the box together using a piece of rope and 8 blocks. I use Titebond to glue the box together. I like using this glue and have been using this glue for box making since it was introduced to me a few years ago.

After we have glued the box together and let the glue set, we sand the box down ready for veneer keys to reinforce the joints.

Step 7: Cut the veneer keys into the box

This video is about how I cut the veneer keys into the box. This adds strength to the miter joints and adds a visual highlight to the design.

This is a nice simple quick way compared to using a hand saw to cut the joints.

Step 8: Sand back the veneer keys

You can carve or chisel back the veneer keys, but you have to be very careful not to chip back the veneer. I find sanding the easiest and quickest way to bring it back to flush.

Then we start on the lid.

I use a router table to get a good fit on the lid. I make every lid individually for each box and keep them together for the rest of the process.

Step 9: Finish by oiling the wood

You should always rout the end grain first because it will normally chip out the grain. It doesn't matter if you chip out the end grain because you come back and rout out the long grain.

This is how I normally finish my boxes. No fancy finishing techniques, only a nice simple way to get a perfect finish every time.

Hope you enjoy!

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