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Generally speaking, I feel more at home with a brad nailer in my hand than any other power tool. So when the old man suggested I make some small boxes for the relatives at Christmas like the cheap ones you might find in a store, I thought, “How bad can it be?” The answer, of course, was worse than I thought.

If you’ve ever seen balsa wood boxes at the local hobby shop and thought “I can do that,” the answer is of course, yes; yes you can. I patterned my version from those very little boxes, and after 2 hours wished to hell I hadn’t. For some reason, building a seven-foot bookcase seems easier than a little 4″ x 4″ wooden box.

I couldn’t use the brads or fasteners that I had, so lots of clamping was involved. That is, until I got smart enough to start using super glue. That, of course, was admittedly not until I got the entire bottom part together. The lid assembly went much faster. The cutout was hell until I figured out a heavy wood rasp would make shaping much faster once the form was roughed in the top.

At the stage when this photo was taken, the lid still needed to be fine-sanded around the cutout and the liner for the box was cut, but not applied.

It’s a fine art that I still need to improve upon significantly. But for the near future, if I need nice, small boxes, I’ll buy them for $2 a pop at the local craft store. Just sayin’.


12 Responses to Lessons Learned: Making Small Boxes

  1. BigEdJr says:

    Looks good, but I know what you are saying. Everytime my wife brings home one of those letters made out of painted mdf that she spent $10 on I get frustrated. I think, dang I can make that for like 75 cents… and then I try and it looks terrible.

    Or when she finds those “cute” little Christmas ornaments made out of “hand painted” plywood… same result.

  2. FredB says:

    Pick your projects carefully. Go for high value added.

  3. But when your niece (in my case) looks at the cool little wooden box she just unwrapped and asks “did you make this?”, it really feels much better saying “yes, yes I did”.

  4. Blair says:

    Well said.

  5. Mike says:

    Well said Alan. I’ve given both: store bought boxes that I’ve embellished and finished and boxes that I’ve built. The ones that I’ve built have been much more appreciated and were a lot more gratifying to give.

  6. Gary Z says:

    Yep, most folks love the idea we took the time to make them something and overlook the mistakes.
    As for the box, I found that using mitered corners with glue and a band clamp will take you a long way. The the letter on top could be a raised letter cut out on the scroll saw or cnc and applied after the box is done.
    And you won’t find a box made of good hardwood or the love it took to make like your box at the hobby store.
    Merry Christmas TM’s.

  7. Rick says:

    Last box I made as a furniture maker was a one-of for a client to give as a wedding present. LSS…when he saw
    it, the FIRST thing he said was ” WOW! That really is handmade…how much did you say it was again?”
    I STILL don’t know how he meant that, but I chose to take it a good way.

  8. Dave says:

    My father-in-law and I make decorative boxes quite a bit. We have found a few methods that work well for us:

    1. Jigs, jigs, and more jigs.
    2. Make the box one solid piece, then cut the lid off with a table saw.
    3. Miter the corners, glue, then use a jig to cut 1/8 grooves on the table saw through the corners. Use some ripped strips of contrasting wood to make keys. Trim flush. Nicely decorative, and makes a nice strong corner.
    4. Find a business that gets materials imported on pallets. A lot of stuff from Asia is fairly exotic wood (to us) that is common to them. ‘Acquire’ pallets and have a cheap source for exotic wood. We have gotten Brazilian Cherry, Asian Walnut, Maple, White and Red Oak, Cedar, to name a few.

  9. Mr. Patrick says:

    My kids make these boxes. Came out pretty well, and a sight easier in the construction phase.

  10. Sean St. says:

    I often refinish nice wooden cigar boxes. I have a tobacconist in town who sells the old ones for $2, but just gives away the paper covered ones. They’re usually still pretty thin and cheap, but with a bit of new hardware, some wood stain, and some felt for a lining, they turn out pretty nice.

  11. Jim K. says:

    I’ve done similar to Sean St. but with thrift store jewelry boxes. I’ve found some with truly hideous design work on them that after being sanded, reworked, having new hardware mounted and new flocking applied inside came out quite presentable.

  12. rob says:

    I was going to sugest making them one piece and using the table saw as well but someone beat me to it

    though it really does work quite good and reall speeds up things as your only building one box rather than 2 smaller 3/4 boxes

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