The Evolution of an All-Wood Box Design – Part #1

At some point during almost every wood enthusiast’s woodworking career, he or she builds a wooden box. Some build only one or two, while others devote considerable time and effort to this subject. I belong to the latter group, and after spending some time making conventional boxes, I designed a box that not only satisfied me and pleased the person I gave it to, but also has become a major product of my small but expanding woodcrafts business.

The first several boxes I made were the conventional, six-sided rectangular type. For these I used brass hinges with glue and screw construction. The screwheads were countersunk below the surface of the wood and the recesses filled with wood filler. The glue and screw technique was a substitute for my lack of suitable clamps (and know-how) at the time. The screws held the joints in place and I could continue working on a piece while the glue dried.

These boxes, though nice, always left something to be desired. My two main areas of dissatisfaction with them were the lack of originality and the incongruous use of metal fasteners and hinges on a wooden box. As usual, I needed an inspiration to make a new design, and that inspiration came when I decided to build a travelling jewelry case for a friend. Before I started the design, I set down the criteria I wanted it to meet. Since it was intended to be packed into a suitcase the box should have a low profile, with no sharp edges or protuberances. It should have compartments to keep jewelry separated and untangled, no matter how the box might be oriented during travel. Finally, of course, it should be attractive, and for my own peace of mind, minimize the use of materials other than wood.

With the above criteria in mind, my design evolved. First, I eliminated the brass hinges. By using a wooden pin-and-socket design, I could have hinges that were wooden and entirely internal to the box. This design required that each end of the box be made of two pieces, one attached to the lid, and one attached to the base. Each hinge pin extended through the lid end piece, to which it was glued, and into a socket hole drilled into the end of the box back.

In order for the lid to rotate about its hinge pins, the two pieces of each end had to meet at an angle such that the lid piece would “lift off” the base piece, rather than trying to push against it. For convenience, I chose to use an angle of 45 degrees. Also, the upper back edge of the box had to be beveled to allow the lid to clear the back. Similarly, the lower back corners of the lid end pieces had to be rounded off; otherwise raising the lid would lift the back of the box up off the surface it was resting on.

Finally, I gave the front of the box a semicircular cross-section and rounded of all the other edges. With that, I had finished the external design of the box, one whose lines were both functional and aesthetically pleasing. With this accomplished I set to work on the inside of the box. To keep the jewelry separate I designed several oval and circular compartments. These were sized and arranged so that they could be encircled by a range of common necklace and bracelet chain sizes, thus keeping them in place and untangled. Open areas within the larger partitions provided space for smaller jewelry items such as pins and earrings. In one corner I included a short vertical dowel for rings. I also installed thin pieces of wood across the openings left in each end when the lid was raised. By adjusting the height of all of the partitions and the short dowel the clearance between them and the closed lid was made minimal. Thus, the finest chains could not change compartments, even if the box was turned sideways, endways, or upside down.

Please tune in to part #2 of this article to find out what happened next.

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