Author Archives: wilburton

Reclaimed Chestnut Box


Chestnut Box, approx 7″ x 7″ x 5″

I have had a small piece of reclaimed wormy chestnut set aside for awhile, waiting for the right project to come along. My idea was to use it to make something for some friends of ours. They have been making things out of found and reclaimed stuff, and this old barn board seemed to fit right in with that.

chestnut-box03I was able to keep quite a bit of the character of the old surface while still getting the board straight and flat enough to use. The oil finish brought out that texture and the deep, weathered colors of the wood.

The box actually has two compartments – the lid lifts off to reveal the main one, and the bottom “secret” compartment is held together with magnets. The box therefore has 2 bottom panels, each made of reclaimed spruce salvaged from a discarded piano. The knob on top is walnut, and is the only part not made of reclaimed wood.chestnut-box02

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Shoji-Inspired Doors Installed


Completed Shoji-Style Doors

This project began as a way to improve the functionality of the kitchen by eliminating a pair of swinging doors and replacing them with sliding ones. But going from a pair of very cheap, builder grade doors to these has a significant aesthetic benefit as well.

The photo doesn’t really show it, but I replaced the trim with oak as well, which helped to tie it all together. The top trim board was tied in to a nice quarter-sawn white oak valence board which hides the rolling mechanism.

The rolling system works so well that I had to add something to hold the doors closed: the slightest touch would cause them to slide open slightly. I did this with a couple pieces of spring steel which act as a brake in the last 4 inches of travel.

At the very top of the photo you can see just a bit of the tin ceiling which went in with this renovation. At the bottom is the new floating vinyl floor which I just recently completed as well. The only remaining item to complete the kitchen now is replacement of the windows!


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Stuff that Works

“Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall
Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall”    — Lyrics by the late Guy Clark

This is not a forum for advocating anything in particular, including any brands, types, or manufacturers of tools. But when I find something that works unexpectedly well for me, it makes sense to put it out here. I spent quite a long time pounding away with a chisel and mallet, cleaning out and squaring up the rounded corners on the Shoji Style sliding doors.





Each of the two doors has 12 square acrylic panes, with four corners each. That’s 96 corners to clean up, in some pretty tough white oak.

I tried several different chisels, trying to find one that would work quickly and do several corners before it needed to be sharpened. A couple of no name chisels failed very quickly. My old Stanleys and newer Lie Nielsens did relatively well. Finally, I settled on a Lie Nielsen mortise chisel to chop out the majority of the waste , then clean it up by paring with a Stanley bench chisel. This combination worked great. After pounding on the Lie Nielsen mortise chisel for over half of the corners, its edge is still in great shape – it’s going right back into the drawer with no need for sharpening. And that Lie Nielsen mortise chisel is a wonderful tool. But this post isn’t about the chisel. It’s about the mallet.

“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.”   — Song lyrics by Paul Thorn


Blue Spruce Toolworks Mallet

I have to admit that I bought the Blue Spruce Toolworks mallet because it looks great. A classmate at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship had one and raved about how wonderful it was. When you hold it, it weighs WAY more than you can believe. Like its filled with lead or something. The Blue Spruce website says it is, “totally infused with acrylic resin to fill every cell.” I don’t have any idea how they would have done that to a gorgeous piece of tiger maple. But it looks great, with the African blackwood handle, and feels balanced and ergonomically perfect in the hand.

img_0934But here’s the amazing part: after beating on chisels, not only on this project but many others, there is not so much as a scratch on the mallet. Blue Spruce Toolworks claims that the acrylic infusion “helps prevent crushing of the face grain.” I can vouch for that. How does a mallet not get dented and scratched with use?

The Blue Spruce Toolworks mallet is a tool that works. I won’t ever have to buy or make another mallet. It feels great to use, works perfectly, and, yes, it still looks great!

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Sliding “Shoji-Style” Doors, a Work in Progress

Kitchens never seem to have enough space. A pantry with double doors swinging outward require room to open, and must be accounted for when arranging other items. In our case, the kitchen table and chairs must be placed to give sufficient room for the doors to swing open.


A work in progress.

As an improvement, I am building a pair of sliding by-pass doors. Most everything in the pantry is small enough to access with only one door open anyway. So, there is limited down-side to this modification. Eliminating the need for the doors to swing open is a significant up-side.

I wanted a door that was strong, and light-weight, and would not look too out of place in our kitchen. After building the cabinetry from quarter-sawn white oak, the natural choice for the doors would be to continue with the same material. But to keep the weight down and to add a lighter tone, I have gone with a door that has acrylic panels which I have covered with a rice paper style film.

The doors are about 25 1/2″ wide and 78″ tall. The outer frame and center cross piece are 7/8″ quarter-sawn white oak. The interior muntins are 1 1/2″ x 3/4″and are placed 1/8″ back from the styles and rails. The corners are joined with some major mortise and tenon joints, and the muntins are also mortised into the outer frame.


Where the muntins meet is a modified bridle joint. I am sure it is something that has been done before, but I haven’t found a photo of a joint done quite like this. I began by cutting  an “X” on the front of the vertical muntin about 1/4″ deep (with a Japanese Dotsuki Takebiki saw.)


Mock up of modified Bridle Joint

On the back side, I also cut 1/4″ deep and the full 1 1/2″ width of the muntin. I then made mitered cuts on the front and grooved the center to fit the vertical piece. I hope the photo of my initial mock-up offers a better explanation.


The finished modified Bridle Joint.

The doors will hang from a vertical track made by Grant. I set up the arrangement in my shop, hanging the track and attaching the rolling trucks to the doors, and they slide with the slightest touch.

The rice paper window film uses no adhesive — I guess it is just the static charge that holds it in place. In the photo, the acrylic sheets are held in with only tape. I will finish the door first, then permanently install the panels with small quarter-round pieces tacked in on the back side of the doors.

So, its a work in progress. I will finish the doors then modify the opening to remove traces of the existing hinges, etc. With a week off at the holidays, perhaps I can make some quick progress on this project.


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Tiger Maple Box


While taking a box making class in Maine at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship this Fall, I saw a box one of the instructors had made. It was a long, narrow box with a curved lid, constructed out of teak, and the shape kept grabbing my attention. The overall size was about 12″ long x 4″ wide x 3.5″ tall. I tried to make something similar from oak during class, but it the open grain of the oak just didn’t have the look I wanted.

I ran across a really pretty flitch of tiger maple a month or so ago, and purchased it with mandolin necks in mind. But after getting the wood home, it started to look like a box instead of a musical instrument neck. Figured woods look so fantastic, but all that figure means the grain of the wood is reversing itself. If not done carefully, there can be a lot of  grain tear-out.

round-top-box-02Most of the work was done by hand. I did re-saw the stock on the bandsaw to get close to the final thickness of about 1/2″. The box jointed corners were done with a router. The rest was done using hand planes and chisels. The box itself was constructed first, and the lid was made to fit. With blades being sharpened often, I was able to tame the wood’s grain.

In order to really emphasize the tiger maple grain, I used two colors of wood dye. The first coat was lemon yellow, which was applied and wiped off quickly. Next, I used a beechwood dye that really brought out the contrast in the grain. A few coats of shellac, and a bit of wax are the finish coat.

This just might be one of the prettiest pieces of wood I have ever run across. There isn’t much of it left, so I will have to come up with a way to make the best use of what I do have remaining.

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Lie Nielsen Toolworks Tour

While in Maine taking a class at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, our instructors arranged for the class to tour the Lie Nielsen manufacturing facility, which is just down the road from the school near Rockport.

Lie Nielsen Toolworks makes some of the finest hand tools you can buy today. I only have a few of their tools, but they are among my most favorite, and get lots of use. The quality is obvious to both the eye and the hand. They have a feel and balance in their hand planes, chisels, saws, etc. that elevate them above most the competition.

It was a highlight of the trip to see how a chunk of metal becomes a Lie Nielsen hand plane.

The foundry work is done by a small family owned foundry not far away. The designs and molds are done in house. Much of the machining is done on old Bridgeport milling machines. They have also incorporated CNC milling machines into the process, but handwork is still a fundamental part of the process. They work in small batches, with the goal being that today’s manufacturing will be sold within a month.

Here are some photos.

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The castings arrive in a web and are cut apart

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Initial Milling of the blanks

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After initial milling and powder coating

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CNC milling area

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Final milling on the old Bridgeports

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Squaring the side to the bottom

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Blades blanks

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Caps and parts in process

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They have a wood shop for handles, etc

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Saws are finished with hand filing

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Blades ready to go

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Final assembly by hand

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Finished, boxed and ready to go

It was a great tour. Unfortunately, no free samples were given out. But you do get a 10% discount when you buy in person in the showroom. And, yes, I did purchase a few items. Some chisels, a small router plane, and their low angle smoothing plane that was too nice to pass up.

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Unlocking the Box

Unlocking the Box – A Course at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship

Earlier this Fall I traveled to Maine where I took a 2 week course titled Unlocking the Box, at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. This was a course in constructing Japanese puzzle boxes, which typically require several moves to open. We also looked into methods of creating secret storage spaces, locking mechanisms, and the Japanese art of decorating the boxes with elaborate veneer patterns called (I think) yosegi-zaiku.

First of all, the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship is an excellent school. The staff members are knowledgeable and helpful, the buildings are spacious and well-lighted, the equipment and tools are all top-of-the-line, and the instructors are excellent. Each of the workshop buildings has a Bench Room and a Power Tool Room. The Bench Room has most anything you might need – including a whole wall full of mostly Lie Nielsen planes. Each student gets a workbench to use during the course, and is also encouraged to bring some of their own hand tools. The Power Tool Rooms each have a couple of SawStop table saws, Powermatic Planer, a nice old cast iron Delta Planer, 20″ and 14″ band saws, 12″ and 8″ jointer, Festool sanders, etc. In other words, the place is equipped like a dream!

The course was taught by Kagen Sound and Clark Kellogg, woodworkers from Denver and Houston respectively. I was very impressed with their knowledge, teaching skills, and woodworking ability. They each have some beautiful work on their websites. Here are links: Kagen Sound and Clark Kellogg.

We spent the first 3 days or so learning the fundamentals of constructing a puzzle box. The process involves working on a smaller scale than I was used to, and it can get tricky trying to hold and cut some of the smaller pieces. Once we had an understanding of the basic concept, we were encouraged to explore whatever aspect of box-making we desired. Some moved on to elaborate mechanisms which required a dozen or so moves to open. Some created pieces with secret drawers and compartments. Some looked at the yosegi process and how the boxes are decorated.

If anyone is considering taking woodworking classes, I would encourage you to check out the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship. In addition to the 1 and 2 week workshops, they have longer intensive courses, up to 9 months.

Oh, and Lie Nielsen headquarters and showroom is close enough to the school to visit during your lunch break.

Here are some photos:

The Workshop Building:
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Some of the work from the class:
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My always cluttered bench:
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The basic puzzle box design:
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Different phases of the process:
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A couple of my inlay patterns:
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Gluing up sticks which will be sliced for veneer:
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Woodworking Class in Maine


Flat Rate boxes

Next month, I will travel to Rockport, Maine for a class in box-making. I have made quite a few boxes in my workshop over the years, but this class is about making puzzle boxes, with hidden “combinations” to unlock various compartments. It should be a lot of fun!

In preparation for the class, I have been having a little fun by building a few boxes to hold some of the hand tools I will be taking with me. Two boxes will be sent by USPS, so I designed them to fit into a large size flat rate Postal Service box. Others will be in my checked baggage. I will be taking/sending a couple of hand planes, saws, chisels, scrapers, measuring and marking stuff, and the necessary stuff to keep edges sharp.


Plane Boxes

One design criteria was to fit the USPS box. Another was that everything had to be made from stuff I had on hand. In the process, I used oak, sycamore, cherry, and chestnut. The sharpening box has a top made from scrap Formica and teak, which holds the sharpening stones.



This will be my very first trip to Maine. Its doubtful that I will have much time to see the area, but I hope to be able to play tourist for a little while between classes. At the very least, a trip to Lie Nielsen Toolworks  will be on the agenda.




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Kitchen Cabinets and Renovation


New Wall Cabinets Above the Fridge.

One of the reasons for the dearth of recent posts here is the amount of time I have spent renovating the kitchen. The project started with a new fridge —  that was slightly too tall to fit under the old wall cabinets. Those cabinets came out, the refrigerator went in, and I built a couple of new cabinets to go above it. The new cabinets looked significantly better than the old ones, and more wall cabinets followed until all the upper cabinetry had been changed out. Rather than staples, chipboard, cardboard, etc., the new cabinets are all quarter-sawn white oak faces with plywood carcasses and shelves. The casework is dadoed into the oak fronts then fastened with glue and screws. Hardware includes European hinges and solid cast brass knobs and handles in an Arts and Crafts style.


Base Cabinets with new Counter and Sink

The bottom cabinets had to be done all at once, since there would need to be a new counter and sink installed at the same time. Additionally, there was a corner cabinet which was very difficult to access — does everybody have one of these? You practically had to open the door and crawl back in there to find anything. More on that below.

Working out of a garage workshop, there is not all that much room to build large items– especially multiple large items like base cabinets. So, the project took more time as pieces got stacked in corners, moved around to make room, re-stacked, etc. And, coming up with a solution which allowed easier access to the corner cabinet took quite a bit of design time and numerous prototypes.










And, after getting the basic base cabinets built and installed, I decided to remove a small closet and replace it with even more cabinets and a bit of added counter space. This has a slide-out trash can that is very convenient, and space to store dog food, etc.

Next, there was the idea for an Arts and Crafts inspired oak and stained glass light fixture. Which would look great mounted to a tin ceiling, which had to be painted multiple coats of multiple colors of paint to get just the right look . . . .


Light Fixture and Tin Ceiling

There is still painting to be done. And a couple of pantry doors to be replaced with Shoji-style sliding screens. And the bay windows to be replaced. And a new floor.


All in good time.



Back to the corner cabinet. I used several heavy duty drawer slides, a couple of casters, Baltic birch plywood, and some Elfa baskets from The Container Store to build a corner cabinet slide out solution. Here is a quick video of how it works.

In addition to picking up some usable space in the corner, I was also able to gain additional storage around some of the areas where the kitchen walls run at 45 degrees. The original design had large wedges of inaccessible space there, which we can now utilize.

Now its time to take a little break from the kitchen and build a few other little things.



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Jewelry Box

It has been a long time between posts here. There have been several woodworking projects undertaken during the past few months, including completing kitchen cabinets and designing and building an oak and stained glass light fixture for the kitchen.

Jewelry Box 01

Oak Jewelry Box

One of the projects I completed back in February was a jewelry box – a late Christmas present for my wife. It is made of quarter sawn oak with brass hardware, including a really nice piece of “quilted” oak that is most visible on the inside of the box lid. The piece is 13″ x 9″ x 6″ high.

There is a tray inside that raises with the lid. I made the hardware for its operation from some brass stock. I had to make several models to get the geometry right, so that the tray stays level as it opens and closes.

Jewelry Box 02

Jewelry Box, with quilted oak inside top.


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A Weekend at The Woodwright’s School


Roy Underhill, aka The Woodwright

Most folks interested in woodworking are familiar with Roy Underhill’s long running PBS series, “The Woodwright’s Shop.” Roy transports his viewers back to a time when all woodworking was done by hand. Many of the tools and methods in use before electricity and power tools came along were quite inventive. Often, a tool had to be created to perform just one particular function. For example, before electric routers and shapers came along to create various shapes of moldings, hand planes did the job. A woodworker would need a large collection of wooden hand planes, each with a different profile to create various coves and beads, tongues and grooves, etc.


My Workbench at the School

Some woodworkers and viewers may not know that Roy has a facility in Pittsboro, NC where he teaches classes. Called The Woodwright’s School, the classroom is in a corner storefront in the bustling downtown. Roy himself teaches many of the courses, and he also brings in other well known instructors on a wide variety of topics related to woodworking. Courtesy of a birthday gift certificate from my wife, I enrolled in one of the courses Roy was teaching, a two day class called Introduction to Hand Tools.

This was the first time this particular course was being offered, and Roy’s plan was to start the class with the natural wood as it grows in the forest, and take us through the refinements that result from the transformation we as humans impose upon the material, ending in a “cultural” piece.


Splitting Logs

Ten of us gathered on an unusually warm weekend at the end of January for the class. We began with short sections of a walnut log from a tree which had been blown down a couple of years earlier. It had been laying in a river bottom, still covered with bark until Roy retrieved it a few days earlier. As Roy explained, the bark kept the tree protected from bugs and decay, and also had kept the wood quite wet.

Our first project was to make a set of bench hooks, a kind of Z-shaped device to help hold objects on a workbench. We began with wedges and mallets, splitting the wood in half, then into smaller pieces that could be worked into bench hooks.


Bench Hooks

We all took turns using the wedges, then pounding on a froe, a tool which is basically a wedge with a wooden handle. Once we had split out enough blanks for everyone to make a couple of bench hooks, we got busy at our respective workbenches. The process was to take a piece of essentially very wet firewood and shape it into a useful object, with the help of drawknives, hand saws, chisels, hand planes, etc. Roy showed how to square the stock, lay out the marks for the cuts, and helped with how to use the tools. Eventually, everyone ended up with a pair of bench hooks, and learned quite a bit about how to work green wood.

There was a lot of time to work, critiques and tips as the work progressed, and frequent breaks to demonstrate how to perform a particular part of the process. It was also fun and lively, with Roy’s showmanship and sense of humor on full display.


My Class Projects

Roy then gave the class some options on what each participant might want to make next. There were several joinery projects, some puzzles, etc. and the students began to work on their selected items. Some folks worked with a foot-powered lathe, others on an old mortising machine, and we all stayed busy creating a lot of wood shavings piling up on the floor. Hand tool work results in shavings, which is quite different than the sawdust created by power tools.

At the end of two very full days, everyone had something to show for their time, as well as some new knowledge about how things were done “back in the day.” If you are interested in woodworking and want to enjoy a fun experience, I would recommend a class at The Woodwright’s School.

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Woodworking Show a Success!

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Liquidambar Gallery Show Ad

WB Liquidambar

Show Installation

My first experience with showing some of my woodworking projects turned out well. With the help of the gallery owners at Liquidambar Gallery and Gifts in Pittsboro, NC, I ended up selling 33 of the 34 items I made for the show. That was well beyond any expectations I had. And while my two month run as featured artist has ended, the gallery owners have asked me to create some additional pieces to show and sell.

I will certainly plan to make more items going forward but first I will need to catch up on several other projects which have taken a backseat to preparation for the show. In fact, as February begins I am still finishing up some Christmas presents that should have been done in December!

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Showing my Work, Part II

Yesterday was the opening of my first woodworking show at Liquidambar Gallery in Pittsboro, NC. The gallery was busy all afternoon, with a constant stream of visitors. I am happy to say that my pieces were very popular! Sales actually began on Saturday, the day before the official opening. In just two days, they have already sold 9 items. The show continues for 2 months, so it would have been nice to have some additional inventory . . .  but who knew?

One of the pieces which sold quickly was a little box for storing tea bags. I just finished it recently and hadn’t yet posted a photo.

tea box 01

Tea Box

This box is about 9″ x 9″ x 3″ tall. the sides are walnut, and the top is quilted quartersawn white oak. The handle has a cutout of the Chinese symbol for tea, and is made of padouk and maple. The inside of the box has maple dividers to organize tea bags. This piece was designed to feature the oak top, which is one of the prettiest pieces of wood I have encountered. I made a few earlier attempts to make use of this piece, but this tea box is probably the best fit.

Since this piece went so quickly, I may try to find another distinctive piece of wood to make something similar. But the new owner of this box got something which is truly one of a kind.

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Showing my Work

On Sunday, December 6, the first show of my work will open in Pittsboro at Liquidambar Gallery. The town has a First Sunday celebration which draws a substantial crowd, and I will be on hand that afternoon from 2 to 4. I hope I have a good variety of items to show and possibly sell.

Here is a photo of some of the items I will be taking to show:


The show runs from December 6, 2015 through the end of January, 2016. Pittsboro is about half an hour west of Cary on Highway 64. Should you be in the area, stop in. 

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Mountain Dulcimer

Mountain Dulcimer

Mountain Dulcimer

The past few months have been busy in the workshop as I get ready to exhibit some of my work in a local gallery. My goal is to have a variety of items to show, including boxes, cutting boards, a steamer trunk, a quilt rack, etc. Since I enjoy building musical instruments, I thought a dulcimer might be a good project for the show. Back in the early 70’s, I made my first dulcimer. It was a bit clunky, but it made music. Building that dulcimer gave me an appreciation for woodworking, and made me realize that working in wood was something I enjoyed. Now many years later, this dulcimer shows some of the progress I have made as a woodworker. Some of the progress is technique, much of it is the tools I now have, and some is experience.

Several different woods went into the construction of this most recent dulcimer: spruce top, walnut sides and headstock, bird’s eye maple back and padouk fretboard.

The stand is made of a couple of walnut slabs to allow the instrument to be displayed with both the back and front visible.

Just for fun, here is a picture of my first dulcimer from many years ago:

1973 Dulcimer

1973 Dulcimer

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Take a Chunk of Wood and a Bandsaw . . .

An article by Michael Cullen on his technique for making bandsawn boxes caught my eye recently. The boxes he makes incorporate colors and lots of textures which he carves with gouges and knives. He uses milk paint to color his boxes, often applying multiple coats while sanding and carving between coats.

I liked his basic design for cutting the box, so I went in search of some interesting chunks of wood to see what might emerge from inside the block. I found several blocks, including ambrosia maple, myrtle, and persimmon, among others. After a few cuts, and lots of shaping and smoothing sometimes an interesting box sometimes lurks inside the chunk. I added some color to a couple of the boxes to highlight the grain pattern and bring out the contrasts. Here are photos of the end result:

Bandsawn Box with a Wicked Green dye

Bandsawn Box with a Wicked Green dye

Ambrosia Maple Bandsawn Box

Ambrosia Maple Bandsawn Box

Persimmon Box with Tiger Maple Lid

Persimmon Box with Tiger Maple Lid

Bandsawn Box Made of Pecan

Bandsawn Box Made of Pecan Wood

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When the Material Dictates the Project Design: A Box from a Walnut Scrap

Box from Walnut Scrap

Box from Walnut Scrap

While rummaging through some small pieces of wood at a lumberyard in Raleigh a few weeks ago, I came across a piece of walnut with a neat grain pattern. The piece was about 7/8″ x 8″ x 7″ — not very big. I had no idea what I might make with it, but I figured something would come out of it. I started out resawing it into two pieces and book-matched them together into one piece about 3/8″ x 8″ x 13″. I thought it would make a nice top for a box, but the size was strange, and I could not come up with a good design for it. I set it to the side for a few weeks, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with it.

Finally, I picked it back up and started trying to come up with something — it was too neat of a piece not to build something out of. So, I cut it back apart where I had book-matched it, and decided to use one half for drawer fronts and the other half for the top of a little box. I cut the top piece and mitered it, continuing the pattern down the front into the drawers. The sides are quartersawn white oak, with a slight taper. Here’s what it looks like with the first coat of finish on it:

Box with Pulls at the Bottom

Box with Pulls at the Bottom

The problem with drawers is that you need something to grab onto to pull them open. And, this gets in the way of a neat piece of wood. I just could not bring myself to drill a hole and mount a pull on each drawer. So, here is what I came up with. I embedded a magnet behind each drawer front, and made some little pulls with a magnet glued into the bottom. At the bottom is a row of mortised parking places for the knobs. So, if you aren’t using the box too often, you can leave the pulls down there. Here is the box with the pulls “parked” at the bottom.

It kinda looks like an old fashioned radio with the dials at the bottom. The finished box is about 8″ wide at the bottom, 7″ wide at the top, 7″ deep and 11″ tall. I am using Tried and True Varnish and Oil finish.

Dovetailed Drawer

Dovetailed Drawer

On a side note, I usually use my router table with the Jointech positioner and a dovetail bit to mechanically do the dovetails when making drawers. This was my first real attempt at hand-cutting the dovetails. I won’t say it was easy, but they didn’t turn out terrible.

Here is a look at one of the little drawer pulls which has a magnet inside it:

Magnetic Pull

Magnetic Pull

After applying the finish, I plan to use flocking inside the drawers. The drawers have grooves cut into the sides which engage with  maple rails. After applying shellac to the outside of the drawers, they slide easily, and a bit of wax will be the final touch.

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Chestnut Steamer Trunk Completed

Trunk Tray

Trunk Tray

Here are a couple of photos of the completed steamer trunk. In my last post, I mentioned that the tray inside the trunk would be plywood. When I looked at the nice new plywood I could not picture it as a part of this trunk. So, I found a piece of chestnut on the shelf, resawed it and used a strip of walnut down the center to make it wide enough. This piece had a lot of character (known also as holes) so it required a lot of rehab to make it work, but it turned out to be far superior to the plywood. The inside and the trray are finished with shellac. The outer surfaces are finished with Tried and True Varnish and Oil, which gives a very nice look to the chestnut.

Finished Trunk

Finished Trunk

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Steamer Trunk from Reclaimed Chestnut

When I started milling the lumber for this steamer trunk, I got side-tracked by a little table that seemed to jump out of the wood and demand to be built. (Read about the table here.) So, with the table done, I have been working on this trunk. I originally went in search of the chestnut specifically to build a trunk and a quilt rack (which can be seen here.)

Inside of the Trunk Top

Inside of the Trunk Top

The construction of the “curved” top is mostly an illusion — the grooved rails and panels sit on a set of curved ribs, but they are basically flat and join at a slight angle, which makes them appear to be curved. The end pieces are trimmed to a curved shape matching the rails, and the final shaping is done with a hand plane. The rails are attached to the ribs with screws which are countersunk and will get a contrasting plug. The ribs are tenoned into the side rails.

All of the stock for the trunk is resawn from reclaimed 2 x 6 and 2 x 8 lumber. The surfaces closer to the original surface have a bit darker color than the pieces cut from closer to the center. There are also holes, knots, cracks, etc. which have to be addressed. Some get filled or glued, but the idea is to preserve much of the patina the wood already possesses.

Trunk in Progress

Trunk in Progress

I will probably finish the inside with shellac and the outside with Tried and True varnish, which I have found looks really good on chestnut.

The bottom of the chest will be oak plywood, as will the bottom of the tray (which is still to be constructed.) I would guess it would be impossible to find chestnut plywood, since it is not easy to even find a little bit of chestnut lumber. The overall size of the trunk is about 17″ x 30″ x 16″ tall.

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Reclaimed Chestnut Table (with a little Reclaimed Teak)

Reclaimed Wormy Chestnut Table

Reclaimed Wormy Chestnut Table

I have had a number of reclaimed wormy chestnut beams stored away for several months now. They were salvaged in southwest Virginia from a structure being demolished. My intention had been to make a steamer trunk from the wood. The beams appeared to have lots of character, with the typical nail holes, worm holes, gouges, discoloration, rough sawmill marks, etc. When I began to re-saw the beams into thinner lumber, I was able to get pieces nearly an inch thick from a couple of the beams. I had no intention of making a table, but these pieces of chestnut talked me into making a small table top from a portion of the lumber. The finished piece measures about 14 1/2″ x 24″ x 28″ tall. The legs are made from part of the chestnut timber as well, and have a slight taper.

The top begins with 3 pieces of chestnut which are glued up with tongue and groove joinery. The two “breadboard” ends are also attached with a tongue and groove joint,but I was reluctant to glue these pieces at a 90 degree angle, fearing that the joint could pull apart with expansion and contraction over the years. My solution was to add a “butterfly” to the configuration, and only the butterfly is glued in. This allows movement during expansion and contraction, but the butterfly and the tongue and groove should hold it tight.

Since I was using reclaimed, old lumber for the table, I decided to make the butterfly from some reclaimed, old lumber as well. The history of the chestnut and the pieces of teak used  for the butterfly could not be more different. The chestnut likely came from a tree which grew in southeast Virginia. It was milled there and used in construction of a building, which probably was part of a rural farming operation. The teak most likely came from a tree in southeast Asia. From there, it was cut, milled and transported to a shipyard where it became part of a ship’s deck. That ship, the USS North Carolina, saw action in every major naval operation in the South Pacific during World War II. When a new deck was installed on the battleship recently, I was able to buy a small piece of the original deck.

Both pieces of wood have had long, full lives in very different circumstances. I hope they will have equally long and full lives in their new role together as a top to this table.

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