It seems so cliche to build a box--like something they do in shop class in an 80's Comedy. As a novice woodworker though, it's actually a good test of basic skills. So I decided I would try to build my first ever box and I would try to work for the first time with something that wasn't 2x4 or plywood. A few "learning experiences" aside, it was a really fun project to try.
I'm Gonna Oak Up the Sun
When I settled on making a box as my next project, I also thought it would be fun to spice it up a bit and choose a hardwood to work with. Sadly, at my local homestore, that pretty much means oak only. But I thought I'd give it a shot. I was surprised how easy it was to work with, to be honest. I'm not sure that I was expecting it to be super hard to work with, but other than creating some novel (to me) saw dust, I found oak to be pretty was to get right.
Bevel Up the Skills
I wanted to keep it basic for my first box. Maybe one day I'll be hand carving dovetails, but for this one it seemed prudent to keep it basic. So I opted to go for simple mitred corners with some plywood sitting in a dado as the floor and the roof. Despite all the videos I'd watched on how to do this type of cut, I seemed to have how to make a bevel cut backwards in my head. So instead of feeding the cut into the acute angle of the blade, I was trying to force it into the obtuse angle. The wood was jumping all around and causing all sorts of havoc. After a frustrating day of futility, the error in my technique came to me as I was trying to fall asleep. Once I figure out how to bevel cut the oak, it became a matter of working for clean cuts at consistent length.
It's Better to be Consistent Than Accurate
I spec'd out my project with some dimensions that seemed reasonable. With my safari into backwards bevel cuts though, the dimensions I originally planned on shrunk as I lost board to my ignorance. In the end I got the lengths the consistent. But my small box is even smaller than I had planned. With the home store width of the wood, the proportions are a bit off from where I would like them. But, I'll have to live with it. Still, I'm grateful that I heard someone say that it's more important to be consistent than accurate. I've found in woodworking the maxim holds true and that I'm hardly ever accurate.
Another decision I made my box even more awkward was floor/roof placement. I do not exactly remmember how I could how far from the bottom edge of the walls my floor would go, but I gave it a bit to much breathing room. There's a half of an inch of unused space between the bottom of the walls of the box and where the floor starts. Overall, the technique involved in cutting dados for the floor actually worked out pretty well. I cut a dado with the blade on my table saw on each piece and on a test piece. I then walked out the width of the dado on the test piece until the thin plywood I found would fit. After it fit, I just ran my production pieces through and everything fit together pretty well.
Make Like Helsinki and Finish It
I decided to go with a natural finish since I wanted to let the grain of the oak shine through. I used some Danish Oil I picked up. It was easy to apply but definitely best done in a place with good ventilation. At this point I only really have the surgical mask-looking breathing protection and that does not help with fumes. Thankfully I got most of it done on a nice day and it was onto the glue up.
For the glue up, I opted to use a trick I'd seen a few places on youtube where I simply added masking tape to all the outside pieces of the box. Then I added glue to the corners and let the tape by my basic clamp. With a few more clamps in place, I let it sit over night. Despite the over caution with the floor/ceiling placement I was feeling good about things overall. The size wasn't quite what I wanted though, so I opted to turn the project into matching trays instead of sealable box.
This is where things really got off track.
Straight and True (?)
Resolved to make matching trays instead of a box and lid, I went forth to cut my project exactly in half on the table saw. It should be pretty easy: set the fence to half the height, run the piece through on each side, and profit. So when I got to the fourth cut, I expect to crack open a beer to celebrate but instead I was surprised to find that the two side were still attached. I figured out that without a featherboard pushed the piece snug to the fence and with the precautions I was taking to protect my fingers, the piece was not staying upright against the fence. So the cuts were off and I was pretty sure I had wrecked everything. I pushed on though and decided to try to clean up the wonky cuts with the table saw--this time ensuring that the piece was right up on the fence. This meant sacrificing even more wood though, throwing my proportions off even further.
What I'm left with is a rather oddly shaped tray that looks like someone's first attempt at building a box-- complete with many a learning experience.
- Oak 1x4
- Wood glue
- Danish Oil
- 1/8 plywood
- Masking tape