Sunday, March 4, 2012

Building a wooden jewellery box

A friend, partly joking, asked me to make her a wooden jewellery box. On the back of my successful attempts to make wooden combs from yew and teak, I decided to give this a shot.

A box. This seemed a simple enough task, but I was limited by the wood I had available to me, most of which was either very plain softwood or was in large unshaped chunks of hardwood. This means that instead of beginning my project with nice, tidy, machine-squared planks I had to saw short planks of my own, which turned out to be far from perfectly square. This would cause problems later.

I started, anyway, with elm (always a favourite wood to work with - very hard and very beautiful) and some unknown hardwood, perhaps beech.

One strange effect of the elm's toughness is that the butt end of the wood was blackened by frictional heat as I ran it through the bandsaw:
In school we learned to join two pieces of wood at 90° with various kinds of joints for added strength. I was wary of engaging in these because they would be too much work! I hadn't done such joints since I was 15 and didn't trust my ability to do them on rock hard elm. Scared of the proper way of doing things I was eventually inspired by the blackened, burnt butt ends to settle with simple nailed joints that would make a feature of this contrast in colours.
The immediate problem, seen in the first photograph, is that these nails sometimes chipped little bits off, causing frustration and angst galore on my part.

Meanwhile, simply trying to square these clumsily-sawn pieces of wood became a nightmare of sanding, filing and rasping. The slightest unevenness meant that the wood simply did not join together in a square shape. In the end I abandoned perfect squareness: the box could only fit together in one way, slightly askew.

I decided to build two layers. That is, one smaller square box sat atop of a larger square box, each subdivided into four smaller sections. I took a short cut by using hardboard (a thin board formed of compressed wood fibres) to make these compartments, and to form the base of the upper square. Because hardboard has an unremarkable grey-brown surface, I painted all of this black. I also used a dark wood stain to blacken the butt ends of the beech lower layer, mimicking the heat-blackened ends on the elm. This meant that throughout the piece I now had a nice tension between the lighter coloured wood and the dark sections.
I wanted to use a proper wood for the base of the lower layer. After a long time trying different kinds of wood, I discovered a chunk of beautiful bog oak and sawed two sections of this, carefully planing and sanding them smooth so that they could fit together to form the base. Bog oak is regular oak which has been submerged in a peat bog for hundreds or thousands of years. Considering oak itself can live for many centuries, the likelihood is that this wood is very ancient indeed, formed when Ireland was covered in vast oak forests. Perhaps no Normans had arrived yet, or Vikings. Perhaps the people who lived around that tree knew of Romans, or it may have predated even the arrival of Caesar to northern Europe - which is wonderful indeed. It also happens to be beautiful.
Finally there was the lid. Much more searching and head-scratching continued until I found a piece of laburnum, a gorgeous hardwood with rich contrasts between light and dark. From this I sawed two pieces of wood and glued them together. For added strength I cut two pieces of bog oak and glued them across the grain. They immediately broke off, so I glued them again, and nailed them through. I then had to file the pointed ends of the nails off to leave the underside flat.

The knob on the top is made of two small squares of laburnum (I think), glued together and screwed in from beneath.
The whole thing was very vigorously sanded smooth. I finally added a layer of sanding sealer and clear satin varnish. Finished, after several months of on-off labour:
Rustic stuff and, with neither hinges nor locks, not suitable for more expensive jewellery! But I find the woods and contrasts in light and dark pleasing so I am pretty content with this.


  1. Nice step by step guide to make the Wooden Jewelry Boxes by your own.I really make try for this...

  2. I really want one of these gorgeous boxes - they are so simple and elegant.
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